February 11, 2021

When your editor has your back - and says so

    GENEVA, NY - My newspaper column in the Finger Lakes Times draws mostly positive comments.

     But today the Opinion Page (where my Write On scribblings appear every Friday) carried a smoking-hot letter from a reader, taking me to task for, well, just about everything I've written recently. And he said in no uncertain terms, I should pack up my keyboard and quit writing columns.

     You can read his full screed at the Finger Lakes Times website: Reader Rants.

   The writer is someone I have heard from a few times in the 9 1/2 years I have written Write On. When he first wrote a critical email to me years ago, I did as I always do for any reader who takes the time to write. I wrote him back, thanked him for his input and tried to open a dialog. It didn't work. In fact, I think it infuriated him.

     So today's letter wasn't a real surprise. Nor was his suggestion that I retire my columnist's cap. But this editor's note at the bottom of his letter was a surprise.

     That's quite an endorsement. It looks like I might hit the 10-year-mark of 520 consecutive columns on July 9.

   And I don't expect to retire from column writing after that. Not for awhile anyway. It's waaaaay too much fun.

December 9, 2020

The day I told Chuck Yeager to get his boots off my desk

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. - In 1981, I told the famous Chuck Yeager to get his "damn boots" off my desk at The Union newspaper where I had just been appointed managing editor.

Chuck Yeager in Grass Valley (Sacramento Bee file photo)
Yes, that Chuck Yeager, the sound-barrier busting, legendary test pilot/dare devil immortalized in Tom Wolfe's famous book The Right Stuff. Yeager was played by actor Sam Shepard in a movie by the same name, based on the book.

All these years later, I can still remember the look on Yeager's face when I braced him when I returned to my office. I found him sitting in my chair, his cowboy boots resting on the desktop, the papers that I had carefully arranged pushed aside in a heap. 

His expression when I barked at him was pure "I ought to punch you in the nose."

He didn't though. 

After a moment, he slowly stood up. Then he broke into a big grin as offered his hand for me to shake.

I had no idea this guy in a baseball cap was a luminary - or that he was invited guest of both my boss (the publisher of The Union) and the chairman of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, an USAF vet himself. I recall they were taking him out for a swanky lunch in Nevada City and - had I been a little older,  less territorial and not quite so full of myself - I might have been able to tag along.

But I didn't get invited.

Much to my embarrassment then (and still, really) it had to be explained to me who Yeager was and what he had accomplished in decades of daredevil flying. It wasn't until a year or so later that I read The Right Stuff and got the full picture. The book is still a favorite of mine.

Yeager lived in the Grass Valley area until he passed away this week. And while he and I never became buddies, the few intersections we had were cordial. I suspect he relayed the anecdote about our encounter to more than a few folks, probably getting a good laugh.

In the years after leaving Grass Valley, I had occasion to interview several retired USAF pilots, some very distinguished but who never became famous like Yeager. One former pilot who lived in Paradise, Calif. (yes, that Paradise, the one that burned in a wildfire) said he knew Yeager from test pilot days.

When I told him about ordering Yeager to move his boots, he laughed so hard he had tears running down his cheeks. 

"I surely wish I could have seen that," he told me.

RIP, Chuck.  Fly fast and straight wherever you want to go.

Yeager in 1963

September 15, 2020

Staying safely in port turned out to be the best strategy

   POINT RICHMOND - The Red Writer was all set to barrel off in search of clean air two days ago.
     Bags were being packed, groceries assembled, maps out, air quality indexes checked regularly.
Portland, Ore. air Tuesday
     Admiral Fox and I knew right away going north was out of the question.
     As we were prepping we could see fires were surging all over Oregon and Washington, adding smoke and danger to what was already happening just north of us here in California. Going north would be driving into an inferno.
     To the east, where cleaner air appeared to be, smoke was billowing fast in that direction, filling cities like Reno, Nevada with air even more foul than that in San Francisco.
     And so we ultimately decided to simply stay put - for the moment.
     By the way, thanks to all the folks between San Francisco and the East Coast who offered us safe harbor. It's very much appreciated. And please keep your porch lights on.
     By mid-day Tuesday, staying put proved to have been a good bet. The air cleared sufficiently to make breathing a lot easier (see AirNow's reading below). Predictions are for relatively clean air all this week.
     As comforting as that might be, The Red Writer is still locked and loaded if we need to bust a move.

