Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Back to the Rhone Valley

Lyon, et cetera. We are slowly getting back on schedule here, I hope.

Rhone Valley--Day 3

This one also features some of the friends traveling with me that week. I think. I hope.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Surf City USA

Before we run out of summer, let's get to the beach, Gidget.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Digging for Dino Bones

Dateline Perugia, Italy. Come see Colorado with me. Dinosaur bones, wineries and beautiful scenery.

And then we'll go back to Europe.

How it is

Everything is out of order, since my internet availability is limited. I have more entries ready to post, and more videos as well. but they are subject to finding a place with an Internet signal somewhere in the hill towns of Central Italy. Where is a McDonald's when you need one?

This then, is the daily pattern that life in Collemincio has become, by convenience and by necessity. Isolated in the hills, without convenient communication (Caris is leashed to the world by his mobile phone), I only recently discovered a friendly and comfortable cafe to bring forth the sacred Internet.
So, each day, Caris and I both seem to emerge from sleep in the same post-noon hour. (I could be kidding myself, though. As I make toast and heat water in the electric kettle, he makes his appearance. Fully awake and dressed, he says, “Good morning,” and we accept my foolish conceit.)
Arise, awaken, shoo flies from the dining table, eat, shower in less than a blink. dress and load the car for the 30-minute drive down through the hilly countryside to Assisi. Green hills dotted with olive trees move slowly past us as the narrow road unwinds.
I’ll sit in the Internet cafe. Caris will strum his guitar and sing in the Piazza Santa Chiara.
After 17 years, beautiful Assisi now seems tiresome to Caris, like a faded lover. I have no interest in history, he explained to me one night as he pointed his blue BMW sedan to the top of the mountain back home. But its history that bade him here: St. Francis, a catholic saint who attracted the non-catholic.
And that’s quite another story, with no great arc, so let’s move forward.
I park myself at the terrace cafe in Piazza San Ruffino in mid-afternoon, as the west coast of America is just waking. My sturdy Macbook will give me two, maybe three hours, of battery time (There are few outlets here. This isn’t Starbucks.), but the growing list of things to accomplish each day stands tall as I whittle away at it; a conversation there, an e-mail here, an assignment there.
From my perch overlooking the plaza, my back against the stone wall of the cafe, I wave away the endless cigarette smoke and watch a stream of tourists huddle and take countless photographs in the Piazza San Ruffino, a basilica of simple design two sloping stone paths up from the Piazza Santa Chiara (St. Claire) where visitors and locals gather each evening to watch the sun descend somewhere in the vicinity of Rome. Some of St. Francis’ remains were buried in the church there where the body of St. Claire still remains on view. His remains were later moved to the “new” cathedral in town, around the corner from McDonald’s
Caris opens his guitar case, displaying his CDs for sale, He strums a G, then maybe a version of C, an E minor, a D, and songs emerge, a stream of them, as he plays a repeating chord pattern. Not whole songs necessarily, or very often. Just whatever lyrics, melody or couplets come to mind. Not thematic, just stream of consciousness. Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” begets “Homeward Bound” begets “Who’ll Stop the Rain” begets “Slip Sliding Away,” and you now have the idea. What holds the tunes together is his strong voice and a simple subtle passion for making music.
These days 30-ish women approach him and tell him they remember him singing there when they were little girls. That can’t be good.
This week there’s been talk of a new album, new songs, all of that attendant energy. That can’t be bad.
(Reading this, Caris offers, “I’ll marry the first one of your female readers who brings me toll house cookies.” I’m left wondering what second prize is. You’re on your own.)
Sitting in my conning tower at the terrace cafe, I’m surrounded by smokers, talkers and tourists. German tourists going on and on and on and on in their dark, guttural language, the English with their maps and tour books, and Italians with their cigarettes.
As darkness falls, the piazzas, both large and small, take on a new energy. Families stroll and young boys on bicycles sweep across the piazza always thisclose to an accident, but never colliding with anyone or anything. Bars (we call them restaurants) sell gelato (ice cream) as fast as they can scoop it Franciscan monks walk away, in full habit, happily holding cups of gelato, chatting up friends and tourists. We’ll get to them in a minute.
The tiniest cars I’ve ever seen whiz up and down the narrow medieval streets. Much of the medieval part of Assisi was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1997, and has been rebuilt to much of the original design and specifications. As in most European plazas, buildings are lit upward, highlighting their dramatic stance, something American landscapers and builders never seemed to get the hang of.
Tourist shops sell the usual postcards, cheap Franciscan monk bobblehead dolls, and full suits of armor. How does anyone get those things through airport security?
I need to stop here for now.
Next time, what is the deal with those monks, anyway? Plus, more video, Charlie Yelverton, and busking in gas station.s

