My First Vlog Post: A Trip To The Wedge

I visited The Wedge in Newport Beach this afternoon. It’s a famous surf break. Lowell, a not as famous Eastern Pacific tropical storm, has blessed The Wedge with heavy surf.


I visited The Wedge in Newport Beach this afternoon. It’s a famous surf break. Lowell, a not as famous Eastern Pacific tropical storm, has blessed The Wedge with heavy surf. Not great surf, just big.

This is the story of my trip to photograph it and some of my shots. Please click the button and watch my short video.

Where We Live

I walked in the door and sighed. Helaine asked what was wrong. I said we’d found the house. Three bedrooms, two and a half baths, on two floors with around 1,900 square feet of living space.


This week marks a year since our hectic first week in Irvine. This is a totally different world. Nothing’s the same, right down to the side of the street that borders the ocean!

As the wheels began to turn and moving became more-and-more certain, we made a few house hunting trips to Orange County. Our cousins are nearby. That was a huge draw. Stef is close, but not too close. No winter.

Helaine likes new. For us that’s the right call. There’s lots new here.

Irvine is a rapidly growing suburb in Southern Orange County. We are inland from Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. To our north and east are foothills, then the Santa Ana Mountains, mainly wilderness.

This is unlike our former New England home in nearly every way. We lived in a town that grew organically. Our property line was not a rectangle.

Here, everything is by design. Each house is different, but in the same sense identical twins have differences. Irvine is a medley of your favorites in the beige family.

Housing developments pack the homes in then leave lots of common space with parks, pools and trails. That’s part of the deal for being allowed to build here. We have a city block sized common area with pool, basketball and tennis courts and large dog friendly lawn. It’s a minute’s walk away. There are kid playgrounds within a few blocks in every direction.

We saw a model and bought a house to-be-built. I walked in the door and sighed. Helaine asked what was wrong. I said we’d found the house. We were looking for this layout. Three bedrooms, two and a half baths, on two floors with around 1,900 square feet of living space.

We knew most, not all of what we were getting. Houses are different when they’re alongside their neighbors. As it turns out we chose well and got lucky. We’re very happy the way things turned out.

Our goal was a great kitchen for Helaine and great office for me. She is amazing in the kitchen, especially baking, and deserves to have a suitable space. My office is more about what’s in it than what it is. It began life as a third bedroom. It’s currently messy, but otherwise perfect.

We are very surprised by our utility bills. Because we have neighbors north and south we get morning and afternoon sun, but are shaded during the day. Our electric bill averages in the low $50 range. There’s also $15 for gas and $30 for water. All seem constant year round.

We seldom use the air conditioner. Low humidity is a big deal. We sleep with windows open 350 nights a year–maybe more. I leave a laptop on the patio and sit out there every night.

This is a community with lots of immigrants, most from Asia. Not all speak English. I often say hello and am met with a pleasant, but perplexed, smile.

I have a Chinese family on one side and a California raised Korean family on the other. I know one family well, the other not at all.

The Chinese family is multi-generational, living together. Some housing developments sell models specifically designed for that.

At Halloween one neighborhood father explained his young daughter didn’t speak English. She’d only been here a week. Welcome to America. Let’s go door-to-door and beg for candy.

I love this neighborhood because of the vitality I see. Young families on the move. If the American dream has disappeared, word hasn’t gotten to the people living here.

We got very lucky.

Sunday With the Family


This is my sister and brother-in-law’s last full day in SoCal. We didn’t want to waste it!

family-at-breakfastStef was driving down from Hollywood, so we made reservations for a noon brunch. Traffic didn’t cooperate!

When she called, Stef was crawling through the City of Commerce on the 5. I pushed the reservation back to 12:30.

Brunch was at the Back Bay Bistro in Newport Beach. Like many places out here, Doppler is welcome if we’re eating outside.

g-h-and-dopplerWe sat on the patio, directly on the bay. A boat, just large enough to arguably be called a yacht, was moored around 20 feet away. Brunch was delicious and filling!

We turned south down PCH for Laguna Beach. Laguna was the setting for a few MTV shows, but it’s mainly an arty town with beautiful homes precariously placed atop one another on steep hillsides. Downtown is perfect for window shopping.

laguna-hillsWe found a meter at the beach. I swiped in two hours worth of parking. Laguna’s business district runs right to the water. There are shops and restaurants on the tree lined streets.

