Few Comforts For Old Men, A Travelogue
by Jake Rohrer, August 23, 2017
I call it a pilgrimage, a journey that includes destinations and people I very much look forward to seeing and being with. Tempering somewhat my enthusiasm and desires surrounding such excursion is the fact that it requires that I step into the world of commercial travel as offered up by the business-driven culture and society in which we live. The older I become, the more I discover that the act of travel for commoners is woefully bereft of the comforts and well being I have become accustomed to in my stationary life and that the cost of first-class accommodations is beyond my budget, not to mention conscience. Travel was once a joyful and exciting adventure, always longed for and looked forward to whenever time and money allowed. Now that there seems to be enough of both (time and money), I find that travel, especially by myself, is a lonely undertaking more difficult and challenging than ever, a sometimes disconcerting endeavor that requires forethought and focus throughout lest I become reduced to a non-entity by the digital machinery that rules over every aspect of my journey. It's a good idea not to get too relaxed about any of it, take nothing for granted.
When you live on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, travel options are limited. The choice of travel by car, bus, train, thumb, or even boat, doesn't exist until I negotiate the first 2,500 miles or so in what to me has all the character and style of a cattle car that flies. It is boarded only after I have been herded through loading aisles and ramps packed with hundreds of my travel-kind, all of us subjected to search and steely-eyed examination by authoritarian police, some of whom, admittedly and occasionally, are actually pleasant human beings. They nonetheless issue stern orders and I produce my papers (boarding pass and ID), remove my jacket, shoes, watch, belt, the contents of my pockets, and the toiletries from my carry-on, and load everything onto an inspection conveyor. I remember fondly the old days when I could bring along my Swiss Army Knife, a pair of manicure scissors, a bottle of water, a corkscrew and a bottle of wine, and other personal comforts, without being subjected to rigid rules and search.
Having made my way through the initial steps, I am then directed into a chamber where, arms held high overhead, my private parts and the rest of me are scanned by a robotic x-ray machine with a great sweeping arm, searching for contraband, weapons, explosives and the like. Following this indignity, I step from the enclosure and am told to stand on footprints painted on the floor while another officer further scans my person with a handheld device as though the robot, occupied with my personal dimensions, might have missed something. In the hurried confusion to reclaim my jacket and personal items from the conveyor and cinch my belt before losing my pants while searching for a place to put on my shoes, I realize that someone is trying to get my attention: I have neglected to reclaim my shoulder bag, still on the conveyor and holding up progress. Who, me?
Soon enough I realize I am way early for my flight, having planned ahead and allowed time for unforeseen delays, crowds and emergencies, conditioned and bullied by travel industry warnings that instruct early arrival so that they will have the extra time to make their agenda work for them. You, however, risk being locked out of your flight should you arrive at the gate later than 15 or 20 minutes before scheduled departure.
Now I must spend the next two hours among a milling, grazing, murmuring drove of travelers, most of whom are occupied with handheld personal devices that draw their attentions into a world other than the one they physically occupy. Finally I am again herded into a loading aisle and onto an inclined passageway that leads me to my assigned and limited corral space, thinking it a miracle that I have reached my allotted confine without having been prodded with an electric stick, branded, inoculated, or moreover, castrated. Once seated I discover there is a metal box mounted under the seat in front of me having something to do with the distribution of the passenger media network, easily taking up half of the limited foot room. I'd like a word or two with the design engineers who decided this was a good idea. Only then do I register that my regular morning routine has been shuttled asunder by travel anxiety and I haven't been able to move my bowels, heralding a possible onset of constipation that, together with the coming change of diet, might require days to return to normal. Immediately following wheels-up, the seat back in front of me is reclined into my lap while an unruly child kicks at the back of my seat. I try to relax. It's only six hours to Seattle.
And so my pilgrimage gets underway. Bon voyage!
* * *
What is it that would make a man of advancing years voluntarily undergo such deprivation? As pointed out, I have only a single travel choice if I am to see and visit with friends and loved ones who don't share my island. I convince myself that these are small sacrifices when measured against human interaction in the flesh and I will brace myself to the lack of comforts in order to keep personal connections alive and thriving so long as I am physically able. I well remember the days when virtually everyone in America smoked cigarettes (I do not excuse myself as once a participant in this lunacy), in airports, planes, bathrooms . . . everywhere people breathed, people smoked. Airlines eventually graduated to smoking sections within the aircraft as though you were somehow protected from smoke contamination if you were seated a row or two away from the smoking rows! I would not trade the lack of comforts, the target of my plentiful bitching, for an airplane filled with cigarette smoke.
