Change and Hope

 

The year 2008 was an election year and before it was over, I would step away from a thirty-six-year career in public administration.   Looking forward to doing many new things, I occasionally  questioned the timing of my retirement and had some trepidation about adapting to the significant changes that lie ahead, fearful it would change who I am.  We were deep into the Presidential election process and, in late spring, the economy was becoming a concern to most people in the country.  After eight years of George Bush and Dick Cheney, the public seemed ready for a change and I assumed it would be Hillary Clinton.  She had history and now Senatorial experience where she seemed adept at reaching across the aisle.  Many people saw her as the smartest and most committed Clinton in the White House and there was no doubt in my mind that she would be elected our next President.  Also, electing the first female president is still an important milestone for my generation.  Then came the 2008 Iowa Caucus, not something that I gave much credence to.   It was still not significant in the overall scheme of things until Barack Obama, a young senator from Illinois won the caucus, which afforded him the opportunity to speak on a national stage.  From that point and throughout the next few months, my personal and political experiences would be about change.

I have heard political speeches for decades.  They all cover the usual issues and hit upon the partisan biases of the day.  They also provide a platform for politicians to inject the most powerful tools at their disposal:  hope and fear.  Hope is hit or miss, difficult to effectively pull off, but fear works every time.  It gets their attention quickly and is welcomed justification for the anger some feel, trying to survive in a difficult, stressful society.  Hope, on the other hand, is more risky, but when it works it can drive people to change.   For any leader, hope can bestow reverent power, the kind given by the people because they believe in you.  We went to the moon and back in 1969 because John Kennedy, years earlier, told us that we could do it and we believed him.  Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt led us through difficult times because people believed in them.   I admired that Barack Obama was following the path of change and hope, but also remembered that it can be an obstacle for most people. Electing the first African-American president was still a milestone for my generation.  So I thought.

Words are just words, but I saw something in Barack Obama during his Iowa victory speech that I hadn’t seen in forty years, someone who could unite our country and, maybe, the world.  I had thought that a relatively inexperienced  African-American man named Barack Hussein Obama could not be elected as President of the United States, but from the 2008 Iowa speech, I began to comprehend what the excitement was all about.  He truly had the power of hope and the potential to make Americans and the world believe in America again. Our household was politically divided during the primaries, my wife, sticking with Hillary and me defecting to Obama.  “I like him,” Karen said, “but Hillary is more electable and she’s a woman.”   I responded, “I know, I will vote for her in November, but this guy could be one in a generation.”  Karen was retiring in June 2008 from a teaching career and was beginning to worry about her 401K.  She protested, “Greed always overcomes reason.”

Daily reports about the evolving economic crisis in the national housing market seemed to coincide with the announcement of my October retirement in April 2008.  We had some big and significant projects ahead of us and some colleagues suggested that I reconsider and “work until the storm clears.”  They still hadn’t realized that the merry-go-round never stops and it’s up to each of us to decide when to step off.  With college expenses behind us, I had hope that the country would eventually fix our economic ills.  The world was counting on it.

Karen and I had talked about going somewhere fairly soon after my last day in the office.  We talked about Paris or London, somewhere to celebrate and to de-compress.  At dinner one evening, we discussed our options and the words of a speech that resonated with us forty years prior somehow came up.   The basis of the speakers remarks were that the two things most difficult for people were accepting change and maintaining hope. Karen suggested that we include them as our retirement model.  “Ya’ know,” she said, “the dollar sucks right now, we should stay U.S. and go see some history or to places that inspire us.”    “Good idea, but we don’t have much time to pull it together,” I responded, giving praise but evoking a sense of urgency.  I was not in retirement mode yet, but maybe planning this trip would help with the transition.  We both soon knew where it would begin.

The economy was bad and would get much worse before it would start to get better.  The commonly used phase of the day was “too big to fail.”  It had to change or we were going to experience the difficult childhood of our parents.  In late August, an apparent act of desperation, John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate announced the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice-President and within a few weeks, it was over.   We would most likely elect the first African-American president, an act that, in itself, represented both change and hope.

Feeling nostalgic, I was drawn back to JFK,  listening repeatedly to his January 1961 Inaugural address from an old CD that I purchased at the Dallas Book Depository gift shop, ironically on the same day JFK, Jr. was killed in a small plane crash.  The speech began, “We observe today, not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom, symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change.”    They were appropriate and comforting words for all that was happening in my life.

Our calendar was clear.  Less than forty-eight hours after I left my office for the last time on October 1, we were on a plane bound for JFK airport in New York City and after a brief layover, boarded a short flight to Logan International Airport in Boston, where we spent our first night.  The next morning, we picked up a rental car and headed north on Highway 91 toward  Vermont; there was no time to waste.  Connecting to Highway 89 in Woodstock, we headed northwest and would be in Stowe within a few hours.  We arrived just as the leaves were turning, vividly painted across the horizon, a natural, magnificently depicted metaphor for change.  Color was everywhere, covering the mountainsides like bright tie-dye covers a T-shirt. Individual trees were extraordinary and the hiking paths were covered with newly fallen leaves looking like multi-colored cobblestone.  The rest of our trip would be a celebration of this moment in time.  Change was inevitable and it was good.

We left Stowe four days later, driving past mountain lakes surrounded by rich Impressionistic slopes, through New Hampshire to a historic inn on Walker Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, across the cove from the Bush Family estate.  All the local seaside inns display flags whenever the President or Barbara Bush were in town.

A flat in Boston was next where we walked the Freedom Trail and spent a day in the JFK Museum at the University of Massachusetts, a prelude to our next stop, Hyannisport,  Camelot of the 1960s.  After visiting another small, more localized JFK museum, we were on the fast ferry to Nantucket Island for a slower pace, leaving our car on the mainland.  Back on the road days later, we headed to New York City via New Haven, Connecticut and Yale University.   New York didn’t have any special significance except that it was New York and we had an apartment on the Upper East Side for our last week.

Revitalized, we returned to watch Barack Obama make it official on the second Tuesday in November.  Change was here as well as a national crisis that was testing people’s hope.  Whatever the first-term agenda was intended to be, it was now about facing the most dangerous economic quagmire since the Great Depression.  I felt the weight on his shoulders.  I thought about Jackie Robinson and all he went through, but that was 1947.  This was the year 2008 and I was energized to stay engaged in how the next few years would unfold.  Somehow I felt primed to confront it all.  Those life changes that consumed my thoughts over the past few months were not as significant as I imagined.  My spirit was renewed and they hadn’t changed who I am.