Point Richmond, Calif. Tuesday

September 11, 2020

The Red Writer is ready for a quick getaway - from wildfire smoke

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - When Admiral Fox and I first got The Red Writer T@B trailer, one name we considered briefly was Escape Velocity.
     That name certainly seemed fitting today as I uncovered The Red Writer, got the new wheels torqued and brought it back to our condominium. It's our safe-haven hedge and rolling lifeboat in case the smoke drives us out of here.
    And it's close to doing that amigos, it's very close.
    This morning we awoke to near zero visibility outside (photo below), a mixture of coastal fog and smoke from wildfires way north of us. And it's bad enough that health authorities advise staying indoors.
     California is on fire - but so are the states of Oregon and Washington north of us.
     As the fog burned off, the smoke stayed right here with us, making the air quite toxic, (See the Purple Air map below)
     At the moment, we don't have a plan, exactly.
     But by late Saturday we expect to decide whether to activate Operation Red Writer Evac and quickly skitter to the east, into Nevada and maybe other Southwestern states where the air is fresh.
     For now, The Red Writer is parked safely right outside our condo, gathering falling ash on it while we make up our minds whether it's best to fight the smoke or take flight. Biscuit is ambivalent about it, provided he gets to chase squirrels. (See photo below).

View of San Francisco Bay at 7:30 a.m.
AIR QUALITY MAP: The purple essentially means, don't go outside
Ready to roll out of the smoke

Biscuit and the squirrel have a love-hate relationship - mostly hate...

September 4, 2020

Sailing through the decades, starting with a 'Banshee' sailboat

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - On the same day as I wrote a column for the Finger Lakes Times about friendships across the decades, an intriguing message arrived via Facebook from a shirttail relative.
     How shirttail?
     She is the great-granddaughter of my late cousin Barbara Puls. I don't have enough graph paper to draw out how we are related. So Mary Emily and I just call each other cousin - just like my many Mexicano friends do in Arroyo Seco, Mexico.
Rigging the Banshee for  Chautauqua Lake
     Mary Emily contacted me because she wondered if I could give her some information about a sailboat her grandmother said had once belonged to me.
     It certainly did - in 1968.
     1968. Jaysus!
   In the decades between, the sailboat, called a Banshee and manufactured by MFG boats in Union City, PA had passed from me to my Uncle Gordy and Aunt Ethel Puls (Mary Emily's great-great grandparents). Then it became the responsibility of my late cousin Barbara and down through her side of the family chain, ending up with Mary Emily.
     Mary Emily said she and her father were resuscitating the Banshee to get it back on the water.
     Talk about a memory jolt!
     I had so many flashbacks of sailing the Banshee on Chautauqua Lake that I couldn't write them down fast enough.
     (Don't worry, I won't relate them all here.)
     But seeing the boat being used again - and in amazingly good shape - has filled my heart in ways that are impossible to describe.
   My mother, Evelyn F. Fitzgerald Sr., bought the Banshee for me not long after I started college. We traded in the family's sporty ski boat (an MFG 14-footer with a 50 hp Mercury) to get the sailboat. Then I cruised Chautauqua as much as I could, dreaming of going to far distant places. A sunny afternoon, the Banshee loaded with a cooler of beer (and potato chips, of course) made it seem like I had a much bigger vessel under my command.
     My mom, as was her standard operating procedure, nervously looked the other way when I took off on days that were simply just way too windy for the small boat. But because I did go out when no one in their right mind should have, I learned about wind, waves and that a boat will take care of you, if you treat it properly.
    The Banshee stayed in New York when I moved to California in August of 1970.
   But within a few years in Petaluma, Calif. I bought an eight-foot wooden El Toro style sailboat dubbed The Guppy. My son Jason Fitzgerald and I sailed that all over, some times bailing as we went when the Guppy's fiberglassed seams would leak. After owning a mahogany cabin cruiser for a couple of years I sold it and went back to sailing for good.
     Over the next two decades I owned a 14-foot Lido sailboat, followed by a 17-foot O'Day Daysailer, then a 26-foot Windrose sloop, a 40-foot Swift ketch and finally the queen of the fleet, a custom 48-foot Maple Leaf sloop.
     The Maple Leaf - named Sabbatical (as was its predecessor the 40-foot Swift ketch) - fulfilled the cruising dreams launched by the Banshee. Admiral Fox and I set sail from San Francisco Bay and meandered as far south as Zihuatenejo, Mexico, stopping in many dozens of ports and anchorages for more than six years.
    The Banshee, piloted now by Mary Emily. was never given a proper name. It was just the Banshee. It was apropos because that's how fast the boat is. It's goes like a bloody Banshee, even in relatively light winds
     But I'll bet my cousin Mary Emily will figure out a great moniker. Or maybe she will just keep with the Banshee. It is a historic vessel, after all.
     For me I'm thrilled - just thrilled - that my first sailboat sails on. And that my cousin has taken the helm.

