Yesterday, the marquee was --
Here’s what it was today –
I thought you’d appreciate this. There is a fine art movie house about three blocks from me. I haven’t seen it for a few months because, of course, I’ve been staying inside, and the few times I ‘ve been out, I went a different direction. But I took my morning walk in its direction the last two days. I walked past it yesterday, looked over and started laughing. I took a picture of the marquee but it was fuzzy, so I went back today – and the marquee was different. So, my guess is that they actually change this every day. I don’t know if they’ve been doing this for the past couple months, or if they just started it recently or what. But hats-off to them whenever they began.
Yesterday, the marquee was --
Here’s what it was today –
At my local grocery store yesterday, amid the hoarding, almost all varieties of soup were sold out. All except one type. There were empty shelves -- and dozens and dozens of cans of cream of mushroom soup.
What's odd is if it clearly is such an unpopular soup there, why does the store carry so much of it??
Mind you, I know that once upon a time, cream of mushroom soup was in most-every recipe in the 1950s. And I can see them selling a lot around Thanksgiving for that spinach-fried onion crisp casserole . But not being Thanksgiving (let alone Thanksgiving in the '50s...) and clearly it isn't selling now, that's what's so weird about them having SOOO much of it.
It was really funny -- empty shelf after empty shelf after empty shelf, except for all that cream of mushroom soup. People really didn't want cream of mushroom soup. Even in a hoarding panic. I mean, seriously people cleaned out ALL the cans of soup. All of it. Except the cream of mushroom soup.
I wrote about this on social media, and people were trying to come up with explanations and not all the things people really do use cream of mushroom soup for. What I tried explain was that -- whatever the reason it's the only soup still there and however many reasons there are to use it -- the only point is that it's odd. Odd that cream of mushroom soup is the only one left on the shelves, and odd that the store still stocks a soup that clearly isn't being bought like all others. (Shelf space is tremendously valuable and competitive. If a product doesn't sell enough, it's replaced.) So, that's the only point -- that it's odd. And really noticeable. And funny.
This photo doesn't even do it justice, since you can't see how far the looooong rows of empty shelves go -- empty except for the cans of cream of mushroom soup. And yes, all those cans are only cream of mushroom.
As you likely heard on the news, there were very long lines in California, in part because so many people voted, but mainly because it was a new system, and there were screw-ups. To off-set them, California also instituted early voting for five days -- and in some areas for 11 days. And they also sent everyone a vote-by-mail ballot. And you could vote at any Election Center in your city, let alone in the state. Still, though, most people waited to Election Day.
The Los Angeles Times wrote an article on it.
Readers of these pages will know that I often write about my friend Myles Berkowitz who, among his many other talents, is a unique individual with a unique personality and very politically-centered and active. He is neither a Democrat, Republican or even an Independent, but what I refer to as a Mylesist, a unique political philosophy that encompasses one person and can probably only ever be understood by one person. He will often register as a Democrat to vote in the primaries, but he is most definitely not a Democrat. In fact, I'm sure he'd register as a Republican if he felt their primary was the more important one. (For all I know, he has, though I don't think so.)
I mention all this because that quote above used in the Los Angeles Times headline is from -- Myles Berkowitz! (Hey, I've told you want a unique guy he is. I tries nots to lie to you.)
You can find the full article here, but this is the passage that deals with Myles --
What should have included in the article next was --
Said his friend Bob Elisberg – “I told Myles to vote early and that the Felicia Mahood Center was close to him. And I even told him that I myself had voted early there, and that I was only the only voter at the center at the time. (In fairness, it was an early Sunday morning.) And today on Election Day when he called to tell me how much-too crowded the Hammer was and that he wanted to find someplace else to go, I told him again that he should go to the Felicia Mahood Center…which he did! But he didn’t stay there. I told him. I told him. I told him. Not that I want to say 'I told you so,' or anything, mind you… But I’ll bet you cash money that he’s complaining to you about how screwed up the new voting system is. But I told him!! Not that I want to say, 'I told…' oh, you know. He’s a good guy, and I feel for him. I’m really sorry he had to go through all that.” Elisberg turned to walk away, but then stopped and turned back. “But I told him.”
