Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Back to My Future

Marty McBride did it in 1985, a trip backwards into the future. Recently for Father’s Day, my daughter took me on that same trip back into the future. I saw things as they had become, not as they used to be, when I was growing up. It was a world changing around me even as my own world kept getting smaller and smaller.

‘The way they used to be’ was the world I came from. It was where I grew up and a world where I’ve been held hostage by my vapid memories for all these years. It was a future which I’ve only glimpsed at in quick head turns at social media press clippings.

University Avenue, where used car lots once proliferated the landscape, has been sliced and diced by light rail, high and low income apartments, and craft breweries. Now there are gourmet restaurants serving food I can’t even pronounce and a brand new temple to soccer which wasn’t even around when I was passing through there. When I was growing up, sandlot baseball was about as close to sports as I ever got. I never played a single game even though the lot wasn’t that far away.

This new temple to the skilled game of kick ball has replaced the bus barns which replaced the streetcar barns decades earlier. There are more slots for bike parking than stalls for cars and the light rail is only steps away. My, how things have changed.

Soccer entered our lives with our two kids playing VAA (Valley Athletic Association) soccer each summer. That was soon replaced by high school sports and our world moved on. Now the grandkids (at least the Minnesota ones) get to experience the game on a whole new professional level. Lucky them.

A century-old brewery omnipresent during my eight year bus ride downtown to grade school is now an indoor shopping mall planted next door to artist’s lofts and gallery space. A fixture on the West Seventh Street corridor has morphed into retail and residential space.

Where barrels of mash once rolled off the assembly line, now tiny shops catering to curious millennial tastes dominate the landscape. It was a challenge not to question some of the shops and restaurants there for their unique blend of ‘what is that’ and ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ But that’s just the old man in me talking now. I kept my mouth shut and enjoyed the trip into my kids' and grandkids' future. We’re not in Old Saint Paul anymore.

In my time, the Irvine Park neighborhood which abutted West Seventh Street corridor was a sad remnant of a once glorious past. The ornate mansions and upscale housing had been reduced to rooming houses, decrepit run down shacks and poor people’s palaces. Wilder Playground was our refuge when Mom was at work and the Gem Theater provided wonderful distractions from the reality at home. West Seventh Street was a commercial thoroughfare of auto shops, thrift stores, and small neighborhood grocery stores just barely hold on to solvency. But time changes all things.

An auto garage located not far from my itinerant home in Poorville is now a hip brewery. There’s a food truck planted next door where I first ventured out to explore the neighborhood on my bicycle. That is the future few saw coming from my old part of town.

It’s all become a new part of town that I won’t see much of in the future. I have moved on both physically and mentally. There are simply too many mountains to climb and rivers to cross with the time I have left. But it’s nice to know the old neighborhood has come around again.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Fog of Daily Living

Life can get pretty complicated at times. Then unexpectedly it can flip around and become so simplistic that it dulls your creative juices. The trick is to see past the everyday and recognize the unexpected. Life is too short to let opportunities pass you by. So if they’re not present, you have to create them.

A lot of folks I know have slipped into retirement without a clue as to what might lie ahead. They let their daily lives dictate their future. Gradually the evening news, morning coffee and grocery shopping dominate their time, life and psychological mindset. They become trapped in their own routine and clichés dominate their thinking. It’s a sinister time warp of old algorithms with their daily life clock slowly running out without they’re even knowing it. A lot of them are not prepared for what lies ahead.

Eleven years ago, I found myself a full time writer in lieu of retirement. On the surface, it seemed unplanned, unscripted and just fell into place. Yet in fact, it was a subconscious, subliminal pattern of behavior that had governed my life since the beginning. I was never meant to live a nine-to-five existence. I just didn’t know it at the beginning of this race called life.

Despite that first tentative inaugural step into non- retirement, I’ve managed to pound out ten novels, one real estate investment guide, four screenplays and seven plays, four of which have been produced. All in less than eleven years. Not to mention, over 450 blogs and counting. Truth be told, I just can’t sit still. My addiction to running has been replaced with an addition to writing. It’s as simple as that.

But I find it’s not enough. I still find myself muttering ‘screw conformity.’ Forget what an old man of seventy-five plus is supposed to be doing with the rest of his life. I’ve got an agenda and I mean to stick to it. I want to find what excites me and peruse that agenda. I take small bites every day, and that is every day.

