From 37,000 feet

I’m writing this while flying over Colorado. We’re at 37,000 feet.

On my way west, we were averaging a bit under 400 mph. With the wind at our back, Flight 265 is doing 570 mph! The pilot says we’ll be 20 minutes early to Midway.

Back at LAX, the gate agent called “boarding in five minutes.” I shut down my laptop and began to pack. My laptop had other ideas.

Without warning I was installing update 1 of 6!

Please, don’t turn me off until I’m done, my laptop screamed in big letters from a font I’d not chosen. No one asked me. If they had, I’d have said “later.”

I semi-closed the lid, slipping my finger between the keyboard and screen to keep any switches from killing the power. That’s the way I boarded the plane. Helaine and Stef, reading this, are glad they weren’t around. Another embarrassing Geeky Greg moment.

This flight is around half full. My rowmate, A middle-aged woman, is dozing in the aisle seat. I’m at the window. I chose the right side to see any prettiness associated with the sunset, which should soon be happening.

Our country is beautiful from this altitude. Yes, the sophisticated traveler takes the aisle seat to have easier bathroom access. He’s too cool to look out the window. I need the scenery.

We took off from Los Angeles and headed out to sea. After a few miles we turned north, paralleling the Pacific Coast toward Malibu. There was fog this morning. It covered the ocean near the shoreline, penetrating inland to the first foothills. Things must be slow on the PCH today.

Inland, a layer of haze made the ground a little less distinct. I could also use the “S” word – smog. There’s some of that too.

Already above 10,000 feet, we made a sweeping left 270 degree turn, finally heading east. A few minutes later I started seeing snow capped mountains. They weren’t far from LA.

Nearly all that’s between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is desolate. Sometimes you’ll pick out a road etched into the vast expanse of dirt. Cryptically, every once in a while a geometric pattern shows up. Are they housing tracts, surveyed but never developed? Way out in the desert, it’s easy to wonder why this land would be considered for anything.

I saw Lake Mead, but not nearby Las Vegas. The Grand Canyon appeared out my window, just a bit south of us. A few minutes later, I saw the bane of my last trip west. It was the gigantic Navajo Power Plant near Page, AZ. Close by was the Glenn Canyon Dam. Have I really been here enough times to start picking out landmarks from above?

I shot a few photos of Monument Valley, looking south from the Utah side. The plane wouldn’t be there long. We were heading toward Colorado.

There is plenty of snow out here. Originally, I thought what I saw was a light patch. Then I realized the trees and bushes poking through the snow was why it never looked solidly white. The slopes of the Western Rockies looked like chocolate cake with powdered sugar sprinkled on.

Below me now, the mountains have disappeared. It’s Kansas. It’s flat. As far as the eye can see, there are rectangular fields. Sometimes the fields are interrupted by perfectly round patches where an irrigation system rotating on wheels or tracks has made its presence known.

I’m not sure where the water comes from. So far, the vast majority of river beds I’ve seen have been dry.

I’m tired. I’ll be exhausted by Hartford. I’ll need the rest of the weekend to recuperate from my vacation.

Blogger’s addendum: When first published, this entry was full of typos and poorly formed English. That’s what happens when you write against time, trying to finish before the battery gives out. Writing offline without a spell checker didn’t help either! It’s mostly fixed now

Gate 5 LAX

Everything went smoothly. I wasn’t totally sure that would be the case.

As usual, I misplaced something (my Bluetooth earpiece) and had to search before I could leave. Even so, I waved to Cousin Michael (Melissa and Max having long since left) and headed out around my planned 9:00 AM departure.

The GPS was programmed with the out-of-the-way address for Deluxe Car Rental. This was an address that hadn’t been added before the trip and it took a minute or two to enter. Once again, it was like having a co-pilot.

I headed up the San Diego Freeway passing Irvine and Anaheim. A lot of people in those brand new, shiny office towers must be sweating it out today. This is ground zero for the subprime mortgage meltdown. Countrywide, in Calabassas went down earlier today.