The Banshee sails again

The Banshee on her maiden voyage under command of Capt. Mary Emily

Sabbatical leaves San Diego on the way to Mexico

April 15, 2020

Dogs just gotta have fun

Biscuit wisely uses Sylvia as shield
   POINT RICHMOND - Ask your dog if he or she is upset about the stay-at-home, shelter in place orders.
     I have never seen so many pooches out on patrol with their owners, a nearly endless parade of dogs and owners making sweeps up and down the street, around the paths in the Miller-Knox park or in the center of the 'downtown' of Point Richmond.
    There are plenty of dogs cavorting in doggie play dates, too. They don't have to worry about social distancing.
    This morning Biscuit took part briefly in a dog party on the grassy area close to the road here at Brickyard Landing. He was by far the smallest canine in the pack, but didn't let it bother him.
    Considering that yesterday he was attacked by a black poodle twice his size - and that the devil dog took a bite right next to his eye - I was happy to see Biscuit was still feisty enough today to mix it up with the big dogs.
    He thinks he's a big dog anyway.
    When the shelter in place orders are lifted, it will probably be boom times for dog walkers again.
    But not for Biscuit of course. He had us trained too well.

Biscuit looks like a wrestling referee, watching for the 'pin'

April 12, 2020

Memories of the Great Easter Beer Hunts

   PETALUMA, Calif. - There are traditions and there are traditions.
     And so it was when my oldest son was nearly 5-years-old and my daughter not quite 2-years-old, we added a special Easter Egg Hunt to the traditional search.
     We still had the traditional Easter Egg hunt, with colorful decorated Easter eggs hidden around the backyard of my suburban Petaluma home. (The house was on Rocca Drive off Payran Street, in case anyone knows Petaluma.)
     My children and children of friends would scour my backyard coming back with Easter Eggs and candy hidden all about.
     It was great fun, of course.
     But as soon as all the Easter Eggs were gathered, the children would take over the event, hiding cans of cold beer around the yard for the adults to find.
      As the adults would wander around, pretending not to see a silver-colored can of Coors Light under a lawn chair, the children would squeal "Look down, look down!" or give some other clue to the obviously bumbling adults.
     The party after the Easter Egg and Easter Beer Hunts was always fun, too, usually including a big Sunday brunch that included adults raiding Easter baskets for the children's chocolate.
     And somewhere in my photo archives is a picture of my daughter that first year of the Great Easter Beer Hunts, splendidly attired in a pretty yellow Easter dress, using two tiny hands to hoist an unopened Coors Light can to her lips.
     It's a family classic, of course.
     Happy Easter to all, and to all a good day.

