Say What? You Went Where?

by Bob Sparrow

blood_v_cripsAs you regular readers know, I love to travel, but I can’t hike in places like the Andes or the Himalayans every year. Nevertheless, I was feeling a bit of cabin fever (You know how this harsh California weather can keep you housebound all winter), and perhaps a bit ‘blog-challenged’, so I started looking for someplace to go, someplace local, someplace neither you nor I have been before.

I pulled out my map as I recalled some of my experiences from previous ‘local’ excursions, i.e. being thrown off the beach at Nixon’s Western White House, being freaked out by a paranormal experience on the Queen Mary and being ripped off by a phony fortune teller at Venice Beach, to name a few. OK, maybe they weren’t all great experiences, but they were experiences and they were local! Now I was looking for someplace really ‘different’, someplace ‘locally foreign’, if there is such a thing. Then I saw it, starring up at me from my map . . . South Central Los Angeles. No, I wasn’t back at the local Yardhouse being over-served on foreign beer! I thought, why not do a trip into the toughest part of LA, it could be a great experience . . . or you could never hear from me again; either way, it’s an adventure.

Depending on the kind of adventure I was looking for, I could either drive there during the day, or wait until the evening. I thought I wouldn’t get the full flavor unless I went in at night, but I also was really interested in surviving the experience. I’m sure if I left it up to you readers, you’d have me go late a night with $100 bills hanging out of my pockets. So I planned to leave Saturday morning.

watts riots

Watts Riot

I wanted to hit as many of the famous, or infamous ‘landmarks’ as I could, you know, the places where I was sure to find placards reading, ‘Kodak Moment’, signifying great photo opportunities. I actually called some places I found on-line that offered tours of the area, but none of them responded to email or phone inquiries. In fact, truth be told, none of them looked like they were still in business – not a good sign.

My ‘South Central’ map indicated a number of ‘must see’ locations: the site of the Watts Riots (1965), the neighborhoods where crack cocaine became an epidemic (1980s), sites of the Rodney King beating (1991) and where the riots broke out with the subsequent reading of the verdict of the officers involved in the beating (1992), and of course the hangout for the notorious rival gangs, the Crips (late ‘60s) and the Bloods (early ‘70s).

At this point I was beginning to wonder if Disneyland might have been a better choice – I know it would have been a safer one, but undaunted, I plotted my route through South Central on my map and, after checking to make sure my insurance (both car and life) was current, I put on some Snoop Dog and motored north to South Central.


Peeps from the ‘hood


Church of Scientology

It was an unusually warm winter day in southern California and I could see a hazy outline of the downtown Los Angeles skyline in the distance as I exited the freeway and entered ‘the hood’. I noticed that most of the shops, which were liquor stores and check cashing places, had bars on their windows (we don’t see a lot of that in Orange County); I noticed a good number of street people wheeling all of their earthly belongings in a grocery cart. Along the sidewalks I saw lots of clothes hanging from rope lines and didn’t know if these were items being sold or laundry being dried. As I traveled north on Vernon Avenue there were a number of churches, none more magnificent looking than the Church of Scientology, which looked like it was dropped in from a Beverly Hills neighborhood. I wondered as I drove by if that was Tom Cruise out in front waving people into the building. I drove by some old major crack houses (No, I didn’t stop, I’ve been clean for four days!) and then passed the corner of Florence and Normandie, which was the site of the Rodney King verdict riots. Next on my left was Manual Arts High School; it was built in 1910 and was only Los Angeles’ third high school at the time. There was a high chainlink fence around it – not sure if they were keeping people in or out.  I turned on Martin Luther King Boulevard and drove past the Los Angeles Coliseum adjacent to the incongruous location of the private institution of the University of Southern California.  Instead of having ‘Fight On’ as their slogan, it seems like it should be ‘Drive On’ or perhaps ‘Drive By’.  I then headed south on South Central Avenue and drove by the old Black Panthers Headquarters, it didn’t look like any meetings were in session, so I didn’t stop. After several miles of graffiti-filled buildings and walls, I began to work my way over to  Avalon and 116th Street which is where the Watts Riots started in 1965, causing 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage.  As I headed back to the freeway on my way outwatts towers of the hood, I drove by the iconic Watts Towers (right).

