Saturday, June 26, 2004

Stupid Human Trick

Last Sunday night we were driving home via Highway 101. We were just north of Prunedale when suddenly traffic came to a dramatic slowdown. I had to slam the brakes to keep from rear-ending the guy in front, as did the guy in front to keep from hitting the guy ahead of him, and so on.

When I had an opportunity to get into the left lane and pass whatever it was, I was dumbfounded. A medium sized car had a large load of small diameter tree trunks lashed to its roof! [Insert Looney Tunes theme here.] They extended a good eight feet beyond both the front and rear of the car, sagging to block the driver's view. There was no flag or reflector on the rear end to warn vehicles behind.

It doesn't get much stupider than this, folks.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Evolution of the breath mint

I was thinking about Altoids the other day. Those Curiously Strong peppermints in that old-fashioned looking tin. They're everywhere nowdays. They even played a prominent role in the Ken Starr report. (I still want to know how they help.)

Do you remember the days before Altoids?

Tic Tacs were the mint of choice a decade ago. Tic Tacs were introduced sometime in the late '70s I think. They were shaped like the white half of Tylenol, and were just the right size to get stuck in a kid's nose. I know of one case where it actually happened (in this particular case it was an orange one).

Anyway, they came in a little clear plastic container with a flip top lid. They came in all kinds of flavors, but we're talking about mints, so let's get on with it.

People had to deal with bad breath in the late '60s and early '70s, and the Tic Tac hadn't been invented yet. That was the reign of Certs. Certs contained a "sparkling drop of Retsyn, [bling!] to stop bad breath." Today anything called Retsyn probably wouldn't get past the EPA, but circa 1965 it was considered to be the ultimate in anti-halitosis technology. My mom carried Certs in her purse for many years.

A footnote to the Certs story: when I was a kid I had a map of the solar system on my wall. There is a large asteroid between Earth and Mars called Ceres, but its name was in small print, and from my bed it looked like "Certs." I thought it odd to have a breath mint named after an astronomical object (or was it vice-versa?).

Before Certs, there was the humble peppermint Life Savers. I always liked to play with those because they looked like little life preservers. They'd fit in well on the rail of a model boat. 'Cept I didn't have a model boat. My dad was a Life Savers man. Probably because he once had a real boat.

But none of this matters to me because I'm not a big fan of candy mints, unless they're soft and chocolaty.* I read somewhere once a long long time ago that candy mints have just the right combination of ingredients to accelerate tooth decay. Don't know if that's true. Prolly ain't.

I have also heard it said that you should never refuse a breath mint when offered. That may be good advice.

*Addendum: After reading this my sister reminded me of Junior Mints, which I also like. They're soft, but only chocolately on the outside, which is good enough.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Another historic building goes down.

Monterey lost another piece of its history yesterday. The old Southern Pacific freight depot was turned into a pile of splinters, courtesy of the Monterey City Council.

The SP freight depot, which was built in 1915, was the last piece of evidence that Monterey once had a thriving freight railroad system, which enabled the development of local industry. It stood immediately east of the entrance to the Muncipal wharf, near the corner of Figeuroa and Del Monte. It was a long, yellow building on a raised platform. On the street side trucks would unload goods on the dock. On the other side, they would be loaded into boxcars. Or vice versa.

The Monterey City Council had its mind made up several years ago. When the city acquired this plot of land, known as the Catellus property (Catellus being the real estate division of SP), the council's first instinct was to tear everything down to open up views and make a park. A nice enough idea, but there is already ample shoreline parkland in the neighborhood. The Catellus property is unique in that it has two tenants with recreation oriented businesses: Adventures By The Sea and Monterey Bay Kayaks. After lengthy debate the council reluctantly decided they could stay. For now, anyway.

Sparing these businesses effectively negated any view benefits that would be achieved by tearing down the freight depot, because Adventures By The Sea still blocks the view. Yet that continued to be the rationale for demolishing the freight depot.

But first the council's plan still had to be run past the city's Historic Preservation and Planning Commissions. Both of these agencies, after much research and public hearings, recommended that the freight depot be preserved.

The City Council formally thanked these agencies for their work, then ignored it. They argued that there was no practical use for the building, and that it was ugly.

