By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


Trivia games on the screen at the MVD. Just like the movies – annoying.

I have a rather uneasy relationship with the Arizona Motor Vehicle Department. So when I got a letter from them last month I opened it with all the enthusiasm I usually reserve for the IRS.  Turns out they wanted me to come in to their delightful establishment to have a new picture taken for my driver’s license.  Again.  This will be the fourth picture I have had on my license.  It’s complicated.

Back in 1998 when we moved here from California I took one week off of work to get settled and attend to important things,  like finding the closest donut shop and, naturally, getting an Arizona driver’s license.  So on a very harried day, when the temperature was 108, I took my moist self and went to the MVD to pick up a driver’s handbook so I could study for the test.  Well, much to my surprise, the clerk told me there was no test. All I had to do is hand over my California license, fill out a form, take a picture and – VOILA! – I would be issued an Arizona license.  Valid, by  the way, until 2015.  Yep – no matter what age you are when you move to AZ, your license is good until you’re 65.  This goes a very long way in explaining why there are so many horrible drivers here.  No one knows what the rules are so we drive by the rules we learned in our former state with the fervent hope that  “STOP” is a universal sign.

Nick Nolte

This looks better than my picture.

The “picture” part of this venture was the sticking point – I was harried and sweaty.  Did I mention it was 108 that day?  Anyway, pressed for time, I went ahead and had my picture taken and received my new license on the spot.  The picture, to be kind, made me look like a deranged psychopath.  I want to be clear:  I understand that this was the MVD, not Annie Leibovitz’s studio. I didn’t expect air brushing and subtle lighting.  But I also didn’t expect to end up looking like Nick Nolte’s mug shot.  My eyes were bugged out, my hair looked like a goat ate it, and one half of my collar was up.  How bad was the picture?  Sales clerks who requested to look at my license when I cashed a check would squint down at the picture, look up at me, peruse the picture once more, and then say something akin to, “You must have been having a bad day.”  And these were people who wanted my business.  Finally, I could take it no more.  I decided to lie to the MVD and tell them I had lost my license and needed a new one.  I hoped that they didn’t have any sort of fancy technology that would allow them to simply re-issue it with the very same picture.  I was in luck, I was asked to have a new photo taken – HUZZAH!!  I made sure my hair was slicked down, eyes appropriately positioned and assumed a casual, carefree, I’m-on-vacation smile.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take into account that I had just returned from a business trip to Charlotte the night before.  So while my hair and smile looked okay, I pretty much looked like someone who was jet-lagged and had returned from Charlotte the night before.  I lived with that picture for another two years, strategically placing my thumb over my picture whenever I had to present it to anyone.


I’m thinking she lost her license that night. Not by choice.

Finally, when I retired (and thus was well-rested), I decided to try one more time.  I was 51 years old and figured that I would have to live with this license for another 14 years.  It was well worth my time to get a new picture.  Besides, I was retired, what else did I have to do?  So I trudged into the MVD and, once again, told them that I had lost my purse and everything in it.   I fully expected them to grill me.  TWO licenses lost in three years?  Lindsay Lohan was a paragon of dependability compared to me.  But instead, the very nice clerk commiserated with me, agreeing that it was such a hassle to get everything replaced or re-issued.  I felt just a little bit bad.  But not that bad.  And my efforts were rewarded.  The picture turned out okay – no hair askew, no “crazy eyes”, no puffy face.  I was satisfied, although I admit that my standards had gotten quite low by this point.

So, fast forward to last month when I got the letter that they wanted, yet again, a new picture of me.  I find it fascinating that they still don’t care if I know the rules of the road but God forbid my picture is more than 12 years old.  Anyway, I braced myself and went down there last Tuesday.  I was told to show up right at 8 am or the wait could be over an hour.  Which meant that at 7 a.m. I was  flat-ironing my hair, curling my eyelashes, and telling myself that it was ridiculous to care this much about my driver’s license picture.  After filling out forms and waiting a paltry 45 minutes, I stood before the camera as I might stand before an execution squad.  The clerk snapped the picture and said, “Oh, that’s great” so my hopes were high.  After all, he  did this for a living.  His judgement must be finely tuned for this sort of thing.  Alas, it was not.  But I think I’ve used up the “dog ate my homework” lost license excuse so I’m stuck with this license for now.  Unlike everyone else in the Western World, I’m excited that I get to visit the MVD in just two years.  I’m starting my picture prep now.


