THE NEW SCHOOL: NAKED ZOOM

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’ve been reading several articles about how to keep your brain engaged as you age.  Apparently playing endless games of Candy Crush aren’t doing anything to fire up my brain cells.  Knitting is good, as I have to use mathematics, but not often enough to make a difference.  So, I set out to find a way to stave off “mush brain” and quite happily discovered the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).  OLLI is a branch of The Bernard Osher Foundation, an organization that makes grants and endowment gifts to colleges, universities, and other non-profit organizations in four areas, among them lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults.  Almost makes us sound like a rack of ribs. Nevertheless, I began to look into their programs.  First, I learned that OLLI is found on the campuses of 125 colleges and universities throughout the U.S. The class offerings are wide-ranging and are specifically developed for adults aged 50 or older who are interested in learning for the joy of learning. As a bonus, there are no tests and no grades.  Luckily for me there is a branch of OLLI at Arizona State University, so I signed up for the summer session.  Unfortunately, “summer” was defined as the month of June.  Well, who can blame them?  No one wants to be here in July and August.  Due to the brief length of the term, the classes are one-shot seminars, each lasting 90 minutes.  Some are in person, but most are on Zoom.  Zoom can be perilous – but more on that in a moment.

Will Ferrell, if he’d taken quantum physics

Since I was only committing 90 minutes of my life at a time, I decided I would sign up for some classes that are outside my wheelhouse.  First on the list – quantum physics.  The professor was an amazing young woman, who had a wonderful sense of humor and knew that she had a challenging – or challenged – audience.  After the first 30 minutes I was glad we were on a Zoom call, as my attention began to lapse, and I found myself drifting into thoughts of what I’d have for lunch.  I was not the only one – several people at the end volunteered that maybe they weren’t cut out for a career in quantum physics.  Still, it was interesting, and I only invested 90 minutes to learn that I need to stick to the social sciences.  I took an in-person class from a retired physics professor (can’t seem to avoid physics) who lectured on the history of Stonehenge.  He was fabulous – 90 years old and a testament to lifelong learning.  I participated in a Zoom class conducted by an ex-newspaper reporter who followed the Rolling Stones on their very first US tour back in the 60’s.  He had some wonderful insights and opinions about the music of the time and how it changed the recording and radio industries.

Next, I took a Zoom class on the life and works of George Gershwin.  This is where things got interesting.  At the beginning of the class the ASU administrator cautioned us that we must put our computers on mute, and that if we planned to walk around, eat, or do anything else that might be distracting, we needed to cut our video feed as well.  Almost everyone chose to cut the video, so that only our names appeared in the box.  About a minute after her cautions ended, a new person joined the call.  Her audio was silenced but her video feed was on.  She was clearly in her bathroom, with her closet in the background.  All we could see was her head, which was wrapped in a towel.  I thought maybe she was running late and had just ducked out of the shower.  That was confirmed a couple of minutes later when she stood up, revealing that she only had a towel wrapped around her.  What could possibly go wrong?  A few minutes later she went off-screen, only to return walking across the screen – NAKED.  She casually walked into her closet, obviously trying to decide what to wear, all the while showing us her assets.  Literally.  She then turned around and proceeded to put on her undergarments.  Finally, she donned a blouse, much to our collective relief.  She then sat down and proceeded to blow dry her hair.  I guess that was the gesture that sent the administrator over the edge, as she sent a private message to this woman to let her know her video was on.  In the group chat the woman replied, “Oh no.  Sorry!”  Well, it was too late for sorry.  I will never unsee what I saw.  To her credit, the woman blacked out her video, but she stayed on the call. I would have immediately packed my bags for Argentina.

I have five more seminars to attend this month, on subjects ranging from a Vietnam retrospective to Woodstock to the establishment of the 13, 14 and 15th amendments.  Luckily for me, OLLI at ASU added a true summer session, each class lasting six weeks in July and August.  I’m taking two classes: one on the great films from the 1920’s to the ’60’s and one on the automobile’s impact on society.  I highly encourage you to check out OLLI – the classes are wonderful, you might gain a brain cell, and it’s fun to learn with other people who are “seasoned”. But I must say the most important lesson learned so far: cut the video feed on a Zoom call.

The Road Trip: The ‘Mother Lode’ Country and Back Home Again.

by Bob Sparrow

Murphys Hotel

With Dennis at Murphys Hotel Bar

We left Lake Tahoe around 8:00 a.m. on a beautiful Thursday morning heading south; we took Highway 50 to Highway 49 heading into the ‘Gold Country’.  We drove through a good deal of burned forest, caused by the fire in 2021 that scorched more than 346 square miles of the Sierra Nevada Forest, destroying 1,000 structures, with over 50,000 residences being evacuated.  A real blight on an otherwise gorgeous drive.

