Friday, December 18, 2015

What's Not to Love about Lake Tahoe

I've been to Lake Tahoe a hundred times.  Probably more.  I mean, it is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet in my humble opinion, and it's right in our very own backyard.  So to speak.  Some of those times it has been merely a drive along, getting from here over to Hwy 395 in Nevada.  Sometimes it's been just a quick day trip since we're only a couple hours away from our locale here in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

Many times it's been for a weekend, sometimes a week.  One time it was for a few months.  That's when a then girlfriend ran away from an abusive home into the shelter of my arms.  Only, you know, that shelter was only a few blocks from her abusive home.  That would have been a pretty easy find.

It was the late summer after my high school graduation, she had just turned a senior.  I was probably 18.  She was probably 17.  So besides a runaway situation we also had that statutory thing going for us.  We also had oodles of life experience to aid us with our decision making process.  But she had to get out.  It was bad.  To make a long story short, we concocted an overnight plan and lit out to Lake Tahoe.  What the hell.  Why not Tahoe?

I didn't have a job.  I didn't have a car.  And apparently I didn't have a brain in my head.  But I did have a few hundred graduation bucks in my pocket.  What the hell.  Why not Tahoe?  It sure sounded better than Modesto.  Or Topeka.

A good friend drove us up and we three camped out for a few days.  But he was gonna have to go home sometime and it also dawned on us cold and snow would be coming soon and we certainly could not live in a tent forever.  Or at least through winter.

We found a small studio cabin with a kitchenette in Kings Beach on the North Shore for like $95 week.  Yeah, really.  1972.  I left the girl there, returned with my buddy to the bay area and regrouped.  I found some more money in an old shoe box, gathered together some warmer clothes and another old friend drove me back up a week later.

The girl and I stayed at that little place another couple weeks, then we ran into an old high school chum who was actually working at a resort nearby.  One thing led to another and he ended up getting me a maintenance gig there.  I wasn't going to be making any cash, but we would be getting a studio cabin rent free in exchange for my labor.

The resort was located a few miles down the road in Tahoe Vista, also on the North Shore.  The big, main lodge was a throwback to old Tahoe, with acres of knotty pine adorning the walls throughout the first floor.  That floor was inhabited by the drunk manager and his pregnant wife.  Then there were three or four rooms for rent on the second floor and a special "Honeymoon Suite" on the third.  I eventually painted that honeymoon suite kitchen red and white.  Bright.  I thought it looked abhorrently gaudy, but the drunk manager's wife loved it.  She also loved clowns and unicorns.  What can I say?

Directly in back of the lodge was a row of six cabins, the last two of which were occupied by our bud and us.  On the other side of an oval asphalt drive with lawn and pines scattered throughout was another row of eight to ten cabins.  It was all very rustic and cool in 1972, but I think it's all been mowed down and replaced with newer units.  I mean, I think the originals were built in the 1940-1950's.

Even though we had our rent covered we still needed to eat.  The girl found a part time job as a hotel maid and then fortunately our bud and we ended up eating with the drunk manager and crazy pregnant wife about five nights a week.  It was entertaining as hell.

They were Southern California transplants who were related to either the owner or someone who knew the owner of the resort.  Or maybe they were cousins of somebody.  I don't remember.  They certainly had no experience nor should they have been managing a resort.  Hell, I could see that when I was eighteen.

But when they were asked, they said, "Sure. We know how to manage a hotel."

And because they were cousins, or knew somebody that might have been related to somebody remotely connected to the owner of the resort, they got the job.  I think she had some book keeping experience.  No decorating experience, but she could add.  And he had some charisma, which was rapidly dissipating during our time together.   Book keeping and dissipating charisma, that's all anyone needs to run a resort, right?

They were also lonely.  So the three of us would end up down at the lodge for cocktails and chili dogs quite often.   

Dude, the drunk manager, was a first rate absolute alcoholic.  He was a really nice guy, but he started drinking cheap scotch whiskey around five every MORNING.  And let me tell ya, from much later personal experience, when you start drinking that early in the day you can be pretty fucked up come sun down.

So there he'd be, our evening entertainment, passing out in his recliner, lit cigarette in between his index and middle fingers.  When the hot box would finally touch his skin he'd jump and say stuff like, "Who did it honey?"

Or, "Which way's up?"

Then he'd pass back out.  There was also the time we had an electrical problem in one of the cabins.  It was a pretty straight forward and simple fix, but ol' drunk dude at eight in the morning insisted on trying to make the hot connection with a screw driver himself.  As screwed up as he was.  And he kept on shocking himself.  Time and time again.  He must have shocked himself twenty times before finally relenting to my assertions that I would be happy to do it.

As a matter of fact, I'd be much happier making that fifteen second connection than peel him off the floor once his heart got the absolute last little tickle it could take.

I'd go grocery shopping with him once in a while in the resort's 1964 Mercedes sedan at 9:00 in the morning.  He'd be pretty much shit faced by that time and driving drunk on icy roads.  Not really paying much attention to anything, like the completely stone cold sober guy next to him that would have driven if he let him.  But denial is a real big deal, especially when you're a fifth in.  

One thing led to another and the whole Tahoe play house fantasy blew chow.  My bud got in a verbal altercation with drunk dude and lost his job.  So I got promoted, and then within a few weeks the girl and I started to fizzle.  I mean, we were kids, playing house, a long way from home.

She moved in with an older sister and eventually started riding Harley's.  And liking other girls.  What the hell.  No wonder we fizzled.

I returned to San Jose and eventually rekindled the relationship with the love of my life who had recently returned from a three year sojourn on a high New Mexican desert.  The rest is salacious history.

I had actually been to Tahoe quite a few times before that little sojourn.  Another memorable time we went up to visit an old partner of Dear Old Dad's that had recently retired up there.  He and his wife bought a small place in Kings Beach with a big picture window over looking the beautiful lake, circa 1962.

Charlie took us shore fishing one of the days.  As per my customary luck, I caught nothing.  But I don't think anyone else did either.  We might have even taken a boat ride and tried for the elusive Mackinaw on that excursion, but my memory can't be certain.  I do know for certain that no Mackinaw was caught.  Never has been when I've been on the boat.  Hell, except for pictures I'm not sure they even exist.

Mackinaw, by the way, is another name for a Lake Trout, which is actually a freshwater Char.  They typically inhabit colder lakes in North America.  Keep in mind this has nothing to do with Cher, the entertainer, who probably doesn't like to swim in cold lakes at all.  Other names for Lake Trout include Touladi, Togue and Grey Trout.  It is prized as both a game and food fish.  I'll betcha ya didn't know all that, especially the part about Cher.

The one thing I am certain of on that trip was that I was introduced to Baklava.  One night, after a fantabulous buffet dinner at one of the then bustling North Shore casinos, I stumbled upon that sumptuous Greek treat for dessert.  And DOD's old partner Charlie also stumbled upon it.  I think we bonded big time after scarfing down a half dozen or so each of that tasty little rich tidbit.  He'd keep sending this eight year old kid to fetch a couple more Baklava's.   And I happily complied.  It was the first time I had an adult ally, with a twinkle in his eye, in my quest for the ultimate sugar land high.  It was majestic overindulgence.

Then there was the three year running summer vacation to Meeks Bay with DOD, his 2nd wife and my lovely blond step sister who also happens to be my same age.  Actually, she's a few months OLDER than me, a fact which I am constantly reminding her of.

Back in the early 1970's Meeks Bay on Tahoe's West Shore had a huge campground as well as a few cabins.  It was still very laid back and rustic.  It is substantially more built up today, with most of the campground replaced with all kinds of money making improvements and rental units.  The campground went the way of the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley.  I think you can pitch about twenty tents now.  Back then you could pitch a hundred.  Anyway, the first two years we camped, the last year we stayed in one of the cabins.

Besides a large sandy white beach and pine studded campground, Meeks Bay also boasted a recreation type building.  There were a couple pin ball machines, a ping pong table, a juke box and other activities designed to occupy adolescent minds, young or old.  It was an evening hangout for kids of all ages, and teenagers many times hooked up there and then disappeared into the night.