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Place Called Colleminccio

Collemincio, Italy sits deep among the hill towns of central Italy, in the center of the “boot,” about two and a half hours from Rome to the south. It’s situated in what’s known as the Umbria region, alongside the region of Tuscany to the west. Florence and Milan are far to the north, as Naples is far to the south. The closest town is Valfabbrico, if that helps you.

Collemincio is a speck of a location, one of hundreds of hill towns scattered across this region, and it has to be one of the smallest. I believe I counted less than ten buildings in the entire town, situated along a tiny road which snakes through green rolling hills, eventually connecting you with Assisi vaguely to the west, Perugia vaguely to the east, Foligno to its south, and not much of much to the north. (The town had a car wash, but the guy who owned the car moved. Sorry. They had a library, but someone checked out that damn book and never brought it back. Again, my apologies.)
I arrived on a searing hot July day, and was greeted by my longtime friend, Caris Arkin, a talented singer/songwriter/musician who’s lived in the area for 17 years now, and speaks fluent Italian, though he remains ever the American.
We spent the first afternoon dining al fresco at an Italian pizzeria (Of course they have them, Cupcake.), and shopping for a replacement window for his car. (It’s a long story.). Then up the very long, winding drive up the mountainside to his secluded home.
His home is a two-story, two bedroom former school house, the first one on the right, past the Colleminccio sign. Surrounding the home and village on all sides are miles and miles of gently sloping hills and fields crisscrossed by tree and shrub lines, seemingly stretching to the earth’s curve. From a nearby peak, the distant view of fields, farms, roads, tiny scattered houses and churches is breathtaking. Though the afternoon was swelteringly hot, inside the house all was quiet, darkened and cool.
His neighbors, who can apparently be heard, yet rarely seen, are an older couple directly across the road, whose occupation seems to be screaming at each other. The town “piazza” is a small carportm the entrances of several small stone apartment buildings and a snippet of grass which faces the entrance of the tiny church.
The local padre, Father Michael, lives with his young male companion in one of the small apartments that surround the church. No one seems to bat an eye at this. I won’t either.
I’ve arrived a day later than planned but still in time for the Umbria Jazz Festival, which will take place in and around the town of Perugia all week. Though the festival is mostly jazz, as the name implies, a number of pop and rock acts have topped the bill over the fast few years. Last year it was REM. This year it’s Steely Dan and James Taylor who will headline at the local stadium.
I’d arranged for press credentials some months ago, and been promised one, just one, for the week-long series. Caris had informed me in an e-mail that he had “pilfered” it while I was en route, however, and later that evening as we strolled through town, I was just trying to clarify:
“This press badge with your photo on it and the name of the magazine on it, is mine, right? Is that what you’re telling me?:
“Um, yes. I told you that,” he offered, sheepishly.
I was momentarily stunned at his audacity, but I realized I would only be in town two full days, and the pass allowed him in to see jazz acts I wasn’t really interested in, and it allowed him to bring his daughter in to one of the major venues to see Steely Dan.
And life is really short.
And he might read this. And he might not.
Let’s move forward.
The town of Perugia, like every other town in the region, sits high on a hilltop. When you’re constantly feuding with your neighbors, or always in danger of attack from marauders of every stripe, it’s best to be able to see all around you, so went the medieval thinking.
Its historic center, where most of the action is taking place this week, is reached by a long modern escalator, or one can take the ancient Roman steps winding up to the top, a little more of a challenge.
During this week, the many courtyards and small plazas are jammed with locals and tourists, and shows seem to go on continuously. On a main stage a college jazz band is holding court. There are least two other small shows going on at the same time and many of the local restaurants and pubs have their own music as well.
Families and couples fill the squares in equal numbers, along with small groups of young Italian men, strutting in designer t-shirts and surging with testosterone.

To be continued.....