Okay, in fairness to Myles, he had a few funny comments that he told the reporter who left them out of the article. One thing was that he said, "I took my 14-year old daughter with me to vote. But it was taking so long I had to leave her back at home. By the time I finished she'd have been able to vote herself."
Another was -- "We often read about how in Third World nations there are people who walk across the countryside to get to a polling place just so that they can cast their ballot. They voted faster than I did."
And then, since jokes come in threes, he added, "I think the State of California intentionally made this as terrible as possible because they want to convince people to vote by mail."
I will do Myles one other big favor. The only thing about the article that bothered him is that it identifies him as a Bill Clinton voter in 1992 -- who he hates (though being a Mylesist nonetheless begrudgingly supported). So, I thought I'd be nice to the guy, given how long it took him to vote, driving around town from one polling place to another, and clarify that point publicly for him.
When I spoke with him this morning, I had one question that bothered me -- how was he able to vote, I thought one had to be in line before 8 PM to be allowed to vote after the cut-off . "I did, I finally got in line by the deadline," he said. Ahh, I replied, when we talked during the evening, I had thought he wasn't in line before 8 PM. He burst out laughing, "I was in THREE lines before 8 PM. I just kept leaving them."
So, finally did get to vote and at last got home. The good news is that he did not leave it in order to find another home that was more convenient.
Classical musical station KUSC in Los Angeles has done some weird things over the years, mostly during the last five or so. This concerns one of my bugaboos. It's not anything major, just personal. But then, that's the point of a bugaboo. The underlying theme behind all of them at KUSC is that the station has been dumbing down its programming. It's still quite respectable. Just less so than before. And if such things are needed to keep classical music on the radio dial, I get it. I know we're lucky to have a classical musical station in Los Angeles unlike many cities. Though I've heard classical music stations in some of the other cities that still do have theirs, and the level of weirdness is less. Then again, in fairness, this is Los Angeles. Though in equal fairness, because this is Los Angeles, the entertainment center of the U.S., if you're going to do shtick, you'd better do it really well because the competition is strong.
Anyway, back to the show. And what follows is nothing especially substation -- just another one of my occasional personal bugaboo tales --
Between 7-8 in the morning, which is generally when I get up, the station started two features about 10-15 years ago. The first of these features, which comes on at 7:15 is the "Off to School" request selection. I wrote about it here at great length, so I will spare you and not repeat it all again. The very short version is that it's a perfectly fine idea in theory -- letting kids request a classical music selection in the morning -- but is dismal in practice. Not only because they eventually realized that not enough kids were requesting classical music, so they've had to expand the "Off to School" concept to the point of meaningless, by now allowing requests from just about anyone in the world who has children regardless of age or has grandchildren or students, or who knows someone who may have once been a child -- but also because when an actual child does request something, it's almost always a movie theme (which isn't classical music) and usually the theme from Harry Potter.
The other feature comes along around 7:45 in the morning, the Great Composer Quiz. Again, in theory it's a perfectly nice idea. The host who created the idea at least put in the time to come up with thoughtful clues before playing a piece of music by the Great Composer who you were supposed to guess. He was a bit overly-pedantic in presenting the quiz, making it seem Oh-So-Important ("...and so...who IS...today's -- GREAT...COMPOSER??!") but it was handled fine, and an okay guessing game.
When a new host came in, though, his heart was never in it. And worse, he didn't want to risk any listening not possibly missing the right answer, so it came across like he didn't try to come up with clues until five minutes before, and his clues would be things like, "Okay, today's Great Composer was German, and famous for writing operas like The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro, and a movie was made about his life that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and he was considered a child prodigy who had a rival name Antonio Salieri and his name rhymed with "oat-zart." And here's a piece of music he wrote -- and would then play "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik." But what made it worst of all is that after all these clues, he'd say, "Okay, I think after all of that you should really be able to get it now!!" which not only is not the point of a quiz, but it only served to make listeners feel really terrible if after all those easy clues they couldn't guess it.
