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Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

How the West Was Wan, Installment One

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Prologue

Flying ain’t what it used to be. In the sky of my youth were stewardesses – not cabin attendants – who wore sexy uniforms and beguiling smiles on lovely faces. They fed you grapes and champagne and made you feel pampered. I once ate Beef Wellington on an airplane.

A few weeks ago, I was gazing out the window of a USAir/United jet. Fatz was lounging in the aisle seat, our gunk dumped on the empty seat between us. We were on the first leg of our pilgrimage to the Pacific northwest. “Drink?” a gravelly, lispy voice asked. I looked over to see the shaved head and Doc Holliday mustache of Thor, our cabin attendant. “A Coke, please,” I said, wondering how a muscular neck could sag low enough to hide the top half of the knot of a necktie.

“And you, sir, look like you could use a few premium Bourbons to start the day,” ordered Thor. Fatz, intimidated in his proximity to the beast, quickly agreed to buy two bottles at $25 a pop. I forget the brand. The malt is made by drawing blood from leeches specially trained to suck the last drops of bourbon out of staves from used barrels. Thor’s biceps rippled like gunny sacks full of marmosets as he poured Fatz’s drink.

“Got some free peanuts or pretzels,” said Thor, and I quickly indicated I wanted some of those.

“But you, sir, look like you could use some of our specially formulated meals in wrappers with green tea and antioxidants,” said Thor. He held Fatz in a level stare that would have caused the statue of Lincoln to melt off the chair in his memorial. Fatz promptly agreed to buy one of every food packet USAir had to sell.

“Thanks,” peeped Fatz.

“No, thank you, sir,” thundered Thor. As he pushed the service cart a few feet further along the aisle, his muscles sounded like a rugby match.

Morning clouds yielded to clear skies after we flew over the Mississippi. Curious where we might be, I spoke to Thor as he passed. Fatz slurped bourbon and nibbled at a chocolate chip granola bat’s curd yeast luncheon bar that he didn’t really want. “Excuse me, but what are we flying over?”

Thor looked at me with a screwed up face as if I were the single stupidest creature in existence. “Like…LAND!”, he said, then shook his head as he stomped up the aisle to business class.

As I said, flying ain’t what it used to be.

1.

We flew from Charlotte to Denver, thence to Portland. You’ve already met Thor. Regarding this merry little tale, I should remind you of Dick’s Caveat: Just because something might not have happened exactly as it is told does not mean that it shouldn’t have happened that way. The second leg of our flight was less stressful. Fatz had to sit in the middle, with me at the window. On the aisle was a pleasant widow who’d taught kids in Uganda, run a real estate office, and was now on the way to visit grandkids on the coast. I thought she was smitten with Fatz, but he was too shell-shocked from his experience with Thor to notice. Our attendant this time was a middle-aged female who performed her duties efficiently, but without much enthusiasm. She had a slightly pained expression as though she were suffering from an old roller derby injury.

No balloons, fireworks or ticker tape awaited us at the Portland airport. I watched over the bags while Fatz fetched the rental car. On the plane, we had decided to begin our odyssey with a drive up the Washington state side of the Columbia River, then cross the big bridge at the mouth of the river and find lodgings in Astoria, Oregon. Which we did. And the bridge was a glory, commencing with a high span over the shipping lane then descending a mile or so down to Astoria. Though the town was busy, we had no trouble finding a handy Best Western and later, over local brews and seafood at the bar of a funky bistro across the tram tracks from our motel, we found out why. Our arrival had coincided not only with a local beer and brewery fest, but on the morn would be the annual bridge walk. Any lunatic who wanted to could run or walk across the bridge.

The piano player at the bistro was a highlight of the evening. He was good. He was also inventive. In a swirling, three minutes intro to “My Funny Valentine,” he might visit chord progressions from “Happy Birthday,” “Norwegian Wood,” and “I Kissed a Girl.” This from a guy who looked like your grandparents’ insurance agent. We enjoyed what we could hear.

The high school band that awoke us the next morning consisted of a tuba, a saxophone, a flute, a bass and guitar and drums. The first runners completing the 5K portion of the bridge run were welcomed with a version of “My Sharona” which, besides being better than the original, turned the grass brown around the finish line.

We ate breakfast in the flagship restaurant of a chain of pancake houses started in 1951. Back then, they delivered a pancake on demand. Now, they flip more flapjacks than Cockney realtors flip flaps.

Fatz and I tidied ourselves at the room, then wandered over to the finish line for the Bridge Walk. It was too late to register. Already, the sweaty and tie-dyed masses were stumbling in their $250 cross-trainers across the finish line. Though we did not walk or run the bridge, we did both buy sporty tee shirts.

2.