I think Trudi and Jeff have enjoyed visiting California. It’s very different from Wisconsin, especially this time of year. We will miss them. They’ll be back.

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

There’s a hundred plus year old tradition at Newport Beach. Every year around Christmastime, dozens of brightly decorated boats cruise through Newport Harbor. Some are over-the-top!

Because Max is in the Sea Scouts, we joined our cousins at the Newport Beach Sea Base. They have a great location, on an inlet with Lido Island across the way.

There was lots of pre-parade traffic on the roads and inlet. PCH was jammed. On the water, lots of people were out for dinner and a cruise on huge multi-decked boats that could almost be called ships. Smaller boats darted back and forth.

Yes, we wore coats and gloves! Doppler came in her pink hooded sweater. My cousins supplied blankets. I had ear muffs, but they stayed pocketed.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There might not be anything quite like it! Dozens of boats, some very large, passing through the channel. All were lit up like (and decorated with) Christmas trees.

If you’re planning on being in SoCal, it runs Saturday and Sunday evening. It’s very cool.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sunset At Newport Beach

IMG_0260newport beach sunset


IMG_0239newport beach sunset

“Wanna come for a ride,” I asked Helaine? “I want to go to Newport Beach for the sunset.”

Since we’ve been in SoCal I’ve taken very few photos. It’s not that Orange County isn’t photogenic. It’s just photogenic in a different way than my old neighborhood in Hamden. There’s more effort involved to get to the right spot.

Newport Beach is around a half hour away. It is Greenwich with palm trees, right on the Pacific.

Our destination was “Inspiration Point,” which sounds like cheesy dialog from a 1960s beach movie. It’s a bluff just above Corona Del Mar State Beach with an ocean view that includes Santa Catalina Island, over 30 miles away.

There were 15-20 people milling about when we arrived. Sunset viewing is good sport here.

They must have known I wasn’t a native Californian. I wore a long sleeved shirt. They wore coats.

Tonight’s sunset was nothing special. There were few clouds to accentuate the color. I’ll have to come back.

(Click the photos for a larger view, including a tiny sliver of the Moon and Venus in the first image)

I Took A Tesla Test Drive At The Mall

Model S Design Studio   Tesla Motors

The decision has been made. Fifteen years is long enough. My 1999 Mercedes SLK230 is back on its feet and running well&#185 after a recent trip to the car hospital, but it’s time.

There are lots of cars to look at. Today I looked at the Tesla Model S.

The Model S is quite the car. It’s an all electric, no gas engine at all. Built in California, its range is listed at 265 miles.

Tesla doesn’t have dealers. It sells its cars direct from company owned showrooms. There’s one about 25 minutes from here at Fashion Island–a mall in Newport Beach.

IMAG0224-w1400-h1400I’m not sure I can describe Fashion Island properly. Let’s just say valet parking doesn’t see too many Chevys! That’s two Lamborghinis in a row in that photo.

As with most shopping centers in SoCal, Fashion Island is mainly open air with lots of foot traffic. The are a few anchor stores like Macy*s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s plus smaller shops and kiosks.

IMAG0238-w1400-h1400We walked into the Tesla store and looked around. There were two cars on display, a Roadster and a Model S. People were crowded around both.

The Model S had its hood up. There was no engine there. It was actually a trunk. The trunk’s a trunk too!

Before long Jay walked up. His card says “Owner Advisor,” which means he’s a salesman. With some prodding from Helaine and Stef I asked if a test drive was possible.

Usually one could be scheduled in a few days, but maybe… Ten minutes later we were walking into the mall’s garage and climbing into the car.

It is a sedan. It’s a nice sedan, but from the outside not much nicer than any other car. The doors unlocked as we approached.

The Tesla is a fully electric vehicle, so there are a few immediate differences from what you’re driving now. It has motors, not an engine. When it’s not moving it’s silent. When its moving it’s still pretty quiet. The Tesla has no ignition key and no igntiion!

There are no gears. There’s no transmission. There’s no PRNDL. Push a small stalk on the steering column up for forward, down for reverse.