I only bring this up today because this morning they went from the ridiculous to the sublime There was a new host today -- I don't know if this is temporary or permanent, though she did a nice job -- and it doesn't seem like she has quite grasped the best way to handle the Great Composer Quiz yet. It was actually sort of funny. From "You will probably be able to guess this even if you have never listened to classical music in your life and accidentally just landed on this station today", we now are at "You probably won't be able to guess this unless you have a PhD in musical composition and a Ouija board."
I am not exaggerating today's Great Composer Quiz. The clues were basically -- "Today's composer was born in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. He only ate fish. He was a bachelor. And he was part of a group known as 'The Five.' So, who is today's Great Composer?" Okay, on three, all together, one -- two...wait, the looks on your faces suggest that those clues didn't help much. Not to worry, I'm not too big to admit I didn't have a clue either. But then I thought, well, maybe, the piece of music will ring a bell with me. No, it didn't. Not the slightest idea.
So, I waited to hear who the Great Composer was. I know there are a lot of well-regarded classical composers whose names I recognize, but don't know all that well. People like Scriabin, Monteverdi, Purcell, Donizetti, Messiaen, and such, composers I've heard of but know very little about and would have a hard time recognizing their music. Though I know that experts would know them well.
And so, who was today's Great Composer who likes fish, is a bachelor and was born in Nizhny Novgorod? It was none other than -- Mily Balakirev!!
And I hear the collective "Ahhhhhhhhh, of course!! It was Balakirev!" from all of you.
I suppose that KUSC will continue to run these features for a while -- probably a long while. And that's okay. At heart, the idea behind them is fine. And I am certain that there are many many who loooove the. Fair enough. (And fair enough, too, that there are those who don't.) It is just my fondest wish that if the station is going to have Fun Features that they actually figure out how to make them fun. And make them work properly. And not just be time fillers to seem clever and audience-involving when instead they handle them like afterthoughts.
Handel. Now, if that was the Great Composer, I might have been able to guess it...
Around when I was perhaps in the third grade, I remember reading in class about the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. It's where prehistoric animals got trapped, and then other of their fellow creatures would see them struggling and easy prey -- and going in to get them, they in turn would get caught. Only the lucky few got out. The site was discovered in 1901, with excavations beginning in 1913. Though I wasn't big dinosaur fanatic as a kid, I was nonetheless seriously impressed. Even at that age, I thought it was remarkable that one of civilization's great archeological locales was in the middle of the (then) third largest city in the United States.
When I came to Los Angeles for graduate school at UCLA, there was a small handful of places I wanted to see. Disneyland, of course was one. A movie studio was another. I think Catalina Island may have been up there. And I really couldn't wait to see the La Brea Tar Pits.
Time passes. Several decades, as it happens. And during all that time, I never went to the La Brea Tar Pits. I passed by it a hundred times. I thought about going regularly. It's next door to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which I don't love but I'm a member of and go to periodically. But for reasons I can't explain, I'd never gone to the La Brea Tar Pits.
Whatever the reasons I never had gone before, I finally got fed up and set aside a day, bought my ticket online, and went -- finally.
Afterwards, I was talking with a friend who had a somewhat similar situation, and he was extremely disappointed by the experience. Coming from New York and having seen the Natural History Museum, he found the museum there almost nothing. I felt differently. I grew up going to the Field Museum of Natural History there, and it's impressive (though a bit dry) in it's own right, but I still was thrilled to be at the La Brea Tar Pits. It's not that it's a great museum -- it's not -- but that's not the point. It's that it's one of the great archeological sites in the world that's located in a major city. And it was a joy being there.
Actually, the site is divided into two parts -- the George C. Page Museum, which they charge for, and the Tar Pits area with the excavation areas which is free.
The Museum is fairly small and, no, not impressive, but the history of what's their is wonderful, and so is what they display. For instance, I enjoyed stopping by their Fossil Lab where a lot of the research is open to the public, and you get to watch the scientists at work, studying the material unearthed on the grounds.
There were some pleasant displays and short movies, though a lot of it seems more focused on kids. (They have a longer 3-D movie, but I passed on that.) However, the reconstruction of prehistoric animals is what stands out. One of the more surprising skeletons is Harlan's Ground Sloth. We think of sloths and small, sort of cuddly creatures. They have have been cuddly, up to a point, but back in prehistoric days, the sloth was anything but small.