Coyote Cardio

 

Ed Ruscha's Cyotoe

Ed Ruscha’s “Coyote”

As the Wednesday morning management meeting was breaking up and, after determining that there was no further business, Jim inquired, “Any stories from our little snow bunnies?”  He was referring to Dennis and I, who had just returned from a four-day ski trip at Mammoth Mountain with some colleagues from other parts of the state. Sunburned faces after a two-day absence from the grind always left the door open to facetious references like “snow bunny.” Amid the noise of rustling papers and squeaky chairs as people transitioned out of the room, Dennis proclaimed, “Well, Lyle got chased by a coyote and he has witnesses.” Laughter ensued and chairs began to squeak once again, this time from returning butts, waiting for a juicy story.

Our ski trip to Mammoth Mountain resort had become an annual event and, over a ten-year span beginning in the 1990s, had grown to six skiers. George, most active in keeping it going year to year, knew the mountain well and was always looking for an excuse to be out of the office. He and a few others in the group wanted to be on the mountain early each morning when the lifts start running and used their late afternoon shut down as the only reason to stop. I preferred the 10:00am to 3:00pm window but my legs were strong and I felt up to the task.

After a twenty-minute lunch break, we exited Mid-Chalet to put on our skis and traverse to Chair Three.  George wanted to show us some new runs that we could access from the top. They were called “Critters” and “New Critters” which, within the hour, would be the irony of the day. Assembling at the top of Chair Three, we started down the backside of St. Anton where we could pick up enough speed to traverse past Bristlecone to the top of the new runs that would ultimately provide a long path down to Chair One. George’s plan connected many runs to give us one very long one, interrupted only by our need to catch a breath.  Somewhere near the top of Bristlecone, Gary caught an edge and fell, landing softly onto the new snow. While the others kept going, worried about having enough speed to finish  the traverse without excessive poling, I stopped to make sure that Gary was OK. “I’m fine, dammit,” he snorted, so I left, reminding him that we were all meeting at the bottom of Critters.

Poling, a consequence of not having enough speed, is defined by burning arm muscles and lack of rhythm, not the true exhilaration of skiing. Relieved to reach the top, I turned right and began my descent down the hill. Moving fluidly, I was relaxed, letting my ski’s do the work just before the chaos began. Suddenly, through my tinted goggles, I saw movement flash by, peripherally, on my right side. Within an instant I realized that it wasn’t another skier or snowboarder because it was staying with me.

Still startled, I planted my pole for a sharp left turn and it followed, head down, like its nose was glued to my boot, fortunately made of hard composite material. Planting my pole, I thrust my knees quickly to the right and glanced down to see breath streaming through its nostrils.   I was not only trying to shed the beast but concentrate on getting to the bottom without falling. Another quick turn to the left, then to the right and I could sense the commotion stop. Needing to regain my balance and composure, I forced my knees, once again into the slope and, quickly stopped, pushing up a small trail of snow. My heart was still pounding when I looked up and tried to make some sense of what just happened.

Fifteen feet up this slope named “Critter,” stood a large, skinny coyote with a long pink tongue drooping below its jowl. We shared a terse stare before he turned and loped through the white snow to some nearby bushes.  Turning toward the bottom of the hill I gazed at my friends. Still attached to their ski’s, they were rolling in the snow, consumed with belly laughter.  Then Gary came over the horizon and pulled up, “What’s going on?”  Not certain how to answer his question, I just said, “I’ll tell you when we get to the bottom.”  His questions continued after he looked down the hill, inquiring, “What’s up with them?” I left without responding, ready to confront my audience.

Theories abounded at the bottom of the hill, each attempting to justify what occurred. Dennis surmised, “I think he’s been waiting all day and he finally found the weak one of the herd.”  I reminded him that the coyote was still hungry and I was at the bottom of the hill. “Ya’know, in my old neighborhood,” George chimed in, “there was this dog, I think it was a black lab, who chased everything that moved, cars, motorcycles, even bicycles. He never hurt anyone, he just loved to run after moving things.  This coyote was the same as that dog, except this neighborhood has skiers instead of cars.”  Gary, who missed it all, added his opinion. “Maybe he’s rabid, we should report him to the lodge. Don’t these things hibernate?”

Coyotes do not hibernate or migrate during the winter. They survive on berries, bushes and very rare natural prey, a  segue way to my theory.  For my canid friend to be competitive for the occasional meaty morsels, he must stay in shape and maintain his edge.  Like duck hunters who hone their skills during the off-season by shooting at clay pigeons, this coyote used me and, maybe others, to exercise his instincts and remain sharp.  It was a collaboration.  I was pushed, through fear, to turn my ski’s as crisply and quickly as I had in years while the coyote worked on his cardio and learned to anticipate the moves of another frightened creature.

Ed Ruscha's Coyote #2

Ed Ruscha’s “Coyote #2”

As we gathered to ski down to Chair One, George, pointing up the slope, yelled, “Look!”  There was a female skier with a coyote’s snout at the back of her boot. Suddenly she fell and he immediately retreated into his hiding spot, presumingly feeling bad about being too aggressive.  We checked in on the latest victim. “I’m okay,” she responded, “did you guys see that?” I yelled back, “Know him well.”

Months later at a conference, I joined a friend and some of his colleagues for coffee. After being introduced, one of them said, “Your name sounds familiar, did you once get chased by a coyotes while skiing?”  “That was me,” I nodded. The diverse demographics of our ski group had taken the story statewide. I have fond memories and feel fortunate to have been chased by a coyote.  Only a handful of people, skiing this small area of Mammoth Mountain on this cold, white February day, will have a great tale to tell for the rest of their lives.

 

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Trending Rose’

 

The fact that the popularity of rose’ is rising is not a new trend, it has occurred for over a decade.  The emergence of rose’ is still being discussed by sommeliers in 2016, but the real story is about its evolution.  Today, it has become a priority, not an afterthought for winemakers.  Good, specifically designed rose’ has fueled the market which, in turn, has channeled more energy to create the next best release.