The Italian Way

This is out of order, but it's a continuation of my adventure, trying to get from France to Italy...:

July 10, 2009

MILANO CENTRALE STATION—Through the southern portal of the Milan station, a purple-blue crayon of dawn light illuminates the interior. It’s just about 5:35 a.m., and I make my way to the TrenItalia counter. Getting to Perugia means a train from Milan to Firenze (Florence) and then boarding a local train or two to the Perugia station, which is about 35 minutes from Collemincio, or Almost Officially Nowhere (Pop. 12), which is where my friend Caris lives, high in the hills between the historic towns of Perugia and Assissi.
The total traveling time from Paris, France to Perugia, Italy, is about 15 hours, and a distance of about 604 miles, to those of you in the only country that doesn’t understand the Metric system. (It’s okay. No one in Europe seems to understand miles and feet and yards and gallons. Maybe it’s better that way.) Miraculously, there is a train leaving Milano Centrale to Bologna, and then Firenze, where I will catch a local train to Terontola and onward to Perugia. Six trains in 24 hours, so far.
Things seem to be proceeding apace, sort of. We pull out of Milano Centrale continuing south.
I’m bleary and fuzzy, after waiting all night for the early train, but relieved that I’ve been able to make sense of the train system and actually get from A to D, all in Italian.
As we jet out of the Milano station, I find myself in the cool and dramatic luxury of the “Red Arrow,” the high-speed pride of the TrenIitalia fleet. Free coffee and an Italian pastry is served by a uniformed attendant. A high-backed deep plush seat envelops me, as I carefully sleep in fits. I’ve learned to live in quiet fear of missing trains, and question fellow passengers more than once, as to the next station. Because the Italian train system holds one more terror—approaching stations are not announced. Ever, it seems.
I have two more trains to meet to get to Perugia, and no assurance that I won’t sleep through them. With a heavy wheeled bag, my laptop in a briefcase, and my guitar in a case that’s threatening to pop its zipper any second, it’s not like I can just dash in and out of every station.
Add to that the fact that there are very few escalators in the Italian train stations. Instead, there are towering concrete staircases looming over me at every location.
Arriving at a connecting station means quickly gathering my luggage (I think my bag probably weighs about 70 pounds. Before you say anything, I’m traveling for five months, through summer and fall. What would you bring?), then descending about 60 steps to the connecting passageway underneath the platform, finding the location of the connecting train, either by name or number, or continuing on into the main station for the main information board, and then back into the passageway to find the corresponding platform and the 60 steps leading up to the platform. I don’t pull my bag up the long flights of stairs, for fear that the banging against the steps will eventually break its wheels. I lift the bag and carry it up (and down) the stairs. Multiply that task by the dozen or so train stations I have by now visited.
Now, the train won’t have a name on it, and the number on the side of the coach may or may not be correct. There may or may not be a conductor to direct anyone.
Are you feeling me?
My first-class Eurail Pass, provided by France Tourism, has so far afforded me the ability to board numerous trains at will. It’s for four days in one month, in any European country. This is where it gets interesting.
Seated in a sleeper section in the Red Arrow—where I can charge my computer—I am approached by a TrenItalia agent who asks to see my ticket and Eurail Pass.
“Sir, you have not validated this ticket.”
“Excuse me?”
Now it rushes back to me. A week ago, we’re gathered in the Gere du Nord Station in Paris, with Katherine, our media liaison. She is distributing our tickets and explaining how they work.
“We have reservations from Lyon to Paris. You need a separate reservation and ticket for every destination, in addition to your Eurail Pass. Once we have our reservations, we take our tickets to those yellow machines over there,” she explains, patiently. “Put your ticket in there, and the machine validates them to make sure that each use of your ticket is accounted for.” If you don’t do this, she warns, it’s trouble.
Now trouble is standing over me, wearing a fetching red and gray cap.
“You have not validated your ticket, sir. That will be 35 Euros.”
That would be 35 Euros in cash that I don’t have on me, and she will only take cash, which seems odd.
She asks for my passport and begins to fill out an official-looking form.
“And, if you want to sit here in this section, that will be 10 Euros more.”
“Um, no, that’s OK, but thank you.”
She hands me the form, and says, “You can pay this at the next station, when you arrive.”
I consider this and examine my ticket and pass. If I’m not mistaken, neither ticket no pass has accounted for this day. I have inadvertently bought myself one more day.
And I’m going to need it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Adventures in Vaughantown

This is the first in a series of videos from my week in Vaughtown, Salamanca, Spain. Two of my cameras have broken on this trip, an Im using my macbook as my video camera. Anyway, this is the first--singing at the first evening of entertainment for the Spanish students. To skip a long explanation, visit