One evening on our way over to the rec building my sister informed me she had met a couple guys that day that we were going to hook up with.  We hung around for about ten minutes before two guys our age approached us.  Initially they were a little dismayed, thinking I was my sister's date.  But once they learned I was merely a brother their mood lightened considerably.

Turns out my lovely sister had wandered into an almost unbelievable situation.  One of the guys, another blond, his father was a Beverly Hills banker.  The guy owned the bank.  He also had inherited a huge, old style Tahoe manse from his father which sat right on the point of Meeks Bay.  Right on the lake.

They also owned a couple ski boats, one of which was almost always in the boy's hands.  The remainder of our stay that year was spectacular.  I learned how to water ski and my sister had a summer fling.  What the hell.

The next year the boys were also at the lake when we were.  The previous year I had bonded more with the friend of the banker's son, probably because he was the one who wasn't making out with my sister all the time.  Turns out we had both discovered alcohol over the winter.  I think we were fifteen.

Since the old style manse was not winterized, the banker and his family would spend weeks at a time there during the summer months.  During this time they hosted many friends and relatives in the big, ten bedroom house.  And the butler's pantry had about as much alcohol in it as any local bar would.  Whatever you wanted, it was there.  At least a hundred bottles.

Even though there was a ton of booze, we still wanted to be discreet.  We made up a couple bottles of suicides a couple nights in a row.  What is a suicide?  Well, that's when two fifteen year old boys find a bottle of alcohol about one third to one half full.  Then they proceed to fill that bottle up with bits and pieces of same colored alcohol until the subject bottle is full.  Gin. Vodka. Tequila.  Rum.


It was especially effective when  the fire water was swallowed straight out of the bottle.  Little did we know that if we just added a splash of cola and ice we'd have my old drunch lunch favorite, a Long Island Tea.

Ah, sweet ignorant youth.

The first night it was just him and me, getting hammered on the beach, talking baseball and philosophizing as well as any inebriated teenager might.  The second night we got lucky.  We had met a couple dollies from Reno that day on the beach.  Made a date that night.  Passed the fire water around in a circle and then couples disappeared into the pines.  I don't know about Steve, but I got to play baseball that night, sliding rather easily into second base thanks to the fire water.

Ah, sweet innocent youth.

The third year when we stayed in the cabins the boys from Beverly Hills were not present.  Dang, we were on our own.  No water skiing.  No suicides.  It was still a good stay though.  By that time I had started smoking pot and an acquaintance I knew from working at the Red Barn hamburger joint in San Jose happened to be camping there.  Chicken Man was flying on acid most of the time, but he had also traveled to the campground with an African American pot smoking fiend.  Who was also a little bit crazy.

Back then most of the weed we got here in the states had to be cleaned of seeds and stems.  And this crazy stoned out dude claimed you could fry the pot seeds in a pan with butter and they would pop into a little  kernel just like popcorn.  So there we were, several stoned out pot naivete's, intently watched this crazy black dude with a big hat try to pop some pot seeds.

"The lil kernels are green," he said, "Just like the seeds."

As he took another hit of reefer madness.

After we moved to the Sierra Nevada Foothills my lovely wife and I would always try to get up to the lake a couple times a year.  Many times we'd go the casino route, staying at either Harrah's or Caesar's at South Shore.  Which is way more Vegas than North Shore.

Those hotels were always great venues to catch a show.  Willie Nelson.  Crystal Gayle.  Linda Rondstadt.  Glen Campbell.  Peter Allen.  A host of others.  A simple $20.00 tip would get you in the front row, three feet away from the artist. 

Then there was the time we caught Jimmy Buffet's solo Margaritaville tour.  It was the dead of winter.  I remember this because I had to chain on/chain off our non four wheel drive Volvo sedan about a dozen times en route.  What was normally a two hour drive took six.  No wonder I started drinking cocktails early the next morning.  Or, maybe I just never stopped from the night before.

Either way, and it doesn't really matter, I got completely obliterated on Margaritas during Jimmy's show.  Nothing like tequila to open the door to the magic kingdom of besotted madness.  Somehow my lovely wife and I ended up in an offshoot lounge with a bad comedian.  Why do I say bad?  Cause I made his show.

When he asked the audience where they were from, out of the chorus of standards like "Topeka", "Des Moines" and "Modesto", my shout of  "Zimbabwe" apparently stood out.  It also got a pretty good laugh from the audience. 

With that comment Mr. Bad Comedian (BC) decided to hone in on little ole shit house howdy more than FUBAR me.

"Zimbabwe huh?" he inquired, "What part?"

He thought he had me.  The audience laughed.

"The northern part," I slovenly responded.

The audience howled.

My memory escapes me after that.  But apparently, not to be out done by a completely sloshed audience member, Mr. BC mercilessly tore into me for the rest of his unimaginative show.

Who cares?  I was drunk.  Don't remember a thing.  I had my six seconds in the spot light.  I was good with that.

We went up to the lake quite a few times when the kids were little too.  We even brought them along once in a while.  One time we were staying in a small cabin on the North Shore and I decided to let my lovely wife sleep in and took the kids to breakfast at one of the casinos.

I have very fond childhood memories of dining and playing Keno with Dear old Dad during meals, breakfast in particular, when we were at a casino.  It was the only time we kids were allowed inside, when we were going to and from one of the restaurants.  I think I had my first "Roy Rodgers" cocktail at the old Harold's Club in Reno.

I also saw the the movie "Johnnie Tremain" about six thousand times while hanging out in the children's lounge at the casino.  Dear old Dad liked Reno.  He liked Tahoe too.  Some of his ashes are scattered at both locations.  Harrah's too.

Did I just say that?

I decided I wanted to share this gaming fun with my four and six year old kids, so in addition to pancakes we played a little Keno.  More specifically six spots.  And I'll be go to hell if we didn't win a $1,495 six spot.  Everybody got a little something special on that trip.  'Cept me.  I think I paid some bills, like the trip to the lake.

I'm not much of a gambler, I've played some Blackjack, some Craps.  Keno.  Won a little.  Lost a little.  Nothing much.  There were also a couple of times I played Baccarat.

The first time I learned and played the game I had gone up with a bunch of poker playing buddies to South Shore for a private tournament.   We played monthly locally, but then every year about fourteen to sixteen of them would make a trek to Tahoe.  There they'd rent a casino hotel suite and play poker with each other in the suite all night.  Not venturing out, at all.  Seemed a little weird, but what the hell.

I mean, why go to Tahoe if you're not going to do anything Tahoe?  If you want fresh air why not just go to Jim's and put two picnic tables together in his backyard?   It's a lot closer.  Cheaper too.

Anyway, it was our first year playing with these guys, so four of us newbies headed up together for the clambake.  It was the mid-eighties, a lot of alcohol was involved.  There was also a powdered energy elixir usually formulated in South America involved.  That concoction allowed folks like me to party and drink forever.  We arrived at the hotel early, got our rooms and then wandered around the casino.

I wandered around and around and eventually found a pretty girl all by herself behind a Baccarat table.  I put some money down and she taught me the game.  It was an expensive lesson, I dropped about three hundred bucks toot sweet.  But I knew I was going to win.  Somehow.  So I borrowed a hundred bucks each from a couple of my traveling compadres and kept playing. 

After a couple hours I eventually paid my buddies back and put an additional $500 in my pocket.  I also tipped the dealer a couple hundred bucks.  What the hell.  She was a single mom, her kid needed a bike and she had a pretty smile.

Editor note: This was during what I call the "lost" years, when I was strolling about the galaxy inebriated, separated and single.  There's actually a book about this period of life called "Late Night Letters to the Moon".  There's a link around here somewhere if you're interested in purchasing that critically acclaimed not yet a best seller. 

After playing for hours, one of my poker buddies finally coerced me out of my Baccarat Bacchanalia and convinced me to come upstairs and play poker.  It was, after all, the reason we were there.

I did come up to the suite and I did play poker for a few hours, but it was all completely weird and different.  It was different because I was then playing for nickels, dimes and quarters instead of $5, $10, and $25.  Trust me, it's not quite as exciting.

It was weird because when I got up to the suite around 10:00PM half the guys were walking around in their underwear.  I guess it was late summer.  And it was warm.  But not underwear warm.  With a bunch of guys.  Who weren't gay.  I think.  And trust me,  playing poker with a bunch of sweaty guys in their underwear was not nearly as pleasant as playing baccarat with a lovely girl who had a beautiful smile.  Especially when you're single.  And not gay.  There is simply not enough alcohol on the planet to make that experience better than the other. 

