Beach Music

by Bob Sparrow

beach musicBeach music is the music I hear on the rare occasions I frequent the beach. Beach Music is also the name of a novel by my favorite author, Pat Conroy, who wrote a number of classics, and who sadly passed away earlier this month. He wrote prose like poetry – such a gifted writer, gone too soon. Here a passage from Prince of Tides that I think exemplifies his writing . . .

It was growing dark on this long southern evening and suddenly, at the exact point her finger had indicated, the moon lifted a forehead of stunning gold above the horizon, lifted straight out of filigreed, light-intoxicated clouds that lay on the skyline in attendant veils. Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold.

You and I would just write something like, “Hey, the moon is coming up just as the sun is setting, cool.”

rainy beach

Rainy day in Malibu

Although I have lived nearly my entire life within a half-hour’s drive of one beach or another, I am not, nor have I ever been, a ‘beach person’. So the music I hear is not actual music, but rather the vibe of the beach; the pounding of the surf, the squawking of sea gulls, the spray of the ocean on my face. To me, beaches are most interesting in the winter when it’s cold and rainy. It’s at those times that the coast briefly returns to its natural state of sand beaches with no umbrellas stuck in them and the rhythmic and steady slapping of the ocean on the shore. Even without all the man-made trappings, each beach has its own personality. My destination today is Malibu. I choose it not for it’s popularity or its connection to Hollywood stars, but rather because of its most-interesting history.

malibu homes3

View I never saw!

Malibu’s ‘Hollywood’ past includes being the backdrop for such movies as Gidget, Planet of the Apes and Grease as well as the TV productions of Happy Days, Baywatch and The O.C. – yep the series about life in Orange County was filmed in Los Angeles County! Past residents of Malibu include, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Rod Steiger, George C. Scott and Johnny Carson to name just a few. The long list of present residents includes, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Redford, Tom Hanks and Whoopi Goldberg.

‘Malibu Beach Music’ – a few of the musical artists in Malibu include Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Cher, Brad Paisley, and Pink.

With all the enclaves in southern California, why have so many stars chosen Malibu as their home? I thought you’d never ask.

It’s all about the privacy, and of course the weather.  And why is Malibu more ‘private’ than any other place? I found the answer to thatK&Q question in a book I recently read called, The King & Queen of Malibu, written by David K. Randall. It is a fascinating story of Fredrick and May Rindge, an odd, millionaire couple from Boston, who came to California for ‘health and wealth’ and in 1891 ended up buying over 13,000 acres of property called ‘the Malibu’, that included Topanga Canyon, the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Beach.

The Rindges guarded their privacy zealously; hiring armed guards to shoot any trespassers, which they did! They successfully fought off Southern Pacific Railroad, who wanted to establish a railroad line through their ranch, but in 1929 lost an ‘eminent domain’ fight, which allowed the government to put a road through their property along the coast – that road today is the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). But May Rindge, then a widow, kept control of Malibu Beach, and in order to raise much-needed money, she allowed a few Hollywood stars to build vacation homes there, and thus ‘the Colony’ was created.

I decided that I would take the hour or so drive north to discover what I could of what Malibu looked like today. I arrived in Malibu in an early morning fog that would hang on for another hour or so before the sun burned through the marine layer to reveal the full extent of the coastline. The fog was dense and close and a chill rented the air on this last day of winter.

scenic beauty


Upon entering the city limits of Malibu, I encounter a sign welcoming me to Malibu, stating, “27 Miles of Scenic Beauty’. My research had told me that since being incorporated, Malibu had 6 miles of that 27 annexed by Ventura County, so it’s now only 21 miles of . . . regarding the ‘Scenic Beauty’, when one drives north on PCH though Malibu, the mountains rise sharply up on the right so all one sees is dirt or hillside grass. On the beach side there is a continuous line of two-story homes that are connected so as to limit access to, and visibility of, the beach; so all one can see are garages and the backs of houses. I’m sure the views from the homes are great, but the average Joe can not only not get to the beach, he can’t even see the ocean. And although Malibu’s beaches are all officially ‘open to the public’, beach access is limited and well hidden thus keeping Malibu a secluded and private city; which is why the stars are there.

As I drove further up the coast, I came to the realization that I was not only not going to see Jennifer Anniston walking her dog on the beach, but I wasn’t even going to get to walk on the beach myself.  As I turned around and headed south for home, I remembered why I never really was a beach person.