But history was not always pretty. Look at Cannery Row. The freight depot was every bit as significant as the warehouses on Cannery Row, which we have gone to great lengths to preserve. The freight depot gave the Catellus property a historical context and character. As for the alleged fault of being ugly, the buildings that remain are hardly architectural jewels, one being a plain concrete box, the other corrugated metal, and they have no historic significance whatsoever. As for potential uses, it would have been ideal, with minor modification, as a new passenger depot when (not if, for it is inevitible) passenger trains return to Monterey, as is currently being planned.

Monterey takes pride in its privately owned, and state owned historic buildings, yet when it comes to preserving one on city property, a different standard seems to apply.

Monday, June 7, 2004

A visit to Carmel Point

Today on my way home from work, I took a walk around Carmel Point. I haven't had a chance to do that for a long time.

I noticed some whale spouts in the distance. Probably a Blue Whale, which are known to inhabit these waters this time of year.

When I got to the southwest corner of the point, I looked out on my favorite view in the whole wide world. The waves today were quite large and spectacular. They washed up on the crescent beach to form a foamy fan.

This place has always had a special draw for me, something transcendent. I can't describe how it affects me, but whenever I'm here, all is right with the world.

I climbed down to the rocks for a closer look at the ocean. As I watched the waves come in I suddenly became consciously aware of the almighty Spirit behind them. Every drop of water I saw as a spiritual idea, all coordinated in a beautiful thing called a wave. Suddenly everything felt alive, and I felt I was part of this glorious wonder, and it was part of me.

After several minutes I turned around to head back along the beach. I looked back up at Scenic Road, at the sharp bend where it turns east. I saw there an attractive couple. He had curly greying hair, she had long golden hair topped with a straw hat, brightly lit by the early evening sun. The two were standing, embraced in a passionate, lingering kiss, right there on the road. They were a beacon of pure Love illuminating this sacred place.

I got a banjo!

I got my banjo on the 4th. Ordered it from It is a Gold Tone CC100R, and it sounds terrific. I already know one short song called "Bile Dem Cabbage Down."

(Mind you, bile and cabbage are not words I care to associate. Better to say "boil" and let the regional accents sort themselves out.)

I had to  order it on line because when shopping I found hardly anybody in Monterey County sells banjos. Music Unlimited in downtown Monterey only had one 6 string (for guitar players who don't want to migrate to a real 5 string banjo). The stores in Salinas had one expensive Fender between them, plus one electric which wasn't an option.

Sylvia Williams in Seaside had a used Epiphone for $350. But I thought it sounded kinda dull and plunky. She didn't have much banjo knowledge, other than to say "Epiphones are good." Nice lady, but she didn't inspire confidence. I found out later the Epiphone has an aluminum pot instead of a wooden one, hence the plunky sound.

My new Gold Tone is all maple, and has a really nice ring to it. John at was a great help. (I actually ordered over the phone, not on-line, so I could ask a bunch of questions and get direct advice.) Everything arrived in good condition and it was ready to play. After some minor tuning it was ready to go. I love it!


NB: See also this earlier entry: Do I Need a Banjo?

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Where are all the fat people?

Its the biggest news story of the day. Obesity is taking over America. Children are horribly overweight. Porkers are everywhere! 

You just can't see 'em. Believe me, I've looked.

Yeah, statistics show, so they say, that unhealthy fat people are everywhere. And kids, they're all roly-polys. It said so on the news, so it must be true.

So where are they?

Most people look pretty normal to me. Sure there's a fat one here and there, but that has been true throughout history. And that hardly constitutes a widespread epidemic.

Maybe they're all concentrated in the Ozarks or something and that's skewing the statistics for the rest of us. (No offense against Ozarkans intended, I'm just using that as an example.) 

Certainly these statistics don't jibe with another widespread concern that Americans, particularly females, are obsessed with being skinny. I still can't figure out if there are too many skinny women or too many fat people. The reports indicate both are happening at the same time. I do see a lot of skinny women, though. Too skinny to have curves.*

And all of these unhealthy diets must surely be killing people right and left. Yet longevity is at an all time high, or so they say. I'm not sure that's true either. They say that 150 years ago the average person only lived to be about 40. Yet Mark Twain lived to be 70 something. If that was unusual no doubt he would have been an attraction at a circus side show. "See a 70 year old man!"

Anyway, methinks the fat police need a real job.

*Some of them show up on MTV with silicone balloons to pretend they have breasts.

Addendum 6/15/04: My sister, who is one of only two people who actually read this journal, informs me that the fat people are not in the Ozarks after all. They're in Marion County, Oregon.