The northern Oregon coast is a fantasy created not, as I had thought, by the clashing of continental drifts, but by the flow of lava from a string of volcanoes about 50 miles inland. Cliffs drop into the sea. Occasionally, the headlands are cracked and wedged by rivers marked by small harbor towns, or creeks that create small crescents of beach. There’s a state park at every beach, half full of the campers of folk who do not care that the water is cold enough to freeze a snowman’s cojones. And here and there, at points jutting out into the ocean, are historic lighthouses that beg to pose for obliging shutter bugs.

On the first day of driving, I think Fatz and I pulled out onto every overlook. Each view was more gorgeous that the last. I could try to describe them all, but I have no desire to write War and Peace. Plus, you’d be bored into submission within minutes – you might even start watching “Encino Housewives” on the Prurient Network. I will try to add a pic or two, maybe even with captions, when I post this on the blog. Suffice it to say, until I indicate otherwise, that as we drive, Fatz and I are seeing scenery that is somewhat above semi-mediocre.

It turns out that Fatz has a jones for sea life. The mere thought of seeing otters or seals or sea lions or whales makes his little decrepit heart go pitter-patter. He brought along binoculars in the hope of catching a glimpse of something – anything – lounging atop distant rocks or frolicking in the far surf. I’d start wondering where he was at a lookout, and there he’d be, spying on the distance like a wife on a Nantucket widow’s walk.

Which is how, on either our first or second day, we came to visit the Sea Lion’s Cave. This fabulous roadside attraction was advertised on billboard and in brochures as being the one place in the Pacific northwest where we could be guaranteed to see an army of sea lions lolling about, in a cave that is for them what the Ritz is for Americans in Paris. How special!

70 years ago, someone as generous as Bill Gates and Alfred Nobel combined sunk an elevator shaft through 140 feet of agate to afford you and I the privilege of seeing sea lions in their natural habitat. The entrance was through a Blowing Rock style gift shop with the sort of regional gewgaws available everywhere – your Oregon and Sea Lion Cave mugs, ash trays, thimbles, teacups, tee shirts, and so on and forever. The girl who took our money allowed as how the normal price for entry was $16, they were only charging $8 because there was only one sea lion in the cave that day. Figuring what the hell – one is more than none – Fatz and I forked over the cash and descended a trail down to the elevator, which only had two buttons, “Up” and “Down.”

The cave was wave-washed and wet. A wire screen stretched across a big open window into the cave designed, I guess, should some crazed lumbering mammal suddenly decide to take up rock climbing in order to terrorize tourists. The lone sea lion slept on a rock with his back to us. I guess it was a sea lion. It could have been my mom’s old mink coat. Images from a camera trained on the sea lion were displayed on a big screen TV next to the window. The sea lion’s back was smaller on the screen that it was in real life. Fatz and I glanced at each other. Other taken tourists oohed and ahead. Sufficiently edified and brimming with big blue marble feelings for our fellow creatures on this great planet. Fatz and I bolted for the elevator.

Me being me, and my health being my health, the quick walk down to the elevators was a long trek back up to the gift shop. Luckily, there was a bench halfway along the climb. As I sat there, breathing heavily, I was given to contemplate the notion of the űber giftshop as it might be splayed worldwide. Somehow, I think if I were ever to visit the Pyramids, I’d find a gift shop selling snow globes of the Sphinx!

Sometime on the first day, Fatz and I realized that if we continued pulling off at every scenic overlook, we’d exhaust our entire trip on the Oregon coast. Consequently, we forced ourselves to become connoisseurs of beauty. Mere cliffs tumbling into roiling water – bah! We would wait for rock formations with natural bridges. Broad vistas of wild surf and rolling dunes – feh! We’d wait for a beach where New York City runway models were sunbathing topless.

And, I realize that if I attempted to write a blow-by-blow description of our days on the road, I would: a) bore you to homicide, for how many verbal descriptions of similar sorts of natural beauty can a human brain tolerate.without exploding?; and, b) I would expose Fatz and I as the truly doddering limp dishrags we have become in our dotage. I mean, really, whereas I might have described bar and pub hopping our way along if this were a trip 25 years ago, nowadays I’d be describing passing with a wistful eye yet another espresso hut on the side of the road.

I will, in the post, try to include a few pics, so you’ll have an idea of what we were seeing. If you read this and see no pics, you’ll know that I proved unsuccessful. High technology and me ain’t exactly the happiest of bedfellows yet.

“The Bridge”

“Buena Vista”

“Vista Buena”

From the Redwoods of California to the Deadwoods of Carolina

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2012 at 2:07 pm

We landed in Portland after noon and got the rental car (an automatic upgrade to an Impala with a sun roof), then drove west on the Washington State side of the Columbia River. My docs won’t let me drive any more, so this was my first car trip as a passenger. Well shy of “the Breaks”, where the river meets the sea in a clamor of breakers and spray, we crossed a mammoth bridge and cast up for the night in Astoria, Oregon.