Prairie Home Companions

by Bob Sparrow


Barney’s Jersey Farm

Pardon me if I seem a little jet-lagged, but last week my travels took me back in time to southern Minnesota.  It’s not that southern Minnesota is behind the times, far from it, it’s just that the mid-west, and particularly Minnesota and particularly this family, embodies good old mid-western values that we on the coasts just don’t see much of anymore.  It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who fervently hang on to the importance of family. The occasion was the 90th birthday of Warren Barnes, my father-in-law, who admitted that he wasn’t going to be 90 until December, but December is not a time to ask people to come to Minnesota – that’s ‘hibernating’ season.  So the party was held last week, when according to Warren he was “prettin’ear 90”.

While it was Warren’s birthday celebration, it was really a tribute to both Warren and wife, Phyllis, who is a young 87, for the wonderful life they’ve led and the incredible families that were created out of their marriage in 1945. The birthday celebration was held on Saturday in RochesterMN, but the preliminary activities on Friday took us south on a tour of the Barnes’ hometown, Canton, MN.  The photos below show 1) the parking lot of the Canton Coffee Shop; yes it is still a one-horse town, 2)  a farmer driving the ‘company car’ through Lanesboro, and 3) traffic at Amish rush hour.  We visited the old family spread and one could still barely make out the words ‘Barney’s Jersey Farm’ on the side of the barn.

1. horse  2.  Lansboro  3. Amish


Cobb Residence

That evening, dinner was at the bucolic residence of Gene & Denise Cobb (granddaughter); he a 25-year IBMer and she a math whiz teaching ‘Advance Placement’ classes at the local high school.  They bought 5 acres in the beautiful rolling hills outside of Rochester and built a house, planted fruit trees and a garden with almost every conceivable vegetable known to man, and some not known, at least to this man – like salsify; then added some chickens and goats and cats and a dog and probably by the time you’re reading this, who knows what species of flora and fauna have taken up residence?

PHC     The birthday event on Saturday mystically transported us to Lake Wobegon from A Prairie Home Companion’.  For those unfamiliar, A Prairie Home Companion is a radio program originating out of Minnesota that started in 1974 hosted by Garrison Keillor and featuring a variety of musical and comedic entertainment that typifies the mid-west.  The show can still be heard every Saturday on public radio.  Warren and Phyllis’s children, grand children and great grand children as well as in-laws and friends spoke and performed various acts from playing musical instruments, to singing and dancing, to a game of ‘Jeopardy’ based on the life and times of Warren.  But the emotional highlight of the event was the reuniting of ‘The Barnes Trio’.

barnes trio early

The Barnes Trio – back in the day

Barnes Trio

The Barnes Trio (Dale, Linda, Starlet) – reunited

Warren and Phyllis’s three children, Starlet (Barnes) Brummer, Dale Barnes and Linda (Barnes) Sparrow formed ‘The Barnes Trio’ and started singing together back on the farm when they were all in grade school; they were good enough to be sponsored by Purina Dog Chow and they performed all over the state from talent shows to county fairs.  This evening they sang ‘Daddy’s Hands to a very emotional crowd, particularly the guest of honor.


Phyllis & Warren Barnes

     Warren and Phyllis have truly been ‘prairie home companions’ for the last 68 years – a remarkable couple and a remarkable family.  Their response to all the festivities? “This has been the best day of our lives”.  Considering the number of good days in their collective lives, that’s  saying quite a lot.  Well-deserved!