As you know, I've been traveling for the last month, and I have a LOT of things to update here; lots of stories to finish, new stories to tell you, and lots of new videos to show you. I'll be parked in Italy for a month, and I'll start updating again, as soon as I can.( I'm not sure if Italy is aware of the Internets. We shall see.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Bridge in France

I have finally parked myself somewhere long enough to start posting video again. This is just a brief moment on a bridge high over a series of lakes deep in the Rhone Valley of France. A perfect day, perfect scenery, perfect peeps.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

So Far So Weird

ON BOARD TRENITALIA 530—VERTIMIGLIA, ITALY TO ANTIBES,FRANCE—Repacking my luggage for the trip to Perugia, I realized the wooden-boxed bottle of wine from Paul Jaubet winery in Rhone wasn’t a good fit for my luggage. I bestowed it on clerk Frederick, much to his surprise and delight. Without missing a beat, he disappeared into an tiny anteroom and re-emerged in seconds with a leather business card holder. I actually really needed one!
So when I returned to the hotel at the end of the day, he was only too happy to find me a hotel room on the busiest day of the year.
The Aston Hotel, tucked into a passageway just off Rue Cite Bergere, around the hotel from the Hard Rock Cafe, may just have been the smallest hotel room in Europe. About six inches of space separated the desk and chair from the bed, and if I opened the door and leaned into the hallway just a little, I could pull open both the adjoining hallway door, and the elevator.
The elevator? It fit me. Or my luggage. Not both.
When I arrived, the clerk instructed me to go up to my floor, and wait for my luggage, which he would send up on the next shuttle flight.
It was there in that tiny hotel room that the serious industrial-strength jet/train/taxi walking lag kicked in at full strength, and I fell on to my bed for a nap at about 7:30 p.m., not to awaken until the next morning.

Back to the Gere du Nord station, scene of my earlier triumph. Determined not to miss the train, I headed directly for the platform. My ticket read “Coach 2, seat 71.”
“Go to the first car,” a conductor told me. Um, that would be the last car from this end, and European Rail trains can stretch on for a hundred yards or more.
About three coaches from the front of the train, a bell sounded and I leapt aboard.
Read this next part carefully: I placed my garment bag onto a rack, as I looked for coach 2. The coach I was sitting in was labeled “Coach 2” on the outside, and a paper label denoted it as “Coach 12.” And there were several seat 71s.
I left my garment bag there, found my proper seat a few cars forward and settled in to a spacious and comfortable air-conditioned seat to enjoy the scenery.
“You’ll change trains for Milan in a few hours,” the conductor had told me, one of many confusing directions I was given during the weekend. It’s an interpretative thing. What he was actually saying was, “This train will release several coaches behind this one, at a station in the Alps a few hours away from here, and your garment bag that you put on that rack will be lost forever along with your cowboy boots that you got in New York City in 1985, your two suits, including your new one, and that tan blazer that you got at Target in Pasadena that you love.” That’s what he meant to say, I’m pretty sure.
On to Milan.
But first, some very important information about riding trains in Italy, and probably Europe: Your destination is probably not the name of the train, especially if you’re making connections. You want to go to Ville-Fromage? You take the Ille d’Canard Train and transfer at Croissantbourg to Ville Fromage. There is likely no train called Ville Fromage. None of this will be explained to you. By anyone.
So, trying to figure this out at 11 p.m. on a Sunday evening, left me with a ticket to Bologna with a transfer at Tortolla (?) On the massive schedule in the center of the station, there was no Bologna train listed, because of course, Bologna is a stop on the Mayonaisse train, which is leaving...right now.
And that’s how I found myself sitting on my luggage all night in the empty and cavernous Milan Station until the first train in the direction of Perugia would leave at 6:30 a.m. be......

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Mexican-American in Paris. So Far.

A Mexican American in Paris. So Far.