My favorite was the Columbia Mammoth. The bones are all from fossils discovered on the grounds, though not from the same animals. The tusks however were added separately.
I wasn't sure what the difference was between a mammoth and mastadon. It turns out that the latter is small and more compact.
Bizarrely, though the Page Museum has its own collection that covers over five million artifacts, some of what was on display there the day that I went was part of a traveling exhibition -- from the Field Museum of Chicago!!! (Not most of what was on display, and not the Columbia Mammoth above.) The outside grounds are really the historic site. There's nothing overly majestic about it -- most of the pits, in fact, have been mostly-covered up over time, though you can still see the a bit of the tar still seeping through, with occasional methane bubbles.
(By the way, it's not actually tar. It's asphalt, which is a natural material. Tar has additives, but it's the name that stuck over the decades. Brea means "tar" in Spanish.)
New pits crop up all the time, though. One area was such that they had to carve out the "tar" and what was caught in it, and then crated. The crates have been moved to the Project 23 area, which is where the work reclaiming the fossils takes place.
Currently, the part of the grounds where most of the active excavating is going on is Pit 91. The bulk of what has been found there is fossils from Sabre-Tooth Cats and what they call ancient horses.
As I said, the La Brea Tar Pits (and its adjoining Page Museum) is most definitely not a great exhibition. What it is, however, is a historic part of civilization. And for that reason I had a wonderful time. I wish there was more, but I was not let down after waiting to get there since I was eight years ago -- and driving by it regularly for decades. I have no idea why I waited -- in one regard it's like any sites that are famous in a city, but second nature to those who live in their midst because "they're just there" and a part of your daily life -- but I wanted to go. And continued to want to go. But didn't.
Until I did. Finally. And was thoroughly glad for it.
Back in late June, I wrote a rave review here of the absolutely wonderful documentary Maiden that's about the first all-female crew to participate in the Whitbread Around-the-World race in 1989. The ship's captain, who put the crew together, Tracy Edwards, also founded The Maiden Factor, an organization that works with charities to provide an education for girls who don’t currently have that basic human right. In doing so, the foundation sails the ship around the world to help raise money.
As I've mentioned here, I occasionally head down to Marina del Rey where my cousin Jim Kaplan has a small motorboat/sailboat, and the two of us tool around the Pacific Ocean. Yesterday was one of those days. And as we turned down the basin where his boat is docked and headed towards the main channel, we looked towards what's known as Basin A and what we saw there was --
Oh, huzzah. Yes, Maiden is currently docked in the Marina Del Rey harbor as part of its ongoing promotional tour for its The Maiden Factor foundation. The boat will be leaving on September 17 for Valparaiso, Chile.
If anyone in the Los Angeles is interested in a closer look, they are having an Open Day this Saturday (September 14) between 11am and 3pm at the California Yacht Club. The address is 4469 Admiralty Way, in Marina del Rey,. Public Parking Lot is 5 minute walk to the Yacht Club.
And for those patient enough, the documentary Maiden is being released on DVD in three weeks and will be available on Netflx as of October 1.
By way of reminder, here's the trailer --
The past week I've had some jaunts around town, so I figured that this was as good a time as any to clean up a bunch of notes.
Last Friday, I drove out to Arcadia -- a town I've never been to before -- that's northeast of here, east of Glendale and then Pasadena. I went to the Angeles National Forest Headquarters for no reason that makes a particularly good story. Basically, it was to get a National Park pass, which I could have done by mail. However, I not only was interested in going to the headquarters (I used to work for the California State Park system so I like such things), but also I noticed that the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, which was only about two miles away.
As I've written here, I love the Chicago Botanic Garden (which is actually in my hometown of Glencoe), a spectacular place that's rich and vibrant and expansive and beautifully laid out and organized, with an education center, cooking demonstration area, carillon, various lands, islands and more, which I call the Disneyland of Botanic Gardens, So, I was curious about the Arboretum here. And as a member of the Chicago garden, I had a reciprocal entry here, which is always a good thing.
(Somewhat nearby the Arboretum to the north and west are the Descanso Gardens. I went there several years back -- happily, it's also on the reciprocal program! -- and it was expansive and enjoyable, though fairly basic in its grounds.)