Another time I went up with my best bud and his ex wife.  They were over from the coast visiting during those same "lost" years and we decided to mosey over to the Lake.  What the hell.  The lake was close and we were beautiful.  I also had this feeling I was going to win if I played baccarat.

With my bud's gorgeous wife on my arm, I sat down at a table.  Once I was rolling I kept handing her chips with the implicit instructions not to give any of them back to me to play.  About a grand later the trip was paid for as was the Peruvian marching powder purchase we made earlier that afternoon.  It was still the 80's.  I was still lost.  What can I say?

I've never really played much baccarat other than those two times. While under the unfettered influence of alcohol and other nefarious schemes.  Go figure.  If that's the cosmic combination that allows me to win at that game of chance then I'm probably not gonna be playing it again.  I left those two neuron harassing dalliances of destruction behind a long time ago. 

There have also been a number of larger family gatherings at the lake where we'd rent a condo or house for a weekend to a week.  Fill it up with all sorts of crazy family members.  Chaos and pandemonium at one of the loveliest spots on earth.  Many, many birthdays and an extra special 60th anniversary for my wonderful in-laws have been celebrated there.  It's always been a go to place, for my lovely wife's family as well as mine.

Turns out her family vacationed there often during her youth as well.  Another thing we have in common.  Like being born in the same hospital, a couple months apart.  She's older, of course.  Beautiful, but two months older.  A fact I bring up from time to time.  Like when I want to sleep on the sofa.

Before I amble right on by and forget to mention it, there are quite a number of ski resorts offering world class snow skiing and boarding all around the lake.  The snow capped mountain views from the top of any of the lifts, especially Heavenly Valley, are unparalleled in the dead of winter.

I have been to the top once or twice, although I've never been much a snow skier.  I did ski for a few years back in my 20's until I blew my left knee out.  I never became more than an intermediate, at best, but did have a lot of fun for the most part.

There was this time I went up with an avid rabid expert who kind of left me alone for most of the morning on my "barely better than bunny slope"  traipses down the mountainside.  At least that's what he called them.  They were decent intermediate runs.  I was zooming and jibbooming and shushing quite fine, comfortably challenging myself and pretty much staying on my skis.  And off my ass.

But then he kind of challenged me during lunch, where he had a peanut butter and banana sandwich.  With milk.

I had three beers.

 "All righty then, bonsai buckaroo, " I confidently responded, slamming my third empty beer on the table.   "Lead on."

So we took the lift all the way to the top.  Actually I think we went beyond the top, into uncharted territory as far as I'm concerned.  A left could have taken me on a much safer route.  A sinister Gollum on steroids led right.

"This way master, er moron," he hissed.

We turned right and he led me around a few trees.  The slope was very light and gradual.

Then he jabbed his poles in the snow and shouted, "See ya below," he disappeared over a precipice.

I slowed to a stall.  The view beyond where he had just disappeared was unbelievable.  Unfathomable.  It filled my heart with rapture and my spirit with awe.  In the distance was that beautiful, pristine, deep, blue, oval lake ringed by snow capped peaks.  The view went on forever.  It was post card and fairy tale perfect. 

But when I got to the edge, and I mean edge, I looked down, and I mean straight down an incredibly imposing slope.  Er, cliff.  That view filled my heart with despair and my spirit with "Holy Shit".

I exclaimed.

Fortunately, there were all these little humps or hills on the slope that good skiers called "moguls".  They went all the way down, about fifty thousand of them.  A good skier would use them for fun, jumping and flying over them as they sashayed down the slope.

An intermediate skier, like me, would call the moguls small, life saving platforms or ledges, which could slow their descent and where maybe they could stop and rest for a while.  Possibly even bivouac over night, if necessary. 

I might, and should have turned around then, but we'd already traveled slightly downhill a few hundred yards to get to this point.  So that would have meant taking off my skis and trudging in ski boots up hill.

"Oh bother," I said to myself. "What the hell."

I have found that every once in a while when I utter that phrase, "What the Hell", I get into something that ends up being just a little bit more than I had bargained for.  Or a lot more than I could have even conceived being possible.  This would be one of those times.

With gusto I launched, sideways, over hump and dale.  And I pretty much fell at every hump and dale.  They were spaced like ten feet apart, so, you know, I fell a lot.  And that was just going one diagonal way.  I hadn't yet turned to go back to the other side of the run.  I had traveled about three hundred feet.  I had gone down hill about fifteen.

Somewhere along the line, like probably at this point in the juncture, I figured out it would be easier if I took the skis off.  I mean, I was pretty much on my ass most of the time anyway, why have them as a hindrance?

And that's the way I went down the fourteen mile slope.  From side to side.  On my ass.  It took about an hour.  My companion, on the bottom of the hill, was laughing his ass off.

I never went skiing with him again.

One of the most memorable road trips up there occurred when I was around twenty years of age.  It wasn't actually to Lake Tahoe, but to Fallen Leaf Lake, which is about five miles west of Tahoe.  The paved access road is near Camp Richardson on the Southwest shore.

It was an intrepid trip, logistically speaking.  It also contains some of the most magical scenic moments of my life.

It started in San Jose innocently enough.  My lovely fiance's roommate kind of got sweet on a friend who had recently taken a winter care-taking position at the pretty much deserted for winter Stanford Sierra Camp, which is located at the south end of Fallen Leaf Lake.  So we decided to take a weekend road trip so she could see him.

That was her motivation.  A road trip anywhere with amigos to see an amigo was good enough for me.  So we packed up Edith and hit the road.

Edith?  My orange VW bug.  So named because I have no idea why.

Packed up?  My lovely fiance's roomy, my dog Sid, our mutual friend Miguel, who is also featured in "Late Night Letters to the Moon" and his guitar.  The first leg of the trip to Sacramento, the half way point, was uneventful.  In Sacramento things got a little crowded.  There we picked up my lovely fiance and her twin sister.  They had been visiting their grandparents.

What the hell.  We were young.  So what's the deal with five humans, a dog and a guitar all fitting into a VW bug for a two hour road trip?  I know, today we'd need a mini van at least, or maybe a bus, but back then we were young.  And a lot thinner.

As per instructions from our Bud, we called from Meyers, which is a teeny weeny little hitching post near South Lake Tahoe.  He told us to drive to the Camp Richardson stable parking lot.  He'd meet us there.

We arrived at the parking lot a little ahead of schedule.  We all got out of our cramped quarters and stretched a bit under the clear, full moon lit night.  It had been snowing recently, there was a good snow pack on the ground and the trees were littered with the crispy white stuff.  It was also in the brisk high 20's at the time, about 10:00 PM.

Our bud soon arrived on a snow mobile with a trailer attached.  The three girls and most of the luggage climbed aboard.  Miguel, Sid, the guitar and myself stayed behind.  Oh yeah, a couple cases of Budweiser also stayed behind.

We made the most of the forty-five minute wait as they motor skied the five miles in and then our bud motored back out.  Miguel and I drank beer, sang a few songs and drank more beer.  By the way, Miguel is not even remotely Spanish.  That's a pseudonym.  I think Miguel is Scottish.  You know, from France.

When he arrived, we climbed aboard and were off on what would become one of the most awesome scenic adventures ever.  My lovely wife has the same memory of her snow mobile trip in as I do of mine.  It was spectacular.  It was a stunning five mile ride through snow covered meadows and frosted pine forest; white, leafless Aspen's shimmering in the magic full moon light.  A picture perfect Norman Rockwell epic excursion to grandmother's house.  Only, you know, the house we were going to was full of derelicts, hot dogs, pretzels, and beer.

Once at the camp we hung out, drank beer and tried a little fishing the next day.  If you read my blog post Gone Fishin you know how that turned out.  Then we drank some more beer and had to walk the five miles back out the following day because the snow had melted too much for the snowmobile to slide.  We'd either have to walk or wait until night for the snow to harden.