ON BOARD TGV EUROSTAR TRAIN 9247, PARIS-MILAN—Oh, gentle readers, where should I begin?
It’s been a memorable week, he said, in his own understated way.
But what a weekend.
Let me rewind to fill you in: I am on a journey of a few months time, seeing France, Italy, Spain, and perhaps England. Over the past five days, the trip has been organized and sponsored by the good people at Atout France, the French Tourism agency. During that time, we visited the Rhone-Alps area of France, heading from Lyon south to Nyons, and the La Drome region, with hotel rooms and restaurants arranged and sponsored.
I’ll cover that in the formal magazine story (Arroyo Seco Journal Travel Issue, October 09).
But since Friday, I’ve been in Paris on my own, armed with a cell phone that doesn’t work here, and a schedule of trying proportions. The immediate goal? See Paris, and then get myself to Perugia, Italy, at the end of the weekend, a distance of about 1000 miles. I’ll be staying there with a friend for the month of August. And that, dear readers, is its own drama.
So let’s start with Friday.
Imagine you are in a brand new city, and you don’t know the language, and no one speaks yours. Now imagine you dont know where you’re staying. Imagine you have serious Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, which kicks in full throttle under times of excitement or stress. That’s the basic scenario.
So it’s Friday afternoon, and we (a group of five American journalists and a coordinator from Tourism France) have arrived at the Gere de Nord station in Paris, where our trip began and will end. From here, we’ll go our separate ways.
We’ve planned to rendezvous after the train, but unable to locate them during the trip, I’ve lost contact, so I head for a taxi. The station, the largest in the City, is exhilarating, crowded, sweaty and overwhelming. As a perfect aside, I have a broken suitcase. The handle that allows one to wheel it along, has wedged itself shut. I can barely get my fingers around it to pull, if I lean over. I have that, a shoulder garment bag, my guitar, and a small valise. (I’ve planned to be here a while.)
The distance from the train platform to the taxi stand is about 200 yards—two football fields. I slowly maneuver and negotiate through the Parisians, the tourists, the beggars, and the armed soldiers on patrol.
I park myself outside the main entrance to gather myself. That sweaty little jaunt has freaked me out a bit, and I like to think of myself of pretty cool under pressure. In this case, though,I feel a bit like a cub scout asked to lead an expedition with a broken compass and a secret code that no one explained to him.
The Taxi stand is over there, about fifty yards. But......where is my hotel again? Another person would have it written down, but well, you understand. For a moment, as the pressure begins to soak in, I close my eyes to just glide for a moment. As I knew it would, the address suddenly floats into my head. 7 Rue Navarine.
I make the trek across the open plaza to the line of taxis.
“7 Rue Navarin, Si’l vous plais.”
He looks at me through the rear view mirror like I just ordered fried chicken and then asked if his sister was available later that evening.
It’s a pronounciation problem. Once we both determine the proper pronounciation of the ending “vin,” we jet.
He speaks some english, which helps.
I ask him how he learned, and he said, “Oh TV, of course. American TV. ‘Prison Break,’ he laughs. “And BBC and CNN.”
Ah, of course.To the hotel, Abraham,
He moves swiftly and gracefully through the traffic. If even only through a car window,the city of Paris is breathtaking when you first see it. It would be stupid and typically American to say it looks like a movie set, but, um, it does.
The rich European architecture is everywhere, and history lives on every block. Quaint (There’s no other word) cafes dot nearly every corner, and the streets pulsate with an tangible though subtle excitement. And nothing, I mean, nothing is in English.
My hotel is perched on a hill top in the Moulin Rouge/Opera district, and the desk clerk, Frederic, is smooth and personable.
I had planned to park in the hotel room to work, but seeing city photos online on one of the journalists’ Facebook page (“Posted 20 minutes ago), I had to get out on the streets.
Like a dork, I asked Frederick the directions to the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, which felt a bit like arriving in LA, and asking where the Hollywood sign was.
The Pigalle Station on Line 2 to the Charles de Gaulle Etoilé station.
And there, as you climb the steps out of the station, is the towering and impressive Arc De Triomphe, built as a tribute after the Allied victory of World War 1.
Set in the middle of Charles DeGaulle Plaza, the Arc is abuzz with visitors on this cool Friday afternoon. We take each other’s pictures, and a crowd of tourists stare at me, as I do my “Camera on a Stick” video reports. (
Throwing dignity to the wind,I asked one of the visitors if he knew where the Eiffel Tower was, and suddenly realized it was sticking out of his head. About a mile away, it stuck up jauntily somewhere.....over there.
That afternoon, I walked along the Seine, stood under the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and comported myself like a real tourist.
But that, gentle readers, is not the thrust of this particular story.
There was still the matter of getting myself to Italy over the next 24 hours.
Atout France had provided us with first-class four day, four country Europe Rail passes to be used as we extended our stays. Okay, easy enough, right.?
Not so fast, Popsicle. In order to get on one of the trains with the pass, you have to make a reservation, which was not explained to me.