My wife on the other hand was born to travel, whether with me, alone or with a group, and is only mildly bothered, if at all, by the modern processes I rail against. She refers to our bank account as “wings,” giving her the freedom to fly, and further believes that money is not much good for anything else. A keen researcher with an advanced degree in the packing arts, she is able to conquer space allowances, websites and rules; she makes everything work within a designated framework and manages to deal with whatever obstructions present themselves. She is also a scholar when it comes to interpreting, preparing for, and dealing with bureaucratic nonsense, in our country and others (try dealing with the state of Hawaii when you travel with a dog). She is unfazed by the specter of a 12-hour (or more) flight, seated in coach, eagerly awaiting those rewards that come to her when she travels. That she packs my bag and handles travel arrangements for me—calendar, flights, airline miles, cars, maps, hotels—the full catastrophe—gives me the courage to step into this world when I travel by myself. Still, there is no anti-anxiety drug that will compete with the reassuring presence of my wife by my side on a journey.
It was my old pal, Harry, a true friend for many years, now pushing well into his eighties without apology, railing against convention and shaking his fist at the vagaries of encroaching age, who all but demanded that I come for a visit at Raven's Haven, his rustic home on the Olympic Peninsula. Situated on a cliff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and distant Vancouver Island and surrounded by forest, it is Harry's perfect scenic hideaway. I purposely put off a visit as long as I could, knowing how cold it can be up there until well into springtime. I of course tried to turn the tables, urging Harry to come enjoy the blue waters and sun drenched beaches of Maui. But, sadly, Harry lost his mate some years ago and has no one to ease his well entrenched vision of travel as a sheer horror experience. I think he'd sooner vote Republican or do 30 days jail time rather than board an airplane. Older and wiser than me, and knowing well the lack of comforts one must put up with, the possibility of travel for Harry was not open for discussion. He has spent his professional life practicing law in San Francisco, the Napa Valley and Washington and stays occupied by continuing to practice today, albeit he keeps his calendar scaled back considerably from what it once was.
My wife pushed me along, warning that I should go and get it while it's still there, at the same time easing her own conscience about our travel inequities, though doubtless she would plan her next journey in my absence. We would prefer to travel together, but that requires we have a capable surrogate at home that we are currently without, meaning one or the other of us has to be here to see to the smooth running of the farm and to provide for our animals. In the meantime she is simply more courageous than I, more demanding when it comes to a change of scenery, and less concerned with a temporary abandonment of daily comforts.
* * *
If I am going to travel to the mainland of these United States, I am also going to visit my daughter, Tracy, a doctor of veterinary medicine who lives in Napa, California. She is my favorite daughter, okay, my only daughter, and I dote on her like the president does his Ivanka. It is the single virtue I've found worthy of celebration in the remarkable swine, our only link in common: he appears to love his daughter, which, by the way, does not qualify her as a key presidential adviser.
In her early 50's Tracy still possesses all those things I saw in her when she was growing up, a love of people, animals, music, beauty and order. Always bright and capable, she applies herself diligently to whatever occupies her attentions, whether a doctoral thesis or the construction of a new back gate to her patio. She plays a 5-string banjo, harmonica and a mandolin, and to some extent she embraces the same music she grew up with, much of which, of course, spilled over from me. Imagine my surprise when, a little over a year ago, she bought herself a new Fender Stratocaster, an amplifier and all the accouterments, and took up the study of electric guitar so she could play in a rock and roll band. I planned my journey to include a gala club performance by Tracy and her band in Napa.