We eventually hit Angel’s Camp and Sutter’s Mill, the place where gold was first discovered in California, leading to the gold rush of 1849.  We fortunately arrived one week after the famous, Calvaris County Frog Jumping Contest, made famous by Mark Twain, so the place was not overcrowded with tourists, like us!  I had called an old friend from Yorba Linda Country Club, Dennis Despie, who had relocated to the Mother Lode County, and we agreed to meet him at Murphys Historic Hotel ‘Queen of the Sierras since 1856’; in downtown Murphys for lunch.  It is a classic old hotel, with a great bar and bartender, Kurt, where we sat and had a delicious lunch and a cold beer and heard about the history of the place.  It was so good to see Denise again as he told us all about the area and how he and his family were doing.  After lunch, Jack and I took a walk around this quaint little town and we had to buy a T-shirt.

Don & Barbara Stutzman back in the day

Susan (Stutzman) Scarth (Remember her from our Novato visit!) had set up another meeting for us in this area with Barbara Stutzman, Don Stutzman’s, second wife and widow, she owns and operates a wedding venue site that we understand to be one of the premier wedding venues in America.  It’s called Union Hill Inn, you can check it out online.  We met and talked with Barbara for about 30 minutes in her cottage on the property and then she asked us if we wanted a tour, we said yes and got in a golf cart parked near by, and went about 50 feet and then the battery died.  That was the end of the tour, so, like you, we’ll have to check it out online, but it looked spectacular!  We headed into the quaint downtown of Sonora, where we walked down the main drag and found, of all things, a bar, The Iron Horse Saloon, where the bartender liked the story of our road trip so much that he bought us a drink, maybe two.  We spent our last night on the road at the Hotel Lumber Jack in Sonora.

A five-hour drive the next morning got us back to Santa Maria and, just like our journey’s beginning, we had dinner with Sharon and Deb & Steve Rau, but this time at their newly remodeled home – beautiful!  I spent the night at Jack & Sharon’s and drove home early the next morning.  Happy to be back home to Linda and my own bed, but filled with some extrodiary memories.

Days on the road: 10

Miles covered: 1,987

Number of counties visited: 32

Number of clouds seen during the 10-day trip: 3

Spending 10 days with my brother visiting friends and some of the most beautiful and iconic places in California: Priceless!

 

 

The Road Trip: Lake Almanor to Lake Tahoe

by Bob Sparrow

Don & Marjie on their deck on Lake Almanor

Our drive from Alturas to Lake Almanor was magnificent on this perfect-weather day, although I must admit that part of the excitement was knowing we were leaving Alturas.  We have never seen so many pine trees, both standing and being hauled by the many logging trucks we passed along the way.  We headed south on Highway 395, following the South Fork of the Pit River.  The road weaved through beautiful pines and incredibly large green meadows.  We could have stayed on 395, but, hey, this is a road trip and we saw that by detouring just a few miles out of the way we could go by Eagle Lake.  So we did, . . . not worth the detour.  We arrived and drove the main drag of Susanville, which didn’t excite us too much, so we got back on 395 South and were shortly in Lake Almanor.  We stopped to have lunch in the lakeside town of Chester and were given all the scoop on the area from Kathleen, the bartender at The Mt. Lassen Club.

Don & Marjie’s home from their dock

We were not prepared for what was to come next, we had arranged to meet friends and fellow Yorba Linda Country Club members, Don & Marjie Fryer.  They gave us directions to their home in a gate-guarded community on ‘the peninsula’ of Lake Almanor.  Before entering ‘the peninsula’ we drove past a most beautiful golf course, Bailey Creek, of which, Don & Marjie are members.  We drove almost to the end of the peninsula driving past beautiful home after beautiful home, until we reached the beautiful home of Don & Marjie.  The photos don’t do it justice!  They welcomed us with open arms and a mango margarita, and then we got on their boat and cruised the lake on this beautiful afternoon, looking at all the spectacular homes on this perfectly sunny, cloudless day. We came back to the Fryer home and sat on their deck and probably, I can’t remember now, had a drink or two.  We went to dinner at a local Italian restaurant with the Fryers and their friends Rex and Jan.  We sat outside, told stories, and laughed all the way through dinner.  Back at the Fryer Estate, we had an after-dinner cocktail as we watched the sunset behind Mt. Lasen.  What an awesome day!!!!

Sunset over Lake Almanor

Sadly, we leave the Fryer home the next morning and head to Quincy.  We wanted to visit Quincy on our way to Lake Tahoe because we used to vacation there when we were kids.  Jack, who has an amazing memory, told me to drive seven miles out of town, tuned down a dead-end road that had a store on the corner and low and behold, we found the old house that we used to vacation in, which was owned by the Schieck family.  After a drive down a long, dirt driveway, we tried to get the attention of anyone inside the cabin, but to no avail, so we headed back on the road to Tahoe.

When getting to Lake Tahoe we were going to visit the site of our parents ashes on Rocky Ridge, but the road was partly closed, so we decided to go to lunch, first at Sunnyside, closed until 4:00; then Jake’s on the Lake, closed, We looked to see if there was still water in Lake Tahoe!!  There was, lots of it!  So we went to an old haunt, Pete & Peters Bar, which turned out to be the best choice, as Jack, who lived and operated a restaurant at Tahoe for 14 years, ran into four people he knew and talked to a fifth person on the phone.  I just quietly drank my beer.