Around 30 miles from LAX I hit my first traffic jam. From 65 mph, I slowed to a crawl. I then continued to crawl for the next 45 minutes! Suddenly the traffic was gone. I was moving again at the speed limit.

What was causing the tie-up? Nothing I could see. This is typical of Southern California.

At the airport, a medium sized crowd was waiting to check in and go through security. The Southwest agent who gave me my baggage claim check couldn’t have been nicer. All smiles!

Then I climbed a flight of stairs to the TSA’s special portion of hell. With all my electronics, I used three bins. I probably could have used four.

As I was standing in line, listening to Luna on the other side of the magnetometer yelling at us to remember our boarding passes, I realized what this whole process reminded me of: prison!

Thanks to MSNBC’s “Extended Stay” prison docs, I realize security at the airport is similar to what prisoners go through when they’re brought into the slammer. Who knew a documentary could be so practically useful?

I found some food to bring on the plane and Starbucks has brewed my first cup of coffee. Now I’m sitting in the waiting area, plugged into half the freely available power outlets I can find. My cell phone (connecting at old school slow speed and not 3G) is my link to the web.

Helaine says it’s quite foggy in Connecticut. Hopefully that will be gone by the time I land in Connecticut late tonight.

Return Trip

Will try and put in an entry later today, but this will be a full day of traveling, so who knows.

My plane leaves LAX this afternoon at 12:40 PST. We stop in Chicago (MDW) before landing in Hartford. Helaine says the flight has been early the last two days. I’d like them to go three for three.

This has been a wonderful trip. I’ve done pretty much everything I set out to do… and then some. Nothing was a disappointment.

When I get home, I’ll go through the photos to pick out some ‘orphan’ shots that were cool, but didn’t fit in any blog entry.

The first time I ever told Helaine I missed her was back in our dating days. I was on-assignment in Germany doing PM Magazine stories. It was the early 80s. I called her from a pay phone in Frankfurt.

I miss her even more now… and now I’m totally sure why.

Surfing At Newport Beach

We’re approaching mid-January but I’m on my cousin’s deck, sitting outside typing this entry. Granted, I’m about to go back inside, but the point is, I could sit outside!

It’s Orange County in Southern California. People were wearing jackets last night, but that’s about as cold as it ever gets – ever.

I went to work with my cousins today. I sat in on a meeting about their business and an Internet site. I butted in a few times. I hope I did more good than harm. One never can tell.

Michael and I bugged out after the meeting and headed west. Before long, we were in Newport Beach.

Before this trip to California, I knew I wanted to photograph surfers. It’s not that I’m into surfing or surfer boys, but surfing makes for good photography. My main ‘surfing’ lens is also my lowest quality lens, but with strong light it gets the job done.

Today’s photo problem was the light was behind the surfers. It shows in the pictures. If I had unlimited time and access, I’d come out in the morning when the Sun would be over my shoulder.

Newport Beach was attractive for a number of reasons. Like much of Southern California, there’s a thriving business district right up to the beach. There are cafes and shops and foot traffic. There’s also plenty of parking… or at least enough for a January afternoon.

Newport Beach also has a long pier. That allowed me to go out as far as the surfers, though still far away.

I took nearly 300 photos today. That’s crazy. In the film days, this never would have happened. Ansel Adams only had eight or ten plates when he hiked into the back country.

Digital photography is a blessing and a curse. The curse is, it encourages you to be slutty with your camera, shooting anything that moves (Slutty is the right word, isn’t it?).

We spent a couple of hours at the beach. The day was beautiful and mild. The waves were running five and six feet.

I called Helaine to tell her to throw a few things in a bag and join me. Whatever she couldn’t take, we’d get here.

There’s a lot to be said for the warm California sun. I’m still going back home tomorrow.