April 10, 2020

Leaving 'shelter-at-home' to bust loose on the freeway

   POINT RICHMOND - A simple errand.
     Drive to a bank in El Cerrito, make a quick transaction and drive home.
     And that's pretty much what happened.
     After being totally on foot for too many days - with the fastest forward motion coming from running after Biscuit - I needed some speed.
Not the Prius we drive...
     And so it was - in a Prius of all cars - I got on the freeway heading east and jammed the accelerator to the floor. I tore along passing cars, trucks, a motorcycle and a vehicle so decrepit, it defies categorization. I didn't get that good a look at it anyway.
     How fast did I get up to? Not sure I should say, in case some CHP helicopter clocked me. But don't underestimate how fast a Prius can go when encouraged.
     BTW, I did pass a black Dodge Charger like he was standing still.
    Playing Hot Rod Lincoln by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen on the radio probably kept my foot down a few seconds longer than I probably should have.
     But man! Did it feel good to zoom. (Zoom as in vehicle zoom, not that ubiquitous computer conferencing program that makes us all look like we're playing Hollywood Squares).
     When I got to my destination I thought about the film, Steelyard Blues with Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda, and Peter Boyle. Wildly speeding vehicles and car chases figure prominently in that flick.
     It also reminded me of the film Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen. Perhaps the most famous scene from that movie is below.  If you watch the clip, view it all the way through to the end.
     After my experience with today's errand, I would say if you own a dark-green 1968 Mustang fastback, don't let me borrow it under any circumstances until long after this coronavirus, stay-at-home, shelter-in-place order has been lifted.

April 9, 2020

A face mask - the must-have coronavirus accessory

   POINT RICHMOND - The sewing machines have been, well, sewing like crazy for more than a week now here, across California, the nation - and maybe planet, producing face masks for people to wear to protect them - and others - from COVID-19.
     All the masks I have seen here seem very solidly made, including several Admiral Fox made specifically for my mug while she was cranking masks out like a factory assembly line for other people in Brickyard Landing and beyond.
     Everyone working those sewing machines deserves a lot of thanks for their efforts.

     On the Admiral's advice, at the end of every day, whichever of the masks I have worn is tossed into the washing machine for a good anti-viral cleaning.
     Makes a lot of sense.
     And I've noticed there's a kind of a protocol people seem to follow with their masks when walking out and about, at least here in the Point.
     Walking alone, the face mask is often pulled down, worn around the neck like a stylish scarf. But as someone approaches - whether they are masked or not - the face mask gets quickly pulled up into place.
     It's kind of the opposite of what knights used to do in the Middle Ages with their helmets when they approached each other on horseback.
     As they rode up, they would raise the front of their helmets so they could see each other's eyes and to signal a friendly intention. If the front stayed down, a duel was likely. Some historians say it's also the origin of the military salute.
     In digging around today I ran across an amazing array of masks - some famous, some funny and some downright weird. Some have real medical-protection value, others are just for style or effect.
     Here's a few for your amusement while you wait for your mask to finish getting scrubbed in the washing machine.

Doctor's plague mask, from the Bubonic Plague era
The Mask - from the movie of the same name
Planet of the Apes mask

Man in the Iron Mask

April 8, 2020

'We Gotta Get Out of This Place'

   POINT RICHMOND - Cabin fever broke out today in my condo.
     Even Biscuit is showing symptoms.