Another trend is that consumers are less discerned with color and are breaking with traditional values toward what types of foods pair with red or white wine.  Rose’ has

Provence vineyards

Provence vineyards

stepped up as a wine that belongs at the dinner table, as well as the patio on a summer afternoon.  Many restaurants now include rose’ on their wine lists year-round, not just the summer months.  Blended from Rhone varietals including syrah, mourvedre and grenache, Spanish tempranillo, Italian sangiovese and California pinot noir, modern rose’ can compliment food from raw oysters and sushi to roasted chicken and pork.  Yesterday’s rose’ wines were sweet and simple.  Today, they are versatile, friendly but complex and readily recommended in tapas bars and most trendy restaurants.

All wine grape juice is clear, generating its color from various degrees of contact with red grape skins.  With rose’, the juice is separated or “bled” away from the skins very early in a process known as the “Saignée method.”  The normal deep ruby color of the fine reds

Chateau Miraval Provence France

Chateau Miraval Provence France

turn to what are known as “pink wines.”  Rose’ is also mostly produced in stainless steel with little or no oak, resulting in higher acidity with crisp, invigorating texture.

Due to its diversity, fine rose’ is now produced in all the world’s wine regions. At the top is Provence, located south of France’s great appellations and north of the classic Spanish blends from Rioja, whose winemakers have focused their production almost exclusively on rose’.  The current rose’ inventory in most fine wine outlets is generally between fifty and seventy percent from Provence. The selections are so vast that a decision could be overwhelming, so, let me recommend a few good ones that are readily available.

With multiple ratings in the nineties, the 2015 Chateau Miraval Cote de Provence Rose’ ($20) first earned recognition when the 2012 vintage was named to Wine

Chateau Miraval 2015

Chateau Miraval 2015

Spectator magazine’s Top 100 wines and became the world’s best rose’ of that year. Produced through a partnership between Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateaunef-du-Pape, the current vintage expresses wonderful floral and fruit aromas, soft berry flavors and a nice minerality on the finish. A high quality for the price, the Miraval is available at wine outlets and on-line. Another rose’ from a large

2014 Cotes du Rhone Rose'

2014 Cotes du Rhone Rose’

producer in the Rhone Valley, the 2014 Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rose’ is a blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault that make it dry, but fruity.  This vintage has an acidic finish that compliments spicy foods.

WholeCluster_Stolpman_HighRes

Whole cluster grapes at Stolpman Winery

Fine rose’ wines are produced in all California wine regions, from the Santa Ynez Valley in north Santa Barbara County to the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County.  Diversity in varietals and terroir make for a broad palate of selections and new rose’ production is vital across the state.  For example, grapes from the Stolpman Vineyard in Santa Ynez have been sourced to other wineries for decades. They have an impeccable reputation and have begun producing wines under their own label like the 2015 Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Rose’ ($17), a soft, fruity pink wine from 100% grenache grapes, a portion undergoing the carbonic maceration process that introduces them to a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing. The whole grape begins to ferment while in the skins.  This rose’ can be a nice summer sipper as well as a food wine.

Tablas Creek Winery, a patriarch among the California Rhone Rangers in Paso Robles,

2015 Patelin de Tablas Rose'

2014 Patelin de Tablas Rose’

produce what many believe is the best rose’ in California, the 2014 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Rose’ ($20).  A Rhone blend of grenache, mourvedre and counoise, this wine is fresh, floral and balanced, expressing cherries and watermelon throughout a long finish.  To the north, in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation comes the 2015 Luli Central Coast Rose’ ($14),  produced through a partnership between Master Sommelier Sarah Floyd and the Pisoni Family who have contributed to and created many great wines from the region. A distinct blend of pinot noir and grenache, it has balanced flavors that will compliment food very well.  Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm, another patriarch among California Rhone Rangers, has always been willing to push the envelope in finding obscure vineyards to produce rare wines like 2015 Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato ($24) from the Mt. Oso Vineyard in the hills above Tracy, CA in San Joaquin County.  Ciliegiolo is actually a little known Tuscan varietal related to sangiovese. Randall spoke of the grape, “While it can be brilliant as a

2015 Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato

2015 Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato

powerful red, one might argue that it is uniquely well suited to haunt the palate as a fragrant, delicate pink.” It is actually a light red, as opposed to a pink wine and I find it to be the boldest rose’ that I’ve have tasted, one that I would not hesitate to pair with roasted pork.

St. Supery Vineyards and Winery in Napa Valley produces mostly estate grown and sustainably-farmed Bordeaux varietals from vineyards on the valley floor.  With a darker color, the 2015 St. Supery Estate Rose’ Wine Napa Valley ($18) is all about fresh berry aromas and flavors.  It is a merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend that also includes cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc and petit

2015 St. Supery Napa Valley Rose'

2015 St. Supery Napa Valley Rose’

verdot, blended after fermentation. It exudes strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and watermelon throughout and, at under twenty dollars, is an exceptional value. Another winery using cool-climate pinot noir from Sonoma Coast vineyards and a significant percentage from a biodynamically-farmed vineyard outside of Sebastopol, CA, the 2013 Red Car Rose’ of Pinot Noir 2014($22) is fermented without any contact with the skins, creating what the winemaker calls, “A pale melon pink wine.”  It is bone dry, zesty, very aromatic with herbal and berry flavors.  Referring to the finish,

2013 Red Car Pinot Noir Rose'

2013 Red Car Pinot Noir Rose’

Antonio Galloni of Vinous says this wine, “Smoothly plays power off finesse and finishes with resonating florality.” It is a suitable pair with sushi or grilled salmon.

Carol Shelton has made her own wines since 2000, mostly zinfandel sourced from some of the finest Sonoma County vineyards. She also creates limited amounts of pinot noir, petit sirah, cabernet sauvignon and carignane, a varietal that dominates the Carol Shelton 2015 Wild Thing Rendezvous

Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rose'

Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rose’

Rose’ ($15), a crisp, dry wine from Mendocino County expressing strawberry-watermelon aromas and flavors with mineral hints on the finish.  Half of the pink juice is bled off after brief contact with the carignane skins, resulting in the color of a light pinot noir.  Consistently rated in the 90s, the “Rendezvous” has the complexity necessary to accompany any food, from sushi to BBQ ribs.

