The Little Things

It's easy to overlook the little things.

Sometimes they can get in the way of the bigger, more important things.

But other times, they can provide a little haven of sorts, as they have lately for me.

And often times, a lot of smaller things can add up to a bigger, really important thing.

Here's some visuals of some of those smaller things - recognize any of them?

Kudos to you if you can figure out all six. And special thanks to a childhood favorite, Games Magazine, for getting me and my crappy digital camera some inspiration yesterday...



Double-ought numbers ruled the day today.

700, as in the number of fires dotting the landscape of my home state here of California as of the time of this posting. The smoke lingers and builds, having no incentive nor any push to leave. The sun struggles to pierce this layer, and often looks more like a laser pointer in a dimly-lit classroom than the light-bearing and life-giving celestial body it normally is.

500, as in the number of cc's of blood for re-tranfusion that I donated to myself for my upcoming marrow harvest next week. Compared to be first time when I donated blood, the actual drawing went a lot more quickly, thanks to the good efforts of the staff. And in this case, the side effects of a running lifestyle (low heart rate) thankfully didn't throw a wrench into this donation; I had tried to donate after the first time but too low a heart rate and blood pressure sabotaged those attempts.

300, as in seconds I got to interact in person with M and B. That figure still might be overestimating it some, but even in spite of that mere sliver of time of personal interaction, I still feel sad that they won't be doing...

100, as in the Western States 100 Mile Race this weekend. The sheer omnipresence of the previously mentioned fires has canceled one of the biggest events in the ultra-running world. Both M and B were going to be first-time participants to this marquee event, and their disappointment that the hard work they've put in the past few months has essentially been trumped by the power of nature gone amok must be incredibly palpable.

200, as in miles I've eked out of my current tank of gasoline. I've been in the midst of an experiment to see how much extra gas mileage I can get out of my car by basically driving more smartly. So far so good, as I still have over half-a-tank left, and by informal calculations, I'm set to get around 10 more mpg than the original EPA estimates on my car.


Extractions And Distractions

I haven’t thought much if at all about the big day in roughly a week or so, but I find now it’s creeping into my head, slowly but inexorably.

When I have thought about the day, it has always been in an objective and somewhat disconnected view. Bone marrow extraction is a relatively trouble-free and uncomplicated procedure, from all I’ve been told and all I’ve read. There can be a bit of a recovery period, but with some good luck, I’ll be below the median on the bell curve. And in thinking about the recipient, you gauge the chances for ultimate success and remission.

Of course there’s the negative, the dreaded “what if” - you have to take that into consideration regardless. This is hardly the run-of-the-mill “paper or plastic” type of decision by any means.

During those moments I have thought about that day, I’ve viewed it somewhat similarly to how I view a running race, as I’m toeing the line waiting for the starting gun to fire. Similar to my of thinking about this procedure, I have a somewhat disconnected yet objective view of the race to be - general notions of pace, weather considerations, the locations of aid stations, my level of training prior and other particulars.

In truth, I really don’t know what’s going to happen until I have made the needed steps to reach the finish line, the end point. And that seems true for almost everything in life - each event has its own unique experience and has its own unique outcome.

Like the run race, I find there’s no sense dwelling on the negative here. I just look forward and try to embrace the most positive result possible. Of course, there is much more on the line here than mere personal best times or missing a mile marker to record a split. This could be a life changer.

And God willing, it will be, and in a very, very GOOD way...


Poker Face

I have been using public transit and carpools for the last five-plus years as a matter of convenience and pocketbook friendliness (transit subsidies as job benefits are always appreciated.) But as gasoline starts reaching the $4.50 level in many parts of this area, many more formerly car-bound people have been forced to brave the pitfalls that I've grown accustomed to all this time.

The temperature hovered in the high-90s when I boarded the bus today. I knew it would be crowded; the previous bus driver decided to break the timed transit protocol with the local BART train and sped away as we ran for the bus stop. This meant this next bus would be taking on our stranded behinds plus the typical next three train loads minimum.

