Saturday, April 30, 2005

You gotta see this

In case you missed it, NBC Nightly News had a story last night on a project undertaken by a jailer with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department in Portland, Ore.
Jail Deputy Bret King, working the late shift, started looking up the mugshots of meth addicts. Since methamphetamine users tend to compile lengthy arrest records as the drug drags them down to an early death, the department's mugshot collection gives a graphic illustration of each person's disintegration as a functional human being.
It's absolutely stunning and horrifying and every kid or adult who thinks they can do meth and survive needs to see these photos.
They're on the sheriff's department website, along with text from part of the Portland Oregonian's stellar series on meth: Click on this link, check it out and pass it on to all of your friends. You may save a life.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Ooops, she did it again

Ruthie the Wonder Dog is making me wonder.
I'm beginning to wonder what it will take to make her link the act of rolling in shit in the backyard with spending a lonely day in her kennel, followed by a bath.
I had a long soulful conversation with her this morning about how this disgusting practice makes everyone, including her, unhappy.
I think what she heard was, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."
When I called her in from her morning constitutional in the back yard, she bounced up to the back door with an uncommonly large amount of dog poop matted into her fur.
So, while I wait a guy in Arlington, Va., to return my call to check quotes he gave me for that long-procrastinated airline story, Ruthie languishes in solitary.
Anyone have any dog training insights about how to stop this behavior?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A day for venting

I knew it was going to be a bad day when I caught a whiff of Ruthie the Wonder Dog returning from her morning constitutional in the back yard.
The brown smudge on her light yellow coat told the story - she'd been rolling in shit. This apparently is her idea of perfume - something she can do to make herself more interesting. She's done it at least three times in the past month, each time necessitating a bath before she's cleared to roam the house and share the furniture with the rest of us.
Today, she had the misfortune to do it on a day when the high temperature was only 52. The last time anyone bathed Ruthie in the house, we had to buy an auger and snake out the bathtub drain. From then on, all dog washing has taken place on the deck behind the house. I had plenty to do this morning and no desire to wash a dog in such chilly weather, so Ruthie was banished to her kennel in the kitchen.
Everytime I stirred from my office upstairs, I could smell her stench at the top of the stairs.
I doubt that she knows exactly what she did wrong, but she has a guilty look that tells me she knows she committed some terrible transgression.
I spent a fair portionof the morning editing images from an engagement photo shoot Maria and I did Saturday for a coworker of hers. It's a freebie - we're shooting the wedding gratis also - but once the CompactFlash cards are downloaded to my computer, it falls to me to color correct and size them, something I find increasingly annoying since we're hemhorraging money again.
The rehabilitation of our rotting front porch, which was estmated at $4,000 last summer, is mostly done and I have the contractor's bill for $5,975. Yes, that's a 50% cost overrun and if I didn't like the guy and his work, I'd be freaking livid. He explained that the cost of lumber has risen by 30% since last fall and reminded me that they had the unexpected task of shoring up the foundation where it was blowing out under the porch.
On top of that, they found an active termite colony under the porch. I called the exterminator and their guy estimated it would cost $1,200 to treat the whole property. When I gasped, he explained that it's company policy to do a complete treatment, whether it's needed or not. And then he quietly let me know, based on his inspectiono of the property which turned up no other infestations, that he thought all I needed was about 5 poison traps arrayed around the outside of the porch. And he happened to have a whole bunch of them in the back of his truck and his employer is very loose when it comes to inventory. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. I got his drift and asked if he could be persuaded to treat the porch at a reduced rate and not tell his boss. Sure, he said. So we agreed on $200 cash and I watched him install the termite poison traps.
Of course, there's no warranty here and all I have is his word as a 17-year bug man that it'll solve my problem. But then he has to trust me not to rat him out to his employer, too, so I'm counting on that bit of leverage keeping him honest with me.
I'm unaccustomed to under-the-table deals. The idea makes me very uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as writing a $1,200 check when I hadn't planned to.
So I edited images and paid bills and stewed about our cash flow this morning.
Just before I left for the bank to shift some money from savings to checking and then on to lunch with Maria, I decided to run some food waste down the garbage disposal. When I turned off the water, I heard major spashing in the basement, a sure sign that something very wrong was going on.
I discovered to my horror that the PVC pipe running straight up from the sump pump to the pipe carrying kitchen sink/dishwasher outflow had broken at a joint midway up and all of the kitchen waste was falling straight down into the sump. Left unaddressed, it will create a terrible rotting stench that the furnace will suck up and distribute throughout the house. So we're cleaning out the sump and repairing the pipe this evening.
And, oh, did I mention that there's a leak somewhere around the downstairs shower? Maria mentioned seeing water on the basement floor after her son Austin showered the other day. I have no idea whether it's a caulking issue or a problem with the drain.
Take all of this stress and pile on top of it the fact that Maria's paper is shortstaffed and she may not be able to take a vacation this summer.
Maybe Ruthie has the right idea.
Maybe I should go out into the back yard and roll in dogshit and see if that makes me feel better. It seems to work for her.