Very good rose’ wines can be found throughout Oregon and Washington State as well as South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand where the 2015 Elephant Hill Tempranillo Rose’ Hawkes Bay ($29) originates. As with many red varietals, the warm climate of wine regions below the equator accentuates the flavors of tempranillo.  This dry, zesty small-production wine, consisting of 92% tempranillo and eight percent syrah is citric, fruit-forward and spicy with a very clear

Elephant Hill Winery New Zealand

Elephant Hill Winery New Zealand

minerality on the finish

The end of summer no longer breeds disappointment among rose’ fans.  Today, it is a year-round alternative when serving appetizers, a three-course dinner or enjoying a glass with friends.  Rose’ has emerged and will continue to evolve as it renews the spirit of winemakers everywhere to commit to exploring the potential of pink wines.  Maybe there is a rose’ wine on this list for you.


Mr. Jones Revisited

Mentors are like artists or writers, sometimes their impact is not fully appreciated for decades.  Then, at times, it is passed on and lives for generations.  This could be the story of Mr. Ron Jones, a very normal looking young high school English teacher in 1965, with a fresh credential, trying to enlighten a class of 4th-year English Seniors, some looking for inspiration and others waiting for it all to end.  Though I found him an interesting teacher, it took years to fully understand the profound effect our time together had in developing some of my lifelong passions and, in many ways, guiding the way I look at things.

Mr. Jones had a typical mid-1960s high school teacher image, short hair, gray slacks with cuffs, a button-down dress shirt and tie and tweed jacket.  His look was preppy, but intellectual, one that would drastically change for teachers in the next few years. Jones had chosen, as one of his extracurricular requirements, to help with the football team and I would often see him at practice.  He was athletic and knowledgeable about the game, but his classroom persona revealed much more than just a jock teaching English.  The fall of 1965 was at the cusp of massive cultural and social changes in this country and, I believe, as a young man, he sensed and embraced them early.

During a week-long segment on poetry, Mr. Jones veered from the classics to discuss some new contemporary poets.  “Ya’know, he said, “many of the writers and poets today are singers and songwriters.”  Then, poetically, he recited lyrics by Buffy Saint Marie and Leonard Cohen, prose of a new day.  Half the class continued to be bored with both the new and the old, but Mr.Jones had my full attention.  In this moment, a teacher was about to inspire a student.  Months earlier, with no expectations, I had gone with a friend to a Bob Dylan concert.  The profound effect of his music had led me to other songwriters of the emerging folk rock movement and Mr. Jones just legitimized them all.

For the next few weeks, students were allowed to bring in music on Fridays.  We listened seriously to songwriters, discussing and interpreting their poetry the best we could.  Some students never understood or cared about it at all, foreshadowing future oblivion or a difficult adjustment through the next decade. At times, I thought Mr. Jones and I were having a conversation and others in the class were just listening. A typical classroom discussion was best summed up by one of my Friday submittals, Bob Dylan’s song, “Ballad Of A Thin Man” from his new album, “Highway 61 Revisited”:

You raise up your head

And you ask, “Is this where it is?”

And somebody points to you and says

“It’s his”

And you say, “What’s mine?”

And somebody else says, “Where what is?”

And you say, “Oh my God

Am I here all alone.”

But something is happening here

And you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

Passion for music of all kinds has continuously enveloped my adult life, always leaving time to explore the lyrics of great contemporary song writers like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and others who have chronicled our time so eloquently.  Amid many musical influences, Mr. Jones steered me in their direction and gave me permission to be open and accepting of something new.

Weeks later, this engaging teacher offered an intriguing extra-credit opportunity, one that got the attention of my friend Steve and I.  “There is a film playing at the Towne Theater, it’s called, ‘The Pawnbroker,’” Mr. Jones announced, “it’s not required but if any students are able to watch it and write a brief description of your impressions, I’ll give you fifty extra credit points toward your grade.”  With SAT scores lower than expected, we were both focused on our GPA’s and justifying a week-night movie as the road to an A was appealing.  “If you wanna do it, I can pick you up at 6:30,” Steve said as I nodded affirmatively.  Steve’s dad had recently given him a brand new, burgundy-colored 1966 Pontiac GTO as an early graduation present, vastly increasing my transportation opportunities.  The car was a beast that delivered less than eight miles to the gallon and even with fuel priced at twenty-nine cents per gallon, lack of gas money often restricted our travel.  Luckily, tonight was about extra credit and Steve’s mom pitched in a few dollars.

I loved the movies, especially when Paul Newman overcame adversity and prevailed over the latest antagonist or Jerry Lewis would portray a character among his breadth of idiots.  I loved movies, but had no concept of film as an art form until that rainy January night, my first time inside the Towne Theater, at the time San Jose’s only art and foreign film venue. The featured film was director Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker,” a dark portrait of a soulless man, the survivor of the Nazi concentration camp where his wife and children were killed.  The main character, Sol Nazerman, played by young actor Rod Steiger, operated a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem that also fronted for a pimp.  His experiences had left him totally detached from others or the world around him. I was expecting a more dramatic Hollywood ending where we watch significant changes to Sol’s life unfold into happily ever after. In this film, real change came slowly or not at all, with a small glimmer of hope left to the interpretation of the viewer. The “Pawnbroker” was stark reality, but, at seventeen, the most poignant film I had ever seen, a film that heightened my understanding and awareness of the Holocaust.

Eager to write a brief review of the film to secure the extra credit, I described the use of visual flashbacks to horrifically reveal Nazerman’s past, they helped me to better understand his behavior.  Unlike today, information and reviews were not available to the masses.  Viewers had to rely on their own perceptions. In a later discussion, Mr. Jones, admittedly a fan of Sidney Lumet, described how the director used various techniques to create a more powerful message.  It was the first time I understood the role or appreciated the contribution of the film director.

Remaining somewhat interested over the ensuing years, my curiosity re-emerged after I met my wife, Karen, an undergraduate student who also had an interest in film.  Hers was influenced by her parents, who would go to the Towne Theater to watch art films and mine from Mr. Jones.  Karen and I have remained avid film buffs for 47 years, beginning in 1969 with watching art films on campus or at the old Saratoga Theater, a metal quonset hut nestled against the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the village of the same name.

I never communicated with Mr. Jones after graduation but like to remember thanking him and telling him how much I enjoyed his class. Moving on with my life, I remained unaware that he had touched and opened a side of me that could have remained dormant forever.  Questions will always remain of what became of Mr. Jones.  Did he continue teaching in the public school system or drop out and live in a commune for the next ten years?  He may have written the screenplay of a film that I enjoyed, not that credits for someone named Ron Jones would raise a red flag.