* * *
The journey will start with a flight to Seattle where I will rent a car and find my way to the ferry that will deliver me across Puget Sound, heading west to Raven's Haven, about ten miles beyond the town of Port Angeles. I will pass through Sequim, a town whose name requires no “e” in order to spell it as it is pronounced, but there it is anyway just to puzzle and give visitors from afar something new to think about. If it's not yet plain on the face of things, I am, indeed, a confirmed and practicing Luddite, declining attachment to social media and the modern digital devices new to my generation. It is beyond my any notion or appreciation to think I would need the assistance of a global positioning satellite in order to find Raven's Haven, a place I have visited on multiple occasions. I immediately disprove my hypothesis by choosing a freeway out of Seattle that does not intersect with my initial destination, Edmonds, where I intend to catch the ferry. I am instead headed to Canada, a pilgrim in the great Pacific Northwest, beset with anxiety over my first directional fuckup, cursing my home computer for providing a document with graphics too small for these aged eyes to clearly make out. Miles later there is an intersecting highway that seems at least to head in a direction other than Canada and I blindly take it. I luck out. After another five miles or so I encounter signage for the Edmonds/Kingston Ferry. Sweet relief floods my being, replacing the lost-in-the-woods anxiety. I am saved.
The ferry ride is a delight, an abundance of room, decks and sitting rooms to prowl. The fog horn lets out a terrific blast just overhead and gives me a fearsome start. I watch a harbor seal play in our wake and enjoy a cup of the best Boston-style clam chowder I've had in many a year. It all adds to the feel of new surroundings and a journey through an invigorating and enchanting land. A couple of hours later I was able to find Raven's Haven with only one more misstep, convincing myself I had traveled too far west before taking a turn to the coast, doubling back and doing it again.
* * *
“Jacobus!” calls out Harry from the porch as I pull in alongside the house. “Harribus!” I call, returning the greeting. These playful bynames have sprung up between us over the years, as though Jacobus and Harribus are third-persons of ourselves, informal beings who represent our true natures and likes, void of rules, social requirements, or expectations we remember from our past lives, encompassing humor and all that we've brought forth from our experience that is intellectually worthy, morally upright and artfully rewarding.
We have much in common, but our foremost bond has been music, especially guitar pickers and boogie woogie piano players. Our appreciation of Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt as guitar players is close to worship; and of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis, “The Holy Trinity” Harry calls them, regarded among the finest purveyors of boogie woogie piano. There is of course a whole world of music beyond these favorites that gets our favor and attention as well, and there seems to be what I call an “earth-connection” to all of it, music that radiates and breathes its origins when you hear it, having nothing to do with generation and everything to do with the heart and soul of those who create it, music that will live for lifetimes.
About two years ago I came into possession of a number of audio cassette tapes containing broadcasts from legendary radio station KFAT, “The Wide Spot on your Dial” (1975-83; Gilroy, CA), whose range of genre encompassed everything from western swing, to early blues, to 50's rock & roll, hillbilly, rockabilly, country, bluegrass, folk, early and traditional jazz, stride, boogie woogie and blues piano, Hawaiian, Tex-Mex—you name it. What it all had in common was that it was “fat,” the expression the station used for music worthy of its broadcast. This was the station that occasionally compelled me to pull to the side of the road so I could write down the name of an artist or a song when I heard something that grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. I painstakingly mastered the best of what I had onto a series of CDs and passed them out to friends who I believed would appreciate the music of KFAT, knowing particularly that Harry would be captivated. He says music that doesn't make the grade, lacking soul and connection, is “unclear on the concept.”
Among many things, Harry is also a fine cook and I have never come from his kitchen without learning something new and worthwhile, nor from his table without an acute appreciation for what I had been served. I had only three days in the company of my beloved friend before I was to leave for Napa and the second half of my journey. We would spend our time together as always, around food, conversation, music, and our now tempered vices. We no longer go fishing as we once did, too much work for old men who really don't want to kill anything, not even a fish. We seated ourselves in the gazebo, ringed with evergreens and overlooking distant Canadian islands and the strait that serves as a northern gateway to the Pacific, ravens and an occasional eagle overhead, fishing vessels and a tanker plying the waters below, a magical panorama.
“Mannerly of you, Harribus, my old friend, to offer me some of your joint, but at the moment I'd prefer a glass of wine.” Harry can no longer tolerate the fine red wines we used to enjoy when he lived in the Napa Valley, but he's right at home with a joint, or a dark beer known as a Porter, or an occasional jigger of Irish whiskey. I no longer engage cannabis with the frequency I once did, but still indulge in a toke or two now and then if the mood strikes me. Neither of us is tempted, and haven't been for decades—not even remotely—by the cocaine we once used all those years ago, considering that era and indulgence, apart from some fine musical interludes, mostly wasted time. I save Harry the trouble of serving me and rummage through his kitchen until I find a bottle of what looks to be a nice Washington cabernet and pour myself a glass.