A so-called "Spare The Air" day had also been declared for the area. This meant the final installment of free rides for many of the transit agencies here, and who can't resist the allure of a free ride these days? This added more people to the already crowded mix.

This bus ride would be a doozy, judging from the overalls-clad man sweating and smoking up a nice waft of swirling toxicity that might be rivaled by the nearby Chevron refinery on a good (or should that be bad) day.

Not that any of us "normal" clothes-clad types were fresh-smelling either. A huge dose of "Hai Karate" cologne may not be more preferable, but I figured it would down to the bottom of the ninth with a two-strike count before one or the other choice won out in the olfactory department.

I got on pretty quickly and started to nap. It wouldn't be that bad if I could get some alpha and maybe even a few theta waves going in my cerebral cortex.

And then it happened. *POKE*

I had figured out with my eyes closed that the seats had been re-adjusted to accommodate the final passengers for that trip, which included a mother and her two kids. Yes, it was one of those youngsters driving his finger right in the center of the back of my head. I guess I knew now what seats they had...


This one was more situated on the right shoulder, closest to the window. "Oh oh," I thought as I tried to refocus on my

*POKE POKE POKE POKE POKE POKE POKE POKE* The fusillade that was the finger came furiously now, slowly ascending from my shoulder up my trapezius to my fun, floppy earlobe.

"Sit back, stop bothering him!" I heard the mother admonish her child, but she seemed to be having trouble with her other youngster.

Sure enough, the rat-a-tat-tat of his digit came back in force, but this time it was enhanced by a primal pronoun pronouncement.


I tried to play it cool, unlike the bus' air conditioner, which had cut out as the bus pulled away. A little friendly response never hurt. "Yep, that's me."

Evidently, he wasn't convinced, and needed more concrete evidence. Each "YOU" corresponded a more firm *POKE* as he explored new territory such as my cheek and neck. More admonishments from the harried mother went unheeded, as my mind turned to, of all things, the cartoon character Johnny Bravo. My memory could be wrong, but I seemed to recall him in an episode trying to shake someone's hand, only to see that someone manhandle him overhead onto the ground front and back, like a demon-possessed pendulum, until he was battered senseless. It would be so easy to grab that hand and...

(Okay, there are laws against that, I do believe. And I would never do that kind of stuff. Maybe I'll just recheck that tonight, though, just to be sure.)

Ahh, but as things were building up to Bravo...suddenly, silence. Not a peep, or even a *POKE*. A minute or two, and I tensed up, suspicious that this was just preparation for a sneak attack. Alas, my suspicions were correct - a hand lurched over my shoulder.

This time, though, the voice sounded like a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll whose batteries were about to go Robert Conrad and get knocked off the shoulder to a merciful demise. "HWALUUH-ALA-HUUUULAHH-AAAALUUUUUUUUUH."

Yes, not a peep from him the rest of the trip, amazingly enough. However, that didn't stop his sister from testing her vocal range capabilities.

A shriek that acted like a bunker-busting bomb for the human eardrum pierced through the dull roar of the bus engine and other scattered conversations. Judging on the varying pitches emitted within one single shriek, this young gal just might have a future in learning a tonal language like Yoruba, Punjabi or Mandarin. Sadly though, tinnitus would be the order for the rest of this trip.

As I got up to deboard the bus, a passenger behind me declared, "Boy, am I glad that this is MY stop!" to much laughter. Good to see that the gathered throng could still find humor about this ride home; maybe free rides on the bus are a stronger elixir to cure minor pains than I figured.


Ants In My Rants

In the spirit of Rube Goldberg let me tell you the easiest way to get an ant colony to reside inside your automobile. Believe you me, it's really pretty simple when you think about it.