Friday, April 22, 2005

That's me in my then-new Nepenthe shirt in a composite shot with Maria at a seafood restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey. Posted by Hello

Shirt tale

I'm wearing my Nepenthe denim shirt this morning because it makes me happy.
My girlfriend - now my wife - bought it for me in July 1997 when we were on our first real vacation together.
Nepenthe is a restaurant along the Pacific Coast Highway about a half-hour south of Monterey. It's a magical place along what I've come to call the Holy Road - the most scenic stretch of highway I've found in my roughly 300,000 miles of motorcycling around North America.
The shirt is faded and frayed and Maria won't let me wear it outside the house anymore but I love the look and feel of it. Here's what I wrote about that trip a few years ago in Motorcycle Tour & Cruiser magazine:
I first visited this magical area in 1986 for a BMW motorcycle rally and I've returned several times in recent years, drawn back by that fabulous twisty road between Monterey and Ragged Point.
It dives and soars along the cliffs where the mountains march down to the surging sea in a collision of shapes and colors. The images never fail to amaze me.
Whenever I return to Big Sur and the majesty of this spectacular place, I always long for someone with whom to share the experience.
The longing was fulfilled in 1997 when Maria flew out to join me in Monterey.
I was already a dozen days into my Annual Midlife Crisis Tour at this point. I'd visited my son Sean in Portland, Ore., and we'd done a camping loop of the lush green Olympic Peninsula. From Sean's house, I tore down I-5 on my ’91 BMW K100RS in a two-day run to Palm Springs to visit an Internet friend.
It was early on a Tuesday morning when I rolled out into the mid-80-degree Palm Springs predawn darkness to make my rendezvous with Maria in Monterey.
Weeks earlier, I'd used the Internet to book a room at the West Wind Lodge in Monterey. As I rode through the empty streets of Palm Springs, I knew Maria was already in the air, winging her way west.
The sky was beginning to lighten when I blended into the stream of westbound traffic on I-10.
As I crested the pass at Banning, the temperature dropped about 15-20 degrees and I pulled in to a gas station to put the liner into my jacket. The attendant came out to chat and observed that mine was only the second BMW motorcycle he'd ever seen. I smiled and decided against commenting on his powers of observation.
The freeway traffic slowed to a crawl somewhere around San Bernardino. I sat in line briefly, resigned to my fate. Then a motorcycle shot past along the line separating the left two lanes, reminding me that lane-splitting is a way of life for L.A. area riders.
I watched closely, noticing the car drivers seemed to be cooperative. After another rider flashed past, I gingerly eased into the “bike lane” and headed past the slowed or stopped cars and trucks. It got a little tight in places and I took an occasional break by easing back into a lane, but over the next several miles, I figure I saved myself a half-hour or so. Sometime after I-210 swung west, I picked up the Ride Share lane and it was clear sailing all the way back to I-5.
I gassed a short time later and rode over the mountains that form the northern ramparts of Los Angeles, stopping for breakfast at Grapevine where I-5 descends to the floor of California’s great Central Valley.
After consulting a road map, I took Calif. 46 west to U.S. 101 at Paso Robles. It felt good to be back on El Camino Real and I relaxed into the ride up to Salinas. I found the connector route to Calif. 68 and soon motored past the Toro Place Cafe and Laguna Seca Raceway – places I'd gotten to know in 1986.
After a little fumbling, I found Munras Avenue and the West Wind Lodge. Checking in, I was pleasantly surprised to learn Maria was already here. As I dropped the sidestand in my parking place, my lady emerged from the room to greet me with a very welcome hug. We did a brief soak in the motel hot tub, then set out for Maria's first visit to Calif. 1 and Nepenthe, my all-time favorite restaurant.
Leather-clad and eager for the ride, we got onto southbound Calif. 1 and the road I dream about all winter.
The Carmel Highlands were in fog – it was about 4 p.m. by now – but it was still a glorious ride and we soon broke into bright sunshine.
Summer in Big Sur means fog much of the day. It’s not unusual for the coast to be shrouded in marine fog until midday, when the sun burns through, only to yield to fog again as afternoon becomes evening.
Nepenthe is a rare delight – a casual restaurant with a great, affordable menu and a spectacular view of the mountains and the Pacific. It grew out of a getaway Orson Welles built for himself and Rita Hayworth, but the two divorced before they got a chance to use it. The rambling complex that is Nepenthe consists of the Phoenix gift shop, surmounted by the Cafe Kevah on an expansive open deck cantilevered over the cliff. Up the hill from the cafe is an upper restaurant that offers a mix of outdoor and sheltered dining. Over the years, I’ve come to treasure Nepenthe as a perfect spot for a meal or a break. The place takes its name from the mythical Greek drug of forgetfulness and it's a perfect moniker.