• Irritability 
• Jumping at loud noises 
• Barking at Sylvia

     Oh, those are mine, not Biscuit's.
     He has his own responses to being home-bound.
   My escape in this situation usually involves writing. And this morning writing and the manifold effects of COVID-19 collided when I joined a national Zoom conference for a story to be published in the Richmond Pulse newspaper.
     The one-hour session was fascinating but fueled my claustrophobia.
     "We have no vaccine. We have no treatment. You just need to stay at home," one doctor said.
     It was nearly word-for-word what he said weeks ago in another such session.
   As I have been tapping on the keys to write up what a half dozen experts had to say, I implemented another escape strategy.
     No, not drinking wine - that's for later.
     The escape strategy is listening to music, 60s music usually.
     And what song did my computer pick randomly from my music library?
     We Gotta Get Out of This Place by Eric Burdon and The Animals.
     Yes, I have it on a loop right now.

"We gotta get out of this place,
If it's the last thing we ever do..."

   But about Cabin Fever wine.
     That bit of fermentation is produced and sold by Hazlitt 1852 Winery in Hector New York, the same Hector where Admiral Fox and I have spent many summers. And we've spent a bit of those summers at the winery, though I must admit in all the hours spent socializing there I have never sampled Cabin Fever.
     Well, if we "get out of this place" and back to Hector this summer, I'm buying a bottle.
     Now that I think about it, they ship all over the United States.
  Cabin Fever to cure cabin fever? Why not?

April 7, 2020

Some funny, some not-so-funny, coronavirus humor

POINT RICHMOND - A friend in upstate NY passed along these tidbits of coronavirus & shelter-in-place humor...

  • Half of us are going to come out of this quarantine as amazing cooks. The other half will come out with a drinking problem.
  • I used to spin that toilet paper like I was on Wheel of Fortune. Now I turn it like I'm cracking a safe.
  • I need to practice social-distancing from the refrigerator.
  • Still haven't decided where to go for Easter ----- The Living Room or The Bedroom
  • PSA: every few days try your jeans on just to make sure they fit. Pajamas will have you believe all is well in the kingdom.
  • Homeschooling is going well. 2 students suspended for fighting and 1 teacher fired for drinking on the job. (Yancey knows someone to whom this applies!)
  • I don't think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks we'd go from Standard Time to the Twilight Zone
  • This morning I saw a neighbor talking to her cat. It was obvious she thought her cat understood her. I came into my house, told my dog..... we laughed a lot.
  • So, after this quarantine.....will the producers of "My 600 Pound Life" just find me or do I find them?
  • Quarantine Day 5: Went to this restaurant called THE KITCHEN. You have to gather all the ingredients and make your own meal. I have no clue how this place is still in business.
  • My body has absorbed so much soap and disinfectant lately that when I pee it cleans the toilet.
  • Day 5 of Homeschooling: One of these little monsters called in a bomb threat.
  • I'm so excited --- it's time to take out the garbage. What should I wear?
  • I hope the weather is good tomorrow for my trip to Puerto Backyarda. I'm getting tired of Los Livingroom.
  • Classified Ad: Single person with toilet paper seeks same with hand sanitizer for good clean fun.
  • Day 6 of Homeschooling: My child just said "I hope I don't have the same teacher next year".... I'm offended.

