No Shirt. No Flight.

The third guy, shirtless for easy identification, ran into Terminal 4.

Shirtless! Was he hoping to get on COPS?

melissa and charlotte smirkIt’s 10:00 PM. Helaine and I should be on a plane approaching Milwaukee. Instead, the plane is over Western Kansas and we’re in SoCal.

We were headed cheeseward on the occasion of my niece Melissa’s daughter’s naming. Grand niece, right?

Charlotte!

She’s really adorable and I’m sure I’m already her favorite uncle. If not, please fix that.

Thank you Arizona criminals!

It all started around 2:30 at a Tempe, Arizona gas station. A fight there turned to gunplay with one man critically injured. The perps took off.

Cops quickly spotted them speeding from the scene. These guys weren’t giving up easily. They hit the gas hard until the police were forced to back off for safety.

shirtless suspectThey were next seen at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. Two of the suspects, a man and a woman, were quickly arrested. The third guy, shirtless for easy identification, ran into Terminal 4.

Shirtless! Was he hoping to get on COPS?

Terminal 4 is where Southwest’s TPA-DEN-SMF-SNA-PHX-AUS Flight 4661 usually makes its next to last stop.

We were ready to board at John Wayne when the gate agent told us to sit, Phoenix was closed!

First Southwest delayed the flight. Then they cancelled. They pulled the trigger very quickly on what looked to be a full load. Surprising.

Within seconds nearly everyone at Gate 16 reached for their pockets. We got emails. We got texts.

I tapped in Southwest’s number.

“We can call you back in 12-17 minutes,” the not-really-a-woman on the phone said.

I pressed one for yes.

Forty five minutes later they called back.

We were stuck. Christina, Stef’s best friend, is scheduled to stay here Sunday night . This Milwaukee trip was already squeezed into the tiniest possible space.

We picked up Doppler at the sitter and came home.

sky harbor shooting arrestDay wasted!

We will reschedule soon. We’ve got a great niece to see and my folks, plus Trudi and Jeff’s three generations.

Oh, and Phoenix suspect… on behalf all the people inconvenienced by your stupid, violent act and on behalf of the poor man you sent to the hospital, don’t get your hopes up for character witnesses.

POSTSCIPT

John Wayne Airport claims to be located in Santa Ana, but it’s really in a complex governmental no-man’s land. No one calls it Santa Ana, probably because Santa Ana is poor. That’s not very comforting.

The airport is commonly referred to as Orange County or John Wayne.

Because the magnetic field of the Earth changes ever so slightly from year-to-year, this summer they had to renumber runway 1R-19L and 1L-19R to 2-20 left and right. Honest.

I Guess This Really Makes Us Californians

She asked if we’d host a small get-together at our house. That was tonight.

Helaine catered. I love when she bakes. For the next few days–leftovers.

IMG_3121_5705

I have thought about entering political life. Yeah, that thought passed.

Politics as a spectator sport is interesting to watch from afar and now interesting to watch up close. My Cousin Melissa, a brilliant attorney and community leader, is running for Irvine City Council. She and my Cousin Michael are very active politically.

Just running is a full time job!

Irvine has around a quarter million people. The two seats up-for-grabs are both elected at-large. There’s little local media. Shaking hands and personally making contact work best.

She asked if we’d host a small get-together at our house. That was tonight.

Helaine catered. I love when she bakes. For the next few days–leftovers.

After a while everyone came out on the patio and Melissa spoke about her plans. I like a lot of Melissa’s ideas. She’s especially on target with development, a continuing feature of Irvine. She loves this city and we do too.

I guess this really makes us Californians.

Into The Alley

Stef’s ball curves ever so slightly left. Helaine’s goes straight. I try and aim a light right from the center to hit the pocket. I seldom do.

forest lanesSunday. Memorial Day weekend. We went bowling with the other Irvine Foxes. Six Foxes. Two lanes. Ninety minutes.

The last time we bowled was in Wallingford, CT. It’s been a while.

Everyone bowls differently. We all share lack of control!

Irvine Lanes first. We arrived at eight. They close at nine.

What kind of bowling alley closes at nine?

Next stop Forest Lanes in Lake Forest, just south of us. They’re open to 11:00 PM.

Michael, Melissa and Max bowled on 13. We were on 14.

Stef’s ball curves ever so slightly left. Helaine’s goes straight. I try and aim a light right from the center to hit the pocket. I seldom do.

Stef bowled a 135! That was tops for all of us and an all-time best for her.

In the car on the way home she discussed strategy for next time. She’s going with a heavier ball. My daughter is very competitive. That will serve her well.

Good times. Great seeing the cousins. It’s been a while since we lived near family.

The Foxes Are Heading Back Into Winter

melissaMy niece Melissa is expecting. This weekend is her baby shower. We’re heading to Milwaukee where it’s still winterish.