In front of me was a fully digital instrument panel. To the right was a 19″ flat display mounted so the long edges were vertical.

I gingerly backed out of the space then forward toward the street. Jay was telling me about the car, but I was concentrating on not hitting anything.

I am used to driving a powerful car. The Tesla is more powerful. At low speeds the torque is insane. It was obvious as soon I pushed down on the gas pedal.

We ran through some city streets then up into the hills overlooking the Pacific. Newport Beach is spectacular. I was taking a test drive in a location fit for a car commercial!

We made a right turn. Jay told me to hit it hard. The cars low center of gravity kept us firmly on the road as we accelerated through the uphill turn.

If a car can be unflippable, this one is. All the weight from the batteries beneath the cabin give it a very low center of gravity.

I hit 83 mph on one road before easing back. A man walking his dog gave me a dirty look. The car wants to run. I was at its mercy.

Jay showed me the GPS system and looked up something we were chatting about on the web browser. Yes, the car is on the Internet.

As we headed back toward Fashion Island we saw another Model S and pulled up to it at a light. I rolled down my window.

“I’m taking a test drive. Do you like it,” I asked? Two big smiles. Two thumbs up. Jay couldn’t have staged it better.

Like I said, it’s quite a car.

Using electricity brings the operating cost way down, as does the lack of scheduled maintenance. Of course this is offset by it’s astronomical price.

I’m considering it. It’s not out of the question. But, yeah, you have to swallow hard to pull the trigger on a purchase like this.

I’ll be looking at other cars. If not a Tesla, maybe another convertible–maybe the SLK250? I’m at the very confused stage of the process.

The Sun was going down over the Pacific as Helaine, Stef and I reunited. They’d done some ‘mall-ing’ while IMAG0231_PerfectlyClear_0001-w1400-h1400I drove.

We headed back to Irvine.

&#185 – Thanks Steve W. and Steve M. in Connecticut for excellent guidance that saved me grief and money in getting my car repaired recently.

My Birthday Postscript

Sunset over Newport Beach, CA

My birthday is over. If you don’t think about the number (a sobering number) birthdays can be lots of fun. Mine was.

I told Helaine, “No gift.” That, of course, meant a very special gift which will be redeemed next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. More on that later.

In the meantime I was treated to a birthday dinner.

We don’t know restaurants yet, but I wanted to eat by the beach. I chose, almost randomly, 21 Oceanfront in Newport Beach. It is across the street from the beach, not far from a tsunami evacuation warning sign.

The cuisine is American. The decor is 19th Century opulent. That part was a little much for me.

I had a bowl of bisque followed by lamb. Helaine ordered the salmon. Both were very good as was the service.

I’m not going to be able to get Rhode Island clam chowder anymore, am I? It’s my favorite clam chowder and the least likely to require a follow-up visit to the cardiologist. No one outside New England has ever heard of it. If you know where it’s available in SoCal, let me know.

Sunset here is just before 8:00 PM. We left the restaurant and walked onto Newport Beach Pier. Both sides were lined with fishermen. Unlike piers in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara this one has no commerce, just fishing and watching.

With the Sun going down it was chilly. I can’t believe I’m complaining. The locals were smart enough to wear jackets or sweatshirts.

We left the pier and walked south down a concrete path at the beach’s edge. On the inland side were small houses, most marked with signs noting their availability as weekly or monthly rentals. That would be fun, but maybe not here. Too much foot traffic going by your door.

The sunset was everything we anticipated. There were clouds, but the Sun ducked under them and finally disappeared as a bright red ball behind the hills on Santa Catalina Island. I told Helaine it was actually Maui.

We drove home with the top down.

Burnout Therapy On Balboa Island


We are suffering burnout. This next sentence was going to include the reasons why. It doesn’t matter. We’re burned out and we needed a break. Yesterday, Helaine, Stef, Roxie and Doppler hopped in the car and headed to Balboa Island. It’s around a half hour away.

If you’re a fan of Arrested Development, Balboa Island is the site of the famed frozen banana stand. For the rest of us, Balboa Island (really three islands) is a touristy neighborhood that’s part of Newport Beach.