Whatever became of him, Mr. Jones will always be remembered as a wonderfully effective teacher, one that opened a young mind to appreciate artistic expression of all kinds.


Zinfandel Keeps Good Company

 

Zinfandel is America’s wine grape. Sure, there is primitivo, a distant cousin from Italy, but zinfandel is the only grape that truly has roots here.  When friends from San Francisco had to make a “zinfandel run” to northern Sonoma County and suggested we accompany them for some tastings and lunch, we freed our calendars and made it happen.  It had been some time since we did this and our companion’s quarterly allocations were

Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard

Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard

building up at two separate wineries, each producing very diverse styles of zinfandel.  Anticipating that the tastings would be very distinctive, I was also interested in releases of other varietals.

The Dry Creek Valley, located fifteen miles north of Santa Rosa, has the warmest climate in the area, sandwiched between the Russian River and Alexander Valleys.  The terroir in this region is more conducive to zinfandel than pinot noir or chardonnay, typical in most of the county.  Today’s stops, Mazzocco Sonoma, part of the Wilson Family Wines empire, and historical Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, both construct highly acclaimed zinfandel with completely divergent views on how the varietal should be expressed.

Worth mentioning, Wilson Family Wines own eight different wineries in Sonoma County, as far south as St. Anne’s Crossing in Kenwood to Jaxon Keys Winery in Hopland, CA to the north.  Four

Mazzocco Winery

Mazzocco Winery

wineries focus on zinfandel, two on cabernet sauvignon in the Alexander Valley, one daring soul pursues pinot noir and the matriarch Wilson Winery produces a variety including petite sirah and syrah.  Many of their wines were awarded gold medals in Sonoma Harvest Fest and the San Francisco Chronicle Wjine Competition.

Edoardo Seghesio first planted his Home Ranch Vineyard, north of Geyserville, in 1895, following his instincts that it was the right terroir for zinfandel, petite sirah and many Italian varietals.  “Today, Seghesio owns over 300 acres of estate vineyards and farms nearly one hundred acres of outside vineyards making them one of the largest producers in the region. History and a commitment to the land has been rewarded with an ideal platform for producing consistent quality wines.  We didn’t know what Spring releases they were pouring, but foresaw that some special single vineyard and reserves would be included.

In the land of zinfandel, the first three wines we tasted were Italian varietals, including the dry, herbal 2015 Seghesio Vermentino ($22), a rare white varietal, dry with nice expressions of fruit and a minerality that defined its character.  Excepting those from Burgundy, European white varietals are unfairly overlooked and many consumers are missing opportunities to add diversity to their taste buds.  Also dry, but fruity, the 2013 Seghesio Sangiovese ($30) is soft, with a nice creamy structure carried through the finish.  There are many very fine releases of sangiovese, used to produce chianti from Tuscany.  This is another good one.

With roots in the Barolo wines from Italy’s Piedmont region, barbera typically shows deep colors and earthy flavors.  When I unexpectedly encounter a good California barbera, I often take a bottle home including the 2013 Seghesio Barbera ($30).  Deep, ruby hues and soft,

Seghesio Barbera

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

102017b_11Barbera_F

Seghesio Family Vineyard Barbera Alexander Valley

accessible flavors are enhanced by a balanced structure and deep color that seemed to glow when held up to the light.  This one will pair perfectly with pasta or mushroom risotto. Seghesio also produces other Italian varietals, arneis, pinot grigio and fiano, in estate-owned vineyards, both in the Russian River and Alexander valleys.

“The Cortina Vineyard, named after the loamy soil that exists on the site, has been farmed by Seghesio since 1957. Known for its subtle, elegant flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Cortina Vineyard ($40) was awarded 94-points by Wine Spectator magazine. In addition to the soft flavors, I found great bouquet and texture to this exceptional wine.

Using old zinfandel vines and a small amount of petite sirah grapes from their flagship Alexander Valley Home Ranch Vineyard and gnarly vines from the Saini Beach Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley, the 2013 Seghesio “Old Vine” Zinfandel ($40) is a dry, austerely luscious wine with balanced structure and a nice spice character to the flavor. Enjoy the wine by itself or try BBQ meats that would enhance the spice.

Using a blend of old and young zinfandel vines and a small touch of petite sirah for color and softer flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Home Ranch Vineyard (58) expresses an earthy bouquet that transcends into the flavors.  The “Home Ranch” had the softest creamy texture of all the wines tasted, leaving me no choice but to take a bottle home to my cellar.

Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel

Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel

Sonoma Valley’s Pagani Vineyard has been literally deeply rooted in the soil and the fabric of the regional zinfandel community since 1887.  It is dry-farmed, creating deep-rooted vines and fruit that produce rich, potent flavors, yet express a lighter structure than the other zinfandels we tasted. This defines the 2012 Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani Vineyard ($48). It is fascinating when the special, unchanged characteristics of an old vineyard can produce uniquely identifiable wines, vintage to vintage.

Seghesio produces many wines at different levels, many are available at local outlets.  The single vineyard releases, at a higher price, are available online, from the winery and wine shops, offering the truest picture of their finest efforts. After lunch, we would drive north a few miles to the heart of the Dry Creek Valley where Mazzocco Sonoma specializes in a different style of zinfandel.

Mozzacco is a very welcoming place, located on Lytton Springs Road, north of Healdsburg.  It does produce cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and other varietals but its focus is on high alcohol, lively and fruity zinfandel, mostly from designated vineyards.  To prepare our palates, the tasting opened with a 100% sauvignon blanc, a white wine sourced from the Alexander Valley.

ZIN_RES_SMITH

Mazzocco Reserve Zinfandel Smith Orchard

The crisp and fragrant 2015 Mazzocco Sauvignon Blanc ($28) created in a New Zealand style, was a very nice beginning that expressed stone fruit aromas with vibrant grapefruit flavors and mineral elements on the finish.  As one who usually prefers a softer, creamy style, I liked the grapefruit accents and would recommend this refreshing wine for hot, summer afternoons.  This was a good beginning, but it was time to enjoy four single vineyard zinfandel releases, all highly acclaimed.

