Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today, a new President

Something incredible happened today.

Our country inaugurated a new leader… a new President.

The United States can claim the moral high ground for many things (not for others)… but among the most provable is our leadership succession. Barack Obama is our 44th president… His predecessors, from George Washington, who took office in 1779 represent more than leaders, they represent a philosophy, a common belief in how we govern ourselves. How we chose new leaders, how that happens, and how each new president comes to office.

In 230 years, we have had 44 leaders. The transitions have been for the most part peaceful, joyful celebrations. Unfortunately, four, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinney and Kennedy have been the result of assassination. Several more, Harrison, Harding, and Roosevelt (FDR), have died while in office, and one, Nixon, has resigned.

It is a 230 year record of mostly peaceful, always legally sanctioned transitions. based on a document, the Constitution, which guides we Americans govern ourselves, and choose our leaders. History shows we, (The people,) get it right more often than not.

Barack, our new President is special in several ways… our first black or mixed race president. This is significant in many ways… Most importantly, we, collectively, have decided that a black man is the best choice. I, a white man like to think that this is a watershed, a moment in time that says that yes, blacks, are equal with whites. This would also mean that latinos, native americans, asians, and any other identified ethnicity are all equal, by decision of the majority of the voters… a definable moment. (by the way, I have chosen not to use capital letters to identify race and ethnicity. In hope that ethnicity is now a footnote in describing people rather than a core identification.)

He is also a liberal, after 8 years of conservative government.

I am a historian. This is important. It is about how someone looks at history, how one documents his thoughts (it’s the dreaded footnote thing again, more on that in a future post) This is a historic occasion. I think of who has come before, what each man (so far only men, that too will change.) Men like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe each brought to the office, including documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights… Each ar more than pieces of paper, just like our new president is more than a black man.

I don’t think it strange, that he has spent time enough in Hawaii, via his late grandmother, that, Hawaii can think him a native son. I have a close friend who, for something over 40 years has chosen to be a citizen of the state of Hawaii. He married a Hawaiian/Chinese woman. He has nieces, nephews, and relations who are a grand mix of the many races that make up the Hawaiian experience, the soup. My friend had long ago gone “native”. He talks of a world where when one has more than 3 mixed ethnicities, you just become “local” a term accepted wonderful mix of ethnicity and culture. He has many aunt, uncles, nieces and nephews who collectively span the Pacific.

There is hope. In so many places. In so many ways. Good luck President Obama, we Americans support you.

Goodbye, Randy

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two Ghost Stories

Act one: It’s winter at work, a strange time, as the house is closed, but I am still there, doing paperwork, and cleaning up, but most of the time alone.

It can also be magical… on rainy days, or early in the morning I have the farm to myself. One morning in particular it was foggy, and cold. The fog hid much, giving the things you could see much more impressive. The walnut alley was particularly spectacular… the dormant trees standing ghost like in a field of white. There was a moment in the Willows field as the fog broke, where the modern was edited out, leaving a scene from 100 years before.

Act two: There is a ghost town near by. The town of Drawbridge is located on an island at the south end of San Francisco Bay. It was and continues to be a railroad town. As the South Pacific Coast Railroad built south from Newark in 1876, it went to sea, across the salt marshes, then across Mud Creek Slough via the first of two drawbridges, onto Station Island, then across a second drawbridge over Coyote Creek. The drawbridges required a keeper, or tender, available to open them as needed as both creeks were (and still are) considered ‘navigable”. The railroad built a small station on the island, along with a house for the tender.

With access via the railroad a town grew up on the small island… and its primary industry, duck hunting. Old stories suggest the town was informally divided into two communities, at the north end were the respectable folks, many with families, most supporting themselves by market hunting, hunting large numbers of ducks for sale in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose butcher shops and markets.

The south end of town was more oriented towards visitors, with the duck clubs and “hotels” many of which were said to have one “maid” for each small room. The amateur hunters came to town in search of more than ducks. It was away from the city and its rules…

At one time the island was said to have 90 homes… There were still 25 residents in the 1960’s, but the last left about 1977, and the property is now part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife refuge. and the area closed. For a time they occasionally offered tours, but haven’t for some years. Today the place is home to ducks and other waterfowl, and the only human visitors are the from the wildlife service, from Cargill Salt (who still maintains the levees in the area), and an occasional railroad worker.