It’s midnight Friday. I want to leave Saturday. Searching the online reservation system is fruitless. The system does not recognize “Paris” or “Milan” as destinations. An American friend gets on the phone from Planet America, and talks to a live American. I think his name was “Sanjeet.”
After at least 30 minutes of button pushing and holding, the verdict is in: There are three sleeper seats available and it will cost $120.00 Americain for the overnight ride. Without enough credit on my card at that moment, I have to wait until the next day to make a reservation. In person. At the station.
Thus begins my Saturday adventure.
The closest station is Gere du Nord, somewhere at the tip of a circular loop near the hotel. Frederick gives me sketchy directions, and I start to walk through the movie set. About a half mile later down Rue de Clichy, our hero pokes his head into a Starbuck’s for more instruction.
“That metro across the street to Bercy station, the Gere du Nord,” says the barrista/explorer.
In fifteen, I’m in the vast expanse of the station. The distance through a tunnel from the Metro to Gere du Nord is about a half mile underground, and once, there, the layout is like an M.C Escher painting, the one you thought was so bitching and original when you were in college. Multi-levels of the station are connected by various staircases and escalators, none of which is the one you need at that moment.
After some Magellan-esque exploration, I find the proper line. Thirty minutes later, it’s not the proper line.
“Downstairs, Monsieur, international trains.”
There are two lines for trains downstairs. One for travel within France, and the other for international trains.Guess which one I stood in first.
Go to the head of the class, Popsicle.
Once in the proper line, after a total wait time of about two hours, I found a reservation on the train to Milan. Tomorrow. And there was no extra charge for an overnight sleeper.
That means I need to find a hotel room in Paris. On Bastille Day weekend.
Back to the hotel to check out and pay the bill.
Once there, I parked my luggage and headed off to the Western Union office at Gere du Lyon. A bank transfer I had made before leaving still had not cleared, and I needed to pick up money wired to me. I had already attempted to pick it up during my first visit to the station, but I needed a confirmation number which was in my e-mail.
Back to the hotel.
Confimation number secured. Off to the station.
Adriana, the Colombian clerk in the Western Union booth, remembered me.
“Confimation number, Mr. Rivera?” As she tapped out the transaction, a group of Africans behind me began berating a drunken man who stepped into the middle of the line, apparently because there was a line there and he was near it.
“Your address in Los Angeles, Mr. Rivera?”
“Hmmm. Are you coming over?”
“i could be,” she smiled. Oh, those Colombians.
OK, back to the hotel to perhaps find another room reservation. Somewhere. In Paris. On Bastille Day Weekend.
My new best amigo Frederic came through like I knew he would.

I’m all over the place.....this is to be continued.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Lost Video!

I "found" this video somewhere on a gallery far far away. I think it's a video I made last fall after returning from my first trip to Madrid last July. I thought it was lost forever when my hard drive crashed in October of 2008. Apparently, it lives! I won't bore you with the technical explanation of how it was resurrected. I will simply say, "Did you ever see this?"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The LA Marathon...

There we were. 8 a.m. Waking up the entire neighborhood on a cloudy Monday morning.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Something Completely Different......

It's a cooking contest, guys! Quick! Go vote!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Take me out to the You-Know-What

This is a little sportswriter-ish. Sorry:

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—It’s my favorite spot in the city. The downtown skyline looms over my shoulder and the upper level entrance to Dodger Stadium beckons. It’s a view I never tire of. It’s a Friday evening in the Dodger’s first home stand against the Colorado Rockies. Riding a five-game home streak, the Dodgers’ new season evokes memories of games permanently affixed in the hearts of fans. You know them all, and I won’t replay them here for you.

But entering the field as Colorado takes its batting practice, I spot one-time megastar turned TV color analyst Fernando Valenzuela, leaning against a dugout railing. I reminded him of our first interview, way back in the 1981 season, his second with the team, in the year the Dodgers won the World Series. He spoke no English. I spoke no Spanish. It went about as well as you can imagine.

After I stumbled through a “no speak English” interview with his parents in a tiny village in Sonora, Mexico, the story, for Newsweek’s Inside Sports, appeared on newstands all over America, with no inkling that I was linguistically challlenged. As I laughingly reminded him of the story—in the same dugout where I’d stammered through that interview—He looked up at me, and asked dryly, “And what’s your point?” Gee, he speaks English so well now. Cue the embarassing music. But I digress.