April 6, 2020

Health-and-welfare checks on amigos

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - In the middle of this coronavirus muddle - and by middle I simply mean that the virus muddle is all around us, not halfway over - I try daily to do a few health-and-welfare checks on folks. The term health-and-welfare checks we picked up cruising our sailboat in Mexico.  
     When someone hadn't been heard from or seen on the ocean for a stretch, we would put the call out on the ham radio.
     Now in the middle of this virus muddle, for me doing a health-and-welfare check might mean a phone call, email, text message, FB message, FaceTime connection, Linked-in dispatch, a postcard (I have huge stack of Red Writer trailer postcards) or even an actual letter.
     I've been on the receiving end of lots of contact from people, too. It helps with the isolation.
     Of course I am hardly alone in our 1,431-square-foot condominium. Sylvia, the Biscuit and I are in nearly constant communication - whether it's convenient for each of us or not. I've actually been eyeballing one of my closets to see if it could be made into an isolation booth. You can do a lot in 16 square feet. Really.
     The consensus among most folks I contact is that they are doing okay. Very few say they are doing great. The most common adjective is "surviving," which in this case is certainly apropos on several levels.
     Most frustrating for many folks is the uncertainty of how long we may be in this stay-at-home, shelter-in-place limbo. May 1? June 1? July 1, August 1, January 2021. (I hope the 2021 reference didn't make anyone do a Linda Blair-like projectile-vomit imitation. I nearly did just writing it.)
     The amazing upside to making these health and welfare checks is that they act kind of like a chain letter. I will write to someone in Pittsburgh (PA) who will mention to someone else that I had contacted them. Then, voila!, I get an email or other message from that person.
     And the list goes on. It feels good on my end to hear from folks, too.
     I would continue to ramble, but my stack of postcards is calling to me. And Biscuit needs to go out, of course.
     Stay safe, stay sheltered, stay sane, amigos.

March 30, 2020

Ukuleles unite to fight the coronavirus blues

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Point Richmond has a wildly active ukulele group that had been gathering at Kaleidoscope Coffee (still open by the way). But like other such gatherings, the ukesters shut down those mass get-togethers to help stem the spread of the virus we are all trying to avoid.
     The Point uke group is still getting together via Zoom. I'll let someone else - maybe BYL's Steve Birnbaum, a noted ukulele strummer - add details about that meeting and how to get involved.
     But today I ran across a bit of uplifting ukulele music performed by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. It should get your toes tapping and maybe even spark a little sing-a-long.
     They put the piece together while the fun group members are in self-isolation. So they came together electronically and the result is great.
   This bunch of talented Brits certainly dresses a lot better while sheltering-in-place than most of the folks I know - or with whom I've been on Zoom chats. (Zoom Chat Tip: Comb your hair, bed head is a real thing.)
     Here they are, performing elegantly while in Lockdown:

March 29, 2020

Who was that masked man?

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Sunday was a day of mask production here in Admiral Fox's workshop office.
     No, not mass production. Mask production. 😎
     And no, no, NO! Not Lone Ranger-style masks, though it would be pretty cool if they could be used to fight infection. Hi-ho, Silver!
If Clayton Moore was still alive,
he could model medical face masks.
    The masks coming out of Admiral Fox's shop are to help people avoid getting infected - or infecting others - with COVID-19.
     Wait! Cloth masks won't stop COVID-19, right? Well, yes, that's correct. That's certainly the prevailing official medical wisdom.
     But a New York City doctor made a good argument last week that by wearing a mask, people are much less likely to touch their faces. The mask is a reminder that the mouth, nose and eyes are the weak spots in any human's defense against viruses and disease.
     The same doctor said compulsive hand washing is a virtue right now.
     Then, a few days ago, a well-respected doctor/medical researcher at UCSF in San Francisco said pretty much the same thing about masks when he was talking in a nationwide teleconference with journalists. Ditto for hand washing. Lots of hand washing.
     A mask can't hurt, he said, it can only help, even if only a little. And if everyone wears a mask, well, the overall risk of infection drops, as has been shown in other countries.
     So at least for the near future, masks will be the latest fashion accessory for all of our outside-the-condo forays.
     But will our Yorkie pooch Biscuit be willing to don a matching mask to what the Admiral or I wear?
     He's not saying.

The face mask manufacture workbench

Face mask Version 1.0

March 28, 2020

The only weather you control is whether you go out...

   POINT RICHMOND - Maritime bromides are filling my mind as I write about, read and ponder the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation.
     Situation. Now there's a damned vanilla word for this !@#%$#^#%$^$%#& mess.
     I am gradually turning into a coronavirus curmudgeon, a function of writing stories about the impacts of the disease - while also trying to write pieces that squash the swirling morass of misinformation out there about the origin of the disease.
     I won't repeat any of the nonsense now circulating.
   But Friday morning I spent more than an hour on a national media conference with other journalists (via Zoom) getting a briefing from medical experts on COVID-19 . The biggest takeaway is the same one being one hammered relentlessly for the last few weeks:

 Stay home.