Step A: Drop two quarters into newspaper machine - buy one “Super Tuesday” edition of the local newspaper to read about Barack Obama’s big delegate haul on the first big day of the 2008 Democratic Primary, amongst other things. Throw newspaper in back of wagon for future reading and other unforeseen usefulness

Step B: Insert one twisty screw lying on your friendly neighborhood local Interstate freeway into left rear tire of vehicle - said tire goes flat, forcing you to change over to the emergency tire. Previously described newspaper, along with other random scrap energy bar wrappers, trash, and other food items, slips down into wheel well during change

Step C: Visit the nearby Sears Tire Center to have them replace damaged tire. However, due to time constraints (you need to make an evening appointment) newspaper and other trash remains in wheel well.

Step D: Later on, run over one 4-foot metal bar, bent at 90 degree angle, on different section of friendly neighborhood local Interstate freeway - pull over to side of road as bar continually makes loud clanking against bottom of car while entrapped on rear axle. After extracting said metal bar from axle you notice no obvious damage and drive away fairly satisfied your car has made it through relatively unscathed. However, despite your diligence, you have missed...

Item E: One two-inch gash in the metal of the raised section of the wheel well wall, made from initial collision of bar and car

Step F: Pay $1.00 for one plastic 2-liter bottle of Arrowhead water at Market of Choice, Eugene, Oregon - you’re playing it smart actually. You never now what might happen on the long journey back home to Northern California by way of Crater Lake.

Step G: Even after trip is over, keep bottle in back of wagon just in case. Of course, who would think that you would encounter...

Item H: One intense 3-day heatwave - your Step F water purchase, trapped in its new heat-conducive environment, expands to the point of leakage. Water now drips through fake plastic panel down to wheel well. Previously bought newspaper mentioned in Step A soaks liquid up like a sponge. Now go to...

Step I: Eat (approximately) thirty in-car meals over the next month or so - after all, you’re a commuter, and on-the-go meals, snacks, and other food and beverages are just part of the natural order. In the meantime, continually park your car next to

Item J: A forever-foraging Argentine ant colony in a nearby lawn - said ant colony has made many an invasion in your abode, leading to constant bouts of irritation. And unfortunately for you...

Item K: an enterprising ant scout, discovers that Item E exists and finds a nice warm, moist environment from the now soaked newspaper and some yummy morsels down in the wheel well described in Step A.

Step L: Have Item K inform Item J that Item E exists to set up...

Item M: An ant foraging team of hundreds to enter through still-unknown to you Item E not only to forage existing discoveries, but also to trek around nooks and crannies of hatchback car for other food sources. Sure enough, Item M soon discovers that the yummy particulate matter that you generated in Step I is around the car floor in abundance. Jackpot!

Step N: Take trip over to museum of one of your favorite cartoonists. Ignore warning sign of a couple ants on napkin smushed into drink well next to you during the journey over there.

Step O: Before visiting museum, purchase but don’t completely finish an egg-white omelet with sausage, green peppers, zucchini and pepper jack cheese, along with home fries and wheat toast, from old town brunch restaurant. Package said meal in typical foam container for later consumption. Place foam container in paper bag in place in back of wagon before entering museum destination.

Step P: Leave museum after satisfying visit. Open hatchback to find several hundred frenzied ants having a gleeful time on food contents obtained in Step O.

Step Q: CAREFULLY place contents obtained in Step O plus gleeful Item M hangers-on inside plastic bag and tie bag firmly. Deposit entire package inside nearby garbage can.

Step R: Pick up Step F's Arrowhead bottle and commune with its utter emptiness. Pull up on fake panel to peer underneath, and greet your vision with hundreds more frenzied ants, the soaking wet newspaper and assorted trash described in Step A, and the previously unknown Item E.

Step S: Go to drivers seat to leave and notice ants from the now somewhat crippled Step M mob crawling on foot panel below. Open up all doors and brush off any found ants onto the ground below before closing up the car and driving away.

Step T: Drive to nearby mall and buy your personal favorite pretzel of the moment (in this case, jalapeƱo cheese) and walk out of said mall around downtown.

Yes, you just may be feeling like the biggest idiot in the world, but neither your bout with clutter, a battle with a swarm of Linepithema Humile, nor a two-inch gash in your car that you hadn’t known about previously aren’t going to ruin the fruits of a nice leisurely walk through downtown on a nice summer day.