The whole trip took me about three hours and I traveled a total of about 90 miles and never saw another white person the entire trip – the demographic is made up almost exclusively of Hispanics and Blacks, while Whites and Asians make up about 1% each.

OK, to be honest, it really didn’t compare to getting away on a mountain trail with pine-scented air, but it was really interesting to take a deeper dive into the history of South Central Los Angeles and to actually cruise the streets. Unfortunately, given recent events, ‘South Central’ seems to be a clarion for the failure on all sides of race relations.

Yeah, maybe Disneyland next time.


It pays to live on the west side of town

It pays to live on the west side of town

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Tucson is not Phoenix.  Ask any long-time Tucsonans about it and they will take a certain amount of pride in that statement.  Okay, maybe a lot of pride.  Phoenix – they say – has become Los Angeles.  If Phoenix and Scottsdale are the city slickers of the state, Tucson is the proud aging hippie.  It is a haven for the “anti” anything sort – big business, big box stores, housing developments and most noticeably, freeways.  The city planners have consistently voted down any suggestion of bringing expressways or thoroughfares to cope with increased sprawl.  Early on (in the 50’s) they were concerned that improved roadways would only encourage more people to live on the outskirts of town.  So what happened?  People came anyway for the beautiful scenery and warm climate, moving farther and farther from the town center.  Now a drive that would take 10 minutes on an expressway takes 30-40 with seemingly hundreds of red lights.  The road maps look like they were assembled by Lady Gaga’s costume designer.   So with perhaps one of the most frustrating cities in which to drive in the United States, what is the attraction?

Dash the Wonder Dog and his hilarious father

Dash the Wonder Dog and his hilarious father

Well, for me, in addition to the beautiful scenery, it is home to some of my favorite relatives.  My niece and nephew are there and they and their families are worth every second of waiting at stop lights to see them.  As a bonus, this past weekend our daughter Wendy and family met us down there for a relaxing family weekend.  I say relaxing because we stayed at the fabulous Westin La Paloma resort.  In true Tucson style, the grounds and amenities are some of the best representations of desert landscaping and southwestern architecture in the state.  When you enter the lobby you feel as if you have “arrived” somewhere.  Huge picture windows provide a view of the magnificent Catalina Mountain range.  I can’t be certain of this but I’m guessing that the blood pressure of visiting guests goes down significantly as they enter the hotel.  But here is the best part about La Paloma – they welcome dogs!  More on that in a bit.

After checking in, our entire family decided it was time for a nap.  To say that we like to relax would be an understatement – give any one of us a comfortable bed and a good book and we’re happy.  Westin, of course, is famous for their “Heavenly Beds” and they do not over-promise.  If I’m ever bed-ridden I’ve decided that I’m going to check in to a Westin for the duration.  Once we all had our beauty sleep we drove over to niece Shelley’s house for a delicious dinner.  Her two daughters are 17 and 15 and our grandsons are 15 and 12 and although they haven’t seen each other in years, we soon heard them laughing and having a great time.  All four of them are honor students, polite and have great senses of humor so when I am discouraged after seeing pants-dragging, tattooed teenagers and despair for our future, all I have to do is remember that these four are also our future and my faith is restored.

IMG953944 IMG953939Sunday night brought family rivalry night to the fore.  As it happened, University of Arizona (our daughter’s alma mater) was playing USC, whence our son-in-law graduated, in a rivalry basketball game.  Since they have lived in Southern California for many years they have attended lots of USC events, but Wendy was anxious for the boys to see where she went to school.  Fortunately they were able to secure tickets to the game but there was still the matter of sides to be taken.  You can see from the pictures they were a family divided for the night.  Jake, wisely understanding who packs his lunch, chose to wear the garb of his mom while Matt stuck with his favorite team.  For the record, UofA beat USC so half of the family was happy!