A too-nice Best Western next to a weathered Sons of Norway meeting house was the first sign that we were running a string of incredibly good luck. Below the motel was a stop for the trolley that ran into the historic downtown. The commotion in the parking lot of the nearby cafe where we dined proved to be volunteers setting up booths and stands for the finish of the annual bridge walk scheduled for the next day. This fact alone explains why we awoke the next morning to the strains of an over-amped high school combo playing “America the Beautiful” and “Tequila.”

From Astoria, we headed south along the coast. I had driven my old friend Fatz nearly mad and almost to death during several golfing jaunts through Scotland and Ireland, and it was his turn to take the helm. He tended to veer off the road for every scenic vista along the way.

North Carolinians are jaded about beaches, which are wide and broad and accessible and seldom more than a few steps away from the car. On the northern coast of Oregon, beaches are brief crescents of sand cupped by rocky cliffs, with each one more jaw-dropping than the last.

Of course, Fatz and I both are knock-overs for road-side cheese, such as the elevator down to the sea lion cave. With only one sea lion in residence at the moment, the kind folks at the gift shop charged us only half the normal fare. The lion in question, perched on a big rock far away with its back to us, could have been a stuffed animal bolted there for all I could tell. Afterward, with a map spread in the parking lot, we realized at this rate, we would not finish the Oregon coast until after the election. We definitely needed to speed things up.

In logging 2,500 miles on the odometer, we drove through tsunami warning zones, along beaches thick with dunes as big and tall as Jockey’s Ridge, by lighthouses, through redwoods thicker than a Bunce building and 10 times as tall as the Newbridge Bank building, miles of grapevines, miles of nut trees and olive trees, high desert and high grasslands. We stayed in a motel built out of a single redwood tree and one swarmed by gardens that make the Masters Garden in front of Cecil School look like a scratchpad.

Sea Lions had taken a fancy to the docks at Ft Bragg, California, where for less than a dollar you could reach out and touch one. We saw the world’s tallest sundial, Mt Shasta, Crater Lake, lava flows, a notch where the Rogue River is squeezed between cliffs no more than 25 feet apart, waterfalls, the Columbia River Gorge, the Cascades, the Olympics. There was a pull-off in the high desert where you could stand and see a string of volcanoes, including Mt Hood and, 100 miles to the north, Mt Rainier. The marker gave before and after heights for Mt St Helen’s. We drove over the “Bridge of the Gods,” rode a ferry boat, saw fish tossed in Seattle’s Pike Street Market and ate steamed mussels and clams in an outdoor bistro overlooking the market. We learned that a sun roof can actually be useful for looking upwards when driving through a redwood forest. And, as luck would have it, we enjoyed the Pacific northwest in 70 degree temps without a cloud or a drop of rain.

Best of all, when local newspapers focus on local interests, such as disputes between mom and pop and agribusiness marijuana growers, or when you are changing clothes for dinner during the wrap-up of the presidential debate, you tend to lose contact with the petrified dinosaur manure of politics these days. Having spent so much time steeping in such huge and ancient beauty, I find it hard to revive any passion for the petty squalor played out on TV news every night. Consequently, it is with a measure of peace and calm that I will close this column with mention of an article in the Portland Oregonian, which bemoaned the fact the state had become so dependably blue that presidential candidates no longer bothered to visit it. I wish more places were like Oregon.

Detours

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I apologize!

My last post left you expecting to read my column soon.  That hasn’t happened.  I did not mean to leave you twisting in the wind, but two things happened.  First, I realized that my column wasn’t due until the 23d, and I did not want to scoop the Dispatch by self-publishing before the column appeared in newsprint.  Second, before I could write a post to explain, I slipped off on one of my visits to Big Medicine.

Last Sunday, I ran a nighttime fever, but thought I’d sweated it out and felt fairly good on Monday.  That night, you could have fast cooked a rack of ribs on my forehead.  Finally heeding spousal admonitions, I agreed to drop in on the fine folk at the ER.  They bundled me into a room, took a chest x-ray, did a CT scan of my heart, gave me an EKG, took 25 minutes to put two IV needles in shrunken veins, and began pumping me full of saline solution and antibiotics.  My vitals were going bonkers.  My temp was 104.  At one point, my blood pressure was 53/38, which apparently is less than it takes to inflate a whoopee cushion.  As there was no room for me in the inn, I got to ride an ambulance over to Baptist, where I was carried by the EMT’s to an intermediate care room.