A Wishy-Washy Time

Work's been crazy, and I'm feeling just a little worn down in general from a long week, so what do I do? I went to connect with my favorite blockhead.

The Charles M. Schulz Museum, centered around the cartoonist known world-wide through his Peanuts characters, and known to his closest friends as Sparky, is but an hour's drive away from my living quarters. I have always been a Peanuts fan and those jazzy scores by Vince Guaraldi, and as a kid, I related big time to the numero uno blockhead himself, Charlie Brown.

As I discovered, you can't walk around Santa Rosa, California, without seeing the influence of one the town's favorite sons somewhere, mainly through the life-size statues which are placed throughout town on street corners and sidewalks, as well as main public gathering places, including Sparky's favorite Coddingtown Mall, which was a favorite escape place when he needed to take a break from his work from his nearby studio.

From what I could gather at my time there at the museum, townfolk appreciated Schulz's penchant for just being as ordinary a guy as a super-famous cartoonist can be. My discussion with one of the very friendly volunteers at the museum, Rose, talked about his love of athletics, the trips to the mall to camp out mainly at the bookstore, and his dealings with other cartoonists, from Lynn Johnston (For Better Or Worse), Patrick McDonald (Mutts), and Stephan Patsis (Pearls Before Swine). She also touched on how he would try to at least give some constructive advice on budding cartoonists' work, no matter how wretched their work happened to be.

Schulz's real athletic love was hockey, which I imagine was imported from
his birthplace of Minnesota. In fact, the bio tape that's available on the
museum website and plays in a room filled with comfy beanbags and other casual foamball seats shows the cartoonist looking quite sprightly banging in a goal in his mid-70s during a seniors tourney game. In fact, he opened up the Redwood Empire Ice Arena back in 1969, which not only hosts regular skating and hockey leagues, but hosts concerts and can be rented out for birthday parties and similar events. I guess this also explains the decent selection of hockey supplies at the nearby gift shop.

Every second Saturday the museum has an guest Cartoonist-In-Residence, and I got to meet this month's invitee Pam Stalker who has worked on stuff like Oregon Trail 5, Strawberry Shortcake and the PowerPuff Girls. I caught her near the end of her time there, but even in that shortened session, I found the portfolios that she had brought over to be varied and quite well-done, and covering a wide-swath of animation and illustration works. More importantly, she was very pleasant to talk to, and I found it a little funny that I could relate to her in that we had trouble mastering the drawing pencils at first, being "number 2 pencil" sketchers. Of course in my case, I never did progress past that point like Ms. Stalker has (and then some to boot, obviously) and my regular sessions of sketching pretty much died once I left college.

This world-wide appeal for the Peanuts comics and cartoons was evident in the people I passed by looking at the exhibits. I heard many different languages spoken as I walked past, and the kind volunteer Rose mentioned that I'd probably want to check out the Beethoven exhibit due to open up later this year, since I actually lived in the area, unlike many of the people she offered her rich tidbits of Schulz history prior, who were visiting from greater distances.

Bottom line, I'd say anyone who has any soft spot for Peanuts characters and happens to be in the Santa Rosa area would definitely enjoy spending a few hours in Sparky's Museum. Don't bring a kite, however, or the kite-eating tree in the courtyard in the back might just do it's dirty work, as it has done many a time to our loveable but wishy-washy young Mr. Brown.


Flight Or Fight

This could perfectly describe the attitude of most people who choose to brave the nation's skyways on almost any of the domestic airline carriers. I figure if I'm going to be traveling for another big meetup with my running friends, I'll have to bite the bullet myself eventually unless the get-together is within relatively close driving distance (which will involve another different biting the bullet, but that's another story)

Service sucks. Fees increase both in number and price. Moods on both sides of the aisle sour.

But then again, is anyone really surprised?

Of course, there's no excuse for the crappy service and attitudes that have become the norm. In some sense, I think this is a perfect example of contempt breeding contempt. Miserably treated passengers engage miserably treated employees (anyone remember the retirement plans gone belly up, massive layoffs, and renegotiated reduced pay & benefits contracts?) inside a cramped, thin tube of metal. Not exactly a fertile ground for nirvana to blossom.