Soon enough I pick up Harry's vintage Martin guitar and pick the Freight Train song and a couple of selections from my John Hurt repertoire. The Martin feels like an old friend, and indeed it is. I've always loved playing that guitar. Here's an example of what true friendship is all about: Harry offered that fine Martin guitar to me, to take with me on loan, for those few years I spent in the federal pen for drug transgressions, greatly enhancing the time spent. I left my Gibson Dove with Harry, a fanciful-looking guitar but lacking the Martin's resonant soul and playability. Before the afternoon passed us by, Harry banged out some classic boogie woogie on the baby-grand that has a place of honor in the living room among countless and memorable possessions of a lifetime, strewn casually about the house. He still has a great left hand (though right-handed), reminding me of the praise among a lot of pickers I've known for John Hurt's right thumb, able to keep time in a dexterous and extraordinary manner. Harry had the whole house jumping to the Raven's Haven Boogie Woogie Stomp, a goofy smile on his face that spoke to his love of the music coming out of him.
For dinner we were joined by one of his nearby friends, Bette, a delightful woman who belies her purported eighty years. Harry grilled fresh local halibut and served it with a pasta dish and veggies, along with various aperitifs, antipastos, tidbits and hors d' oeuvres. It had been more than five years since Harry and I had seen one another but it felt like only days, our celebrations of life and one another fully intact.
For all the years we've known each other, Harry's been a lawyer. He was practicing labor law in San Francisco when I first met him and several years later he moved his home and practice to the Napa Valley where he resided with his lady friend, Pam, at “Masked Man Ranch.” A smart and enlightened woman, it was she who introduced me to Harry, recognizing our similarities and likes, knowing we'd hit it off. I believe Raven's Haven will be Harry's final setting in life, there for the long haul in the great Pacific Northwest where he grew up. I don't know what he called his home when he lived in Marin County, but I am certain it had a name and a personality that fit Harry, like Harribus, Masked Man Ranch, and Raven's Haven. He's an educated man with graduate and law degrees from heady institutions. In contrast the only degrees I hold are honorary, citing completion of a stint at a Federal Correctional Institution and a release from parole, forever branding me a felon. Harry nonetheless alleges a certain value to my honorarium, thinking it somehow relevant to my search for a full and rewarding life. He is also an experienced stage actor and a storyteller with a unique and wonderful sense of humor, a bright humanitarian, and a worthy opponent if you happen to be sitting across from him at the negotiating table, a hard man to bullshit. I also find it typical of Harry that he doesn't own a television. How on earth can he follow the near-daily outrages of our president without MSNBC to guide him?
Harry would sometimes tell me stories of his lawyering from bygone years, many of them humorous in a mild locker-room sort of way. When loggers feared the protectors of the environment would put them out of business, he told me of their rallying cry: “Now you can wipe your ass with a spotted owl because there won't be any more toilet paper!” I don't recall if he actually represented one side or the other in that struggle, or if he was merely following the dispute as a matter of professional curiosity; what I recall most is his delight and laugh at the motto which made its point, tough, divisive and humorous all at the same time.
Representing heavy equipment operators in a San Francisco labor dispute, his crusty, belligerent and blustering legal opponent told him in response to a client settlement proposal, “You can auger them the gristle with that!” Years ago I thought “Auger the Gristle” was some misogynistic character of legend before Harry gave me a brief rundown on how otherwise to interpret what was meant: his opponent was telling him that his clients could bend over and accept defeat along with a certain humiliation. As it turned out, Harry won the case handily. “We augered them the gristle,” he said.
Harry sent me on my way with a pancake breakfast, complimented with bacon and fresh fruits. He came out to the porch to wave me on my journey as I loaded my stuff into the rental car. He moves slower than he did five years ago and carries himself slightly askew from upright, favoring some joints (no pun) over others, but his smile and spirit are undeterred. Bless you, Harry Andrew Jackson, and thank you for your friendship and for making my life a richer and more rewarding experience than it otherwise would have been. So long my friend, “'Til we meet here again or above,” says one hillbilly gospel song.