Jack at Pete & Peter’s Bar & Grill in Tahoe City with old cronies Yates and bartender, Dana

After lunch and a couple of beers, we headed down the west shore of Lake Tahoe, and drove by the cabin that was owned by our parents’ best friend, Dick Schieck, where we vacationed every summer for many years, we also checked out the cabin right next to it as that was owned my college roommate Ken Poulsen and me.  As we drove along the west side of Tahoe, we passed familiar spots like Rocky Beach and Meek’s & Emerald Bay, finally arriving at Harrah’s at the south end of the lake.  We got a nice room with a view of the lake and headed to the casino, which was rather dark and dingy.  After a quick donation at the craps table, I joined Jack at the only black jack table in the casino, but it wasn’t really black jack, the dealer was still in the game if he got to 22!!  After the slow torture from a hot dealer, and $150 later, we decided that luck was not with us today in the casino.  A quiet dinner and to bed early.

We woke up early the next morning (another perfect day) and looked forward to our trip to the ‘Mother Lode Country’, home of Mark Twain’s, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calvarias County, which was just the weekend before.

Next blog: Road Trip: The Gold Country and Back Home Again

 

The Road Trip: Mt. Shasta City & Alturas

by Bob Sparrow

Snow and ice-covered Castle Lake

We left Novato fairly early on a beautiful Sunday morning, leaving Pete a note of thanks for the great hospitality, and headed north.  We found Highway 37 North closed, so we were detoured through Sonoma, which happened to be where our parents last lived.  Heading east, we connected to Interstate 5, and eventually hit the bustling town of Willows, which we wanted to get off the freeway and drive through as it was where our father was born.  It hasn’t changed much in the 110 years since then, but I did get a photo of Willows ‘International’ Airport (below).

We continued up Interstate 5 and amazingly we could see our destination of Mt. Shasta from 100 miles away!  Awesome!!  The landscape changed as the large Oak and maple trees outside of Redding gave way to majestic Pines, Firs and Spruce trees as we neared our destination.

Bartender Sharynne at the oldest bar in Mt. Shasta City

We arrived in Mt. Shasta City and were told we could not check into our hotel until later in the afternoon, so we went into town and found the Vet’s Club, ‘Mt. Shasta’s Oldest Bar’.  I thought I could get cheap drinks as a veteran, but it wasn’t an official Veteran’s bar, it was just started by a veteran many years ago, but the beer was great!  We surprisingly, somehow befriended the bartender, Sharynne (that’s how they spell Sharon up here), who told us about the history of the bar (it used to be a house of ill-repute), and she wanted to sign up for the blog.  We ended up meeting all the guys at the bar and having a great time.  We were told about a lake that we should see while we’re here – Castle Lake; so, we drove out to the mostly covered with snow and ice lake to take in this beautiful winter wonderland scene.  We knew we had a long road ahead of us tomorrow, and it was a long day today, so we went back to our hotel, checked in, had dinner at the hotel restaurant, and crashed.

McArthur-Burney Falls

We awoke the next morning to a cloudless, cool morning and started a drive that has got to be one of the most beautiful drives we’ve both ever taken, as the road is cut out of the towering pines, which ultimately give way to beautiful vistas of mountains and expansive valleys.  The Big Valley is indeed one of the biggest and most beautiful valleys we’ve ever seen.  We stopped at McArther-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and checked in with Ranger Mike at the gate and got all the info on seeing the park and the water falls.  Amazing!!  I seem to be saying that a lot this week!  It occurred to both of us that this drive alone made the trip worthwhile – the beauty is indescribable, so I’ll quit trying to describe it!

We ultimately arrive at our destination – Alturas, which was a little bigger than we had imagined, but a little deader than we hoped.  We cruised down Main Street, which seemed to be empty on this Monday afternoon.  We checked in to our hotel and asked the hotel manager, who was born and raised in Riverside, where we could get lunch and a beer.  He really couldn’t come up with much, but finally offered up the Desert Rose Indian Casino.  We drove through town to get to the Desert Rose and saw that many of the shops were shuttered.  We arrived at the Desert Rose Casino to find that it was like a boxcar in a wheatfield.  Luxurious it was not!  We had lunch and beer at the bar and found out the bartender was born in Orange, which was about the most interesting thing about the place.  We thought that maybe people come to Alturas because they are running or hiding from someone or something.  And, disappointingly, there were no turkeys, turkey farms or turkey pot pies to be found!

Our guide book on Alturas, OK, maybe just a small paragraph on Google, told us we should visit the historic Hotel Niles, so we did, but the restaurant and bar were closed and we saw no one in the hotel – although it looked like it might have been pretty nice in its day.  We were told the population of Alturas has been declining over the years.  We now understand why.  Most people come here not to live, but to hunt or fish and then leave town.  We got up very early the next morning and got out of town.

Willows ‘International’ Airport

 

Mt. Shasta from our hotel room

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alturas Main Street commute traffic

One of the only signs of life in Alturas

 

Alturas’ Glitzy Desert Rose Casino

Next Road Trip post: Thursday, June 6 ‘Beautiful Lake Almanor and Beyond’