And if you think about it, the prices are all relative. I cringe myself when I see that that cross-country fare may not be in that sub-$300 range the next time I have to pony up, but there was a time when airlines were pretty much exclusively the realm of the well-financed. Interesting that I found this column this evening pretty much reflects my views.

Just for, uh, fun, I checked out airfare for a flight from SFO to JFK on a hypothetical birthday celebration roundtrip for a week - the lowest fare is roughly $400 including those new baggage fees I figure I'd have to pay. But I make $400 easily after one paycheck even after taxes.

According to the U.S. census, the median income back when I was about born (late 1960s) was a little under $9000 annually. Keep that same fare range (I don't think bargain basement fares really hit the airline industry until deregulation started going in the 1970s) and you can see that not only a $400 fare back then would've been a bigger chunk out of the average Joe's (ahem) pocketbook, but that same $400 could pay for a lot more amenities for a typical airline.

I suppose all this doesn't make it any easier though for the modern day traveler. Pretty much everyone grumbles that we're flying the "fiendly" skies these days, and I think that trend will pretty much transform into the status quo before too long.


Going Back To Cali, Cali, Cali

As all things, good or bad, must do, they must end. And now, it was time to head back for my home in Northern California.

The experience that was Oregon soon began to slide one grain at a time into from the present into the vast memory bank that most people carry deep within their minds. There were still some interesting tidbits that the nation's 33rd state still had in store. Upper Klamath Lake proved to be soothing in its own right, which surprised me a bit after the incredibly breathtaking vision that greeted me at Crater Lake just a couple hours beforehand.

I passed through Klamath Falls (where the heck are the falls, by the way?) and encountered something right at the border that I'd figure California would be on the cutting edge of in terms of modern conveniences - a wi-fi enabled rest area. If I had seen the sign sooner, I would've stopped over and broken out the laptop to test the setup.

Alas, I was back in California, but a few more picturesque surprises awaited, one of which was racing a train. Entering the small town of Dorris, a long train cut off the flow of traffic entering town. Considering how the road coiled through here with sharp turns and stop signs that limited speed, this speed-burner of a train got quite a lead before I was able to catch up again. With no cars at all for miles at a time on this stretch of the highway, I imagined myself in the Old West as a lone ranger of sorts, saddled up on my thoroughbred horse and racing against modern technology itself as the volcanic cone of Mt. Shasta gained more prominence in the windshield.

Later on, I was treated to the most picturesque valley of epic Hollywood pioneers venturing west/Cinemascope blockbuster movie that hasn't been made in seemingly eons. If that style of movie ever did make a comeback, I'd suggest that the film crew come up here, if only to shoot some spectacular setting shots for their project.

Soon enough though, the virgin territory I had been traveling through became the once-ventured as I drove into Weed to reconnect with I-5 back to Redding and points south. The discovery and thrill of the prior few hours soon transformed into the mundaneness of brownish farm fields, scattered Indian Casinos, and hundreds of bugs splattered on the front side of my vehicle.

California, rest in peace
Simultaneous release
California, show your teeth
You're my priestess, I'm your priest

California, you're no Oregon, at least for those almost three days I was traveling through the latter. But you are home to me, and it was time to return to your comforts


On The Oregon Trail, Part 4

After post-Eugene Marathon festivities at and one more night staying at my host Chris' humble abode, I set off back home to Northern California. I didn't drive this far up to Oregon just to drive straight back, however, so I took a detour and headed over to Crater Lake, about which I've heard tremendous things.

The drive down State Route 58 out of Eugene was a leisurely yet beautiful one; nature was in full force as I made headway into the national forest and the mountains of the Cascades. Trees, streams, and lakes like Lookout Point, Odell, and Crescent, blended well with an absolutely gorgeous mid-Spring morning. In some ways, you didn't mind getting stuck for a bit behind a big-rig wending slowly in front of you during one of this road's one-lane both ways/no-passing sections.