Morning In Orange County

Last night was the first night of the trip I got a full night’s sleep! I think it all must have caught up with me, because I was in bed before 11:00 and slept until 8:00.

On top of that, the house was totally quiet… eerily so. After the phone ringing and truck rumbling of the secret Valley location, this was a radical change.

I’m heading to my cousin’s office to do some unofficial consulting (it’s good to be the geek) and then going on a photo expedition to the beach with my Cousin Michael.

Live From The OC

The party has moved. Greetings from Orange County. I drove this afternoon from the San Fernando Valley down past Los Angeles, Anaheim and Irvine to Lake Forest.

I am learning to really lean on the GPS. What I’ve found is advance planning is a necessity. The downside is, the GPS demands attention. You can’t look at the road when you’re looking at the GPS.

Use the power wisely, Luke.

As soon as I-5 broke into Orange County, the entire feel of the landscape changed. It was as if a switch had been thrown. This is a land where nothing is old!

This town, Lake Forest, was virtual nothingness 30 years ago. Nothing here is ugly or ramshackle or unplanned.

My cousins live on a man made lake in community of single homes not far from where the El Toro Marine Air Station was. Looking out their back door reminds me more of Disney than a conventional neighborhood.

We to a quick stop for coffee at a gigantic mall. There is both a skating rink and Ferris wheel along with the stores. The mall is mainly uncovered with wide walkways

Everyone is stylishly dressed. Stef would love it here.







In That SoCal Swing

I so enjoy LA. Of course, I don’t deal with its weaknesses and frailties on a daily basis.

There were a few stops for me to make today. First, I headed into Old Hollywood to visit my secretive friend. He has an office at small, older, studio complex. These are really more akin to office parks with various independent vendors, usually selling their services to each other.

This is as good a time as any to say how useful my GPS has been. I programmed all the addresses I’d need when I was in Connecticut, then threw it in my bag. I have used it with confidence.

Yes, it tried to have me drive into construction barriers, but for the most part it’s been my faithful friend. It is much more sophisticated than it seemed at first glance. Learning how it works was time well spent.

I left The Valley on the Hollywood Freeway, turned onto Santa Monica and then into a gated driveway. This was “The Lot,” formerly Goldwyn Studios.

It’s funny how a studio really does have a distinctive look, no matter what its size. I’ve been to a few, though briefly. When busy, you’re walking through a movie factory. When they’re not, and this one wasn’t, they are lonely.

Make no mistake, this is an industry town. When you see all the movies and TV shows being promoted, you realize it’s for more than the audience at home.

I’m sure these writers (photo – left) thought I was a company security man, taking photos of them. I passed a number of picket sites including one at NBC on W. Alameda in Burbank.

Burbank was where I headed next. I was going to see David Kulka. Dave… everyone else now seems to call him David… and I met in 1968. It’s a very unusual story.

He and I were BCBDXers. That means we listened to AM radio, trying to find more distant and difficult catches. Dave and I belonged to the same radio club.

Oh – we lived an entire continent apart. He lived in Marin County, just north of San Francisco and I lived in Queens.

Somehow we began corresponding and decided to go to a radio convention together. He was 15. I was 18. We were both leaving home for the first time.

We met in Los Angeles. Within the first hour, jaywalking tickets for both of us outside the Roosevelt Hotel! It was my fault 100%.

This was an amazing adventure, going from LA to Riverside and finally the San Francisco Bay Area and Dave’s house in Greenbrae. His family made me welcome in a way they probably never appreciated. That was huge.

He was a great guy, but 40 years ago the coast-to-coast distance was a lot more daunting. We fell out of touch.

The Internet changes everything. That how Dave and I got back together.

Dave’s house is on a small street that looks like it should be quiet. But this is Burbank. There’s a lot of business being conducted, even on a residential looking street like this. That includes Dave’s company.