Awarded gold medals over the past three years by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Briar Vineyard ($29), estate-owned with seven percent petite sirah, was intense from bouquet to palate with wild berry flavors and a hint of spice on the finish.  Another highly acclaimed zinfandel in both the San Francisco Chronicle and Sonoma Wine Competitions, the 2013 Mazzocco

Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Zinfandel Reserve, Warms Springs Ranch ($52) conveys a myriad of aromas and flavors ranging from floral hints to roasted nuts and spice from mid-palate through finish, jammy, but at the same time, elegant.  The “Warm Springs” was the best illustration of their signature fruit-forward Mazzocco wines.

From the heart of the Dry Creek appellation, with deep volcanic soils, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve West Dry Creek Vineyard ($52) delivers concentrated, balanced fruit and berry flavors with accents of cocoa and pepper throughout the finish. This wine is meant to be enjoyed outdoors with some nice gorgonzola cheese.

They saved one of their best reserve zinfandels for our last wine. From their highest elevation vineyard at 2,400-foot, with iron-rich soils that allow the fruit to mature slowly, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve Smith Orchard Vineyard ($52) expressed rich, diverse flavors ranging from currant jam and anise to chocolate and creme brûlée.  This is truly a luscious zinfandel that caught the attention of Robert Parker/Wine Advocate who awarded it 91-points, citing a combination of intensity and balance.

Wine Spectator, National Geographic Traveler and Sunset magazines have recently published articles recommending travel to Sonoma County for its rich food, wine, culture and open space.  While the world-famous pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay are the stars of this region, travelers should not miss an opportunity to experience the zinfandel and other varietals in the north end.  Along with Paso Robles, Lodi and Calaveras County, the Dry Creek Valley is at the table with California’s best and these two wineries afford a fine   opportunity to enjoy different styles, each excellent in their own way.

 


The Wines of Kelowna

Photos by Ron Siddle 

An interest in wine and golf led us to southern British Columbia to explore the delights of Kelowna and

Kelowna skyline

Kelowna skyline

surrounding areas that boast of their numerous wineries and challenging golf courses, an abundance of lakes and a nearby ski resort.  While nine rounds of golf in six days topped our itinerary, we found time to explore one of Kelowna’s wine trails, tasting some very nice releases and discovering several new varietals.

With nearly 180,000 permanent residents, Kelowna is the warmest and driest part of British Columbia, making it a great destination for summer water sports on Okanagan Lake, voted “#2 Best Beaches in Canada” by the 2011 Trip Advisor Readers Choice Awards. There are eighteen championship golf courses in Kelowna and many more majestic mountain lakes north in Vernon.  In the winter months, Big White Ski Resort, less than an hour from town, is known for great powder and available rentals.

The view from Cedar Creek Estate Winery in Kelowna British Columbia, looking towards Lake Okanagan. RON SIDDLE/Valley Press

The view from Cedar Creek Estate Winery in Kelowna British Columbia.

In addition to vineyards, Kelowna also produces wonderful organic fruits in acres of orchards and is Canada’s’ major producer of goat cheese.  Locally, around the lake, there are five distinct wine trails and over thirty wineries. We began our exploration along the western shore of Okanagan Lake, among hillside vineyards, beautiful vistas and beaches, at one of the pioneer wine producers of the region.

Established in 1987 and twice recognized as Canada’s Winery of the Year, Cedar Creek Winery is a magnificent property with nineteen current releases on their menu. Most of them were

Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser

Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser

available for tasting including an 100% ehrenfelser that, outside of Germany, is produced primarily in Kelowna and sparsely in Washington State.  A grape with lineage to riesling and silvander, the 2014 Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser ($17) is a fresh white wine that expresses stone fruits on the nose and multi-layered ripe fruit flavors on the palate.  Others preferred the 2014 Cedar Creek Pinot Gris ($18) that is slightly more acidic with less residual sugar.  Aged in French oak for 35 days, the pinot gris, common to the Pacific Northwest, revealed ”floral fruit” and melon flavors. A Gold Medal Winner at he 2015 All Canadian Wine Championships, the sweeter 2014 Cedar Creek Gewürztraminer ($16) added aromas of ginger and anise to the mid-palate flavors.

Fermented three separate ways, in stainless steel, large foudre casks and traditional oak barrels, the Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek Platinum M

Cedar Creek Platinum M

Estate Chardonnay ($17), the first of a flight, conveyed soft tropical fruit flavors with a buttery nut finish.  The second wine, the 2014 Cedar Creek Platinum Block 5 Chardonnay ($28) expressed strong hints of green apple on the nose and palate with a nice minerality on the finish. The last wine of the flight, the 2010 Cedar Creek Platinum M ($53) is clearly a sweet dessert wine with over 70% residual sugar.  Fortified with spirits, small amounts of chardonnay are placed in miniature casks and baked in the sun for five years resulting in rich, concentrated fruit flavors.

Onward to the red wines, beginning with two pinot noir releases.

Surprisingly, pinot noir grows well in Cedar Creek’s estate vineyards, mostly those near the water.  To achieve rich, fuller flavors, the vines are thinned during the growing season, eliminating all but the best clusters.  As a result, the small production 2013 Cedar Creek Estate Pinot Noir($23) has classic mushroom and cherry aromas with more hints of strawberry on the palate.  From the vineyards best spot, the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir ($56) is more muscular with aromas and flavors of spice and mocha throughout.

Cedar Creek has eleven acres of vineyards in nearby Osoyoos with rocky, well draining soil that force the vines to struggle during the growing period.  There is something about these “tough love” soils that push the vines to greatness.  This is the case with the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot ($37) that

Cedar Creek Desert Ridge Meritage

Cedar Creek Desert Ridge Meritage

expresses spicy aromas, rich dark berry flavors with nuances of coffee on the finish.  For my palate, this is an extraordinary merlot that would stand up nicely to blue cheese. From the same Osoyoos vineyard, the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Desert Ridge Meritage ($40) is a Bordeaux blend of 58% cabernet sauvignon, 22% cabernet franc, 14% merlot and 6% malbec that is fruit driven with all the structure necessary for a good wine.  It will pair well with a big, juicy steak.

Cedar Creek Winery is an impressive property suitable for fancy picnicking, sortable events and further exploration through vineyard tours.  We were very excited about tasting their wines and recommend it as a “must stop” when in Kelowna.

The view from St. Hubertus

The view from St. Hubertus

Historical, with first vine plantings in 1928, a stable 30-year ownership and sustainable farming practices all describe the St. Hubertus and Oak Bay Estate Winery, our next stop along the wine trail. The grounds of St. Hubertus are more rustic than Cedar Creek, but quaint and charming, suitable for picnics and gatherings.  The wines are low production and estate grown with attention to detail at every step of the process.