* * *
Now I wind my way back to Seattle, a warmth from my time with Harry settling over me. I'll catch another ferry, return the car, and again undergo all of the rigmarole, stress and nonsense that comes with airports before boarding a late afternoon flight to Oakland where I'll rent another car and drive to my daughter's home in Napa. I'm confident that having found my way to Raven's Haven with only a couple of navigational screw-ups, I can now pull off the rest of my journey without a hitch, even without my wife along to watch over me.
That thought didn't last very long. I escaped the Pacific Northwest managing to leave behind in the rental car my prescription reading glasses. When I discovered the loss I right away conjured a scapegoat. I am sure the lady with the clipboard who checked me in had no malicious agenda, but she seemed in a hurry causing me to hurry my exit from the rental car, a convenient excuse for leaving my glasses behind.
Sea-Tac International is a major league airport, packed with stores and exceptional eating establishments, even a few entertainers, minstrels and balladeers, along the midway. I had a pleasant lunch watching the planes come and go through panoramic windows, listening to a pretty young woman sing folk songs while accompanying herself on guitar. Then I settled in to read my book while awaiting my flight and discovered I had no reading glasses. I replayed all of the events that led to the loss, cursing my carelessness: !*#%!*. I tried to convince myself that maybe I had enough time to make it back to the rental car center, again passing through the security maze and still make my flight. But this airport is huge and I'd have had to haul my baggage with me and I feared I might not make it.
I found a sympathetic and helpful lady at the airline counter. She loaned me her phone and I eventually connected with the rental company desk at Sea-Tac, but the asshole who answered wanted nothing to do with me or my problem, switching me to his phone-tree where I learned that lost & found was closed, call back another day. I tried again, wanting to alert them to the immediacy of grabbing my glasses for me while the car was parked nearby, but the same asshole immediately spun me off to the phone tree. I thought it might be worth the trouble to go back to the rental center to confront this rude, uncaring son of a bitch, just the sort of thinking that can get an old man into trouble. Rude behavior often comes with corporate America. So many of them just don't give a damn and human interaction is shunned as though a deadly disease. I managed to find a pair of magnified readers at an airport bookstore, twenty bucks, and was mildly surprised to find that I don't need $200 prescription glasses to comfortably read a book. The other glasses were never returned; neither were my phone calls.
My rental car karma in Seattle followed me to Oakland, only with a different twist. The helpful and efficient ladies at the counter were great and I was on my way in no time at all until I reached the check-out kiosk:
“I'm sorry, sir, you can't have this car. It's been spoken for. Can you go back and choose another?” As said Paul Simon, who am I to blow against the wind?
The lady pointed out a whole row of cars and said I could choose any one of them. Okay. I got everything switched and loaded, but where the hell are my sunglasses? I looked in the first car, the second car, and went back into the office to see if I'd left them on the counter or something. No luck. I went back to re-search the second car and one of the counter ladies followed, finding my sunglasses between the seat and console in the first car. Great. I again stopped at the kiosk:
“This just isn't your day, sir. This car is promised to someone else, too. I am very sorry but you'll have to go back and choose another.” Everyone was too sincerely apologetic and pleasant to stir my anger. The computers were at fault. I was sure of it.
I picked out my third car, got past the kiosk, and drove to my daughter's house in Napa only to discover that I'd left my jacket in car number two. I wasn't at all fazed by this; by now I'd come to expect such gampy-bumbling, again knowing my wife would have prevented it. I was confident they would have it for me when I returned the car a few days later; I didn't even bother to call them. It'd been a long day of travel, Raven's Haven another lifetime, a memory shimmering in the distance.
“Hello Tracy-love. Do you have a glass of wine for your dad?”
* * *
Tracy's home is a comfortable and well appointed abode in a quiet residential neighborhood with a homey feel of family. Her pooches, Sydney and Lulu, were all over me, unable to control the excitement of having a visitor. It felt like they remembered me from former visits. Dogs are such amazing animals, able to pour out unconditional love and companionship at the drop of a hat. Tracy's dogs are animals she saved from euthanasia, their previous owners having made the election to surrender them, unable or unwilling to pay the cost of perhaps risky surgeries and rehabilitation. I'm surprised Tracy doesn't have thirty such dogs, her love of canines apparently held in check by her practical side.