In a small building behind the house sits an electronic workshop. It is the product of extreme organization – bright, neat, eat-off-the-floor clean. There were four people working when I arrived. They were mainly fixing audio equipment.

At first glance, this is old equipment. The circuits were hand wired with discrete components decades ago. There are dials and meters. It’s very analog. I worked with some of this equipment in radio 30+ years ago.

The bottom line is, this stuff outperforms much that’s digital. Maybe more importantly, some of it is built in as integral pieces in pre-existing studios and needs to be replaced as-is.

We left the shop and headed to the house. That’s when I saw the first turtle.

Dave’s wife Cholada collects turtles. In a small pond out back is a colony… pack… gaggle… whatever you call a group of turtles. There were at least a dozen, in and out of the water. None of them were in much of a rush to go anywhere.

Oh, there’s one more living thing in the yard. It’s a tortoise. He’s fourteen years old, nearly 100 pounds and lives in a heated doghouse. Pretty standard stuff really.

Dave and I sat and talked. Our lives have taken such different paths. There was so much to learn.

This was such a good idea. I’m glad I went. A case can be made that contacting people you haven’t seen in decades is wrong. No! At least not in this case.

Our conversation reminded me of so many things we had done. The summer of ’68 was intense. So much was going on in my world and the real world. You really should have been there.



Dinner With A Friend

Tonight I had dinner with Joel Denver. Joel and I were in radio first in Charlotte and then in Philadelphia back in the 70s. We became friends, but as is so often case, we moved and our lives changed until we fell out of touch.

Joel’s company, AllAccess.com, is located on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Around 40 miles from where I’m staying, I gave the trip an hour.

I headed up the 405, through the Sepulvada Pass and past the Getty Museum. You go under Sunset but over Wilshire, as Century City fills the view to the left. From the 405 I moved to the Santa Monica Freeway and finally whipped north onto the Pacific Coast Highway.

Malibu is like no other place. Much of what’s here has changed since the 50s! It is among the most beautiful and most dangerous places in the world to live.

Inland, homes sit on canyon walls. Most likely, one of your neighbor’s homes is below you! Homes are often lost to fire or slide, usually with minimal warning.

On the ocean side, where the homeowner owns to the high water mark, lots have been maximized. As homes are rebuilt, the ocean side often ends up mainly glass. Lots of homes have decks, extending the property closer to the water.

PCH passes by municipal beaches, open space, shopping and thousands of tiny, mainly rectangular, homes. Often they are plopped on lots with little room to spare.

Driving north on PCH it’s hard to separate one house from the next. They are that close. With few garages or driveways, the curb lane is filled with parked cars. These teeny homes all are well over a million dollars apiece.

I passed Cross Creek and then Webb. This is the real glitz area of the Pacific Coast Highway. The Malibu Beach Colony is in this area where PCH moves farther from the shoreline.

Joel’s office is in a small office building just off the highway. I parked on the street and walked in. It was chilly tonight.

He looks like he always did. His smile is there. His laugh is there too.

Back in the 70s, I was single. Joel was married. He’s still married, just not to the same person. His wife Ria seemed very nice.

Joel and I left for dinner. It was a sushi place a little farther north on the highway.

We had lots to talk about. Both of us had been in radio. Joel was still connected with the business, but no longer on-air.

Both the sushi and conversation were good. I enjoyed hearing a little about his business. Joel realized the Internet was the right place to publish back in 1995. He was able to anticipate the market.

As is often the case with new media, his success has come at the expense of old line printed pages. His site can get the info out sooner and with less cost and hassle.

I’m often amazed by the number of my friends who have done well. Here’s another one for the list.

I’ll have to go back and spend a little more time next time.

Least Appetizing Meal Alert

I almost forgot to write this. After poker, my friend and his son were hungry. Maybe Chinese food? We headed to Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

There was a time when Chinatown was smoking all night. Not anymore. There were few places open as we drove by just before 11:00 PM.