The relaxed atmosphere, enhanced by the tinkle of wind chimes and soft New Age music and the subtle scents of sea and shore always lifts my spirits. It helps me shift gears from the rush of the road to reconnect with the silence within and the beauty around me.
The lower cafe at Nepenthe was closed for the day, so we went upstairs and had a wonderful dinner seated outside and facing the sea. I had salmon steak fresh from Monterey Bay and Maria ordered a shrimp and scallop salad. Nepenthe was the perfect welcome back to Big Sur and it put us in a mellow mood.
The ride back was one of the most amazing I've ever had. The fog was rolling in and every bend in the road brought a new fantastic scene: fog spilling into a sun-filled canyon to our right or plumes of mist welling up like geysers over the cliffs to our left.
We got back to the room happy but very tired – we'd both been up since well before dawn and Maria, especially, was running on empty.
We took our time about getting up the next morning, then hiked down Munras Avenue to Denny's for breakfast. We walked down to the harbor where we watched a sea otter preening himself in the water just below the harbor master's office. Leaving our furry friend, we strolled west along the shore, stopping to explore some of the shops at Fisherman's Wharf and sharing a peach frozen yogurt cone.
We continued on through Cannery Row to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we marveled at the world class displays of marine life from the microscopic to the huge.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see attraction for any visitor to the area. We stood mesmerized for what must have been a half-hour, peering through the largest aquarium window on earth at the giant fish that flourish in the million-gallon tank that replicates the offshore world of Monterey Bay. The place also features a spectacular multi-story kelp forest and an always entertaining colony of sea otters.
After a soak in the motel hot tub, we rode back down to Fisherman's Wharf for a generous seafood dinner at Rappa's Seafood Restaurant at the end of the pier. I was reminded anew that the seafood is yet another reason I love this place so much.
We rode back to the motel and bagged it about 9 p.m., very full and very tired.
We were up early Thursday morning and rode out to the Toro Place Cafe for breakfast. This is a pleasant little eatery near Laguna Seca. They serve a tasty breakfast and I love the eclectic décor, highlighted by an old-fashioned glass-topped gas pump that is home to a family of goldfish.
After topping off the tank near Laguna Seca, we returned to Calif. 1 and headed down the coast. The light fog soon yielded to sunshine and we stopped often to admire the colors, examine the plant life and take pictures.
This is not a road for hurrying. With some of the most glorious scenery in North America, this is a road to be savored – a ride to be stretched out as long as possible. The road cooperates with twists and turns that snatch you back from cliff’s edge, deep into a creek-cut canyon before hurling you back up the mountainside to yet another breathtaking view of wave-dashed rocks and swirls of blue and turquoise and aquamarine.
Mother Nature and the Pacific don’t want this road to be here and periodically they conspire to blast it with winter storms and landslides that carry away great chunks of it. The El Niño storms of 1998 were particularly bad and closed the road from February to May. Glancing down and to the right on the last tight switchback south of Ragged Point, we were startled to see a semitrailer truck on its side in the ravine – a grim reminder of why you seldom see big trucks on the Big Sur stretch of Calif. 1.
We made quick work of the 40 miles of sweepers north of Morro Bay and began looking for lunch. We chose the Galley for its view of the harbor and Morro Rock. Lunch was cheerfully served fried shrimp and clam strips. We watched the gulls and pelicans swoop and dive in the afternoon sun from our table by the window.
After lunch, we visited a nearby gift shop were Maria bought a ring for her daughter, Morgan. Standing by the bike, I heard Maria shriek and turned to see her splattered with pelican poop. It caught the right shoulder of her leather jacket, a dab on the top of her head and splashed onto the tank, fairing and handlebars of the bike. One whiff made it clear that pelicans like seafood, too.
We got some paper towels from the gift shop and cleaned things up as well as we could before gassing and getting out of town. The ride north went quickly because Maria was getting more into leaning into the turns. We stopped at Lucia for iced mocha and iced tea before pressing on north.
We reached Carmel and the beach near Point Lobos in time to dance with the surf and watch a golden sun set on a near perfect day.
