November 26, 2009

Memories of a Thanksgiving dinner past - a long time past

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - So, what was the best Thanksgiving dinner - taste wise - you ever had? For me, that's hard to narrow down, considering how many I have choose from, spanning six decades.

Six decades? Kee-rist!

But the one that sticks in my mind today wasn't served on fine china, on a table covered with linen. And the silverware wasn't silver, though it got the job done neatly enough.

It was 40-plus years ago that I was working at a Minute Man gas station in the burg of Falconer, New York, seven miles from my home in Lakewood that Thanksgiving Day. And there was no getting around the job and working. Jobs were scarce, particularly for unskilled college kids. And I certainly fit that bill.

So I sat staring at the mostly empty gas pumps for four hours that afternoon, the very occasional customer stopping by on their way to a nice dinner somewhere. They were dressed quite fancy; I was dressed in ragged white coveralls.

Mostly I remember it was cold - damned cold - and I was hungry. The little restaurants nearby, where I always picked up a cheap lunch, were closed that day.

But midway through my shift, a familiar car came barreling in, a Camaro if my memory is right. It was my high school amigo Bud Hooper whose parents lived in Falconer. Bud was bearing a plate of leftover food from their dinner eaten earlier that day. Bud's mom Shirley knew I was sitting at Minute Man, counting the hours until I could head back home to my family where the official Thanksgiving dinner was underway, Manhattans flowing.

What I also remember was putting the aluminum-foiled wrapped plate on a radiator in the backroom to warm it up a little and cracking it neatly in two.

Camaro coupe

Cracked plate or not, the turkey and potatoes and dressing were soooo good I rarely smell a turkey cooking without thinking of them and that cold November afternoon and how nice it was.

And perhaps the nicest thing - something to remember today - was that it was totally unexpected. I had decided that afternoon that I would rely on some stale Fritos from a vending machine and a Mountain Dew soda to get me through until quitting time.

Instead, thanks to the kindness of a friend's mom, I had fabulous meal.

Sorry about the cracked plate, Shirley. But thanks again,  40-plus years later.

November 25, 2009

Admiral Fox celebrates a 'Wicked' birthday in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., USA - A planned road trip to Las Vegas and parts east of us in Sacramento was canceled last week in favor of a much-shorter trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to celebrate Adm. Fox's birthday.

And as part of that celebration, we went to see the stage show 'Wicked' at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, a musical that is, well, very musical and a delight.

Yes, I said it was a 'delight.' Yes, I tell my students not to say stuff like that.


Teal Wicks
A Young Wicked Witch of West

The days in Oakland and San Francisco involved enough hiking to make any Sierra Club member proud, enough fine dining (read $$$$$) sufficient to make the American Express credit card folks extremely pleased, and plenty of side adventures such as renting a three-wheeled car to tool around city streets for an hour or so.

The cars are actually three-wheeled 50cc motorcycles with a fiberglass car body on top of them. And they go about as fast as you would expect a 50cc motorcycle with a fiberglass car body on them to go. The cars are powered by Vespa engines.

Enough said?

We must have cut quite the image because at several stoplights along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, people shouted out 'nice ride.'

Indeed it was.

Gentlemen, start your engines
Gentlemen, start your engines

Back home safe in Sacramento this afternoon (after a side trip to Sausalito to check on the harbor and to have breakfast at the Lighthouse Restaurant), the Admiral and I are talking about how to quickly wind down the semester at the university while simultaneously packing and getting ready for our escape, er, I mean trip, back home to Mexico.

And Admiral Fox has her countdown calendar up and running - on her ITouch, of course.

November 16, 2009

The paranoia about illness - or is it the illness of paranoia?

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The sneezing, sniffling, oh-shit-I-feel-like-I-have-a-fever time is raging here in Central California like a wildfire out of control.

At the university, the health center is diagnosing students over the telephone as having swine flu. And while it's normal at this stage of the semester to have a lot of absence, my classrooms are often only half full, with the other half emailing in that they are sick and will take a pass on coming to school that day.

And if they think they are sick, they do have strict orders: Keep thee away from me. A couple of zip codes would be nice.


This entire flu-mania took on special meaning late last week when a Sacramento amiga invited the Admiral and I to come to her house and have dinner. Sure, sounds great, we said. Plans were put into place to bring the ukulele for a little concert for she and her husband and two young children.

Two children. Two young children.

Uh-oh. Children, much younger versions of walking petri dishes of bacteria and viruses that I teach daily. Good kids to be sure, but what illnesses might lurk in that critical three-foot radius around them? And what if I caught a bad cold - or worse - weeks before the Admiral and I are scheduled to make our way south and east, back to coastal Mexico?

We canceled. I think we are still friends.

Someone once told me that you are only paranoid if you think someone is out to get you and they are not.


So I continue to gulp vitamins and minerals twice a day - prescribed by my Canadian amiga Laura - drink enough water to solve the Southern California water shortage, try to sleep a full 8 hours and I hold my breath in the elevators at the University.