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

new_york_1Next week I am off on an adventure – New York City!  Yep – the Big Apple, Gotham, The City that Never Sleeps.  I’ll be joining my niece Shelley and her two daughters, Katie and Abby, in taking the city by storm.  Literally – the projected forecast indicates it’s going to rain our entire trip.  However, we remain undeterred and confident that we will have a great time.  For you long-time subscribers, you may remember that two years ago we went to Washington DC.  That was a fabulous trip not only for the historic sites we saw but because we found ourselves to be very compatible travel companions.  For me, it was not only the delight in spending time with such fun people but I also lost five pounds in the process.  Have I mentioned that the two girls are elite athletes?  Katie will attend St. Mary’s College this fall on a track scholarship and Abby is the state tennis champion in doubles.    And then there’s me, their “old Aunt Sue”, the operative word in that name being “old”. I try not to be a “drag” on their ability to see all the sites so I make an attempt to keep pace, which on the face of it is utterly ridiculous.  This trip I have already done my prep – I bought the giant size bottle of ibuprofen at Costco.

As with any adventure, anticipation is half the fun so I have been studying what to see and where to go.  I’ve been to NYC three times but always on business so my “play” time was somewhat limited.  This trip is not about rate of return, it’s about the fun factor, so I’m reading loads of travel sites for advice.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

an open letter to new york city tourists rude new yorkers directions statistics millions of new yorkers site seeing opinion

Don’t be afraid to wander.  Usually it’s my mind that does the wandering but all of the travel writers suggest getting out of the tourist spots and venturing into unusual neighborhoods, strolling the streets to gaze at the fascinating people.  I worked in downtown San Francisco for over 20 years so I know about “fascinating” people.  Many times they have purple hair or are urinating on the side of a building.  Since we will be there during what is Spring break for many schools, I have a feeling that I’m going to see a lot of families from Iowa with cameras around their necks taking pictures with the nude body artists in Times Square.  But I know the secret to spotting the true New Yorkers – they’ll all be dressed in black.

Eat dinner early.  New Yorkers apparently are a lot like Europeans – they prefer to dine between 8-10 pm.  Thus, many of the guide books suggest dining before 8.  No problem!  First of all, with the prices in New York I’m not sure we’re going to be “dining” anywhere.  My goal is to find some out of the way joints where we can enjoy real Italian food and maybe a good nosh.  Secondly, on most nights, when New Yorkers are chowing down on their escargot and Lobster Osso Bucco, I am happily ensconced in bed reading a book.  Sometimes I am even able to read three pages before falling asleep, which means I’ll be deep in slumber before New Yorkers have begun to dip into their crème Brule.  Maybe.  Read on.

times square

Don’t crowd yourself.  Of course, all of the experts suggest staying away from the usual tourist traps – Macy’s, Rockefeller Center, Times Square.  Oops.  We’re staying right near Times Square – 48th and 8th – so it’s going to hard to avoid.  I read that sleep in a hotel anywhere near the lights and frivolity of Times Square is hard to come by.  After all, it is the City That Never Sleeps for a reason.  And, again, it is Spring break so I anticipate lots of college kids whooping it up.  I’m brining ear plugs and lots of Tylenol P.M.  But I’m realistic enough to know that I will probably be awake at 2 a.m. most nights wondering how college kids can afford hotel rooms in NYC.

Mind your etiquette.  My coffee blew out my nose when I read this piece of advice.  The writers in each case went out of their way to talk about how NICE New Yorkers are.  Perhaps they run in different circles, but my experience as a born and bred, laid back Californian is that a “typical” New Yorker will push you down a flight of escalators if you are not moving fast enough.  In fact, the guidelines for being a respectful tourist caution that we not take up the entire sidewalk so that other walkers can’t pass, don’t stop on the sidewalk to consult a map, or (I knew I was right about this) do not stand still on an escalator.  I’m planning on minding my manners but I’ll venture a guess that the nicest people we meet will be those tourists from Iowa.

With all that advice under my hat, I’m ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple.  We only have two things planned so far – tickets to the 9/11 Memorial and An American in Paris – so we’ll be footloose and fancy-free.  I take that back.  Nothing is free in New York except the experience of watching all those fascinating people.


Nashville Notes

by Bob Sparrow

Nash notesFollowing are mynoteNOTESnotefrom a recent trip to country music’s mecca, Nashville, Tennessee.

Thursday – Time: 10:00 am – Flew out of LAX to Nashville

3:00 pm – Arrived in Nashville, took Uber to the Hilton Doubletree downtown

3:05 pm – Swept out underwear and headed out and remembered that we were hungry.

3:15 pm – Stopped at B.B. King’s for roasted chicken and collard greens. – the best ever!

4:30 pm – Headed out to explore ‘The District’

‘The District’ is a region bordered by the Cumberland River and 4th Avenue on the north and hats & boots south, and Shelby Street and Church Street on the east and west; Broadway runs roughly down the middle. There is a large footbridge across the Cumberland that takes pedestrians over to Nissan Stadium where the NFL Tennessee Titans play. ‘The District’ was originally called the ‘Art District’, but now mostly features the art of the pour, as it is full of bars, saloons and honky-tonks – I guess those are three names for the same thing, but mostly that’s all there is, well, that and lots of places to buy cowboy hats and boots; there is also the Johnny Cash and George Jones Museum. Didn’t see much art. Back to the bars, saloons and honky-tonks – they are all filled with live music, starting in the morning and going until . . . not sure, couldn’t stay up that late!