After shedding our leathers, we walked down to a liquor store and picked up a six-pack of Pacifico beer, a bag of Tostitos and some jalapeno cheese dip for a few hours of television watching.
Another splendid day!
We returned to Denny's for breakfast the next morning and ran into two couples on matching white Honda Gold Wings from Tennessee.
Today's ride would be an inland exploration. After breakfast, we headed down Carmel Valley Road – a county road separated from Highway 1 and the ocean by the coastal mountain range. Lying in the lee of the ocean breezes, Carmel Valley is usually free of chilly maritime fog this time of year. About 10 miles down the road from Calif. 1, we shed our jacket liners.
As we cruised south, the road plunged into twisty canyons, following creeks and over-arched with ancient oak trees. I felt as if I had been transported back to old Spanish California as we rode mile after mile in the dense woods, seeing only the occasional car or pickup truck. We passed an isolated ranch with curious-looking signs requesting, “Please avoid newts crossing the road.” A little further down the road, a sign advised: Cattle Guards Next 11 Miles.
Eventually, the road climbed out of the canyons over vast brown grassy hills, affording vistas that opened onto mountains and valleys for miles. The road was designated G16 and, on an impulse, I turned right at a bridge and followed G17 toward Greenfield, past fields of grape vines flying silver ribbons to scare birds away from the ripening fruit. At Greenfield, we picked up U.S. 101 and rode north a few miles until I saw a sign directing us to Soledad Mission.
We found the mission a short time later west of the main highway. A BMW K75 belonging to another couple out for a day ride leaned on its sidestand in the parking lot.
The day was warm, but it was comfortably cool inside the thick adobe walls of the restored 200-year-old mission. After exploring the mission and wondering at an improbable statue of the Virgin Mary dressed in black lace, we lit a couple of candles and returned to G17. We followed the road north and west through more agricultural land where farm workers were packing lettuce in the fields.
Picking up Calif. 68 just west of Salinas, we returned to Monterey and the West Wind Lodge. We changed clothes and rode down to Fisherman's Wharf for a delicious dinner of seafood provencal at Ablonetti's followed by ice cream cones for dessert.
Even though it was a low-mileage day, these were quality miles.
We gathered up our dirty laundry and spent about an hour at the Del Monte Shopping Center laundromat, then capped the evening with a soak in the hot tub.
We rolled out about 9:30 Saturday morning and headed down Calif. 1 for one last coastal ride.
It was chilly and foggy and delightful.
We passed a large herd of Herefords on the plateau sweeping down to the sea just north of Big Sur. In a corner of the field were a couple of herdsmen, dressed as cowboys – one of them wheeling his mount in clockwise circles as we flashed by. We gassed at the BP station at River Inn, paying a stunning $2.30 a gallon for 92 octane premium.
Then, it was on to Nepenthe where we arrived moments before a large contingent of the California Pantera Club, out for a Saturday morning drive. Intent on beating the car club crowd, we hustled up to the Cafe Kevah, where I had an omelet and Maria had a tostada. We fed much of our sourdough toast to the Steller's Jays and the crows that patrol the cafe deck looking for leftovers or handouts.
We stopped a couple of times to take photos, finally drawing rein at Lucia for drinks and a $3 chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookie. There we passed a pleasant half-hour in conversation with another motorcycle couple from Indiana. Finally, we took our leave and headed back north, stopping a couple of places for Maria to get pictures of me on the bike with the coastline features in the background.
As we approached Carmel, we found ourselves in s-l-o-w stop-and-go traffic, stretching all the way past Carmel Valley Road. After several minutes of crawling, we were passed by a Harley rider on the berm and followed him past scores of cars to the open freeway.
Back at the room, I called a Yellow Cab while Maria changed and we packed her leathers. The cabby arrived within minutes and I followed the cab to the airport, catching up with Maria halfway through the terminal.
We hustled her to the gate and she was off to Los Angeles, Chicago and home.
I rode back to the Lodge, read some of Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels, watched some TV and dined on pizza and Diet Coke from Domino's.
It was a hurried conclusion to a my best-ever visit to my favorite places and I realized that night that it would be a hard act to follow. I hit the road early the next morning for a ride home that took me through Yosemite, the deserts and canyonlands of Nevada and Utah and the mountain majesty of Colorado.
Solo travel has its merits, but once you find someplace special, it's even better when you can share it.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Stupid reporter tricks