Paranoid? No way.

November 13, 2009

A trip to the Camp Connell - where cold is really cold

CAMP CONNELL, Calaveras County, Calif., USA - We zipped up the mountain from Sacramento last night, arriving an hour or so after dark, just ahead of some cold weather.

Rain greeted us in Angel's Camp (15 miles from here) and for a few minutes, I thought we would be running into snow and sleet. It rained hard enough that I think a new set of windshield wipers is in order. We'll go home tomorrow when it warms up - and no rain is forecast.

Temperature at 11 a.m.
Temperature at 11 a.m.

It's always fun to visit Sanders and Pat here and it was a nice night of music, wine and great food. And this morning, the day dawned sunny and bright - at least as sunny and bright as it can be with this many huge trees surrounding the house.

So after the requisite three cups of tea (a la Greg Mortenson), the Admiral and I took a foray out around the countryside, ending up at the Camp Connell store where the locals were sipping coffee (and some sipping beer).

Admiral Fox - got her ears frosted up on the walk there and checked out a few of hats they had on sale.

Sylvia in coonskin cap
No ear coverage

Ready for winter
Ear coverage - great. Style - not so great

The Camp Connell store is a microcosm of the community - and the place to visit if you want to check out what's going on. Need a handyman to fix the gutters on the house? Check the store. Need to know about the snow in the pass? These people will know.

Later today, we will make a foray to a slightly lower elevation to visit amigos Randy and Karin, amigos from here as well as Mexico. Randy and Karin will be coming to Mexico for two months, living in a house near the church in La Manzanilla.

And, of course, we will likely make another walk down the hill to the Camp Connell store this afternoon, too, when it's time to join the locals for a cold beer.


Camp Connell store
Camp Connell store

November 3, 2009

Learning Spanish - really learning - es muy importante

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - In the last couple of years, my Spanish language speaking (and listening) skills have progressed from those of an elementary school student to, oh, a not-very-bright teenager.

The emphasis here is on not-very-bright.

Still, I have been generally pleased with progress and by the end of May last year, was able to converse pretty freely with my Spanish-speaking neighbors (vecinos) and friends (amigos) in Arroyo Seco and La Manzanilla.

They apparently don't mind talking to a not-very-bright teenager encased in the body of a 60-year-old gringo.

But Monday I realized that resting on my laurels is not a good idea. I need to begin to push a little harder this year. Maybe I'll learn how to use the past tense. Woo-hoo!

Devani with shaker toy
Goddaughter Devani at her birthday party last May

What has prompted this semi-come-to-Jesus-moment about getting more fluent was trying to talk on the telephone Monday with Mimi, the mother of Devani, our goddaughter. When Devani was born, she and her mother (and grandmother and grandfather) all lived in La Manzanilla, eking out a living cleaning houses and running a tiny restaurant out the front of their house. And, being good godparents we saw them often. When needed, we helped out by buying medicine for the baby and sometimes basic foodstuffs when there wasn't much work.

A few months ago, the family picked up and moved to Ensenada where they were able to find work. La Manzanilla had no work for them at all. In fact, if reports are accurate, the village could use a serious infusion of gringo cash to get some pesos in the pockets of the local Mexican residents.

But I digress.

When the phone rang - and the Admiral said it was Mimi - I knew trouble was afoot because I had received an email a few days earlier indicating that Devani had been going to the doctor. But Monday morning, Devani had returned from a trip to the hospital where the doctors said expensive asthma medicine was desperately needed.

Emphasis here on desperate. Emphasis here on expensive.

I would like to say I learned all this because I understood Mimi just fine in our telephone conversation. But I didn't. I picked up that the baby was sick, that Mimi wasn't too hot either, that there was some work but they were struggling financially. And I heard a lot of very-frightened-mother incantations (in-between sobs) and the Spanish verbs came at me faster than dodgeballs in a junior high school gym class.

What I could not understand was how serious things were - and also how to get some money into Mimi's hands for the medicine.

Western Union
Western Union - they'll take your money

Lucky for all of us, Mimi was telephoning from a home where she and her mother work three days per week. The owner speaks enough English for us to work out the details of how to get some cash across the border for the 18-month-old's asthma medicine.

It turned out that good old Western Union is the transfer vehicle of choice and by late afternoon (and a quick trip by Adm. Fox to the WU office), the medicine for the baby should have been purchased.

In Mexico, you can do the same thing, but by wandering to any Coppel store, which does wire transfers of money, too.


So what's the next step in the search for fluency?

Una pregunta buena ( good question). Perhaps there's a good ITouch app that I can wire into my brain while I sleep.

Or perhaps my amiga Laura Warner can put me into a language training program this spring. (She already has me taking four vitamin and mineral pills a day to ward off H1N1, as well as the myriads of germs lurking around the university.)

Or I could just plain old study, I suppose.

Hmm.. I think I'll try the ITouch first - and download a few ukulele tunes at the same time.