     There's tons of messaging out there about this. But these docs were even more persuasive about protecting yourself - and others. It's actually so simple, it's pathetic. Stay home, hide out... Don't go to the store for Mallo Cups.
     (Wait! Aren't Mallo Cup-shopping runs exempt?)

   In our years of cruising our sailboat Sabbatical in the ocean and around San Francisco Bay, we often heard (and repeated) the expression, "The only weather you can control is whether you go out."
     Go out refers to leaving the dock, harbor or anchorage where you are sitting safe and secure.
     Once you hoist sails and embark you are in the weather, no matter how benign or battering it proves to be.
     More than once we discovered going out into sketchy weather was a mistake.
     And COVID-19?
     Provided you are keeping yourself secure inside your domicile, practicing good anti-virus hygiene in the house, and keeping outsiders, well, well outside, you are likely controlling 'whether' you are being exposed to the virus.
     But the best advice I read in the last 24 hours says to think of yourself as infected. Thus, by keeping inside and away from people you are protecting them! Looking at it that way makes it even more persuasive.
     Yesterday I drove Biscuit to a deserted parking lot on the edge of the Bay where he loves to take afternoon sniff tours. We were nearly alone, the only other humans were two bird watchers braving 15-knot cold winds off the water. By the way, the birders were scanning the skies and shoreline for sea gulls.
     Sea gulls, you know, rats of the sky.
     On the way home we drove by a half-acre dog park adjacent to a Point Richmond elementary school where there must have been 50 dogs and 100+ people wandering about.
     The dogs were far better at keeping social distance than the people. Most dog parks are off the list for now.
   Biscuit and I are discussing today whether we should continue to take our one daily outing to the ferry landing parking lot or suck it up and stay home.
     So far, his arguments to go take the drive are persuasive.
     We'll see.
     In the meantime, unless your dog convinces you of his or her need to step outside into the world, stay inside.
     It's the safest.

The Biscuit prefers going outside to sheltering-in-place

March 23, 2020

Plenty of time to drag out my ukulele

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - More than a decade ago, I set out to achieve three goals, not necessarily in the order listed below.

     • I wanted to become comfortable speaking - and understanding others speaking - a foreign language.
    • I wanted to publish a novel. (Publish, not just write)
    • I wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument.

     On the foreign language front, I am relatively comfortable with Spanish, though the longer I am away from living in Mexico, the weaker it gets. Still, two weeks ago I had a lively conversation - all in Spanish - with a mechanic who was fixing a dent in my Toyota Tundra.
     My novels (The Fracking War, Fracking Justice and The Devil's Pipeline) are all out there circulating.
     And the musical instrument?
   Well, after giving myself a frozen shoulder learning to play a full-size guitar, I was advised by a music pro to take up the ukulele. He said the best thing about a uke is that if you aren't that skilled on the strings, you can always just sing louder and cover up your ineptness. He was soooo right.
     The ineptness is more pronounced now, largely because I have barely tuned my eight-string in the last few years.
     But today I was encouraged by the video below featuring Neil Diamond. He performs a Covid-19-inspired remake of his classic "Sweet Caroline." It's great.
    And given that I (and probably you) have at least several weeks more of "sheltering in place" it got me to pull my uke down off the wall. Perhaps I can come up with a few parody numbers myself.
    Don't look for me on Youtube anytime soon, however.
Or for a reunion tour of The Four Headlamps.

March 22, 2020

Is your boat still floating?