There was a bank holdup Tuesday morning in a small town in the coverage area of my wife's newspaper.
The reporter for the competing daily - a pathetic, ineptly run rag that began publication about 5 months ago and only has a circulation of about 400 - is a clueless young woman in her first newspaper job out of college.
Rather than checking with police outside the bank, the girl walked into the bank, getting her fingerprints all over the place and pretty much mucking up the crime scene.
For those of you who don't know, this is a professional blunder of epic proportion. Any competent reporter knows you don't violate the integrity of a crime scene and that the worst thing you can do is interfere with investigators doing their work. Conversely, competent police investigators recognize that reporters also have a job to do and take care to give them whatever facts they can divulge without compromising the investigation. The detective handing this case for the local sheriff's department has an exemplary record of cooperating with the media, especially with reporters (like my wife) who have a proven record of accuracy and trustworthiness.
The detective gave the girl his card and asked her to call him on Wednesday to arrange to come in and be fingerprinted - just like all of the bank employees - so investigators could eliminate their prints and perhaps isolate those belonging to the perp.
Wednesday passes and she doesn't call.
This morning, she calls the detective to ask questions about the case. He says, "I thought you were going to call yesterday and arrange to come in and get fingerprinted."
He goes on to explain in a non-confrontational way that she's not a suspect and it's just part of the normal procedure of eliminating all of the irrelevant fingerprints.
She finally tells him her editor said she didn't have to do it and if he has anything more to say about it, he should say it to their attorney.
No apology for compromising the crime scene or for not calling yesterday - just a brutally stupid refusal to cooperate.
I fully expect her and her paper to try to frame this situation as a Freedom of the Press issue. However, there is absolutely no basis in First Amendment free press rights or any other traditional journalistic practice to justify her non-cooperation.
In fact, she could be charged with tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. And nobody, not even the American Civil Liberties Union, will be able to mount a credible defense.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Happy Birthday, Doreen Tracey! Posted by Hello