On the surface it sounds terribly self-serving and narrow minded…and to a degree it is. On a personal level, it means creating a real theatrical experience around my plays. It might be musical theater, comedy dramas or some other form of theatrical expression. It’s exploring other genres in my novel writing or the possibility of a comic strip involving my grandchildren. It means digging beneath the surface of my own creativity and finding what’s there.

And I’m not alone. For Sharon, it began with welding metal things together. Then it morphed into alcohol ink, acrylics and now even more new approaches and techniques to explore in her paintings.

In the end, it’s taking the concept of retirement and tossing it out the window along with old assumptions, expectations and other people’s paradigms. I’ll live my life my way and others can live their lives how they choose.

Best of luck to the both of us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Triple Crown

One of the joys of being able to spend time in the desert is the opportunity to get above it all. Palm Springs and its surrounding communities have an abundance of hiking trails for both the casual hiker and serious mountain goat. Trail access is available down the entire length of the Coachella Valley. Trails cover hundreds of miles through a variety of terrain and difficulty. For residents and visitors alike, mountain hiking is one of the perks of being in the desert.

Down through the centuries, Indian culture has always held their mountains in great respect. The first ancients to walk this country left their marks on those granite sentinels. Although much of the mythology and ancient teachings associated with mountains has been lost over time, some examples still exist today.

The Blackfeet have their Chief Mountain. The Potawatomi have their Chequah Bikwaki Mountain. More recognizable is Tse’bit’ai (rock with wings.) We call it Shiprock and it’s located in the state of Arizona. Our neighbor is not alone. California has a long history of Indian folklore centered on its mountains.

The mother lode of hiking in the Valley is called ‘The Skyline Trail’ or for those in the know ‘C2C’ which translated means Cactus to Clouds. It’s a ten hour (minimum) mountain climb that travels ten miles uphill for an elevation gain of over 8000 feet. It traverses three eco-zones and can be a killer for the uninitiated, especially in the summer months. Four hikers have died on the trail over the last dozen years from heat exhaustion. No wonder my kids just roll their eyes when I mention a desire to make that climb. ‘No way!’ is all my better half will say and she means it.

Another challenging climb, though not as dangerous, is called Murray Peak. Although it’s called a ‘hill’ at 2200 feet on most maps, Murray Peak is, in fact, the highest peak in the vicinity of Palm Springs. It’s been labeled a moderate to strenuous hike with a total distance of almost seven miles and a vertical gain of over 2200 feet. It takes an average of five hours for completion with only a few rest stops along the way. For the seasoned hiker it’s a refreshing walk up the mountain. For less conditioned souls, it can be a gut-buster and taxing on the lungs. In other words, a worthy challenge and goal for a seasonal visitor like myself.

When I first started hiking in the Coachella Valley, I found a trail closer to home and a fun Saturday morning endeavor. It’s called the South Lykken Trail and is part of the North and South Lykken Trail that stretches for nine miles. It takes about five hours of moderate hiking to traverse the entire trial. The elevation gain is only about 800 feet and it’s considered a moderate hike by local standards.

Then last season, another trail caught and captured my attention. This one is called the Garstin Trail. That old goat path climbs up over two miles that switch back and forth and practically stumble over themselves in the process. Elevation rises from roughly 700 feet to 1500 feet up Smoke Tree Mountain. The trail rises to a plateau connecting up with the Shannon, Berns, Wild Horse and Eagle Canyon Trails. Even for the most ardent, experienced hiker it can be a gut-sucking, deep breathing endeavor.

Now a new trail route awaits me in the fall. I’ve labeled it’ the triple crown.’ It’s a hiking loop that encompasses the Henderson Trail, Shannon Trail and Garstin Trail. A self-anointed, self-appointed trek for me that I’ve accomplished just once last year. The trails are moderately challenging in the loop that gains roughly 760 feet in elevation. The top of the mountain there is at fifteen hundred feet. Your average desert rat can cover that distance at a fairly fast pace. The rest of us old goats take a little longer.

The Henderson Trail skirts a wash that comes down off the San Jacinto Mountains. It’s a rolling dirt path that dips and pitches with the elevation along the mountain side. Near the back end of the mountain, it connects to the Shannon Trail.

From one of the switch-backs on the Shannon Trail, one gets a panoramic view of my neighborhood, Indian Canyon, the San Jacinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains, the depth of Palm Canyon and the broad expanse of the community of Palm Springs. There’s Bob Hope’s house and other South Ridge celebrity enclaves perched high above the valley floor.