The main drag, Marine Avenue, is full of kitschy little shops and places to buy “Balboa Bars,” ice cream on a stick, dipped in melted chocolate then covered with sprinkles or some other topping. The island is fairly flat. The beaches are tiny. There are docks and boats moored everywhere there’s water!

The homes that sit on narrow streets and ring the shoreline are priced in the “if you have to ask” range. There are many impeccably kept older homes and a bunch of teardown rebuilds all on tiny lots.

BI is attached to the mainland by a bridge. It’s also connected to Balboa Peninsula by three tiny ferries, each carrying three cars at a time for $2 apiece and foot traffic for $1. Yesterday, all three were continually in motion.

The peninsula has more stores, restaurants, a ferris wheel and a few rides and boat rentals. You can also go whale watching or catch the ‘Flyer’ to Catalina.

We took a round trip on the ferry and walked around on both sides. It was an afternoon well killed!

Roxie and Doppler slept soundly in the car on our way back.

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.

The Daughter Returns

Steffie’s home and on the sofa. She wasn’t feeling well last Thursday, so Helaine drove to college to pick her up and deliver her to the doctor.

When a student asks to leave her car at school and go to the doctor, you know she’s not feeling well! Thankfully, day-by-day, Steffie’s feeling better.

Finals at school were already done for her. Two papers still outstanding can be emailed to the professors. Modern life is good.

So now, in fine Stefanie Fox form, she spends a significant portion of the day on the sofa in our family room. The food is fresh and plentiful. There’s no fight for privacy in the dorm bathroom. There are no drunken freshman to pull a fire alarm at 4:00 AM.

“Do you have to sit there?” she will ask from time-to-time. It’s her spot. It’s easy to forget.

Having Stef home is a good thing. By and large, the three of us get along well. Even better, Stef is a playmate for Helaine and vice versa.

For me, the real advantage is anthropological. I get to watch what a twenty year old woman watches on TV. I am often dumbfounded by what I see.

A few seasons ago it was Laguna, then The Hills. This weekend Stef was watching a show about teens coming of age in Newport Beach. I’ve never felt so financially inadequate! I’m also embarrassed to say, I continued to watch for a while after she went upstairs.

Stef seems to gravitate toward reality shows. That’s what MTV and VH-1 have becoming – reality channels. There’s hardly any music on Music Television and few hits on Video Hits-1.

This is great for the network owners. Stef’s demographic is coveted and these shows are cheap to make. Advertising revenue is based on eyeballs, not program cost. The percentage of time devoted to commercials seems significantly higher than that seen on traditional over-the-air channels.

Along with Real World and shows I recognize are reality takes on ‘little people’ and heavily tattooed tattoo artists.

Maybe my age is showing when I say I find much of what she watches troubling. Of course, I also remember clips of crew cutted do-gooders saying Elvis Presley would be the end of us all. Please, don’t let me be one of them.

TV techniques are so sophisticated, I truly wonder how many of those who watch understand how little reality there is in reality TV… if there’s any at all.

More From The Firelines

Another note from the burn zone out west. This time it’s from Cousin Michael, in Orange County.

We’re still safe — and we’re also still in Newport Beach, although I did return to Lake Forest tonight to get a few more things, water the plants, and take Max to a Cub Scout meeting.

The fire isn’t burning quite as close as last night, it’s moved further east and south, but gigantic bright orange flames are still visible in the foothills just a few miles away. And because of the wind, and the terrain, and because the fire makes it’s own weather, the fire is almost completely unpredictable. That’s why we took the opportunity to stay overnight a few more miles away.

It didn’t look quite as scary tonight, even though huge pockets of flames were visible in the hills just above us. Maybe one just gets used to it.

For anyone who might be interested in following what’s happening in our area on the national news, the fire is variously called the “Foothill Ranch,” the “Portola Hills,” the “Santiago,” or just the “Orange County” fire. Fortunately, we have very brave fire fighters here.

Melissa grew up in Southern California, but Michael is from New York via everywhere. He’s been in SoCal over 15 years. In Orange County, he’s nearly a native.

These fires seem more insidious than other weather perils. How is it, in 21st century America and even with advanced warning, there’s nothing to do but watch the fire take its toll… and worry you might be next.