The trip out was not nearly as fun as the trip in.  Epic?  Yes.  Fun?  No.  None of the girls had brought any sort of snow gear.  What were they thinking?  So they borrowed boots from the guys there that were five sizes too big and we all hiked out.  Well, they sort of trudged.  Complained and trudged.

Miguel and I ended up carrying a lot of luggage.  Like all of it.  And Miguel had his guitar.  Fortunately the dog didn't bring a suitcase and didn't need to borrow any boots.  He did just fine. 

After that trek we all amazingly found the comfort of the VW rather appealing.  Warm and appealing.  We dropped the twins off in Sacramento where their Grandmother could nurse the seventeen blisters both of them had on their feet.  Miguel and I bought two six packs of Budweiser to get us home.

I made one other memorable trip in Edith.  Another old chum and I went on a road trip to see some buds who had moved to New Mexico.  The main and almost only thing I remember about that rather uneventful road trip was the first night.

We were camping at Lake Havasu City.  Down south on the Arizona and California border. You know, the place where the London Bridge is located.  That place, you know, in the middle of a desert that you would most expect to find a bridge from London.  Apparently that town has had quite a renaissance around that bridge.  Back in the early 70's there was this bridge from London in a desert in the middle of nowhere.  Now it's like a big deal.

It was hot there.  Real hot.  How do I know?  Cause my bud and I couldn't get to sleep.  We were laying on top of our sleeping bags at midnight, sweating.  It was still 102 degrees.  We felt like pizzas.  In a BIG oven.  So we went swimming. 

If you've never been to Lake Tahoe you simply must go.  Especially if you live in Northern California.  You have no excuse.  And you really need to experience it's utterly unfathomable beauty when snow covered in the dead of winter as well as it's high sierra rustic charm in the middle of summer.  Where it is usually cooler than the middle of the state, yet also closer to the sun because of it's altitude.  So wear sunscreen.

After visiting this breathtakingly beautiful spot for so many years and so many seasons we have found our favorite time to visit is autumn.  In between the high season summer and winter months.  There are usually less expensive hotel rates and we find the fall scenery spectacular.

We were actually up there a couple months ago.  We were going to go up there last year in October to see the Psychedelic Furs but my pesky appendix got in the way and perforated on me.  Damn failing body parts.

But we did get up there this year.  Found a great deal, pay for two nights and get a third for free.  My kind of travel deal.  Studio place with a kitchen at South Shore.  Perfect.

Which brings me to another point.  There are certain shades of ambiance about the lake that newcomers should be aware of.  First of all, the California Nevada border goes through the middle of the lake, more or less.  So two states straddle it.

Back in the days before Indian gaming took a foot hold here in CA, Lake Tahoe was a go to place to gamble.  Scenic and sizzling.  How can you go wrong?

Back in the day there were three or four casinos on the North Shore, the most famous being the Cal-Neva Club, in which Frank Sinatra boasted part ownership for a while.  But South Shore has always had the largest play houses, still does.  So if you're looking for scenery and action, head to south shore.  If you just want scenery and laid back type ambiance, then try out the North or West shores.  There's not a hell of a lot of anything but granite on the East Shore, although for a while the "Ponderosa" of  "Bonanza" TV days was a fun amusement place to visit with the kids.  I think it's closed for business now.

We didn't really care what shore we were staying at this time, we just followed the deal.  We can find fun anywhere around the lake.  We did want to re-trace our Fallen Leaf route for this post though so actually South Shore made the best sense.

Here's a travel tip I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH.  Even if you're tired after your travel, maybe even a little bit grumpy, be as friendly as possible without getting arrested for indecent exposure with the person that is checking you in.  Maybe ask about their day.  Ask about the area.  Get some dining recommendations.  Inquire about THEIR town.  Ask their personal opinion about things.  I can't tell you how many times we've received complimentary upgrades by doing this.

On this particular trip, after a few minutes of engaging conversation with our host, my lovely wife inquired, "Does the room have a lake view?"

I could see from the map he was preparing quite the opposite would be true.  We would be having a highway view.  With ambient traffic sound no doubt.  Hey, that's why it was a deal and a steal.

"Well, no, it doesn't," our host responded.

"Do you have anything that does?" my doe eyed lovely wife innocently inquired.

"Let me see what I can do," our host responded.

Magic words.  A couple minutes later we did not have a lake view but we were checking into a 3/2 condominium with a garden view.  A football field away from the highway.  No extra charge.


Prior to check-in we did a little shopping at South Shore's TJ Maxx.  Yes, South Shore has a TJ Maxx, if that excites you.  It's a discount home goods store that sells clothes and home goods at a great price.  I guess.  I don't do a lot of shopping.  My lovely wife does though.  If it were up to me I would be wearing what I wore when I was fifteen, Levi's and a T-shirt, all the time.  Maybe a sweater when it gets cold.  But thanks to my lovely wife I have a couple of shirts now too.

If it were up to her she would clothe the world.  She would be very good at it too.  Cat class, cat style.

I discovered something this time while I was doing the male shopping shuffle.  Other guys do it too!  That's where guys who have gone to the store with their wife end up aimlessly shuffle around.  They usually feign interest with her for four or five minutes, but once they realize she's launched into a full scale discount assault I think they find the need to shuffle for cover.  I do.  Besides that, I think there's too much gee to gaw at.

I shuffle here and look at stuff, I shuffle there and look at stuff.  I usually end up shuffling to the sock section.  I understand socks.  There's a lot of unbelievable crap out there for sale, an ocean of notions.  That nobody really needs. 

It all becomes rather overwhelming to me.  This.  That.  Those other things.  What on earth is all this crap?  Why on earth is there all this crap?  Who on earth buys all this crap?

About this time in the shuffle I usually end up running into my lovely wife.  Whose cart is full of crap.

Oh crap.

And then the realization hits me that I would probably be sitting in the living room on a lawn chair in Levi's and a T- shirt if not for my lovely wife.  Watching a transistor radio.

At least now I have a sweater.  A couple shirts.  A TV.  Pictures on the wall.  And my lovely wife is always gloriously and appropriately attired. 

Our trip to Tahoe this year was usual.  There had been recent snow so the scenery was just a little more spectacular than normal.  The high mountain air was fresh and crisp.  We balanced adventure and romance, fine dining and fire side picnics.  It was usual, and lovely, as always.

We retraced our route to Fallen Leaf Lake.  It had been almost forty years.  We drove the car this time cause there wasn't seven feet of snow on the road yet.  It's also grown quite a bit.  Back in the 70's there were maybe twenty houses in there besides the camp.  Now there's at least twice that many.

Most of the houses are summer only, though it looked like a dozen or so hardy souls wintered over.  They'd have to be prepared to get snowed in for a while I would imagine.  Otherwise it would be a long walk to the highway, trust me, I know!

A couple of rather handsome coyotes crossed the road about twenty in front of us as we approached the lake.  I say handsome because they were both sporting a lush, full, thick coat of fur.  Unlike the mangy ones we see around here.  At first I thought they were wolves, but they had that customary coyote skulk and sneaky look about their gait.  Apparently the cool, crisp high mountain air is more conducive for fancy fur growth than lower elevation temperatures.

We also took a sixty-five mile round trip road trip south through Meyers, then SE through the Hope Valley and then winding back up North, eventually landing at Genoa, Nevada's oldest settlement, established 1851.

The road trip itself was gorgeous.  Snow capped granite peaks and mountain meadows.  There's nothing more beautiful to me than an effervescently green high sierra mountain meadow, ringed by majestic pine and shimmering aspen trees.  If I could choose a place to leave this planet it would be in one of those.

Genoa itself was a vintage meh.  There's a bar and restaurant and a couple B & B's.  Other than a couple architectural photo ops we weren't terribly impressed.  But we have now been to Nevada's oldest settlement.  So we can cross that off our bucket list.

I think we casually dined that night, then wandered around Harrah's.  Most of the gambling crowd seemed younger.  Maybe all the old chronic gamblers are staying close to home these days and hitting the Indian casinos instead.  I mean, if you live in a mobile home in Oroville it'd be a heck of a lot cheaper to go to one of the three Indian Casinos next door than to travel all the way to Tahoe.  That way they can lose more money locally.

How do you compliment a woman from Oroville?

Nice tooth.