To begin, I enjoyed my first taste of the popular Swiss grape, chasselas.  The 2014 St. Hubertus Chasselas ($20) is light and crisp with very accessible flavors and a nice lemon zest finish.  A perfectSt-Hubertus-Riesling pair with Swiss raclette cheese or sushi.  Aside from the floral aromas, the major characteristic of the 2013 St. Hubertus Riesling ($17) is the nicely balanced green apple flavors, not overpowering, but forever present.

Still surprised to see the pinot noir varietal in British Columbia, we had to taste the 2012 Oak Bay Pinot Noir ($20).  It’s hard to compare it with the opulent pinot noir from Sonoma County or Oregon, but I found this wine to be a nice well-structured, medium-bodied pinot with classic vanilla and cherry aromas and flavors.  Continuing to experience varietals rare to the United States, the 2012 Oak Bay Marechal Foch ($22), with dark ruby color, was the biggest and boldest wine of the day.  Marechal Foch is a varietal mostly grown in the Loire Valley of France, with some plantings in Oregon’s

Oak Bay Marechal Foch

Oak Bay Marechal Foch

Willamette Valley. This vintage was rich and jammy with dark fruit, plum, spice and hints of tobacco everywhere.  The winery suggests pairing marechal foch with Coffee and Chocolate Braised Short Ribs, a sign of its power.  A small amount of chamboucin, a readily available French-American hybrid grape, is blended to enhance the characteristics of marechal foch.

Our last stop was the relatively new Ancient Hill Winery, a rural property located near the Kelowna Airport. There were vineyards on the property in the 1950s and 1960s that were converted to orchards.  The current

The vineyards at Ancient Hill Winery

The vineyards at Ancient Hill Winery

owners migrated to this region from the Netherlands in 2005 and re-planted vines on the property.  Today, they produce many varietals uncommon to California and the Pacific Northwest, not the case with our first tasting.

Fine pinot gris releases are common, especially in Oregon and we found that wineries in Kelowna produce very good ones at sensible prices.  The 2014 Ancient Hill Pinot Gris ($16) had a rich mouthfeel and spice flavors that followed fragrant floral aromas with hints of peaches and papaya, a good value at $16.

Having avoided rose’ thus far, I found the 2014 Ancient Hill Rose’ ($15)  too intriguing to pass up. Comprised of nearly 75% zweigelt with added gewürztraminer, baco noir and pinot noir, this rose’ has a vibrant color with complex spice and berry flavors, fruity, but not overly sweet.

A rare blend of two popular Austrian grapes, Zweigelt and Lemberger, the 2011 Ancient Hill “Lazerus” ($15)

 Ancient Hill Winery

Ancient Hill Winery

is a light red wine, aged entirely in stainless steel, that reveals the dark cherry and spice flavors of each varietal.  The blend changes each vintage, but the 2011 can be enjoyed by itself or with a light cheese.  Producing only 220 cases,  the 2012 Ancient Hill Pinot Noir ($17) is a lighter wine with some tannins that delivers nice spice and dark berry flavors mid-palate.

Abandoned by the French, the muscular baco noir varietal can now be mostly found in Canada and Washington State.  The bold 2012 Ancient Hill Baco Noir ($22) has become their flagship red delivering rich flavors of black cherry and plum with spice and hints of chocolate on the finish.  Aged in oak, this moderately price wine would stand up to any lamb and beef dish.

The Okanagan Valley wine region has much to offer any wine tourist, an abundance of wineries, great venues, different micro-climates that produces unique varietals at reasonable prices.  We barely scratched the surface of viticultural opportunities in the region.  My recommendation is to take advantage of the many wine tour options with pre-determined stops along the five wine trails, all with a designed driver.  Wine lovers must include British Columbia in a future vacation, especially if they enjoy, gorgeous mountains, lakes, food and all the recreational opportunities one can imagine.


Revenge for San Thomas

 

An April 2016 small headline read: “Cyclist killed in hit and run collision on San Thomas Expressway,” a very unfortunate repercussion of today’s crowded urban lifestyle as we all try to share access.  Today, the San Thomas Expressway, in the South Bay, is a crowded thoroughfare, extending from Highway 17 at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains to Highway 101, linking west Santa Clara Valley commuters to the likes of Apple, Google and Oracle.   Unless there is an accident or normal congestion, people take it for granted, hardly noticing what surrounds it and never comprehending what lies beneath it.  On the same day of the fatal collision, the Valley Transportation Agency announced the start of The  San Thomas Expressway Box Culvert Repair project.

After reading that, “The project will repair the floors and walls of the four-mile-long San Thomas Creek concrete drainage channel,” I stopped, letting  my mind transport me back to earlier years.  Ironically, the 1961 completion of the San Thomas Expressway was one milestone that marked the end of my childhood.  After homes replaced the orchard in 1957, new and old neighborhood kids still had the creek to play in.  Not learning its name until they were turning it into a box culvert, the San Thomas Aquino Creek, named for Catholic philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas was a natural open creek that carried storm water from streams in the Santa Cruz Mountains to San Francisco Bay via the exact route of the new expressway.  Actually, the kids in our neighborhood were serviced by a short, half-mile stretch of the creek that connected Saratoga Road to Stevens Creek Road, both upgraded to boulevard status years ago as they were also expanded in a never-ending crusade to end gridlock.

Our creek had everything.  Although water flow was scarce in non-winter months, there were always pools filled with tadpoles, lizards scurrying across the banks, loquats, berries and small bushes that tasted like licorice.  A special part of the creek lie ahead, a 500-foot stroll up from the Forest Avenue entrance.  The tiny stream meandered to the right, creating a beach of small stones, all under a large willow tree that made it a natural clubhouse that we named “Sandy Beach.”    We met there, planned adventures and argued there.  We talked about things that we weren’t supposed to, there.   Four hybrid mutts, Budd, Paul, Steve and I, wove time for the creek into every summer day.  Morning basketball in Paul’s driveway, grape soda in the party room that Steve’s parents build behind their house and wiffle ball games in my makeshift backyard stadium still left us plenty of time to enjoy Sandy Beach and to be annoyed when others would use it.