2016-02-14 17.01.16 (Small)

Overlooking the lovely generator

But back to La Paloma.  The grounds are magnificent in part because it is built on a cliff so there are no roadways near the rooms.  In order to reach your room you climb on a golf cart that then winds it way around the trails of the property.  It’s surprising how relaxing that is – not to hear car doors slamming or horns honking in the middle of the night.  On the other hand, if you leave your iPad in the car it’s not necessarily a simple matter to go retrieve it.  So, fair warning – if you stay there make sure you have everything out of your car before heading to your room.  As mentioned, we especially enjoyed our stay because they allow dogs.  Not only do they allow them, they provide a water dish and dog bed.  Of course, Dash heard all the chatter about the “Heavenly Bed” so requested his own pillow up with us.  As he snuggled into it each night he let out a huge sigh and was out for the night.  In the mornings we sat in the lobby with Dash and were approached by people, young and old alike, who asked to pet him.  Even members of the hotel staff came out to see him and offered dog treats.  I thought about charging them an amusement fee – after all, they were charging me  the “resort fee” for Wi-Fi and use of the pool towel.  As I walked Dash around the property I was struck by a sign I encountered (right) suggesting that guests stop, take a photo, and then post it to social media.  But as you can see, the “scenic view” was of the side of the conference center and its diesel generator.  Call me crazy but if I were running La Paloma I think I’d move that sign to where the real view is.  But, hey, for all I know people are really excited by large utility boxes.


Now THIS is a photo spot!

Now THIS is a photo spot!


All in all, we had a great time and would highly recommend a stay in Tucson and at La Paloma.  One word of warning – do not let your dog sleep on the Heavenly Bed.  There’s been no living with Dash since he’s experienced the pillows at La Paloma.



Golf :-) #%&@!

by Bob Sparrow

golf hateI love golf.  I think it is the greatest game ever invented.  It requires both unique mental and physical skills, it combines camaraderie and competition and it’s one of the only sports you can play while smoking a cigar and drinking a beer.  Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of playing some magnificent courses from Kapalua, Hawaii to Kiawah, South Carolina.

I hate golf.  It is exasperating, demeaning and expensive.  It brings out the worst in us, it impugns our self-worth and facilitates, no encourages, cheating.  Personally, my first bad experience with golf was when my high school golf coach said after a round, “The best two balls you hit all day were on #7 when you stepped on a rake.”


Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii

If you play the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about; if you don’t, there’s no way to explain the fascination of hitting and chasing a little white sphere around a cow pasture.  To try to put it in perspective for both camps, I would say that golf can be defined as 4½ hours of a series of calamities interrupted by an occasional miracle, or as John Feinstein put it, ‘a good walk spoiled’.

The subject probably needs a little fuller vetting, so let’s tee it up.

golf origin

Scots skipping work to play golf

Golf had an ignominious beginning, (what a surprise) dating as far back as 1261, when the Dutch cursed while they played a game with a ball and a club.  But the modern game of golf is considered a Scottish invention where the first documented mention of golf was in Edinburgh in 1457 when King James II banned golf in an attempt to encourage archery practice, which was being neglected. So even back then, men were sneaking out of work to play golf.

Some say it was named golf because all the other four-letter words were taken, but the word for ‘club’ ‘striking’ or ‘cuffing’ – lord knows I’ve ‘cuffed’ the ball many a time, has an interesting etymology.  The word started out spelled as ‘gowfe’ which led to ‘gouff’, which led to ‘gowf’, which led to golf, which led to club throwing, sandbagging, and in the 70s, white men dressing like black pimps. Personally, I think the word will ultimately evolve into ‘goof’. And it’s probably not a coincidence that golf spelled backwards is flog. Some say the name golf came from initials that meant Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden, but that is just an ugly rumor probably started by a man whose wife could beat him at the game.

And why, you ask is golf made up of 18 holes, not 10 or 20 or an even dozen?  The story goes something like this:


Kiawah Island, South Carolina

During a discussion among the club’s membership board at St. Andrews, Scotland in 1858, one of the members pointed out that it takes exactly 18 shots to polish off a fifth of Scotch. By limiting himself to only one shot of Scotch per hole, the Scot figured a round of golf was finished when the Scotch ran out.

A great story, but unfortunately not true. Early courses were 5-7 holes, played two or three times. It wasn’t until 1764 that golfers at St. Andrews decided to combine the first four short holes into two to produce a round of 18 holes, although it was still a 10-hole course with 8 holes being played twice. However, it would be over 100 years before 18 holes became the standard for golf frustration.