My lovely wife tossed a few quarters in a dollar machine.  Or vice versa.  Either way.  Somehow she won a hundred bucks.  I say somehow because we didn't understand how, who, where or what line she won on.  It was a mystery until the machine started spewing out nothing.

Yeah, nothing.  Gone are the days of carrying around a big cup of change.  The machine spits out a receipt now if you've actually got a credit and you take that to the cashier.  Makes more sense I guess, but coinage spilling out onto the carpet always created such an exciting mess.

There's no more Keno either.  Both Harrah's Keno lounges have been converted to sports betting.  I have always enjoyed playing a ticket or two in tribute to DOD.  There goes the end of an era.

Plus there's a plethora of cards games now nobody's ever heard of.  Three and crazy four card card poker, Pai Gow, Ma Jong, Egg Fu Yung.  It's turning into a Chinese buffet.  Where will it end?

It didn't matter, I wasn't going to play anything anyway.  I enjoy the crazy, manic energy in the room.  Most all the tables were full of wild-eyed testosterone and estrogen filled youngsters, catching a buzz and maxing out their credit cards on exciting games of chance.  That they were more than likely going to lose.  But what the hell, right?

Lake Tahoe was first discovered by John C Fremont in 1844.  He caught sight of the lake while making his way west, marking Tahoe as a crossing-over point in the Sierras for explorers and settlers.  He had no idea it would eventually become a mecca.

When silver was struck in nearby Virginia City in the 1860's, a vibrant lumber community sprang up along the shores and mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe.  As transportation to and from the lake improved, the first car to survive the pass was in 1905, some intrepid adventurers and a few rich folks began to wind their way into the basin.

Many incredible mansions and homes have been built along the lake's shores, such as our banker buddy's at Meeks Bay.  Then there's Howard Hughes, Larry Ellison and a host of other celebs that own homes there.  And then there's old money places such as Vikingsholm, Tahoe's hidden castle, which is located on the shores of Emerald Bay.

Whether you're going for Lake Tahoe history, and there is quite a bit, the excitement of losing money, beautiful scenery, fine dining, fantastic winter or summer outdoor recreation or a simple romantic getaway, Lake Tahoe fits all those bills.  Folks like us that have been many times keep going back.  Does that tell you anything?

Now granted, if we lived in Mississippi, we probably would not have gone to Lake Tahoe as many times as we have.  But if you live in Mississippi, and you do get to Northern California, then you owe it to yourself to visit this incredibly scenic location.  And if you live in Northern California and have never been you have no excuse.  You simply must go.  You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Goiters, Garters, Girdles, Here I Go Again.

There's something that suits me about putting three like sounding words together, especially when they begin with the same letter.  And rhyme.

Out of all three of 'em, only garter really has a couple meanings.  When combined with snake, we're talking about a fascinating, harmless, slithering creature usually found within a garden.  When combined with belt, we're talking about an altogether different sort of harmless fascination that is usually found surrounding a garden upon a sumptuous creature.

A goiter is an unusual enlargement of the thyroid gland.  The most common cause of a thyroid goiter worldwide is a lack of iodine. Treatment depends on the size of the goiter.  If it's small, you may just need to add some salt to your fries.  If it's big, like the size of a small elephant, it may need to be surgically removed.  Or gnawed off by a large rodent.  Which would be a lot cheaper.  But you'd probably need to wander the sewers of  Buenos Aries or tap one of the GOP presidential contenders to find a rat big enough to gnaw off something the size of an endangered species.

The first girdle I ever saw was a neighbor lady's.  I was probably seven years old.  I was at Chuck's Grandma's house, which was around the corner and up a house or two from the duplex we called home.

I was sitting there, playing with a toy truck in the dirt, not really trying to be a spy.  All of a sudden the house next door's front door opened and I noticed a brunette thirty something lady stick her head out and look around.  Then, seemingly assured there was no onlooker, she quickly darted out of the door a few paces to the mail box which was on the wall of the front porch.  One arm was draped over her naked breasts and a white girdle was draped around her nether region.

She stood there for a second or two with her back to me, retrieved her mail and then darted back in the door.  The entire episode lasted maybe seven seconds, but I was enthralled.  That was the first time I had seen a female other than my mother in her underwear.  I found it substantially more intriguing.  That incident, no doubt, began my life long appreciation of women's lingerie. 

So what have I really been doing around the old homestead here these last couple months while espousing past travel escapades and congenial witticisms?

Well, I did borrow my bro in laws ultra log splitter and split and stacked about four cords of firewood.  Probably more.  And that was after I drug up some pretty decent rounds from the Lower Forty.  I needed help on several of the larger ones, the were about the size of Tunisia.  Weighed about as much too.  Who needs a gym when I'm working every single muscle doing this basic country chore?

This year I ended up with a lot more wood than we usually burn each winter.  That's because we had to cut down a tree that would have potentially taken out a power pole.  Which then would have blocked the road.  Probably start a flaming inferno.  Possibly world war three.  So PG&E took out the dangerous half.  My tree guy took out the other half.  There was an easy two cords of wood in that monster.

Besides saving money by not needing a gym, we also save a lot of money that would otherwise be paying for propane.  We burn wood for heat and also hang our laundry when it's not raining.  Which, you know, would be rather counter productive.  This year I ditched the hillbilly clothesline

and added a real one.  That door right there on the left is where the washer and dryer are located.

By doing these two things we manage to keep our propane use and cost pretty low.  Last year we spent about $300.00 for propane.  That's not a typo, that was for the entire year!  This year we've spent $118.37 so far and the tank is still 40% full.  Besides a gas heater and clothes dryer, the only other gas appliance we have is the range.  And in case you were wondering, our electric bill averages about $80.00 per month.   For a 4/3 2100 square foot home.  Yeah, we're trying to keep our foot print low.

I also had a couple leaks on the chicken shack roof that needed a little Henry's Wet Patch, which is a tar based product you can use in the middle of a rain storm.  Good stuff.  I've been using it for years, both in dry weather as well as in the rain.

Then I had a couple week project caulking and painting two sides of the sun room.  Somewhere along the line this last summer I noticed a little dry rot around a couple of the window frames.  Those two sides face south west and receive the brunt of the rain storms when they come blowing through.  Plus there's very little eave protection  So it was caulk and paint time.  They're now good to go and should last substantially longer than they did before. 

All brush by the way, no tape.  The secret is to paint the trim first, then it's pretty easy to just cut in the wall, saving the time and expense on tape.  Which doesn't work half the time anyway.

Back in June of this year we had buttoned up our perimeter with the installation of the driveway gate and Front Fence Offensive.  Once that was installed we enjoyed about a month and a half without any breach by Bambi and her ravenous biker buddies.  But then one morning I noticed a few of the roses had been nibbled on.  And the tomato and potato plants were raped as well.  Son of a bitch we had a breach!

I eventually found the culprit resting on the North Forty.  Resting!  After raping my plants.  I shooed her around the property to uncover her route of ingress, which was ultimately discovered on the southern portion of the hillbilly line.

The hillbilly line consists of homeboys original four foot high ranch fencing, which I have heightened to roughly eight feet by utilizing manzanita posts and barbed wire.  Frigging Bambi found an isosceles triangle a little larger than a show box between barbed wire(s) and jumped through.  Like a hula hoop, only much smaller.  And triangular.

Over the course of the next couple weeks I continued to find leaks in various portions of the hillbilly line, which I dutifully buttoned up with more fencing and wire.  I was sure I had the perimeter deer secure when one morning I discovered a doe and fawn inside.  I was livid.  How the hell they get in?

Once again a deer chase ensued, and during said chase the doe and fawn were separated.  I managed to get the doe out by opening the driveway gate and shooing her out.  Then I went to look for the fawn but couldn't find the dang mini predator anywhere. 

Over the course of five years I have learned a lot about my plant raping adversary.  I learned a lot more during the final phase of buttoning this property up.  The height of my fence was fine.  But as I poured over the northern section inch by inch I discovered they were getting in UNDER a portion of the manzanita line, not over.  A quick simple fix, and once that opening was closed there have been no further breaches.  It's been over three months now, and that time frame includes summer months where they have no green food in the wild and will voraciously pursue any watered garden.  Especially one that contains roses, their crack cocaine.  Or their Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries, depending on your cereal view of the world.