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Two decades ago we were getting ready to sail our 48-foot sailboat Sabbatical under the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific Ocean and - as Mexico-bound sailors still say - turn left.
     It would be the start of a trip I had been dreaming of for years.
Sabbatical in Zihuatenejo, Mexico
     Even so, for many of us heading south to Mexico as part of a race/rally called the Baja-HaHa, sponsored by San Francisco Bay's Latitude 38 sailing magazine, there was more than a touch of anxiety.
     Ocean sailing, even within 10-20 miles of the coast, has plenty of potential perils.
     But a year or so before we turned left, Latitude 38 published a guide for people getting ready to head to Mexico. It contained a reassuring checklist for captains and their crews about how to deal with the manifold problems - large and small - they might encounter.
     It advised that the first question to ask yourself in an emergency was simple:

Is your boat still floating?

     It was the best - and perhaps most obvious - thing to know, miles from shore or anywhere.
     From there the list branched out to things like, "Can you still steer? Can you make the boat move via sails or engine? Is the crew all healthy? Does your two-way radio still work? And so and so and so on down the list that I am sure had "do you still have beer?" somewhere towards the end.
     That article full of nautical (and life) wisdom has been on my mind ever since the coronavirus pandemic started buffeting people's lives like huge waves and winds on the ocean. I tried to adapt it to the complicated situation we face. But somehow saying, "Is your house still standing?" didn't have the same cachet as "Is your boat still floating?"
     But then this morning, a friend from Penn Yan, New York forwarded a very to-the-point helpful piece with advice about how to reset panicky thinking as we deal with COVID-19.
     You may have already seen it on Facebook or Twitter:

     Good advice all around, I think.
     What am I planning for today? Admiral Fox and will take a long walk with the family and Biscuit, our dog.
    And we will keep the above "mindset shift" advice in mind.
    We know the boat is still floating.

March 21, 2020

Waiting for Mr. Coronavirus

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Everyone reading this is likely in the same boat, so to speak.
The coronavirus has us all hiding out inside our homes. Or if outside, we are wary of anyone getting within 10 feet of us.
     Yes, I know the recommendation is 6 feet. But when you are about to pass someone walking on a sidewalk it's hard to gauge. Ditto for having a small dog on a leash when you pass someone with young children who just have to pet your pooch.
    This is prelude to restating a bit of the bad news you have already received from screeching media sirens of disaster about how quickly this virus is infecting people - and spreading.
    For days I have been fascinated by a virus-case online graphic published by Johns Hopkins.
     Fascinated and horrified.
     The only good news - such as it is - is that it updates every hour of two and doesn't have a running tally in real time where you could watch the number of cases in 167 nations as they pile up.
     It is still startling to log on every couple of hours and see the upticks.

     The screenshot above shows that the total number of confirmed cases worldwide has hit 297,000-plus as of 10:43 a.m. Saturday, March 21.
     A couple of hours before, that number was about 279,000.
     A couple of hours. Jaysus.
     Of course, there's a lot of argument to be had about the world's population being 7.8 billion and that the infection rate of confirmed cases so far represents an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the globe.
     But if you start watching the numbers the way I have, and see how the totals are jumping (for the U.S., especially) you get a mathematical understanding of why health authorities are soooooo freaking insistent on people sheltering-in-place.
     Until we get reliable testing of everyone, any one of us could be carrying the disease, period.
     The cute little kid that wants to pet the dog. The grocery store clerk. The gas station attendant at Costco. Your neighbors who you normally enjoy a glass of wine with. 
     For the moment, we all have to be paranoid to the point of being, well, paranoid.
     The hardest part for me is sitting still while this unseen enemy steadily advances. Like most people, I can barely contain my anger at the federal government and the narcissist-knothead masquerading as president of the United States.
     How many people opined when he was elected that "Trump is going to get us all killed"?
     But at that point the fear was mostly about a nuclear Armageddon, not a microscopic enemy threatening life as we know it.
    There. I feel better having vented. Sorry if it rattled you even more than you might be rattled. But if you got this far, you might take a peek yourself at the Johns Hopkins coronavirus website by following this link:
     Or maybe not looking is a better strategy.
    Stay safe, amigos, wherever you are.