I had a pleasant time at the Los Angeles Arboretum, though found it a bit underwhelming. However, before going any further, it's important to note that this article is brought to you in living color on NBC --
(Okay, for some people here they won't get that allusion. Most will -- it's the NBC peacock that they used for years as their logo to promote the network.)
There was a certain charm to the area which I liked, but it's fairly limited, and not very interestingly laid out, I thought, with little description of what was there and what you were looking at. The centerpieces of the Arboretum actually have nothing to do with gardens. One is a big bandshell where they have concerts for the Pasadena Symphony and popular artists -- it's certainly a great venue for that. And the other is the Queen Anne House built in 1895 by an early owner of the property, which has been used as a movie location. Unfortunately, it's not open for touring through, but you can only look in from the outside.
While I was in the area, I also swung over to see the Norton Simon Museum -- but when I got there the parking lot was full. And when I drove back to Colorado Boulevard to find somewhere else to park, it turned out that the road headed off without any side streets or off-ramp exits for a couple miles, so I couldn't get back to the museum. And by the time side streets came back in, and I could turn around, I was far enough away that I decided not to turn back and just passed it up for another time.
But while driving back through Glendale to Eagle Rock, I finally got to stop at a restaurant for an early dinner that I've had recommended by several people -- Casa Bianca, which was highly-regarded pizza here. I've never eaten at the place because they're not open for lunch, and driving through rush hour traffic to get to the distant place was of no interest to me, though a friend of mine does that on occasion. I liked their pizza, it was very good -- but I didn't think it was "Great," or at least great enough to even consider driving this far for it, unless I'm already in the area like this time.
And then yesterday I took again ocean trip with my cousin Jim Kaplan, who I've written about here previously. He's worked in the marine industry for years, and has a small sailboat out in the marina, and every once in a while I'll join him. As my article noted, it's often a great time and and misadventure. The last trip, for instance, there was a squall. This time, the motor went out as we headed through the marina out to the ocean. I asked him if he'd every docked his boat using the sails only. No, he said. Do you think you'll be able to, I asked? He laughed, "We'll find out!!"
The sailing though was very enjoyable. Great weather, and though there were choppy waves, it was still a fairly smooth ride. That's Santa Monica Piere off in the distance, as I briefly took the helm.
The good news is that we got the motor running after we re-entered the marina and turned into the channel for his dock. So, we made it back in one piece. And he told me today that he thinks he discovered the problem with the motor -- that it got clogged -- and he cleaned it out, and the thing seems to be running better than it has in a long while.
When we got back to his house, it turns out that one of his neighbors is the actor Matthew Modine -- who is running for president of the Screen Actors Guild. The election is next week or soon after. He came across as a very nice guy, and Jim is trying to get him to join us on an ocean voyage. I don't know enough about the SAG issues, though Matthew filled me in some of them. Obviously he's biased in his observations, but I know enough about Guild politics and issues to get a sense where things sit. And from that and a short, very pleasant conversation -- hardly the basis for forming a deeply-informed opinion -- I hope he wins.
(As a side benefit, I also got to ask Matthew about a running joke in the Out and About with Jiminy Glick videos that I post here and something I've always been curious about, where Jiminy often refers to his four boys -- Morgan, Mason, Matthew and Modine. The short version is that he's friends with Martin Short who plays Jiminy, and just came up with that one day and threw it in without asking permission first. And Matthew finds it hilarious. The other reference is to another friend, the son of actor James Mason, named Morgan Mason.)
Next time, Admiral Kaplan and I head out in search of the white whale...
Very pleased to see UCLA win its 12th women's softball national championship, beating #1-ranked Oklahoma (UCLA was #2) two games to none in the best-of-three game series. Big congrats.
By the way, even if you don't care one whit about this, do yourself a favor and still jump below the first video to read about and then watch to the two other videos afterwards on UCLA player Stevie Wisz.. (It's pronounced "Whiz.") They're both short, the second one only about 10 seconds. I think it's worth it, and almost none of it is about baseball -- though that's the foundation that colors it all.