7:30 – Went into the Benchmark Bar and ran into some guys from IBM all decked out in their shiny new cowboy boots and hats; they looked like . . . guys from IBM trying not to look like guys from IBM!

Time: Not sure. Just cruised from bar to bar, each one with great live music that made you wonder, how did this guy or girl or group not make it, they are amazing?!! Surprised at how inexpensive drinks are – this is good . . . and bad!

Printer's AlleyStill unsure of the time: Strolled over to Printer’s Alley

‘Printers Alley’ was originally home to a thriving publishing industry. The area had two large newspapers, ten print shops, and thirteen publishers. In the 1940s it became a nightclub and entertainment district; sale of liquor for on premise consumption was illegal throughout Tennessee, but restaurants and clubs in ‘the alley’ served liquor anyway, often claiming it had been “brown bagged” (brought in by customers). Law enforcement agencies normally looked the other way on such sales. Liquor sales in restaurants were finally legalized in 1968. 1968!!!!

It honestly has lost some of its vibe, but still has some classic watering holes.


Chocolate Martinis

Time: Much later: Crawled back to the hotel, but needed just one more drink before bedtime – a Chocolate Martini.

Friday – it’s only Friday?! That was quite a Thursday! Slept in due to possible hang over. Don’t think they actually have mornings in Nashville – all days just start around noon.

Time: afternoon – walked over to Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant. Had BBQ pork (melts in your mouth), onion rings, Caesar salad – most delicious lunch ever! Food here is just terrific!

Hit some shops and the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, but wanted to rest up for the concert this evening, so headed back to hotel and on the way bought a ‘Goo Goo Cluster’ – a candy bar created in Nashville and a local favorite.

Blake Shelton

Linda, Blake & Dana

7:00ish – Walked to the Bridgestone Arena to attend the Blake Shelton concert. The opening act was Chris Janson, who, like most of the entertainment seen in Nashville was outstanding! Blake put on a great performance in which he sang all his hit songs, interfaced with the audience and had a great back-up band. The word on the street was that Gwen Stefani was in town, and perhaps was going to make a surprise cameo appearance, but not to be.

After concert – what else, visited more bars.

Time: about 1:00 a.m. – Remembered we missed dinner, so headed to Merchants, one of only places that didn’t have music, and it was sort of a relief to have a little peace and quiet. After dinner, back to the hotel and opted for the Chocolate Chip cookies instead of the Chocolate Martini. Livers were thankful.

Saturday – Slept in – what a surprise!  What, it’s only Saturday?!!


Grand Ole Opry

Time: 1:30 – ‘Backstage Tour’ of the Grand Ole Opry. Tour included videos of Blake Shelton and Charles Esten, (the character of Deacon Claybourne on the TV series ‘Nashville’); very fun and interesting. Also visited the Gaylord Opryland Hotel – magnificent.

Those who watch the TV series ‘Nashville’ will understand that a trip to Nashville is not complete until you visit the Blue Bird Café. Even though it is small and in an out-of-town strip center, it is a legendary venue that has given some of country music’s biggest stars their start; such as Keith Urban, Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks to name a few with whom you might be familiar. Because it holds only about 100 people, tickets are extremely hard to get. But they offer about 20 seats on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Blue bird

Blue Bird Cafe

Time: 3:30 – After about a 30-minute Uber ride from our hotel, we got to the Blue Bird Café and got in line; doors open at 5:30. Looks like we’ll get in. Met two girls from New Jersey, Sherry and Sarah, with whom we shared some chips and a few ‘boxes-o-wine’ while waiting in line. They became our new best friends for the evening.

Time: 5:30, we’re in! Just being inside is an amazing experience when you think about all the stars that have been on this ‘stage in the round’ at the center of the café. It is never a rowdy crowd here, as patrons are expected to remain fairly quiet and listen to the singer-songwriters performing. Lots of songs about love gone bad, not a surprise at a country venue. Great experience!

Box of wine

Linda, Sherry, Sarah with Box-O-Wine

Time: Later – we head back to the bars of Broadway and eventually staggered home

Sunday – slept in! Fortunately the flight home didn’t leave until mid-afternoon, so head back to BB Kings for lunch – brisket, green beans, mashed potatoes; pulled pork, mac & cheese – gonna miss this southern cooking!