I’ll let the Weather Service forecasters try to polish this turd of a forecast.

WE WILL HAVE A PROLONGED PERIOD OF WET WEATHER THIS WEEKEND INTO EARLY NEXT WEEK.

Great!

We will see no sunshine in Wisconsin. Most of the weekend will be rainy. There’s a chance for snow late Sunday into Monday, though not much. That’s when we fly home.

It makes no difference. My parents are there, plus my sister and her family. Four generations together. It’s totally worthwhile. We’re very excited.

Of course I’m saying that in the abstract. A little winter might change my attitude.

Departure is VERY early tomorrow morning.

I Feel Your Pain — Still

IMG_5154

“I love the four seasons,” said no one in the Northeast today. The weather sucks!

There’s already six inches to a foot on-the-ground in Connecticut.

With rain/sleet/freezing rain and then a turn back to snow, the pack will be wet, heavy and tough to clear.

I just traded texts with my niece Melissa in Milwaukee. She and husband Mark are supposed to fly Southwest to New York City tomorrow. Good luck.

New York City’s new mayor is in snow denial mode. Another attempt to blame the weatherman. It’s bipartisan. Everybody does it!

The mayor and Al Roker battled it out on Twitter this morning. Winter will do that to you. Everyone gets testy.

Southwest hasn’t cancelled flights for tomorrow yet. They will!

Will Melissa’s plane even make it to Milwaukee tonight so it’s available for a 6:05 AM departure? Will the crew have enough rest hours? How crazy will our nation’s air traffic system be?

I’m not sure what to do on a day like today? It’s 75&#176 and partly cloudy at John Wayne Airport. Out my window, totally blue skies. Should I just keep my mouth shut and hide?

I totally understand what folks in the Northeast are going through. It might seem like I’m rubbing it in. I’m not. My dues are paid-in-full.

Usually by mid-February, winter had gotten the best of me. And yet I knew there was more snow to come. There was nothing to do but grin and bear it and plan my escape.

More snow Saturday. Post photos. That’s as close as I’m getting.

Holy Smokes, It’s Holy Jim

After yesterday’s disappointment I was ready for some real California wilderness today. My cousin Melissa and her son (also my cousin) Max picked me up around 10:00. We headed south toward Cleveland National Forest and the Holy Jim Trail.

I know. Weird name. There is a story.

“Jim Smith was a talker—no ordinary talker. . . a man given to blasphemous eloquence. When he started cussing. . . he could peel paint off a stove pipe.” – GORP.com

We entered the forest in Rancho Santa Margarita, then drove a few miles down a dirt road to the trailhead. It was rutted with rocks poking out in spots. All I could think of was settlers heading west a few hundred years ago riding roads like this for thousands of miles.

I’m not yet a westerner. I don’t yet understand all the nuances. There are homes in the national forest. Some are substantial. Most have rock foundations. Some have propane tanks and outhouses with solar cells. No power lines. No phone lines. No cable TV.

One cabin had a small Yagi antenna pointing toward civilization. Cell service for them, not me!

After 28 years in Connecticut it’s time to get used to a new look. Look down in Connecticut you mainly see green. Look down on the Holy Jim Trail it’s mostly dirt.

Though we’re in the midst of a significant drought the trees were mainly green, but the mix was weird. Trees and cactus comingling.

The trail runs through Trabuco Canyon. We were bounded on both sides by steep mountains.

The goal was Holy Jim Falls, but we never got there. There were time restraints, but more than anything I really felt out of shape. This walk was a wake-up call for me.

We left the trail and headed home, with a detour. We stopped at Cook’s Corner, a biker bar with its own Wikipedia entry!

The place was filled with motorcycles and bikers. Some looked menacing in leather. Their swagger was trumped by the vibe at Cook’s. Nothing bad was happening here.

As we headed to the parking lot I spotted three deer on a nearby hill. Our first wildlife of the day… and they were behind a restaurant.

Our Second Day In Las Vegas

Seriously, knowing how Vegas works is invaluable because so much is available if you just ask… and you know who to ask… and you know when to ask.

mirage-view-from-our-window.jpgGood afternoon from Fabulous Las Vegas. Gobblepalooza ’09 continues! We’ve been here a little over 24 hours and have had a great time so far.

Helaine and I have been to Las Vegas many times. We know the city pretty well and we know how the system works.

Seriously, knowing how Vegas works is invaluable because so much is available if you just ask… and you know who to ask… and you know when to ask.

venetian-gondoliers.jpgWe went for dinner with my cousins last night. The restaurant, right across from the gondoliers, was Zeffirino.

Not only was it Thanksgiving, it was Helaine and my 26th wedding anniversary. We tried to keep it low key, but when the two strolling musicians came to the table Cousin Melissa let them know!