The other major deal this old man had been contending with is getting a pad cut for the soon to come 2825 gallon water tank.  It's location was chosen because the front down spout dumps into an underground irrigation line that runs underneath the lawn and then dumps out right below the picket fence. 

So I got my trusty pick and shovel and got to work.

 Start a little
Outside in, the top cut is about four and a half feet deep. 

That's about nine hours spaced out over four days.  I tossed the dirt to the left of the pad to build an embankment for the future trail down.   Legs, back, shoulders, arms, neck, spleen.  I used 'em all.  Who needs a gym?

And today, just prior to going to press, guess what got delivered? 

Why, our 2,825 gallon water tank.  "Bertha" fit perfectly within the leveled area.  And the three fellas at Byers that delivered the tank were aces.  Roofs, gutters, water tanks, and now solar.  They're a bunch of great guys with a nifty line of great time and energy saving products for your home.  Give 'em a call today.  800-977-5323

Here's the view from the front porch.  You can barely make out the top of the tank behind the picket fence.  Which is, coincidentally just about exactly how I pictured it would be.  I love it when a plan comes together.  From that location I will be able to gravity irrigate most of the front forty. 

Remember:  Every 1" of rain on 1,000 square foot of roof area will yield around 600 gallons of water.  Since I've got about 500 square feet of roof area that will be dumping into the tank, that means we're only going to need around 9.5 inches of rain this year to fill it up.  And since we've received around 32 inches each of these last two drought years I think it'll be a lock to fill 'er up.

Once we get a little more rain to soften up the upper hillside, I will be making a slice about ten inches deep to allow water to run towards the side instead of right over the middle and saturating the Red Riffs of Rover.

I lied.  I apparently had a little excess energy to burn this morning so I just done trenched it.  With a shovel. 

I have no idea how it happened.  I just went up to see how grueling it was going to be and ended up trenching about 150 feet.  By hand.  It took about 2 hours. 

Well, I've been saying the Immunocal I recently started consuming has increased my energy... 

I have one other immediate outdoor chore (besides regular brush pile burning) to do over the winter: make heads and tails out of this mess, the stair way to no where.

I have a plan, I think.  You'll see, one way or the other.  I'll keep ya posted. 

In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful, cooler autumn weather, especially all you Californians out there.  We'll be heading up to Lake Tahoe for an extended weekend, it's one of our favorite places on the planet.   Especially this time of year.  We were going to go there last year at this time and see the Psychedelic Furs, but my appendix got in the way.  I'll be covering my life long love affair with that lake in my next post. 

Until then, stay weird.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

All Aboard!

I recently took an Amtrak train  to San Francisco with a good buddy a month or so ago.  We were going to a SF Giants game at AT&T Park where they were also celebrating 50 years of the Grateful Dead.  Yeah, it's kinda nice that our home town baseball team happens to be from a city that also has an outrageous rock scene that dates back to the 1960's.  We're fairly blessed too when it comes to local rock luminaries hanging out and sometimes singing the national anthem.

I've seen Jerry, Bob and Vince all sing together (which goes back a ways since two of them are now truly gratefully dead), Huey Lewis and the News, the two guitarists of Metallica doing a stunning instrumental version, and Santana, also doing an instrumental, to name a few.  We also routinely get Steve Perry, the former lead singer of Journey, directing the crowd while they sing his song, "Don't Stop Believing."

This 50 year Grateful Dead Anniversary was a little different national anthem wise.  One of Jerry's daughters, Annabelle Garcia, was going to sing a duet with Bill Walton, former NBA superstar and long time Dead Head.  Only the powers that be I think shut Bill's mike down after the first few warbled words left his mouth.  Either that or he shut it down himself and lip synced when he figured out he was really just a retired athlete and had no business trying to sing the national anthem.  Anytime.  Anywhere.  Even in the shower.  He couldn't hold a candle to Annabelle, who did an exceptional job, making those high notes soar.

They also gave away free anniversary t-shirts, which we were going to forego except we ran into a chum who was like 20th in a line of about 25,000.  So we hung with him and his wrecking crew for a while, but it was still an unbelievable fiasco.  The shirts didn't arrive until about the 2nd inning.  Some folks waited in line the entire game, we fortunately only had to wait about an hour.

I bring up the shirt because I wore it on the train ride back the next day.  A youngster in his early twenties saw it and then excitedly exclaimed he just saw the Dead when they recently played in Chicago.  He asked if I was there.

"Nah," I said, "I saw them quite a few times back in the 70's at Winterland."

"Ah," he responded, "The real Dead.  With Jerry and everything."

"Yep," I smiled, "Weren't nothing like it."

My lovely wife and I also took the train to the Bay Area another few weeks back for our youngest Grandson's first birthday.  It was the third weekend in a row we were traveling to the bay for family obligations and I just didn't want to drive the Daytona 500 speedway one more time.

The train offers a lovely diversion from all the non-signalling tail gating speed freaks that have now become rampant and the norm on California's highways.  Which brings me to my road way pet peeves.

This one kills me.  Every time.  The folks that turn on their signal as they begin their turn.  Like, why bother?  We already know, NOW.  It would have been nice to know about ten seconds ago though, when you first began your speed descent and dropped me down to 10 MPH..

I love most of the folks out here in the country on two lane roads.  If someone is behind them, and they know because they actually use their rear view mirrors, they'll flip their blinker on about a quarter mile ahead of their upcoming turn.  I'm not quite that insane, but if someone is behind me, and I know because I actually look in my rear view mirror too, I'll give them a good hundred yard heads up.  If I'm dropping someone behind me almost down to zero mph I think they have a right to know why.

Like, is there a hazard in the road up ahead?  A lost child?  A vagrant dog?  A goat?  A clown with a kazoo?   

Folks, use your mirrors and give the person behind you some advance notice if you're turning.  Please.  Especially if it's me.

Speaking of the person behind you, what's up with the prevalence of tailgaters these days?  I mean, it seems like everybody in this state is now driving like they're from Southern California.  All the time.  You used to have to go down there to experience that wide open assault.  Now it's everywhere.  Ever wonder why when there's a highway accident these days it usually involves a motorcycle, a semi and 57 cars?

And then when you do leave a reasonable space between you and the car in front of you someone comes along and pushes their booty right in.  I remember one time we were traveling north up the middle of the state on Interstate 5, returning from a Thanksgiving feast at our son's in San Diego.

Traffic was fierce, and if you left an inch of space between you and the car in front some butthole pushed their way right on in.  I remember honking at one fervently crazy bitch that almost clipped our front bumper.   She backed off but then gave me a dirty look like I was the bad guy.  I mean, W.T.F.  What's wrong with people anymore?  Whatever happened to safety and respect?

People, be safe.  Leave at least four seconds of space between you and the car in front of you.  If you're tailgating anywhere above thirty mph you cannot react in time to avoid hitting something.  Like the idiot in front of you that just hit his brakes because he's turning.  Had he used his signal properly maybe he saves both your sorry asses.

Then there's the vapidly vacuous pathetically unaware moron blithely cruising along on the two lane highway just below the speed limit.  Then, when a passing lane appears, he speeds up, making passing him more difficult than it should have been.

It happened to me so often when I was on the road for a few years that I began to think these really were  mean people.  Passive aggressive BS.  But when I looked at their faces as I passed I became aware that these people had not a clue.  They had no idea another vehicle was within a hemisphere of them, let alone behind them.  They were just mindlessly ambling along in their own little world.  When a passing lane comes along the asphalt expands.  So they feel safer or something and speed up.   Or maybe they feel they have to obey the speed limit signs which bumped up the limit by 10.  But then they ignore the ones that say "Slower traffic use right lane."

I dunno.  I'm baffled.

And then more than half the time you end up having to pass them in the right lane, you know, the lane slower vehicles are supposed to move over to.


I don't know about you, but I hate it when someone is on my rear.  I pull over as soon as it's safe.  Or, if we come to a passing lane I maintain my same speed and pull into the right lane.  Pretty simple, really.  It's just a matter of, um, paying attention when you're behind the wheel of a couple ton, steel angel of potential death.

Then there's that same oblivious chimpanzee behind the wheel on a three lane freeway, passing the car next to him at the same speed.   Only, you know, if he's going the same speed he's not really passing anything.  So then you get a snarling pack of Daytona drivers stacking up behind the chimp and the asleep at the wheel next to him.