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

We’ve been spending a lot of time this past month in the historic city of San Luis Obispo – a city of many dichotomies. Where else can you visit a historic religious site and be solicited by Greenpeace crusaders on the same block? Or mingle with whiz kids at the coffee house and then potentially sleep in a room dedicated to one of the biggest pop stars in the world? San Luis Obispo (or “SLO” as it’s known here), that’s where!

San Luis Obispo Mission and the statue of Father Serra before he took off.

San Luis Obispo Mission and the statue of Father Serra before he took off.

Our first visit on this trip was to the beautiful San Luis Obispo mission. It was fifth in the succession of missions established by Father Junipero Serra, built in 1772. Yes, that’s right. He founded the mission before the first tea bag was even dumped in Boston Harbor. Father Serra had traveled through SLO some years before and remembered it as a place of abundant flora and fauna, in addition to almost perfect weather. And bears. Yep – here on the central coast of California apparently the area was rife with bears.

He quickly made friends with the local Chumash Indian tribe and engaged them to help build the mission. But shortly after the cornerstone of the building was set, Father Serra said a quick mass and hightailed it back to San Diego. The history is unclear as to what sent him running back to civilization before the building was complete. My guess is it was the bears. In any event, the mission was completed two years later and is still thriving today. It remains an active Catholic parish and its plaza is considered the town center where on any given weekend you’ll find a wide array of concerts, fairs and festivals.

After leaving the Mission we decided to grab a quick cup of coffee before visiting our next stop. A few steps later I was approached by a

A typical Cal Poly geek

A typical Cal Poly geek

rather scraggly young man who told me that I looked like a nice person. So right away I knew he was no judge of character. He then proceeded to follow me down the street, talking about the rain forests and whales. He gave up on me when I showed no interest but at the next corner I ran across one of his counterparts who made no attempt to assess my personality but gave me pretty much the same pitch. Turns out they were students at Cal Poly-SLO and worked for Greenpeace in their spare time. Cal Poly-SLO is a school for high tech geeks. Think of the characters on “The Big Bang Theory” and you’ve pretty much nailed the average Cal Poly student. Still, I hadn’t been solicited by Greenpeace (or anyone else for that matter) in 10 years. I felt as if I’d been transported to another time and space. But actually, that phenomenon was awaiting me at our next stop – the Madonna Inn.


The Madonna Inn

The last time I had been to the Madonna Inn was in 1971 when I was a college student traveling between San Diego and Marin County. It was a good mid-way stop for coffee, food and bathroom breaks. I still remember the pink flocked wallpaper and gold fixtures in the restrooms. I assumed that the Inn would have gone under lots of modernization since then. I was wrong.

The Madonna Inn opened in 1956 and specializes in “theme” rooms. Their website offers 110 such rooms, from the “Caveman” to “Oriental Fantasy”. I think for my next job I want to be the room namer at the Madonna Inn. In any event, I wanted to see what modern-day changes they had made so I looked up the Madonna Room. I assumed it might be adorned with pointy bras and maybe some Vogue magazines or posters of Sean Penn or Warren Beatty. Nope.


Madonna Inn suite


This is a picture of the suite – named for the wife of Alex Madonna, the founder of the hotel. Apparently Mrs. Madonna was quite find of pink. I didn’t even want to see what the “Barrel of Fun” or “Jungle Rock” rooms looked like. I did get a glimpse of a room that had a safari theme with a huge buffalo head mounted on the wall staring down on the bed. It’s things like that that made Father Serra run for the hills.

All on all, SLO is a fabulous little town, well worth visiting. But unless you’re into gargoyles and pink, you might want to stay at the Marriott.

Missed Saigon

by Bob Sparrow

MissSaigonPreface   Back when the earth was still cooling and I was in the Navy (Yes, ours), I was stationed in Japan at Atsugi Navel Air Station and was an Ensign (Yes, and officer and a gentleman by an ACT of CONGRESS) on the staff of COMFAIRWESTPAC, which was ‘Navy-speak’ for, Commander, Fleet Air, Western Pacific.  My duties, aside from getting the Admiral’s coffee and newspaper to him in a timely manner each morning, eventually included arranging for the shipping of damaged helicopters out of Viet Nam to a repair facility in Japan and then shipping the repaired aircraft back into Viet Nam.  I had three seamen working for me at the time who took turns ‘escorting’ the repaired aircraft on the ships going back to the port of Da Nang, in South Viet Nam. 