The northern entrance was still closed at this time of the year, so I would have to head down US 97 and turn back around up SR-62 to the (mostly) open year-round southern entrance. Even though the drive wasn't as scintillating on US 97, the landscape seemed to be another variation on volcanic landscapes, one where the land had to regenerate itself after the devastating effects of eruptions and other related forces.

As with most of this journey, the increases in elevation were somewhat imperceptible, and this remained the trend when I finally got onto SR-62 and headed back northward. It reminded me of the San Francisco Bay Area, where you can drive 10 minutes and experience a 10 degree shift in temperatures; in this case, you go from relative warmth to snow-lined roadways in about as short a time.

Crater Lake is within the cone of the former Mt. Mazama, which 7700 years ago erupted so much mass out, it lost its support and collapsed onto itself into a caldera. Once the volcanic activity stopped almost 3000 years later, the water, which had simply evaporated away before, began to collect from the snow, rain, and other runoff. Evaporation and other forces have now balanced themselves out now so that this lake, which is the deepest in the U.S., only varies by three feet annually. Also, the water itself is supposed to be some of the purest in terms of lack of pollutants on the entire North American continent.

The crowd was Monday-lite and I felt as I stepped out of my car in Rim Village and breathed the crisp, clean air that I would be in for a visual treat. Indeed, the first visual of Crater Lake in all its glory as I trudged up the icy snowbank to the overlook is indescribable by mere words. Even the pictures that I shot only hint at the beauty, stillness, and in a way, other worldliness of where I was standing at that very moment. Nevertheless, here are those pictures, presented in slideshow format.

Crater Lake Photo Slideshow

I definitely would love to get to Crater Lake and just this entire region of Oregon again. If I do make the trip again though, I'd love for it to be with a friend or a group of friends - a vision such as that that greeted me that day would be much better shared with people for whom you care.


Logey On Your Right, Maverick

Someone who I know asked me why I was looking so glum today.

It's funny how expressions can be interpreted in so many different ways.

I'm not really glum about things. I'm mentally overworked, and maybe that's what's showing through in my facial features. A good night's sleep would help, but frankly I need a few of those nights in a row at this point, and that's not going to happen anytime soon.

I was in line a couple days ago audibly mumbling when some dude cut directly in line in front of me. I'm pretty good about letting things like that slide, but I didn't have the energy this time, and I mumbled on for quite a bit. I even thought ahead to the possibility he might respond, and I thought of saying, "Yeah, you cut in front of me and I'm mumbling about it...so?" or some similar B.S.

I'm probably not the greatest cheer-you-up source right now, but I'm not really in any mood to go all Muddy Waters and break out the blues chords on the gee-tar either.

I think David Letterman had a term for it - feeling logey. So that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.


Laying Dorm-ant

If Mr. Sandman were to tell my tale, I've been living in college dorms for the past several months.

These dreams are getting to be annoying. Every week it seems I get placed in a situation where I'm in the last day before I have to leave the dormitory, and I'm faced with either a decision or a harried bit of travel of some sort.

A month or so ago, I had to leave my dormitory, which was located in Chicago, to make it over to Boston. For whatever reason, I decided I didn't want to fly out of Chicago, so I made my way toward Indianapolis instead.

A couple weeks ago, I had a party raging on in my dorm. Weird collection of people, from family members to online friends to co-workers to utter strangers. I was worried I wouldn't be able to clear the partiers out of the room and clean up before I had to check out.

Let's not even mention the two or three times I've had visions of checking out of my dorms in Toronto, Ontario, of all places, trying to rush over to the airport loaded with all my junk to make a flight at the airport back to the U.S.

And last night, I had to decide whether to clear out my dorm for the summer, or whether the school actually covered the costs of my room and I could still use it in lieu of making a long commute from home to take classes. The indecision I went through as to whether to pack or not was torturous.

Well, at least I haven't gotten any of those "trying to desperately find the location of a final for a class that I've barely studied for" dreams that were the norm for a long while. That got REAL old and then some...