In my opinion the best explanation of the origin of, and exasperation with, the game of golf comes from the late, great Robin Williams; even if you’ve seen this before or not a fan of golf, I think you’ll enjoy this short video.  Spoiler Alert: there are a few f-bombs in the video, OK quite a few, so get the children out of the room before listening.

They say that golf is a game you can play for a lifetime, but what they don’t say is that you’re going to get worse every year until you finally can’t straighten up after you make your last putt.

But until then . . . “Fore!”


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


A Krispy Kreme Valentine

A Krispy Kreme Valentine

This week many of you will experience panic attacks as you realize that Valentine’s Day has once again occurred on February 14th.  I’m always baffled when I hear people (well, mostly my husband) say “What day is Valentine’s Day?”, as if it changes from year to year.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of the holiday.  I’ve seen too many people treat their significant other rather shabbily all year long and then think that a $9.99 bouquet of roses from Safeway will make up for it on Valentine’s Day.  But I do realize that I may be a minority in this respect, since millions of people around the world mark the occasion with cards, flowers, and it would appear, oversized teddy bears and lacy lingerie.  So I got to thinking about how we began this tradition.  Of course lots of people say it’s a “Hallmark” holiday and as you will read, the greeting card industry has certainly benefited from the day, but it turns out that Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries and by some very unlikely people indeed.

There are many theories as to how Valentine’s Day got started and even who St. Valentine was.  The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus and they can’t quite decide which is the original cupid. Sounds like the old “To Tell The Truth” program to me.  In any event, the most popular legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death – on February 14.   Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote his jailor’s daughter a letter signed “From your Valentine,” thus setting up the greeting card industry for the next two thousand hundred years.  Around 498 A.D. the Pope, who was not a big fan of pagan holidays, decided to combine the remembrance day for St. Valentine with the pagan rite of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15.  Never heard of Lupercalia?  The short version is that it was a fertility festival highlighted by two sacrifices:  a goat for fertility and a dog for purification.  That sounds about right.


During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. That seems just the slightest bit odd.  Really, when was the last time you stared out the window at birds mating and thought, “That is SO romantic!”.  For that matter, who in the heck watches birds mating?  Nevertheless, as the years went on the holiday grew more popular. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe.  By the middle of the 18th century it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.  It is believed that Americans began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America and it’s been downhill ever since. Howland is considered the “Mother of the Valentine”.   I think in some circles she might be known as the “mother” of something else.  She made her creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”  Or “crap”.  I forget.  Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, right after Christmas. Which brings up an interesting fact: women purchase 85% of all the Valentine’s that are exchanged.  I was stunned by that fact until I thought more about it.  Modern day traditions guilt men into buying flowers, candy, dinner and the aforementioned lingerie.  All women do is buy a card and we’re good to go.

NixonAnd since everything these days has a Presidential spin, I got to thinking about whether there were any romantics among our former Presidents.    It’s well documented that John and Abigail Adams had a wonderful 54 year marriage and were very devoted.  And the Reagans were renowned for their doe-eyed looks at one another. Harry Truman apparently wrote such torrid letters to Bess that she burned them all lest someone else read them.  Although I don’t think Harry’s love notes would even make it on to TMZ these days.  But there were also some head-scratchers among our former commanders-in-chief.  Woodrow Wilson, who was thought to be a pretty stolid guy was widowed after a 27 year marriage and was completely heartbroken.  Until six months later when he was described as a “school boy” when meeting his second wife, Edith.   Perhaps the most unlikely romantic was Dick Nixon.  We all remember him as rather stiff and sweaty, but apparently in his youth he was quite a romantic…and maybe just the slightest bit desperate.  Turns out that he was so enamored of Pat that he would offer to drive her and her suitors on their dates just so he could spend more time with her.  Kind of sad, really.  But then again, Valentine’s Day is named for a martyr so for all I know he exemplifies the holiday.  In any event, I hope you have a wonderful day regardless of how you choose to celebrate.  Just don’t go sacrificing any dogs.