There was something about the story that sounded familiar.  Naturally, I was eagerly awaiting visitors from the east bearing Ball Park hot dogs and Channel No 5 (franks and scents for those a little slow on the uptake).  Instead, I was besieged by nurses and techs bearing needles, plugging me into pentagon computers, stealing my vital essences and I don’t know what all.  Some woman, who normally does special effects work for John Carpenter, tried to puncture my rib cage with a wand as she did an ultra-sound of my heart (and had she been successful in puncturing my rib cage, I think she’d have grabbed my heart and started snacking on it).

So it turns out I had a bout of pneumonia concentrated in the part of my right lung that had been previously radiated so heavily.  My heart took a look around to find itself so close to so much infection that it said, “Ew-w-w-!!”  That’s when my heart started A Fibbing, which is something different from what I used to do when I was a kid and a fibbed when I forgot my a homework.  As the doctor explained it to me, one side of my heart was beating 356 beats a minute, while the other side was beating 154…..or something like that.

So they started pumping me full of chemicals and monitoring the hell out of everything the could monitor and my treatment team started delivering pronouncements like “Let’s get the Lung Guys by and see what they want to do with you.”  So the Lung Guys would visit, take a gander, say looks good to us, nothing we need to do.  Which would prompt the lords of my treatment team to announce in that case, they needed the Radiation Oncology guys to come by and take a look.  Which they did.  With predictable results.  So, once every conceivable interest group in the entire danged hospital came by to take a look (even cadaver cosmetics, who did think my cheeks could use a bit of blush), my treatment team decided they could get around to releasing me once they figured out how to convert my liquid portions of drugs into pill portions (excuse me, but shouldn’t this be medico-pharmacology 101?).

There’s more, but what the hell, Archy, what the hell!  A sharp doc and sharp nurse who took over my case Friday morning insured I was able to eat supper that night at home.  And, best of all, none this A Fibbing is related to any long-term problem.  All of which meant that I got to sit in my own chair in my own den and watch my own TV as Carolina yesterday played football like it needed a trip to the ER.  To every silver lining, there’s a cloud, I always say.

And now, I can sincerely say that I’ll be posting a copy of my column soon.  Love ya, mean it!  Keep the Faith!

Return of the Naif

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Yo, earth-bound bawds and babies.

Fatz and I have returned from our most excellent adventure.  Among things I have learned about my age and health is that major travel and airtime is a killer.  I slept most of last week and since have felt about as energetic as bait at a fishing tournament.  I did muster enough strength to pen a guest column due the Dispatch for tomorrow, which I will post after it goes to print.  It is a capsule version of the trip, a Cliff’s Notes description of things seen and done.  I am already at work on the tell-all, unauthorized version of events, which I’ll post in installments, or maybe in its entirety – I dunno:  let’s see how it goes.

I do want to set the record straight about one thing right now.  The Pacific northwest is rumored to be wet and cool, mossy as a cave.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Fatz and I enjoyed sunny, cloudless days with temps in the 60’s and 70’s.  One night was cloudy.  There was low-lying haze a lot of days, but what the hell.  I think the reputation for a rainy climate has been nurtured and spread by devious cranks, who want to keep as many people away as possible.   If the ocean water weren’t a year round 38 degrees, the area would be known as the Riviera of America.

I don’t know that I have any other revelations that are quite as startling, but there you go.  Keep reading.

Live long, prosper and drink artisanal beer!!

Beno

Westward, Ho III

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Sunday, Oct 7, Olympia, WA:  Since last entry, left CA coast, zig-zagged with a quick nod at Napa Valley, then bolt north.  Have seen grape vines, walnut a d olive groves, cattle lands, high desert, Mt Shasta, Crater Lake – big wet hole in a hill – world’ tallest sundial, pumice desert, lava ruins, Mt Hood, high grasslands, Columbia River gorge – big ditch – waterfalls, and last night, ate supper in funky restaurant that featured 79 different cheeses and cured European meats.  When do you reckon we will finally encounter some variety? Hope I don’t have to look too hard for a good cups joe in Seattle.

Toots, ya’ll!

Westward Ho II

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Oct 5, Friday, pre-dawn in Red Rock, CA:  My hopes of regular updates crashed like surf on rocks if Oregon coast. Connectivity hasbeen sketchy. Blog site maes updating a chore. So, Wednesday was big tree day, winding through forests of redwoods skyscraper high. Stayed one night in motel constructed from one tree. Yesterday, more rocky, glamorous coast, laid-back villages like Mendocino full of reefer smoke, then breakaway at Jenner. We nodded at Napa Valley, realizing itenerary needed some hustle. Now on fringe of big hills. I would be having a better time only if I didn’t have to squint at everything. Grinning makes my cheeks swell!

Talley Ho.

Beno