Every Dodger visit is like walking through a living scrapbook. There’s former manager Tommy Lasorda (two world championships, four National League titles, and eight division banners) cutting up with friends in a hallway. Dodger legend Don Newcombe chats with players near the batting cage. Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully passes me in the hallway, nods hello. (I once stood next to him in the press box restroom. That was surreal.) Former players hang out in the press dining room. It’s a baseball fan’s little nirvana.

The Dodger press dining room, I recall, used to be filled with overweight sportswriters, since food is served non-stop throughout the game, but not so much anymore. Tonight the most popular item is the salad. Who knew? (No, the press doesn’t eat for free. Dinner is $9, up from $7 last year.)

Nirvana aside, the Dodgers, led by manager Joe Torre, are out to expand upon last year, when they finally managed to win a game they had to win, the first in more than twenty years. They swept the Chicago Cubs in three games, then were treated like punks by the eventual world champion Philadelphia Phillies, who thumped them four games to one.

The 2008 Dodgers had two new faces who instantly made an impact on the team’s fortunes—stellar manager Joe Torre, he of the hated New York Yankees, and slugger Manny Ramirez, he of the dreadlocks and the deadly bat. Torre took the Dodgers to their first playoff appearance in eons, his thirteenth in a row. Manny was, well, Manny. In two months, he led baseball with a .396 batting average, and a .489 on-base percentage, along with a .743 slugging percentage. He hit four home runs in his first six days, the first Dodger to ever do so. He and newly acquired Casey Blake banged out 27 homers in the last five weeks of the season, and the Dodgers are reasonably expecting more of the same in 2009.

Visiting the 45 year-old Dodger Stadium for the first time in a couple of seasons, the physical improvements, begun in 2007, are readily apparent. The field level concourse was renovated following the 2007 season, as the Dodgers revamped the field level concourse, increasing the number of concession stands and restrooms, and adding two Baseline Clubs for baseline season ticket holders.

This year the Dodgers will also stage fireworks (that I can see from my house) after every Friday night home game. (That makes 14 of them through September. FYI, that Dodger Trolley Friday night shuttle service that was so popular last year, providing a slow but convenient ride from Union Station to the Stadium, is no more. It was supported by LA and the MTA last year without participation from the Dodgers. who have once again opted not to pay for it. Write your councilman.)

On to the game itself: LA’s five-game hot streak is in trouble immediately after a first inning two-run shot by Colorado’s Brad Hawpe puts them ahead. All is silent upstairs in the Dodger press box, but not because the Dodger are losing. Cheering, or any favoritism, is not allowed, and can get you removed.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers got four runs in the bottom of the seventh—including a single by Manny— to defeat the Rockies and extend their win streak to six games. Later, Dodger tough guy Jonathan Broxton eased out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the eighth with the game at 4-3, and finished the game to record a five-out save. Of his four saves, it’s his first of more than one inning.

The Dodgers have high hopes this season, though few experts are expecting them to vie for any titles. But maybe the future was foretold on this season’s first afternoon home game. Dodger newcomer and switchhitter Orlando Hudson “hit for the cycle” in his first four at-bats. He opened with a single, then banged out a home run, then a double; then a triple, against the Giants, who were clobbered by the Dodgers, 11-1. Both the cycle and the big win were a surprise for Dodger fans, since the Dodgers have never really been stellar on Opening Day.

As Hudson told an MLB reporter, “Please don’t expect this every game. This is a hard enough game as it is.”

But therein lies the beauty of every new season. We are filled with hope and short memories. Like children, we believe in everything good, and see blue skies ahead. Yes, that would be Dodger Blue.

Hope springs eternal.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Matters of the Heart

This is just the video. Im still working on the story......

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Avalon Days

Today, dear viewers, we visit the enchanting town of Avalon, on Catalina Island, just 26 miles off the Southern California coast. The X Shot was perfect for the beautiful background views, and all that golf cart maneuvering I did while reporting. Don't try this at home, or your car, office, or boat.

Next week: Madrid, Spain!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Simian Response

Monkeys, monkeys who need monkeys, are the luckiest monkeys in the world....

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Are we getting a calkulatah?"

I'm sorry. It just made me laugh too #*&#&! much.