I like women's softball and watch it periodically. In addition to the skillful play, the added pleasure is the joyful spirit of it -- the players often double as cheerleaders, working out team routines that they perform in the dugout, It's a slower-paced game than baseball, and if the level of play isn't as high (flyballs can be sometimes be an advantage), there is also a quickness to it all, thanks to the distance between bases -- and the pitcher's circle and home plate -- being much closer. There are also a lot more hugs than in men's baseball.
Though I had the Cubs game running on my tablet, I happily wore my UCLA baseball cap and cheered them during the finale as a proud graduate school alum. I'm only sorry I didn't realize that the first round was being played at Jackie Robinson Field, because it's about two miles from me, and I'd have driven over. I almost did, when I was watching their clinching game in that first round, but by that point there were only two innings to go, so I stayed in front of my set.
Here are the highlights of the final, exciting game that went down to two outs in the last inning. Though the video says it's two minutes long, the highlights are only a minute -- the rest of jumping on another and celebrating. Since there's no announcer, know that the first highlight -- a home run -- came from the first batter of the game. And the second highlight, also a home run, came from the second batter.
With UCLA holding a one-run lead going into the top of the last inning (the seventh) with two out, Oklahoma hit a home run to tie the game. But then, in the bottom of the inning, UCLA got a lead-off single, and the runner was bunted to second, in scoring position. But when the next better grounded to short, the baserunner was thrown out at third base. That left a runner only at first with two outs -- however, a wild patch moved that runner to second base and again scoring position. That brought in a fast pinch-runner, who barely slid in to score on a base hit on the very next pitch. Which brings us to the national championship, a lot of jumping on another and celebrating.
Which carries us to the tale and two videos I mentioned above. The leading player for UCLA is its star pitcher and batter, Rachel Garcia who not only won the National Player of the Year Award...but won it for the second year in a road!. Not shabby.
But my favorite UCLA player was Stevie Wisz. She doesn't play much -- mainly as a pinch runner, sometimes on defense, and rarely at the plate. I think she may have had three at bats this year. But what stands out about her is her spirit which is effusive. It's not just that she's already had two open-heart surgeries, because of a birth defect, but she has a third one scheduled -- in two weeks! This here is a long and wonderful article about her on the ESPN website, and below is a brief video on the NBC Nightly News.
But wonderful as this story is -- and it's awfully good -- it wasn't what got me to be a fan of Stevie Wisz. It's something I saw about her before I even knew her history. In fact, I didn't even know what player it was. All I saw was a UCLA player in the dugout who was wearing a broadcast headset -- except it wasn't a real one, but something makeshift made with...bananas. (Yes, you read that right: it's made of bananas.) She does a play-by-play of the game with it. And it gets even better, because her teammates play along, and she interviews them on her banana headset throughout the game.
I loved it. And it's part of what I was referring to of the fun in women's softball -- ratcheted up to a higher level. And I had no idea who this was, I just loved her for it, whoever she was. That it turned out to be Stevie Wisz bringing such joy to the game made it all the better.
This is just a much, much too-brief clip, maybe eight seconds. I've tried to find longer footage, but thus far to no avail -- after all, there is little more adorable and funny than watching a ballplayer carrying on a long interview with a teammate into two bananas during a championship series. How wonderful was it? This was during a championship series when there was important action on the field, and ESPN kept the camera on Stevie Wisz interviewing a teammates with a banana (!!) for about a full 30-seconds.
You'll have to make due with his. It's plenty enough.
Last week, I mentioned that I have a cousin who lives in Venice, Jim Kaplan. He grew up in an area known as Miller Beach on the shores of Lake MIchigan, near the Indiana Dunes. It's the outskirts of Gary, but was a very nice area, just a few blocks from where my beloved grandmother (and his aunt) Rose lived, as well as several other relatives. He's always loved boats, and for the past few decades even works in the boating industry -- at first on the commercial end, though later for a company that dealt with more technical, business and Navy-related matters.
Several decades back, during our younger, more carefree and idiotic days, when he was working for the commercial shop, he did a favor for a client and was paid to take an old, small boat from Los Angeles down to San Diego, which would have been a long and overnight trip. He needed a few friend to help crew , and I joined in. We started out very early, and the first day was enjoyable, and late in the day we even came across a school of dolphins. (Sorry that they are mostly underwater here, I did my best...)