We walked into the one we randomly chose and sat down by the window. The Health Department sign showed they had received a “B” on their last inspection. No Dean’s List for you!

Outside, a rat took his time walking near the base of a newspaper box.

The food was OK. However, what I found totally unnerving was this entry at the bottom of one menu page. Somehow, it’s lack of specificity is what scares me most. Exactly whose intestine is this?


Poker At The Commerce

PIC-0179Among my goals in California was a trip to the Commerce Casino. It is a mainly poker casino in a small municipality adjacent to Los Angeles.

This is by no means the type of casino you’d find in Connecticut or Las Vegas. It is smaller and looks a little worn.

There are poker rooms on the ground and second floors. Playing very low stakes games, I walked the stairs.

My friend and his son came along, and they actually had a good time. Though they’re not poker players, they did play in a $40 sit and go tournament played on a computer driven dealerless table.

I really wanted to like the electronic poker table, but I didn’t. There was something missing. I’m not sure if it was the lack of a dealer, many of whom don’t speak English anyway, or the absence of the old school tactile connection with the cards and chips.

By the time we left, I had won around $100 playing at low stakes games. I had a good time, because I like playing cards. I’ve been to spiffier joints.

Morning In The Valley

It’s still drippy here in the San Fernando Valley. I stepped outside barefoot to shoot a few photos of the grapefruit tree in the front yard. Try that back in Connecticut!

My friend, a member of a number of show biz societies, has some movie screeners, so this afternoon I’ll re-watch Juno… and later (he’s seen a bunch more) he’ll vote for one of the myriad awards Hollywood gives itself.

There is something about Southern California that is appealingly laid back, while aggressively driven at the same time. It’s tough to explain.

In The Valley

Flying to LA was reasonably uneventful, though the last thirty minutes felt more like driving down the Cross Bronx Expressway than LAX Approach. We lumbered through a series of ugly looking cloud layers. Imagine flying slower and lower than you think a 737 should for thirty full minutes.

It’s been raining on and off in LA. It’s not ‘shut down the city’ rain, just some showers with temperatures in the fifties. It’s actually quite pleasant, though the roads here scare me when wet.

Got my rental car with no problem, hooked up the GPS and was on my way. I know most of the route, but the GPS adds a layer of confidence.

It took about 25 minutes to get to my friend’s home – the ‘secret’ location in the San Fernando Valley where I’ll spend the next few days. My friend, his wife and 20-something son, live in a beautiful and large home a few seconds outside the Sherman Oaks business district.

For dinner, we walked to “Fukyo,” a local sushi restaurant. I love sushi and now I love it even more! The food was incredibly tasty and with a spicy kick that snuck up seconds after you took your bite.

This is a long day. My commute to California started at home around 9:30 AM. It was after 6:00 PM PST before I got here.

Drama In The Air

My flight to Chicago was relatively easy. I had the iPod for the first time and listened to a long interview with Bill Murray and This Week in Technology with Leo Laporte.

I love Leo. He’s been a trailblazer in tech. The show was rudderless. I still listened all the way through. I just wanted more meat and more structure.

About twenty minutes out of Chicago a flight attendant came on the PA. “Is there a doctor, nurse or medical person on the flight?”

That only happens in the movies, right?

About ten rows behind me a woman had suffered a seizure. As I’d later find out, she had medication with her. This must not have been a total surprise.

You would guess this sort of thing puts you to the head of the line for landing. We hit the ground, hit the brakes, did a 250 degree turn and pulled right to the terminal.

The door popped open and in rushed three Chicago Fire Department EMTs.

I can’t tell you how the woman is. She looked unconscious as they moved her off in a wheelchair.

Before we landed, the crew asked everyone to stay seated and not go to the overhead bins. The instructions were followed.

The Chicago-LAX passengers are starting to get on. It will be a full flight. I’ve moved back a row and taken a window seat. Maybe I’ll see some snowcapped mountains.

Next stop Los Angeles.