M-i-c, k-e-y...

Doreen Tracey, one of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers, is 62 today.
We've been acquainted since I did a story on her for my newspaper about 30 years ago.
I just got off the phone with her and am delighted to report she's happy and healthy and living large in her hometown of Burbank, Calif.
She's got a few pages in Paul Auster's book of true life stories titled I Thought My Father Was God. Auster, you may recall, has a program on National Public Radio.
Just for the record, Doreen says she doesn't plan to start drawing Social Security for another five years, even though she became eligible today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Me and my 10-month-old granddaughter Lisa. Posted by Hello

Monday, April 11, 2005


I’m procrastinating and I know it.
I accepted a freelance writing assignment a month ago to do a piece about the future of airlines and how that will impact the myriad businesses that serve the airlines.
We’re talking about folks who build and sell airplanes, dealers in avionics equipment, spare parts, food suppliers – all the people the airlines turn to for the stuff they need.
Even though I have an American Airlines frequent flyer Master Card that earns me a frequent flyer mile for every dollar I run through it, I’m nowhere close to what you would consider a frequent user of airlines. I know very little about airlines and the problems they face, much less have a crystal ball to divine their future.
In short, I don’t know Jack about airlines.
But I do know about words, so I figured this is just a simple piece of journalism – figure out who has the information I need, call them on the phone and ask them to say a few words on the subject, lash the quotes together into some kind of coherent narrative, e-mail the sucker off to the publisher and watch my mailbox for the check.
But (at least) one thing is holding me back: fear of embarrassing myself with a piece that betrays a lack of knowledge of the subject. The last thing I want is to write something that will cause people in airline-related businesses to chuckle over my ignorance.
So, I’ve been putting off making those calls to high-level management types in the airlines – guys whose biographies have appeared in Fortune magazine. I hate to admit it, but it’s just flat intimidating.
I realize that they’re just people – mostly my age – who happen to have specialized in something outside my scope of knowledge. I expect I know more about motorcycle safety, long-haul motorcycle touring, journalism, the edged weapons of the Third Reich, and certain forms of meditation than they will ever know.
But I remain stuck and use other tasks and responsibilities to avoid making those calls.
A contractor was scheduled to have a crew here this morning to begin rehabilitation of the porch and balcony on the front of my 1903 Queen Anne Victorian house. The previous owners had a penchant for using untreated lumber, which led to water damage and rot that must be dealt with before the porch disintegrates.
Consequently, I waited and I waited, reasoning that I don’t want important telephone interviews interrupted by a contractor punching my doorbell button.
Well, the crew showed up about a half-hour ago and went to work without bothering me. I can hear the sound of nails being pried loose and of boards being ripped off and tossed to the ground.
Now that they’re here and the work is underway, I need a new excuse not to work on the piece.
I’ve run out of ideas for blogging, so I’ll have to look elsewhere for important alternative jobs.
Oh, yeah. I need to go to the bank and the postoffice.
That’s the ticket.

Another loose end accounted for

It’s hard for me to stay on track when I write.
I think of tangential stuff that might elucidate or amplify a point I’m making, but I worry that it actually detracts from the piece because it can spiral off into infinity.
So when I wrote the post about my first real girlfriend turning 60 this month and my fondness for connections with my past, I was tempted to throw in this story to illustrate the point:
Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for the spring of 1956. (Yes, I know that was almost a half-century ago. And yes, I realize that a reference to the 1960s cartoon series Rocky and Bullwinkle is lost on younger readers. And yes, I know this is one of those parenthetical digressions.)
I was recovering from a broken leg – the consequence of an unfortunate bicycle-car encounter in which my left femur was broken on the front bumper of a doctor’s Cadillac.
I was in plaster from waist to left ankle and spent the final month of my fifth grade year at home.
I don’t recall who it was but some friend of my parents decided I could use a pen pal to occupy my time. They hooked me up with an Australian kid named Winston Sleaford who lived in Kabra, a short distance from Rockhampton, which is situated where the Tropic of Capricorn crosses the east coast of Australia.
It was about as far away as one could be from my small Midwestern hometown – a land of exotic marsupials where everyone except a few Aborigines conveniently spoke English. Being about a year older than I, Winston was born during World War II and was doubtless among tens of thousands of boys throughout the British Empire named for wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
I don’t remember much about our correspondence other than that his first effort was on a commercial note card with a pen and ink sketch of a koala on the cover and that he included about a dozen eucalyptus leaves. I’d never seen or smelled eucalyptus leaves before, so it was pretty cool.
We corresponded for a year or two before he got busy with other stuff and stopped writing.
Over the years, Winston’s name and simple address - Kabra via Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia – popped into my consciousness whenever I thought about that part of the world.
Then, around Christmas 2000, I got an e-mail from Winston. He’d tracked me down with an internet search engine, apologized for being the first to stop writing and was eager to catch up.
He’d had a career with the Postmaster General's Department in Australia, had a wife and kids and grandchildren and was enjoying his retirement. I responded with a catch-up e-mail and photos of myself and my family.
Since then, we’ve exchanged holiday e-mails and I get the feeling that the re-connection has given him the same sense of tying up a loose end that it has for me.
How often do you get to renew a 50-year-old friendship with someone you’ve never met?