Normally Zeffirino serves very nice Italian food. Last night it was buffet style and it was very good–especially the desserts. OK–especially the desserts and lamb chops. Yum.

Fun pastime in Las Vegas. We people watch.

An older man was sitting nearby at a large table family style. He was much older than everyone else and the family with him was quite exotic looking. I’d like to pick an ethnicity, but I can’t.

One of the women was probably his wife and the two other adult women her daughters. Our game was “Try and guess what they see in him?”

Money was the consensus choice.

With only three hours bed sleep and another hour and a half on the plane I was bushed. I was in bed before 10:00 PST. Very early for me.

This morning the six of us went to breakfast at “First” a new cafe in the hotel. Helaine had read very good things, but the service was indifferent and slow.

donuts.jpgAt one point a manager came to the table and I told him–nicely. He said he did want to know and I believe him. Vegas is built on service.

As we finished the meal a batch of freshly made donuts with amazing dipping sauces was brought to the table . For the cost of the donuts he turned a bad experience into a much happier one.

Our breakfasts were very good and we’ll probably go back to see if the service improves. This manager gets a save.

Helaine, Stef, Michael, Max and Melissa headed to the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s. I went to the Venetian Poker Room for the noon tournament. This is a mid level tournament in a very good poker room.

How are poker rooms different? A good room has comfortable chairs and tables, good dealers and attentive waitress service. Bingo!

I lasted around three and a half hours busting out in 36th place of the original 144. Tonight someone will go home with over $4,900. Not me.

I was very happy with my play. My losing move was an all-in with Ace Jack only to run into an Ace King. Oh well.

I walked back through the casino and put a $20 bill in a slot machine. Within ten minutes I’d (mostly) won back my poker entry fee. Go figure?

We’re having dinner at a Mexican restaurant tonight. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay up a little later than last night.

The View From Our Room In Vegas

Our flight got in an hour early. After a short wait for bags we’re here on The Strip.

Our flight got in an hour early. After a short wait for bags we’re here on The Strip.

Everything went more than smoothly because of our SoCal cousins Melissa, Michael and Max. They picked us up at McCarren.

Not quite 5:30p here, but late for us for dinner. I am starved! Can’t imagine Helaine and Stef are any better. Reservations are for 6:30p.

Here’s the view from our room. I wonder if there’s any way to get on the roof… a legitimate way? Anyone know anyone in Las Vegas?

palazzo-rom-view.jpg

stef-at-the-window-palazzo.jpg

Two Days Of Shooting In The O.C.

I’m cautiously optimistic by what I see, but I am by no means a portrait photographer.

IMG_0080.jpgWelcome to California. I am 536 photos into my trip! Long day.

Cousin Melissa and her son Cousin Max met me at the Orange County Airport. With a larger than life bronze statue of John Wayne as a sixshooter wearing cowboy in front of a larger than life American flag there was no forgetting the conservative rep The OC has claimed through my lifetime.

This is a trip all about photography. Melissa is running for office and I’m her shooter. All I can think about are the stories I heard about the friend who shot my parent’s wedding and never produced the photos! My folks have no wedding photos. Please–don’t let that be me.

The idea was to find a bunch of setups where Melissa would interact with her potential electorate. I had been schooled by my Cousin Michael who sent links to some political websites featuring candidate photos. Without naming names I can safely say some of them used a friend with a point-and-shoot or got horribly ripped off.

We took dozens of pics yesterday afternoon and then restarted the process this morning. With friends and relatives in tow we went to parks and schools and other picturesque and/or identifiable spots.

IMG_0180-1.jpgI’m not posting any of those photos. Not yet at least. We need to go through a photo culling process and some minor post processing. I’m cautiously optimistic by what I see, but I am by no means a portrait photographer.

My biggest concern and constant shot-by-shot problem is controlling the Speedlight. I’ve been using my friend Steve’s “pope hat” made of Ikea plastic shelf liner to soften the light. I’ve probably taken more flash augmented outdoor shots in full sun today than in all my previous uses of the flash!

I can tell you this. Orange County is beautiful. Though this area was desert a few decades ago it is lush, green, full of people… and vacant office space. Orange County is ground zero for America’s financial meltdown.

The Scene Of The Crime

It was a cold day and this isn’t an out-of-doors kind of neighborhood under the best circumstances. The streets were full of cars and empty of people as I slid Helaine’s to the curb and a space reserved for me by a fire hydrant (I was only staying a few seconds–no citizen’s arrest, please).

Electchester-bldg-8.jpg

Electchester-bldg-8a.jpg

It was like one of those timing routes you hear about in the NFL–the one where the quarterback fires the ball to a spot on the field, perfectly meeting the receiver. We left Connecticut, drove to LaGuardia Airport and about three minutes later picked up Melissa, my niece flying in from Milwaukee.