Another quarter-mile past Sandy Beach was the dreaded tunnel under Stevens Creek Road, a simple underground passage, not claustrophobic, that was always terrifying for me to pass through.  Local crime stories, graffiti on the walls and other evidence that people had been there provided ample justification for my young imagination to create many horrifying scenarios.  I never walked, but ran as fast as I could when I had to endure the tunnel.  There was no sky, no trees, just ugly concrete and stale air.

A similar scenario to the 1957 removal of our orchard playground, we ushered in a new decade in 1960 watching workers cut a deep, wide trench in the vacant land, parallel to the creek.  Nothing actually needed to cover our special part of the stream, but the decision was made to channel all the water through a culvert underneath the new expressway.  Left with no value, the creek would be filled in within the next few days as if nothing ever existed there.  San Thomas Aquino Creek, where life was once abundant, died and was buried in a concrete tomb.

I was disappointed and angry, but not as much as Paul.  No one ever consults the neighborhood kids before progress moves in unannounced.  Frustration and a sense of helplessness led to this moment in time for Paul and I.  A series of events over the next few days, a shared, private experience, allowed us to move on from our loss.

Paul moved into one of the new houses with his single mother and grandmother.  He was short, with an athletic build, a dirty blond crew cut and an oversized mouth that would make Mick Jagger envious.  He was very competitive and sports or anything he put his mind to quickly became easy.  Although we didn’t realize it yet, Paul was smarter than the rest of us.  He also liked things that went fast and had a temper, now directed at the new concrete villain.

I was nervous as usual but Paul kept insisting that we needed to face the new culvert.  “C’mon,” he said, “The workers are gone and no one will come back until Monday. Nothing’s gonna happen.”  I hated tunnels and was always afraid of getting caught, but succumbed to Paul’s insistence, thinking we could at least share the blame.  With a few hours of sunlight left, we entered the deep open drench and walked a few hundred feet to the opening of the newest completed section of the concrete channel.  From this point forward, it was a tunnel and I began to breathe harder and to take shorter steps.  Fortunately, I would soon be distracted.

“Hey, what are these?” asked Paul as he knelt and started tinkering with something.  Placed evenly along the concrete lip of the large box culvert were small, red Homelite motors that were attached to large hoses used to evacuate any nuisance water from the bottom floor as the work was being done.  Later in life we would all learn that Paul had an incredible mechanical mind, but this moment was the first hint of it.   He glanced up at me and I quickly recognized the look of determination.  “Ya know,” he said, and I could almost see his brains synapses working, “we could use one of these.”

With less than an incredible mechanical mind, I began to ask why, then stopped as I noticed the huge smile on Paul’s face.  I knew what he was thinking and I asked the question, “You’re not talking about my old go-kart, are you?”

“Yes,” he responded, “We can do this.”

I had a go-kart frame that had hung on the wall of my garage since the last blown engine and my waning interest in racing.  Paul had always wanted to get it running again, but my family was through putting money into it.  He looked at the motor.  “They’ll never miss it,” he said with a smile.  There was no going back for either of us.

We ran back to his garage to retrieve a wrench, a screwdriver and a flashlight, standard tools for a heist of this magnitude.  Within minutes, we were re-entering the culvert as the sun was setting and, in rapid time, Paul had freed the motor.  Those of us who knew him were aware of Paul’s two-stage laugh.  When something was reasonably funny, it was a smile, a softly muttered “huh” as his head and upper body rocked back.   The second stage, following something very funny or expressing enthusiasm, involved a big, loud, sometimes mischievous, laugh, arms and feet moving. He was getting excited about our new project and what was motivating us. As much as I enjoyed the big infectious laugh, this was not the time for it.  Changing the mood, I said, “Let’s just get this thing out of here and worry about the rest later.”

One on each side, we lifted the motor, carried it out of the culvert and across the now useless bridge, down Forest Avenue and past my house to Paul’s garage.  He checked in with his mother and I heard him say, “Lyle got a new motor for his go-kart and we need to work on it a little more.”  She said fine as long as he had dinner first.  A few minutes later, we hauled the motor to my garage as I informed my parents that it belonged to Paul.   Everything was okay, but now, my dinner was ready.  By the time that I finished, Paul had the engine mounted on the frame with one bolt and two small vice grips, an imperfectly acceptable short-term solution.  “We’ll finish it tomorrow,” he said, flashing me the small laugh before he ran home.

The next morning Paul was at my house before I finished breakfast.  By mid-morning, he had hooked up everything except the throttle.  These were gasoline-powered motors that were not intended to run a vehicle, but a solution was at hand that needed my approval.  “I’m just telling you this,” he said, “because you’re the one that going to be driving this thing first.”  Paul then explained his idea of connecting the throttle to a piece of cord that I would pull with my right arm to accelerate while driving with my left hand.  Those of us without mechanical skills must assume other roles, such as “guinea pig.”

We rolled the modified go-kart onto the driveway and Paul started the motor by tugging a built-in cord with a wooden handle on the end.  A small tug from my cord and I began to move forward.  Now in the street, I pulled cautiously, getting comfortable at each speed until I was at full throttle.  Who knows how fast I was going, but sitting six inches above the surface, I felt like I was breaking the land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  After slowing to a crawl and making an awkward U-turn, I accelerated for the return trip and saw Paul down the street, waving his arms and running in circles.  It was the big laugh.

We took turns driving the go-kart all weekend.  We drove it everywhere, sometimes illegally, not the best idea when your powered by a stolen motor.  We cared little, it was great fun and both of us felt in control.  Our revenge had been imposed for losing the creek.

By late Sunday afternoon, we were both getting bored with driving our “rocket machine,” and having achieved our goal, agreed that there was only one more thing to do.  As inconspicuously as we have retrieved the motor, we quietly disconnected it from the frame, gathered a few tools and returned it to the culvert as we said good-bye to the creek.  Paul was right.  They never knew it was gone. That evening, through my bath, the Ed Sullivan Show and the first few minutes after my head hit the pillow, I though about our escapades and fell asleep smiling.  It was something we had to do.

As irony would have it, both Paul and I would be driving soon and the new San Thomas Expressway helped us get to where we needed to go.  Months ago, over 50 years from our special weekend, Paul and I shared dinner and a bottle of wine.  Sometime between the salad and the entree, he leaned over and asked, “Do you remember the time we stole the Homelite motor?”

“Of course,” I responded, hoping for the big laugh.

 


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