Though a friend I was invited visit the place with one of the Cargill employees responsible for the area. The three of us rode our in a company pickup, driving around the land fill at the edge of the bay, though the salt ponds, stopping along the way to watch the Cargill dredge reinforce a levee. Wood hulled, with a wooden boom, run by cables (no hydraulics) the dredge itself is in a sense a ghost, a leftover of earlier times.

Then, we parked and walked in, just a train passed…
I had been told that there were only one or two buildings left standing, so was surprised to find the remains of nearly 20. There is still a strong sense of place… You are so far away, yet so close to civilization.

Enjoy the photos.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The end of the vacation…

Last Thursday we found our selves trapped at the airport in Ft Lauderdale…

My wife and daughter hated the place. They may be right, but it may also be the dreaded "headed home syndrome" - once you perceive the vacation is over any barrier or delay seems to be magnified out of proportion.

The building has that older low ceiling look. The only effort at style is a faux coral block
wainscoting and a few artificial plants. Long rows of seats, lots of grumpy people… Just like any airport here or abroad.

We got here early, with hopes of catching an earlier flight. the guy at the Delta front desk said that the flight was completely full, but the guy at the gate counter said they had lots of seats, but he couldn't help us since we had already checked our luggage. Catch 22. you fast come to think they are all lying. Of course it could be the Headed Home Syndrome again. Apparently the only standby's they were accommodating were Delta employees. (They continued with long public announcements about how the standby system works. This does raise questions about why the employees, who presumably know the rules, yet need the rules repeated, frequently.)

The daughter went in search of the airport post office. No one seemed to know where it was, and the signage was questionable. (She finally found it.)

The food and concessions are less than hoped for. the clerk in the Bakery and Deli positively rude. It all made sense when we found the sign saying the concessions were run by Delaware North Corp. the same group that badly handles the concessions and hotels at Yosemite. (not always badly. the Awanne is good, as is the Mt Broiler
at the lodge, but the food operations at Curry Village are always able to raise questions about the management skills, or rather the complete lack of skills demonstrated. Hour plus lines for pizza, with most of the public spaces roped off and unavailable on the Friday after Thanksgiving, with a full facility and full campgrounds. All because they didn't think there would be anyone in the park.??? Yes, they do the reservations for the camps and such and had the numbers available, they just don't use them.) Of course that was Yosemite, in California, and this is Ft Lauderdale in Florida. But there seems to be a similar management and organizational ethic at play.

On the other hand they have free wireless internet at the airport.

My wife says I fall victim to “headed home syndrome” on car trips… Somewhere on the way home I start driving faster, conversing less, as I sense the vacation is over and its now time to go home…

By for now, Randy

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2nd trip report

I would have liked to connected sooner but the technology had defeated me… the ship’s internet connection had been fragile at best and non existent at worst. The cruise has been wonderful… great weather, calm seas, and a great ship… (Celebrity Century)

We have made port calls in Ocho Rios Jamaica and George Town Grand Caymans… We went ashore in both…

But that isn’t what this post is about… (by now some of you may have noticed that my posts tend to pay homage to a song by Arlo Guthrie…) This post is about tourism…

We didn’t see Jamaica or the Caymans… we saw a tourist version of each… much closer to Disney than to the place… There were two ships in Ocho Rios… a cruise port with a bad reputation… If you believe the rumors the locals are waiting to sell you drugs, lure you into a taxi to take you to their brother’s bar, or some other nefarious reason, in order to separate you from your money. According to the undefined THEY, they are all Rastafarians, which should explain everything.

In fact it’s a beautiful but poor country, with a rich heritage. It is a country which is primarily black, which can scare many… It shouldn’t. I had been here before… It seemed scarier then…

We arrived early… we had previously arranged for a ship’s excursion, kayaking to Dunn’s River Falls, then climbing the falls and a boat back to the ship…. The excursion didn’t leave until 1:00, so I took a walk about… off the ship, away from the security forces surrounding it, and into town,.. past the “official” tourist village with a Margaritaville, (I like Jimmy Buffett, I just didn't need his bar here...) cute safe stores, and lots of security, past the men hawking taxis, both official and unofficial, and along the streets… Yes, there were men trying to get you into their shop, there were beggars and at least one offer of “party”… Others in our group were offered other things, both legal and illegal, but generally it just wasn’t that bad… Several from our group rented a taxi for the day and had a grand time sightseeing, and visiting local markets away from the port. We booked a ships excursion, Kayak to Dunn’s River Falls, climb the falls, then a boat back to the ship… a great time…