In the meantime, the right lane is completely open for miles sometimes.  Which is where you'll find me, zipping along in the lane less traveled.

My daughter and I have developed a couple alternative routes as far as getting from here to there is concerned.  Several routes designed to completely avoid Interstate 80.

Nope.  I'm not sharing.  Otherwise, well, you know, they won't be alternate routes anymore.

In the meantime, we, as a family, have discovered Amtrak.  From our locale here in the Sierra Nevada Foothills we can pick up the train at three fairly close locations.

We can do the Capitol Corridor, which is the commuter train that runs mainly from Sacramento to ultimately San Jose, a couple of ways.  We can drive to Sacramento, an hour away, and pick it up almost any time.  They run just about hourly out of there westward as they do eastward.

If we don't want to drive to Sacramento, we can pick up the Capitol Corridor in Auburn, a scant thirty minutes away.  But they only have two times of the day that the train runs all the way to Auburn.  An early morning commute leaves westbound around 6:30 and arrives from it's Eastbound run around that same time in the evening.  You can still park at the Auburn station at any time of the day and then take an Amtrak bus down to Sacramento.  That, also, runs almost hourly.

Another option, the one I most recently took, is the Zephyr, which you can pick up out of Colfax, Ca, a scant twenty-five minutes away.  The Zephyr runs from Emeryville in the West to Chicago in the East, with a zillion stops in between.   There's a few stops between here and Emeryville too, but they typically only last a couple minutes.

Before I forget, an absolute must watch hilarious train adventure movie is the 1976 Silver Streak.  This flick is the first of several combining the genius comedy buddy team talents of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.  It also stars a rather gorgeously steamy Jill Clayburgh.  If you haven't seen it, check it out. 

I went on this last train adventure all by myself.  I was ultimately heading down to AT&T Park for a father daughter date to see the Giants and Dodgers.  It was her idea.  She'd never seen the Dodgers and bought the tickets for us as a Father's Day present.  As a matter of fact, I got three pairs of Giants tickets for Father's Day this year.  Like, someone must think I'm a fan or something.

The morning of my departure my world was frantic as usual.  The train was passing eastbound through Colfax around 11:50 AM, so I did have time to get most of my chores and obligations done.  I came up here to the office about an hour and a half before my train departure time, about an hour before I was planning on leaving for the station.

I opened up all my usual half dozen windows, and on one of those intuitive hunches I thought I'd better check my train status.  They've been known to run late.  I might have a little more time.

Or not.  Holy cow, the Zephyr was running 45 minutes early!  I had no time.  I had to fly.  Good thing I'm  OCD.  Or ACDC.  Or whatever I am.  I had pretty much been ready to go four days prior.  Checked and re-checked. 

It's two lane country highway all the way to Colfax from here, and I made pretty good time cruising at 45-50 MPH with minimal resistance.  You know, other cars.  It was all going great until I hit the part that had a flagman and about fifteen stopped vehicles in front of me.  Aaaargh!  I looked at my watch.  I was still five minutes away.

"I can still make it," I thought.

"Or not," I thought again.

Somehow I managed to breathe throughout the five minute delay and then resumed the eight minute, 25 MPH, fifteen vehicle parade ride into Colfax.

Fortunately it's a very small town and the train station is right in the middle.  Once I arrived I breathlessly discovered something that every train traveling novice should be aware of.  Your train will NEVER be ahead of schedule, they will never leave before your station's scheduled departure time.  They may be late, but they will never be ahead of schedule.

Whew!  So then I had an extra forty-five minutes of time to kill.  So I bought a Powerball ticket and discovered the little town of Colfax is named after Schuyler Colfax, who was a US Representative and Vice President under Ulysses Grant.  Apparently he was somewhat instrumental in getting the railroad over the Sierras.  Or something like that.  The old dude is also remarkably popular.  No less than eight towns across the country are named after him.  So is a county or two.  Go figure.

The train was right on time and the conductor met me at the bottom steps.  I was the only one hopping aboard from that one horse country stop.  He scanned my ticket and within a minute we were rolling down the tracks.  I ambled up to the top deck and easily found a double window seat on the side I wanted.  The train was not crowded at all.

The Zephyr is different than the Capitol Corridor in a couple ways.  First of all, there's no Wifi.  No interstellar surfing, better enjoy the scenery.  The Cap Corridor does have Wifi, probably because it is primarily a commuter train.

The seats are different too.  Although spacious and graced with a number of tables, the leg room on the Cap Corridor has nothing on the Zephyr.  Basketball players can lounge in comfort on the Zephyr.  There's almost enough room to play a basketball game between you and the seat in front.  It's quite expansive, with reason, of course.

That would be because many folks, those traveling economically and who don't want to pay for a sleep car, can actually set up camp and sleep in the seats.  The back tilts waay back and there's a number of inventive leg rests and pull outs to make what I will surmise is a decent enough sleep space.  If you're into public slumber.

The actual train ride is ultra fabulous.  It's like riding in a 1973 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, only better.  The only thing really missing was a sub woofer, which, to be effective on this sized vehicle would need to be about the size of Canada.  Then we'd a been really happening.

The scenery coming down from the Sierras is lovely.  I guess that's why I live here.  It looked tinder box dry, but still lovely.  We passed right by Auburn and picked up speed as we came out of the hills, blazing right into the Roseville station.  A quick stop there and we were off to Sacramento.

There's a big difference in train stations in all these towns by the way.  Colfax and Auburn are quite small as you might imagine.  Auburn's almost non-existent as a matter of fact.  If you need to you can buy a ticket from a machine.  There's no human interface.  Colfax, on the other hand, has a lovely little station with marginally attractive humans.  The station includes a wonderful little museum, hearkening back the days of railroad yore and lore.

Roseville also serves as a freight train station and hence has about 147 tracks compared to the 2 at Auburn and Colfax.  The human station at Roseville looks small but nice, although I've never been off the train there.  I have no idea if they have a machine or humans, marginally attractive or not. 

The Sacramento station is obviously the largest of all four, an old brick anthem to the industry's glory days.  The interior is currently undergoing a face lift with tarps and scaffolding everywhere.  There are a number of humans at the Sacramento station.

It's also a few hundred yard hike from the actual Sacramento station over to the railroad tracks.  Plug that into your equation if you're running behind.  You'll really be running, trust me.

Access at the other three stations is easy.  They all sit about twenty feet from the tracks.  Parking is also free at Colfax and Auburn, not sure about Roseville.  It costs $10.00 a day to park at the Sacramento station. 

Parking at Colfax or Auburn and taking the Amtrak bus to Sacramento ends up being a bit cheaper, but it also takes a little longer than if you drove your own vehicle to the Sacramento station.  The bus has stops in Roseville and Rocklin on the way to Auburn.  Plus, if you have a lovely wife like I do that is traveling with you, it's doubtful you'll be taking the bus.  Anywhere. 

Every town you pass through, whether little or big, offers it's own kind of railroad track ambiance.  Typically commercial and industrial areas of a town or municipality surround the railroad tracks.  And usually all the crap of those business get stacked in the back near the track.  Cause you can bank this: there ain't no front yards  facing the track, it's all back.

You also get an invasive look into many decrepit residential back yards.  It seems like most of the homes sitting on the railroad tracks are rentals.  Or are owned by individuals whose potential interest in landscape or home improvement is usually obliterated by the first beer of the morning.  Their sole mission of the day will be to go down to the corner liquor store for more beer and a pack of cigarettes.

There's also a lot of homelessness along the tracks, which is where the previous homeowner is going to eventually end up if he doesn't stop smoking cigarettes.  Those things are expensive.  Ramshackle tarps, tents and plastic shanty's dot the train track landscape, as did a lot of surrounding litter and many tell tale blackened remnants of spot fires.  It appears many of our homeless population are a bit derelict when it comes to flames.

Once you're a mile or so out of a town the homeless camps cease and unabashed glorious scenery comes back into view.  The train flew over the Yolo Bypass, keeping abreast of the many Datona drivers jockeying along the interstate.  There's a quick stop in Davis and then out to the bad land flats behind Vacaville and Fairfield.