The Garstin Trail offers up spectacular views up and down the broad expanse of the entire eastern Coachella Valley. Something magical, almost spiritual, can happen during a mountain hike. It’s a physical as well as a mental challenge. At face value, it can be a day of hiking, climbing or finger-probing the rough crags and fissures of the mountain face. On a more spiritual level, it’s an assent into the vaulted realm of oxygen deprivation, aching muscles, sweat-drenched clothing and overall mental exhilaration…all to put your head in the right place.

On one occasion a touring biplane flew below me, almost invisible against the surrounding mountains. Another time, a flock of birds soared below my feet. At face value, it can be an afternoon of hiking, climbing or finger-probing the rough crags and fissures of the mountain face. On a more spiritual level, it’s an assent into the vaulted realm of oxygen deprivation, aching muscles, sweat-drenched clothing and overall mental exhilaration…all to put your head in the right place.

I’ve tried yoga, marathons and long trail runs. Collectively they can punish the body all the while soothing the soul. The Triple Crown is no different. It just takes a little longer to get to that place inside your head.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

San Francisco, 1964

Recently, I came across yet another newspaper article critical of San Francisco. It almost seems part of a coordinated campaign to disparage that city by the sea. The writer complained about the homeless population there (no doubt a tough situation) and the high cost of living (Tech intrusion will do that). But then the writer exposed his hand by smudging those ‘liberals’ and ‘NIMBY’ folks who he felt were at the root of this evil.

Funny how some old attitudes just keep coming back again and again. I guess it’s not surprising when you consider San Francisco’s DNA and the social and cultural changes constantly taking place there.

This liberal bastion of individuality has been under attack from more conservative forces for centuries. It began in the mid-to-late Eighteen Hundreds with the gold rush and the open town atmosphere San Francisco embraced back then. Well before the turn of the century, lurid stories were coming out of the ‘Barberry Coast.’ It only accelerated with stories of sexual freedom for men and women there in the Forties. The Fifties brought the Beatniks and then the hippies in the early Sixties. Many of America’s social and cultural changes had their origin in those fog-covered hills surrounded by the sea.

My experience living in San Francisco wasn’t normal by any standard. I was given free room and board with a great view of the ocean. I made a decent salary just to practice my journalism skills by day and bought a Vespa motor scooter to explore the city by night. I had a part time job at an Art Theater and took in the latest foreign films every weekend. There were scooter trips up and down the coast and into the Back Bay area.  It was eight months of my own little Camelot. Not a bad deal until a transfer sent me to a summer in hell.

In 1964 the city was slowly shedding its turn-of-the century collection of rundown dive bars and flea bag hotels for more modern digs. New hotels were sprouting up along Market Street down-town and there was talk of developing some of the dilapidated warehouses stacked up along the old vacant docks.

Just outside the entrance to the Presidio there was a three-two bar. Its patrons consisted of off duty servicemen, local drunks, guys trolling for a pickup and middle-aged women competing for the same clients. Welcome to San Francisco in the Sixties. Seven and Seven was my favorite drink when I was pretending to be all grown up.

The Haight Ashbury neighborhood had always been a working class neighborhood of Italians and Poles. Now younger folks were moving in, attracted by the cheap rents and huge Victorian homes where they could sublet rooms to their friends and acquaintances. I went there several times because ‘that was where the action was.’ I didn’t see much action, not that I would have recognized it at the time anyway.

Market Street was where one went for fine apparel and Fisherman’s wharf actually had working boats lining the docks. North Beach was still haven to Beats, drunks and druggies. But more upscale trendy bars were slowly inching into their territory. I found the area to be a tourist trap with over-priced drinks and very strange, almost scary, Broadway-type characters straight out of a Damon Runyon novel.

The Larkin Theater provided me with a weekly collection of new foreign films and watching the patrons who liked them. Two girls, their names long since forgotten, worked the ticket cage and provided comic relief with their high school trauma, drama and west coast teenage angst.

The Palace of Fine Arts was under reconstruction and the Art Museum by the Sea remained stuck in its turn of the century furnishings and décor. One of my many escapes from the city was Golden Gate Park and the Marina District which hugged the coastline. The ocean wasn’t far away.

Half Moon Bay was a Saturday morning scooter right away and Daly City a boring collection of ticky-tacky housing just like in the song.

But the real treat was Sausalito just across the bay. At that time it was still a bastion of creative types who wanted to escape the confines of the city. It was deliriously new, breathtakingly beautiful, full of wonderful temptations and totally out of reach for a youngster just in from the Midwest.

But, oh, how my imagination did soar.