8:00 p.m. – Landed at LAX

After reading this, if you’re thinking you’d really like to go to Nashville – me too!  No, I’ve never been, and this vicarious vacationer didn’t lie in my opening statement, these are my notes from a recent trip, but the trip was given to Linda and Dana as a Christmas gift from son-in-law/husband, Joe Borrelli. They both said, “Best Christmas gift ever!”






By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This about sums it up

This about sums it up

We’ve been going through some conversations around our house that I suspect are not all that uncommon.  They go something like this:

Me:  Can you please turn up the TV so I can hear it.   Him: (no response)  Me again:  I said, PLEASE TURN UP THE VOLUME!  or

Him: Wodge bleit heog thu oebnog.  Me:  What?  Him:  I said, bleit heog thu oebnog!  Me:  I can’t understand you. Quit mumbling!

Obviously, what we have here is a failure to communicate.  Or hear.  He keeps the volume down so low on the TV that a rabbit couldn’t hear it.  His mumbling is such that invariably waitresses always ask him to repeat his order.  When they don’t, he usually ends up with the elk’s ear soufflé or stuffed frog gizzards and then he wonders what went wrong.  It’s gotten to the point that the most frequently used words around here were “huh?”, “whaaaat?” and “For Heaven’s sake, speak up!”.  Something had to be done before we were reduced to sign language.

Believe me, you want to be in the pink

Believe me, you want to be in the pink

It was a choice between a visit to an ENT doctor or  marriage counseling.  Since Medicare doesn’t pay for marital interventions we elected to go with hard science over navel-gazing.  My husband had the first appointment but I tagged along on the theory that four ears are better than two.  Especially when two of those ears don’t hear so well to begin with.  We told the doctor that we had problems hearing each other and had a lunch bet on whose problem it is.  The first step was a comprehensive hearing test to diagnose his hearing at different decibels and tones .  It also tested how clearly he could distinguish similar words.  Sounds simple enough.  However, in order to obtain the total silence needed to conduct the test, they escorted him into what can only be described as an in-house diving bell.  It is a thick, steel chamber with padded walls (not the first time we’ve seen those) with a small window in which to view the audiologist performing the test.  Once he was seated and hooked up she heaved a huge lever to close the door tightly.  I’ll stop right here and just say that if you are the least bit claustrophobic, do not get a hearing test.  The test then proceeded with beeps and tones and upon hearing them, he had to squeeze a button.  Kind of like when you need more morphine in the hospital only the result isn’t as much fun.  The second part of the test consisted of computer-generated words that he had to repeat.  Things like “deer” and then “fear” or “hang” and then “hand”.  The volume is also modulated so that some words are said more loudly than others.  In other words, it’s like listening in on a lively discussion in the hotel room next to yours – you hear about every other word.

The results for my husband were middling – he has good hearing at normal tones but severe hearing loss with high tones.  The doctor explained that is very typical hearing loss as we age.  He said it was borderline as to whether he needs a hearing aide and suggested waiting until it became a noticeable problem.  Really?  In my opinion we already have a noticeable problem when I practically have to do jumping jacks to get his attention about the TV volume.  So I asked the doctor why my husband often doesn’t hear me.  At which point he just smiled and said, “Perhaps he’s just not listening“. Perhaps?  Perhaps?!  I think they refer to that as “selective” hearing – always aware when being called to dinner but never quite hears the request to take out the garbage.  At least now I had confirmation from a medical professional.

Do I need one for every hair color?

Do I need one for every hair color?

The next week it was my turn.  I have had fairly severe ringing in my ears for the past five years so I explained to the audiologist that I might not hear high tones correctly.  It was sort of like telling my golf group before a round that I hurt my wrist that morning.  Always good to have an excuse at the ready beforehand.  The audiologist just smiled – I guessed I’d just given her the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” and she wasn’t buying it.  I was strapped into the electric chair seat, and waited to hear the beeps.  I was sailing along, feeling very good about things, until I sensed that the interval between beeps seemed to be increasing.  Or was it?  I began to push the button like a crack addict at an arcade –  random but in the hope that I would “hit” once in a while.  My heart began to pound.  I was certain that she was going to find me profoundly deaf.  I began to think about the display of hearing aides she had in the waiting area and which one might best blend in with my (current) hair color.   Finally, she unlatched the door and printed out my results.  We both walked into the doctor’s office where a nurse immediately took my blood pressure.  I have never had a systolic reading over 110 in my adult life.  My reading that day?  137!  At last the doctor came in and said, “Well, I think your husband owes you lunch.  You have perfect hearing”.  As to why the sound is so low when he watches TV?  The doctor explained that he probably just isn’t as interested as I am in hearing it.  Well…it is an election year so, yeah, that’s plausible.

Now, two weeks later, I try to speak in louder, lower tones.  He still mumbles.  I’m looking in to getting him a “selective” hearing aide.  And just to be safe, I’ve discovered that the local community college offers a course in American Sign Language.