As for the second day --
Well, did I mentioned that during that by the end of second day we had re-christened the bought "Kaplan's Folly"? During the night, the creaky vessel sprung a leak, though we were able to contain it well enough. But the early morning, however, that became more problematic. And bailing out the boat because less-occasional, and more of our daily routine.
By noon, we figured that we had done our duty, because the alternative was sinking. I think we had as far as San Pedro (which is near Long Beach) not quite half-way to our destination. We pulled into the marina, called the boat's owner to explain the situation and say that we would be leaving the boat there, and it was now up to him to get it and figure out what to do with the dinghy. And then we called one of the wives to drove down and get us back home. It has remained a fond memory from afar, and something we still joke about from time to time.
This is the most-memorable Kaplan's Folly at a time when it was still afloat...
Anyway, a few months ago Jim decided to act on his love for the lure of the seas, and bought a boat (not a big one, but nice, a sailboat/motorboat), and he goes out one afternoon a week like clockwork from Marina del Rey. (Also at other times, including at night, but those are random.) I join him from time to time.
This is me joining him about a month ago on board the good ship Flying Fish III.
As I said, he always goes out at least one afternoon a week, and that day was yesterday -- and once again, I joined him.
It was quite nice when we took off – that’s a couple of pelicans sunbathing. (I wanted to get a photo of the large clan of seals we always pass by in the channel, but I always remember too late to have my camera ready, and by the time the boat has passed them the photo looks like you took a picture of a lot of duffel bags. I had my camera ready this time -- but there were only two seals on the dock, perhaps the others were out fishing, so I let it pass. But I was at the ready for the pelicans, at least --
As we headed out, there were also a lot of ominous, billowing, dark clouds in the distance, but from how the wind was blowing (which admittedly was strong...) it appeared like we would likely miss them, seemingly being blown in another direction. As his wife later said in a bit of wonderment, “Didn’t you hear the storm warnings? It was on the radio.” Short answer – no.
The good news is that Los Angeles meterologists do a pretty fine job at predicting storm warnings.. Or at least did yesterday. We were out in the channel for about an hour, most of the time it being in a windy squall with a few patches of lightning. Fortunately we’d put in a sot of tent cover two weeks ago, so we were somewhat protected. With emphasis on the “somewhat.” Basically, as we said to one another, hey, we’re on the ocean surrounded by water – if it’s coming down from the sky, too, so be it.
This photo below doesn’t come even remotely close to doing it justice. It just looks like an overcast day. In fact, it was torrential at the time. The camera just doesn’t pick up pouring rain, wind whipping, periodic thunder and distant lightning. But if one looks close, you can see the left bench glistening (which is actually a pool of water) and the spread-out towel on the right, trying to soak up water to make sitting habitable. And what should be a calm, blue, clear ocean not totally covered by pockmarks of rain -- isn’t. And what you can also see is that no one else was devoid of sense to go out at the time. (That’s Ship Captain Jim explaining that All’s Well.)
To be clear, It wasn’t even marginally dangerous in the slightest. Just very wet. And actually reasonably fun. Just…well, very wet. It was fairly calm, never got much waves, and the lightning was rare and far away. (Maybe just three bolts in the hour at sea.) And most-happily, if we hadn’t put up the tent cover two weeks ago – which whimsically enough was not for protection from the rain, but rather to keep the sun from beating down… -- it would have been far more uncomfortable (In fairness, too, I could have gone underneath in the small hold, but chose not to – if my fellow shipmate had to be out there steering, I would not forsake my captain! And on the plus side we did prove that the makeshift Kaplan Ship Co. tent cover is Storm-Worthy. As are we.
It's the evening now, and I'm all dry.
A year ago, I wrote here about attending one of my favorite events in Southern California, the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest, which I first went to about 30 years ago when they took over the athletic field at UCLA. They've relocated to other venues over the years, and I haven't gone on an annual basis, but they seemed to have finally settled into what is known as the Paramount Ranch, in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, about 30-40 minutes to the north and west of Los Angeles. It was an inspired spot for the event, not just for locale's natural beauty but also that it was filled with structures making up a Western town that was used for filming movie and TV Westerns over the years, perhaps most notably on the long-running series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Rather than putting everything on the Main Stage, the structures throughout the Ranch (slightly more substantial that just the fronts or "shells" found on most movie lots, since filming would take place inside them) let the musical performances and various competitions branch out, and arts & crafts booths filled the "streets." Since they've settled there, I've made the drive out a bit more often. It's a wonderful place for it all.