I hate these ‘magnificent ceramic elephants’!

I eventually wanted to have a better understanding of what these escorts actually did and since I was in the Navy and had never set foot aboard a ship, I asked my commanding officer permission to be out of the office for a while and escort the next batch of helicopters headed ‘in country’.  Permission was granted.  I had a buddy, who was flying supply missions in a C-130 transport aircraft between Da Nang and Saigon, who told me he could throw me in with the cargo anytime if I wanted to tag along.  So I requested and was granted a couple of extra days for my trip.  This was 1969 and the war was in full swing and I wasn’t looking for a vacation, but rather wanted to see first hand, from a relatively safe distance, what was really going on.  Three days before my ship sailed out of Yokohama for Da Nang, my commanding officer had an opportunity to go to Bangkok, Thailand to pick up some ‘magnificent ceramic elephants’ for his wife and told me I needed to stay and man the office, that I could be an escort another time.  A ‘Reduction In Forces’ memo came out not too long after that and there was not ‘another time’, I was soon on my way home and out of the Navy (Yes, honorably).

welcom     So I never got to Da Nang and subsequently Missed Saigon, but I live in Orange County, which I’ve come to find out, has the largest Vietnamese population in the world, outside of Vietnam, some 200,000.  So my ‘in country’ plan evolved, after 44 years, into my ‘in county’ plan and eventually permission was granted by my commanding officer – my wife.


The Beginning of ‘Little Saigon’  After the Fall of Saigon in 1975 many Vietnamese refugees migrated to Southern California because, well, why anyone else would migrate to Southern California, the weather.  More and more gathered in the City of Westminster and eventually in 1988, then Governor George Deukmejian officially designated part of Westminster as ‘Little Saigon’.

Most of the literature I read about ‘Little Saigon’ prior to driving the 15 miles over there, described the food, the jewelry, the food, some temples and the food.   I learned that Pho (pronounced ‘Faa’), which is a noodle soup consisting of rice noodles, broth, meat and some spices, was the most popular Vietnamese dish.

The Trip – My son, Jeff is a lover of all food foreign, so I asked if he wanted to meet me for some Pho and an exploration of ‘Little Saigon’ – he obliged.

  We met at the HA NOI restaurant (Must have been in the northern part of town) and had a wonderful meal served by an older  gentleman who didn’t speak one word of English, but recommended several dishes by pointing to some pictures on the menu and making some Jeffsort of cooking gestures – what ever we ordered, it was delicious.  Jeff likes his food spicy, so he added some contents from a container on the table to his food; from his reaction, it might have been a bit too spicy, but it said it was good . . . through watering eyes.

Unfortunately that was the highlight of our trip.  I checked to see if there were any tours of ‘Little Saigon’ available – there are none.  ‘Little Saigon’ is a place of contradictions; it is of course East meeting West, so we shouldn’t have been surprised to see the Sun Moon Bakery or the sign in the jewelry mart reading, ‘Lien Phat’ (Lean Fat?), which was more confusing albeit less disturbing than ‘Dai Phat’.

2013-08-01 17.13.24       dai phat       DaiPhat

But for me there was too much West and not enough East. I expected narrow streets lined with colorful garments hanging from two-story wooden buildings, the smell of spicy food offered by traditionally dressed street vendors, Asian music playing – basically some Far East atmosphere.  What we got was a series of strip malls on a busy Southern California street.  It was sort of like Barstow with strip mall storefront signs you could only partly read.

2013-08-01 17.20.47

The Conclusion – For my money, if you want some good Vietnamese food, visit ‘Little Saigon’, if you want to get the feel of old Viet Nam, see ‘Miss Saigon’ or go to old Viet Nam.