Remembering the first girlfriend

My first real girlfriend, the first girl I ever kissed, turns 60 this month.
As Hunter S. Thompson liked to say, it gives a man paws.
(I’ve got three months left in my 50s, but that dubious milestone has been looming large in my awareness lately.)
Her name was Ann and we met on Monday, July 9, 1959. I know the date because I kept a diary during that period.
We were at a Presbyterian youth camp and it was the summer before our freshman year in high school. I was from a small rural county seat town of 2,500. She lived about 20 miles away in a Big Ten college town of about 25,000. My dad was an independent insurance agent and Realtor. Her father was a professor of agronomy.
I had no way to know at the time, but the relationship formed the template for a series of unfortunate long-distance relationships later in my life.

But I was a week shy of turning 14 and all I knew was that I liked her looks and personality and we found each other interesting enough to begin a correspondence at a time before Zip Codes when First Class postage was a measly 3 cents.
We saw each other only rarely, being too young to drive and being at the mercy of our parents for mobility. My parents had relatives and shopped near where she lived, so I’d call her on the phone whenever I was in the neighborhood and got the chance.
Later it was car double-dates with older buddies who had a driver’s license, then solo car dates and “parking” at the university football stadium lot – a popular make-out location where you could steam up your car windows without fear of interruption by police.
We dated off and on until about the middle of our sophomore year when I got distracted by a girl who was a Candy Striper (volunteer nurse wannabe) in the hospital where I had minor surgery in October. The Candy Striper went on to become a nurse, my wife for 26 years and the mother of my two sons.
So, yes, I dumped Ann. I’m not proud of it. I’ve never taken pride in hurting people’s feelings.
We had a high mutual regard, but we just weren’t on closely parallel life paths.
The last time I saw her, she was a senior at a Quaker-founded college and I, having flunked out of college twice and earned a medical discharge from the U.S. Air Force, was in my first real job as a reporter on a small-town daily newspaper.
She married a college football star who went on to be a banker in a major – make that the major – Midwestern city. And she became an ordained Presbyterian minister and counselor.
My somewhat more profane path led me to a 34-year career as a journalist at the largest evening daily in my home state. I also renounced my somewhat nebulous Presbyterian faith and converted to Catholocism 12 years ago this Easter.
Some time ago, I Googled her up by doing a search for her rather unusual German surname. I found she's kept it, forming a non-hyphenated double last name including her husband’s more common surname.
I found her brief biography and a photo on a counseling center website and, despite the nearly 40-year span of time, immediately recognized her.
One of my most sharply defined Cancerian traits is my attachment to the past and to the significant people of my past, even if I lose contact with them for decades.
I’m fighting a strong urge to send her an e-mail, just to say, hello, happy birthday and remark on what a long strange trip it’s been.
I have no desire to see her or even have a phone conversation – just an impulse to check in and report that I’m still on the planet and that I remember her.
Should I let this blogpost serve as the resolution to that impulse or should I dash off an e-mail? Anyone out there have an opinion?