Sadly, last November, when the California Wildfires broke out, the Paramount Ranch was almost directly in the center of the Woolsey Fire, and the area was wiped out. I wrote about that here. But the show (or in this case, festival) must go on, and event organizers worked with the Park Service (which emphatically wanted them back), and the 2019 Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest -- the 59th annual -- took place this past Sunday. And I made sure to go, not only to offer my support, but see how the place handled the changes forced upon them.
I took a bunch of photos as I explored the area. Below on the left, you can see the Western town last year with the buildings in the background and vendor booths lining the streets. To the right, that's the scene today, with much of the area fenced off, the tree denuded, and rubble surrounding it.
This is a closer look at the damage, along with the remains of those burned-down structures which haven't yet been cleared away.
Remarkably, though, two of the buildings survived. I don't have a clue how. And happily, one was the most iconic structure on the Ranch, the "church" on the outskirts of the Western town. And there's no sign of damage, though perhaps it got repaired and painted over.
By the way, though a lot of people brought pets to the festival, that's not a dog in the center-right (aligned in front of the door). That's the animal which belonged to fellow seated -- his pet goat. It was well-behaved and seemed to be enjoying the music and having a fine old time.
And this below was the other building that survived the massive fire -- the Railroad Stage. Again, how on earth it's still standing I don't begin to know how. And it too looks pristine, and in fact was in such good condition that they held one of the competitions there, for cowboy singing.
As I wandered through the grounds, I made a few observations. The first was obvious, how burned out so much of the area was, like this eucalyptus tree -- though as you can see, it not only wasn't killed of, but the leaves have started to come back.
The other observation was that if you hadn't been to the Paramount Ranch before (and didn't notice the blocked-off remnants of the destroyed buildings), you might not know how badly it had been destroyed. While you can of course see in the picture below the burned-out shrubbery in the foreground and off to the left, the surrounding area in only four months has already started to come in green and almost lush.
And though longtime visitors could see and feel what was missing, a lot of crafts booths returned (though not as many yet as before), and the main park itself is surrounded again by forest land -- some of the lower vegetation has grown back, and a good part of the surrounding forest was spared. So, for all that was no longer there, there was still the sensibility of being in a festive bowl of beautiful nature.
The festival wasn't as crowded as in the past, and while a bit of that may have been because some people weren't sure if it would be going on this year, I suspect most was because it was raining in Los Angeles that morning and drizzling and chilly out on the Paramount Ranch grounds -- though by about 11:30 in the morning it turned into a pretty nice day.
And the show did indeed go on. Which was a joy to see. The crafts booths, food trucks, and main stage, but also -- even though they had makeshift stages and not the buildings as in the past -- areas for the side competitions, performances, and jamming. Here are a few, brief videos of all that, about 30-seconds each, starting with the Main stage.
(Fun note: near the end, you'll see two young girls walk in front of the camera. They had just performed in competition right before this current musician, so I thought it was very thoughtful of the one girl to clap for the fiddler during his performance.)
Though it may have been more than a bit barren compared to the past ("a bit more" being the polite term), this side stage was set up for bands to put on secondary performances, and in some ways the makeshift, vagabond quality of the tent added a great deal of charm.
They even still had their Dance Stage back. It's not anything as part of the competition but more for entertainment and demonstration. You should be able to make out the woman clog dancing off to the left onstage.
Finally, one of my favorite parts of the festivities is always the Jamming area -- where musicians just gather randomly and begin playing together. This video is a little longer than the others above, about 2-1/2 minutes, but you get a sense of how one is encircled by so much music all around you, jamming anywhere you look, and there was a lot more off in the distance, as well. And as the video moves about, taking it all in, it ends up right back where things started -- which is when I thought of the legendary folk song, "Will the Circle be Unbroken?"
It was wonderful to see the Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest back -- and for all that's missing, the circle went on.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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