The Turntable That Turned Back Time

by Bob Sparrow


The ‘Time Machine’

I took a most unusual and sentimental journey this past week and never left my house. My trip was facilitated by my new ‘record player’. My old turntable, that I had purchased in Japan in 1968, had become inoperable many years ago and with the arrival of first, the CD and then the iPod, I never saw a need to replace it. So my 75 or so 33 1/3 LPs remained silently tucked away in a closet for many years.

There was a time not too long ago when you couldn’t even find a turntable to buy, but in recent years it was discovered that turntable fidelity equaled or surpassed many of the digital-age playing systems, so they’ve made somewhat of a comeback. A new turntable would not only allow me to once again play my old albums, but it would enable me, for the first time, to play the record collection of my departed, best friend, Don Klapperich.


Lt. Cmdr. Klapperich

After Don was done flying F-4 Phantom jets for the Navy, he took a job in Saudi Arabia working for a U.S. company that was contracted by the Saudi Air Force to teach them how to become better combat pilots. When Don left for Saudi Arabia in the late 80s he did not want to take with him his rather large record collection, which include both LPs and 45s, so he asked if I would hold on to them for him.   I stored them with mine in the back of the closet and had not thought much about them . . . until now.

Linda, having read my letter to Santa Claus last year, got me a turntable for Christmas. I decided that I would set up an ‘entertainment center’, such as it is, in my office in the upstairs loft. I built some shelves and started the process of moving records from the downstairs closet to the newly built shelves upstairs. I took them a handful at a time, not because I couldn’t carry more, but because I wanted to reminisce as I flipped through each one as I brought them to their new home.

'Entertainment Center'

The ‘Entertainment Center’

There were many duplicates among Don’s collection and mine, as both of us were part of the ‘Folk Scare of the ‘60s’ and were thus big fans of the Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four, Bud & Travis, The Limeliters and Peter, Paul and Mary. But after that, our collections took two very divergent paths, mine was more pop, things like Neil Diamond, The Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt; Don’s reflected his personality: eccentric, esoteric and genius. Classical masterpieces, Broadway musicals, Classic rock, Gregorian chants, pop, flamenco guitar, bluegrass, opera – you name it, he had it. It was an unbelievable collection of eclectic music. Looking through these albums was like exploring the many facets of Don’s complex personality. He may have been the only white, 16-year old in America who owned every one of Ray Charles’ albums. As you might guess, it took me quite a while to move 200+ albums upstairs, as with each handful I had to use my new turntable to hear at least one song on each trip. Then I found it.

Radio Record

The ‘Radio Show’ Record

Wedged between the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Don’s personal favorite) and Janis Joplin’s Farewell Songs was a record in a plain paper sheath, no album cover, no label, no markings of any kind, just uneven grooves cut into a black vinyl disc. I was delirious with anticipation as I gingerly placed it on the turntable and eased the stylus onto the first cut.

In 1961 when Don and I were seniors in high school we, The ‘Neverly Brothers’, were asked to sing on Hugh Turner’s radio show, ‘What’s Doing in Novato’, on KTIM, which was broadcasting from Pini Hardware on Grant Avenue in downtown Novato. Don’s parents recorded the show from home by putting a small tape recorder next to their radio – which is the excuse I’m using for the way we sounded. Don’s dad then took the recording into San Francisco and had it ‘pressed’ into a record. I had only heard the record once, shortly after his dad brought it home.


The ‘Neverly Brothers’

I remember that day like it was yesterday; it was bad enough that we were nervous about singing on the radio, but through the window in Pini Hardware we could see a most-attractive girl, Carole Garavanta, who was definitely out of our league, sitting in her parked convertible in front of the store watching us through the window and listening to us on her car radio.   She was probably waiting for us to stop singing so she could come into the store and buy some wing nuts.  We sang three songs and were interviewed by Hugh Turner, answering questions about ‘our music’ and what we planned to do after we graduated in June from Novato High School.

I sat motionless, mesmerized by the spinning record as it took me back to that time and place.  We sounded like . . . a couple of naive high school kids.   As the record came to a scratchy end and I was brought back to the present, there was a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.  It was great to hear Don’s voice again.

Just a few days away from the four-year anniversary of Don’s passing, his record collection has helped me understand a little bit more about my enigmatic best friend; and discovering our ‘radio show record’ was a gift that he probably didn’t even know he left me . . . or maybe he did.