Initially we cruised by tidy crops and orchards, with many classic old farm houses dating back to the 1920's.  Some of them probably in the same family since that time.  Then we pushed into quite fertile delta land, with water filled canals winding around and through.  This terrain was mostly uninhabited except for a number of well maintained duck hunting clubs situated here and there.

We crossed over the Carquinez Bridge, which is the largest railroad bridge West of the Mississippi.  The bridge was not as nicely painted as, say, the Golden Gate Bridge or a Norman Rockwell painting though.  As a matter of fact, most of the massive steel beams seemed to be sporting an inordinate amount of rust.
I guess since each one is about sixteen feet thick there's a little room for decay.

I like the right or north side of the west bound train because it offers extraordinary views of the Carquinez straight and shoreline.  Although the south side of the train affords a better view when passing through the flat lands and delta.  The good news is that I've yet been on a train where I couldn't move around to catch the best view.  There's always been a ton of room.  Which is why maybe the bridge is rusting.  They need more passengers.

Once you cross the bridge you cruise along the south shore of the straight along the Carquinez Straight Regional Shoreline, an East Bay Park comprising of 1415 acres of bluffs and shoreline between the towns of Crockett and Martinez.   Both town have rich histories dating back to the late 1800's.  You can still see the remnants of many old rotting piers, a throwback to an almost forgotten commercial fishing industry. 

That side also offers a great glimpse of the still functioning wonka land looking five story C&H Sugar plant, which sits right between the tracks and the shore.  C&H moved in to what was originally the Old Star Mill in 1906, the brick building dates all the way back to 1880.  That refinery still processes over 700 thousand tons of cane sugar annually.  You barely get a glimpse of the C&H sign when you're traveling the highway, you get a great view of the entire facility when cruising Amtrak.

The train also passes through a huge oil refinery mega palooza land near the town of Martinez.  Massive, towering tanks of flammable ooze are everywhere.  A maze of all sorts and sizes of pipes connect these to smaller, steam emitting orbs that are interconnected to another maze of pipes and fantastic things.  It's endless.  A million miles of metal connecting everything to nothing.  It's a petroleum matrix.

Apparently there are two refineries in this vast lola palooza land of crude, noxious vapor.  Shell owns one, and it's been in operation since 1915.  It sits on about 1,000 acres and converts 165,000 barrels of crude oil a day into automotive gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, petroleum coke, industrial fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas, asphalt, and sulfur.

The other refinery is owned by Tesoro.  It sits on 2,200 acres and converts 166,000 barrels of crude oil a day into cleaner-burning California Air Resources Board (CARB) gasoline and CARB diesel fuel, as well as conventional gasoline and diesel fuel. The refinery also produces heavy fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas and petroleum coke.  What ever that is.

Martinez is also a train stop, and from there it's a scant thirty minutes into Emeryville, our usual point of debarkation.  Both the Cap Corridor and Zephyr stop there, with the Cap continuing on all the way south to San Jose.  But it's the end of the line for the Zephyr, which turns around for its return trip to Chicago the following day.

If you're going to San Francisco this is also your stop.  From Emeryville you take an Amtrak bus over the Bay Bridge into the city, where there are a couple different bus stops.  It's actually a pretty darn efficient system.

Our kids live in Oakland, about ten minutes from the Emeryville station.  Our son in law works about thirty seconds from the Emeryville station.  He's taken the late Cap Corridor numerous times up to Auburn.  It's a family affair.

I had to wait a few minutes for my daughter to pick me up, my train actually arrived in Emeryville about forty minutes early.  So I guess it can arrive early when there are no more passengers to pick up.  She'd had a pretty hectic day, dialing in three kids and their separate after school activities.  All that fun stuff.  We hit her house, met the babysitter and then were off on our date.

It was a quick ten minute drive down to Jack London Square, where we parked the car.  Then we ambled over to Heinhold's First and Last Chance Saloon, which has been open in its current location since 1883, making it the oldest bar in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It definitely has a lot of charm and history, and looks a little out of place amid all the newer finery that Jack London Square has now become.  It's a little quirky, but definitely worth a stop and a sip if you're in the area.

From Heinhold's we ambled over to the ferry terminal.  There we boarded a boat with a couple hundred other Giants fans, it would drop us off right outside the ball park.  It's actually cheaper to take the ferry than it is to park at the stadium.  By the way.  Plus the ferry folks validate your parking ticket so that becomes free.  That's ferry by the way, not fairy.  Which, by the way, I have no problem with.  Depending on what we're talking about. 

The only negative for me is the ferry arrives about ten minutes before the first pitch.  I breathe baseball, so I don't mind sipping some stadium air for a while before a game begins.  Ten minutes ain't a lot of time, we had to hustle.  I got the brats, she got the drinks.  We found our seats.  We also lost the game.

We were still in the playoff hunt going into that game, but we couldn't afford one more loss.  Which happened.  We had to walk out at the beginning of the ninth.  We were behind 8-0 at that point, Kershaw was cruising and there was NO WAY I was going to sit there and watch LA celebrate their division clinch on our field.  No way.

So we listened to the crowd instead as we waited to board the ferry for the return trip.  There's also a ferry that runs up to Vallejo, so there ended up being a couple of lines forming for the ferries.  When folks wearing LA gear asked specific line location questions I sent them in the wrong direction.  It was the least I could do.

Although the game was terrible, I cannot say how wonderful it was spending some time with my darling daughter.  Alone.  It was simply marvelous.  The last time we did it was a couple years back when we went to see "The Sound of Music" at the Julia Morgan Playhouse in Berkeley.  We used to date all the time when she was a little girl.

We didn't have to do anything specific back then.  Just go somewhere.  Anywhere.  Down the block.  Just spend some time alone with that curious, innocent little mind.

Sigh.  That's enough right there to make a grown man cry.

I spent the night on the living room sofa and was greeted in the morning with the warmest of hugs by another little girl who has also captured my heart.  Then I got to be a part of that amazing pre-school week day/work day morning when chaos and pandemonium abound.  I saw the grand kids off to school and then was dropped off at the train station for the 9:00 AM departure of the east bound Zephyr.  A kiss and a hug and I was on my way.

There were about fifty people waiting to board the train, which wasn't that many considering the size of the beast.  Some were going all the way to Chicago, many, like me, stopping somewhere in between.  Your destination predicated which car would be your "home" base.  Once you were "ticketed" at your seat you were free to roam where ever.

There was, however, a crew car which was off limits.  Also, if you weren't sporting a sleeping car ticket that neck of the train was also off limits.  Still, there was ample room to roam.  They have a restaurant car on the Zephyr for sit down meals and they have a snack type cafeteria bar on both the Zephyr and the Cap Corridor.  You can get sandwiches, snacks, sodas, beers and cocktails.  Besides the dining car, the Zephyr also has an observation car, with floor to ceiling windows.  All aboard!

The bathrooms are quite spacious as compared to air travel, although I didn't notice any showers for those long haul over nighters that are riding economically in coach status.  Without ample perfume that stretch could become onerously odorous.  There are, however, showers in the sleeping cars.

It turned out to be the same train crew that I had the day before.  They're on for the entire fifty-one hour haul, with Chicago being their home base.  They get about five hours of sleep a night according to the cafeteria and bartender guy.  They stay pretty busy too, there's quite a few folks getting on and off the train as it moseys along.

For the most part I have not had a problem as far as the trains running on time.  Unless you consider the old, frail guy in a wheel chair that died somewhere between Emeryville and Sacramento a problem.  That'll slow you down by a couple hours while they wait for the coroner to come.  Trust me.  Where's Angela Lansbury when you need her?

I think I'm going to begin a love affair with the train.  It's a nice, comfortable and roomy ride, and a lot more scenic than a plane.  I mean, how many cloud formations does it take before they all look alike?

It's not much more expensive than driving, especially if it's just one person traveling.  I think I paid about $20.00 more for the convenience of train travel for my round trips to the Bay Area.

I think there is probably enough train travel around this country for a book.  Just traveling the states.  I could be the guy to do it.  I just need to find an editor willing to pay me to do it.  In the meantime, I think I would like to take the Zephyr to Chicago.  For a steak.  And maybe a deep dish pizza.

That would be a great start.