Not much traffic today. The trip was a breeze in both directions.

On the way back I asked Melissa if she wanted to see where her mother and I grew up? It wasn’t for Melissa. I needed to return to the scene of the crime.

It was a cold day and this isn’t an out-of-doors kind of neighborhood under the best circumstances. The streets were full of cars and empty of people as I slid Helaine’s 4Runner to the curb–a space reserved for me by a fire hydrant (I was only staying a few seconds–no citizen’s arrest, please).

The apartment complex, originally built for electricians in Local 3, is called Electchester. This building, one of a few dozen in the complex, is 55 years old. There is neither warmth nor humanity in this stark, brick architecture.

The wall air conditioners you see were added decades after we first moved in. In the summer it was brutally hot with open windows and the added bonus of low flying planes on the way to LaGuardia.

Heading up Jewel Avenue past Pomonok, the city housing project across the street) the buildings looked smaller than I remembered them. I suspect ‘smaller’ is a common complaint when adults return to childhood haunts.

We didn’t go inside. Outside is friendlier.

New Discovery In The Kitchen

With a full load inside Helaine went to light up the dishwasher and… nothing. Uh oh. I acted husbandly, pushing all the buttons and looking concerned. Nothing.

My niece Melissa is coming to visit tomorrow. That’s a big occasion in this little family (I only have two nieces and one nephew). I’ll be meeting her plane at LaGuardia in the morning.

Melissa will be glad to hear Helaine baked. Actually, she might not know the true implications of that last sentence. In that case I am glad Helaine baked for her!

Meanwhile the pre-Melissa house sprucing continues. A few minutes ago Helaine went to fire up the dishwasher and… nothing. Uh oh. I acted husbandly pushing all the buttons and looking concerned–nothing.

Down to the basement and the fuse box. Did you know breakers 29 and 31 are swapped? Me neither. I turned off the dishwasher’s breaker only to hear Helaine say, “The TV and DVR just clicked off.” Nice.

Dishwasher electrical switchFinally after much head scratching Helaine asked, “What’s this switch for?” It was a light switch mounted in a plate with two AC outlets near the splashboard behind the sink. I flicked it upward. Problem solved.

Nearly 20 years in this house and no one has ever noticed this switch! Not only that, no one had ever turned it off.

Making The Most Of The Last Day In Vegas

For the next two weeks the rodeo is in town and Las Vegas is full of boots, hats and oversized belt buckles

Things are winding down. We said goodbye by Michael, Melissa and Max who then set out to drive back to Orange County, CA. We will miss them. Melissa has become Helaine’s sister.

We were stared at on our way down in the elevator. Then, somewhere between 18 and the lobby the man asked if I “was the newsman?” They were visiting from Wolcott and will be on our return flight. This is why I can only vacation with my wife.

IMG_4260.JPGA little poker–with good luck–then dinner with Helaine at California Pizza Kitchen. We’ve had the same guy as our waiter for at least five years and he was back with us today. As usual, I had a Jamaican Jerk Chicken Pizza.

Just across the way at the sports book they’re setting up for some country acts. For the next two weeks the rodeo is in town and Las Vegas is full of boots, hats and oversized belt buckles. Anybody gotta Bud?

It’s quite the eclectic group. The Mirage closes Cirque’s Love for two weeks of vacation while the rodeo’s in. This is not a French/Beatles crowd!

I went up to the room for a little while and on my way down got into the elevator with a guy holding a professional Canon HD camcorder. I asked a few questions and he told me he was shooting construction at the Mirage volcano. It’s currently under construction and officially closed. But, he said, it was going to be tested at 5:00 PM.

IMG_4233.JPG

I did go back to Venetian for the 7:00 PM tournament. Early on I had 3-Kings, only to find someone with “7s full.” I think I was first out!

If nothing else, Vegas is visually over-the-top. And, whatever was splashy last year has been trumped by something splashier this year… and brighter… and larger.

hdr-lv-blvd-south.jpg

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

I’m not even going to check the official readings. Let’s just establish whatever they are, that’s perfection.

blue-palm-tree.jpgWhat is wrong with this picture? Nothing!

Currently in Las Vegas it’s sunny and around 70&#176. I’m not even going to check the official readings. Let’s just establish whatever they are, that’s perfection.

I was up very late last night playing poker. I didn’t get back to the room until an hour normally reserved for degenerates. My poker skills have been sorely lacking on this trip.

Playing last night, however, was incredible. It was like hand-to-hand combat. I spent five or six hours just grinding it out.

slot-tourney-melissa.jpgThis morning’s schedule took us to the Venetian. Cousin Melissa had an entry in a slot tournament, so we went to root her on. We’ll know if she won later today.

Helaine and I have another 48 hours to go. This is a tough pace to sustain. I’m going to nap. I’d like to play in a poker tournament tonight.

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.