From there we were off to Grand Cayman… There were 5 ships in port…. We were the smallest at about 1500 passengers. Let me tell you about the port of Georgetown Grand Cayman where this is all happening… It has a population of about 21,000 people… the 5 ships carried somewhere over 13,000 passengers, and probably 5,000 crew, nearly the population of the town… This changes the place… Instead of locals we see other tourists… we see Diamond’s International stores, tee shirt shops and oh, yes, a Margaritaville (I don't need Jimmy's bar here either)and a Senior Frog’s…

There is still the clean blue Caribbean water, the great weather and the endless beaches… There are still stingrays out at Stingray city, but beyond that it is more about the tourists which overwhelm than about the Caymans…

Sorry, no picture this time...


Friday, January 2, 2009

Trip Report, Day 1, Ft Lauderdale

Tina, Steph and I took the red eye via Atlanta out of SFO at just after 10:00 last night.. We were out of the Ft Lauderdale airport in the rental car by 10:00 local time... first breakfast at a joint overlooking the beach, then the Bonnett house museum... very nice... It was the home of artist Fredrick Bartlett and his 2nd and 3rd wives… and the second wife’s father….
The home reflected the artist’s vision, as well as his and his wives work. It is set in 37 acres of gardens... lucked into a garden tour with the curator... It’s a plantation style home in a time of Spanish revival… and even today has over 700’ of beach front.
We wandered about the downtown, then another house museum, the Stranahan House (said to the oldest in town, 1901)
Now we are in our motel, The Birch Tree Inn, about two blocks off the beach. In a few minutes we will be off to dinner with Tina's step mom and dad, then will likely see the first of the nephews...
It’s in the high 70's here... very nice, but a bit windy
Back at the motel, a walk on the beach, and now ready for bed… I am having problems with the wireless signal, so am sitting outside on the patio, listening to a fountain, in sight of the Atlantic, and bitching about technology… I think I have a problem here…
As for today’s picture… This is Holger and Maureen with the grandkids on the original family cruise, in 1988… Also, I am trying to change the slide show to photos taken today of the Bonnett House… again the electronic gods are not cooperating… If I succeed the old photos will still be found on my Picasa page

Thursday, January 1, 2009

It’s T minus 8 and counting

We leave in 8 hours for the cruise… Maybe I should start to pack…

It is interesting watching how others adapt to travel… Tina and I happen to be pretty travel compatible… but there will be moments…

We have started… piles of clothing have started to appear on the bed… there was a spot in the closet where we have been accumulating the hanging stuff… starting with the formal wear which is only used for occasions like this, along with the Hawaiian shirts and other things I am unlikely to want to wear to work …

I spend a lot of time choosing the books to take… they need to be a mix of light reading and something with real meat…

This trip it is:
My Antonia by Willa Cather – it was good in 1918… it still is
Decision at Trafalgar – Dudley Pope… generally an author of British Naval fiction in the O’Brien tradition… takes on a history this time
Superdove, How the Pigion Took Manhattan … and the World – Courtney Humphries… I have no idea how good it is, but I need to read it…
Swine Not? – Jimmy Buffett… A book about a pig living secretly with a working mother chef, her two children and a cat in a 4 star hotel in New York…
A Voyage Long and Strange – Tony Horwitz… I read anything by Tony Horwitz
Traffic, Why We Drive the Way We Do – Tom Vanderbuilt… well reviewed, interesting topic close to home for those of us who commute to work
On the Bottom, the raising of the US Navy submarine S-51 - Commander Edward Ellsberg … The story of a 1918 mission to raise a lost US submarine
The City of the Fallen Angels – John Berendt… by the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Now T minus 5 and counting… the clothes are packed, were ready to go, I’m sitting here outside you door…. I’m leaving on a jet plane… (apologies to John Denver and Peter Paul and Mary…)

A note on today’s picture… 20 years ago we did the original family cruise… We had so much fun that we followed that by a second over Christmas in 1991… the picture is our “official” picture from the 1991 cruise…

Bye for now… I will try to blog from the road…