Tracy and her dogs have a mother/child relationship and her dogs are among the most fortunate of pooches, grand lottery winners, #1 for having Tracy as their mom, and #2 for living in Napa, a progressive and dog friendly community that has set aside what looks to be about 50 or 60 acres of otherwise very valuable landscape, surrounded by vineyards and exquisite views of the bluffs, ridges and peaks that surround the valley, all of it strictly for dogs. It remains in its natural state, packed with critters and bird life, and is overseen and regulated by a caring board of trustees and a community of dog-loving residents, many of whom are seen daily, walking their dogs and themselves on the many trails that make up the Alston Dog Park. I've yet to spend a day in Napa when we didn't cut out time for a walk with Sydney and Lulu at Alston, a daily activity for Tracy.
All the love and devotion of a dog, though, can have its price. Dogs don't live as long as we do, seldom reaching 20 years, many just half of that. It's not an easy thing, saying good-bye to a loved one, regardless of species. The best you can do is keep the memories and love intact within yourself. Kinky Friedman once wrote that all of the animals that have been a part of us during our lifetimes are waiting for us when we die, and they all come running up to greet us when we cross over. I like that thought. It's as fine a thought as I've heard from anyone and it deserves the same slogan used in Kinky's Texas gubernatorial campaign: “Why the hell not?”
Known around town as “Doctor Tracy,” she has worked at her local hospital close to 20 years. Laurie and I have always enjoyed visiting with Tracy and her bevy of local friends, a few of whom are connected with wine industry heavyweights and who never fail to bring along exquisite samples from their cellars to share. As much as a home with a family feel, Tracy's home also seems to serves as “party-pad central” for her and her circle of friends, hosting spirited celebrations and dinners whenever a valid excuse should arise.
* * *
“Is everybody ready to rock and roll?” shouted out Peter from the stage. Tonight he is the master of ceremonies for what is essentially a graduation ceremony, introducing those bands that have successfully completed “Garage Band 101” at the Napa School of Music. We will hear several bands, the club packed with supporters and music fans.
Tracy introduced me to Peter, a native of Australia, several years ago. A big CCR fan, Tracy told me that Peter was anxious to meet me. I thought, sure, I could even show him a few licks on the guitar that I had learned first-hand from John Fogerty. Peter, an accomplished musician, played them all better than I ever could, note perfect, and I was relieved that I got to hear him play before I got cocky about the idea of teaching him anything at all.
With his wife, Victoria, Peter established the Napa School of Music and over the years built it into a going concern. The idea of the school is to offer lessons, gathering together individual students of various instrumental pursuits which one day gave birth to the idea of Garage Band 101 that eventually arranges those who best compliment one another into groups as a performing band. A teacher is typically included as a band member as well. Those teachers employed by the school who I've seen in other performances over the years have each been impressive and skilled musicians. Everyone involved in these “graduation” ceremonies has put months of study and rehearsal into their readiness. There would be four bands performing tonight, Tracy's band, “Bad Reputation,” would open the show, maybe looking to enhance their name.
For my money they stole the evening, playing like they'd been together for years and drawing the audience into their enthusiasm. Most importantly, they had a “bottom end,” bass and drums, that carried everything played on top. The drummer was remarkable and played like a seasoned pro, and the bass player/group leader, Tom, is an instructor and an experienced professional. These two did their part in making the whole band sound terrific. As conductor, Tom would signal individual lead solos with subtle nods and turns to the player whose time it would be, their democratic arrangements giving everyone a turn in the spotlight. The vocalist did a commendable job with the rest of the band contributing backup vocals along with their instrumental efforts.
They started out with a fine version of Aretha Franklin's “Chain of Fools” and performed a number of other R&B favorites I was familiar with, some not. Booker T's “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and Robert Johnson's “Crossroads” were among those songs I knew well and the band didn't disappoint. At one point they did a classy medley starting out with “You're No Good” that somehow became Santana's “Oye Como Va” before morphing back into the starting number. My respect for Peter, the school and the performers seemed to grow with each song. When it came time for Tracy's first lead solo, Tom turned to her with his bass guitar and she flawlessly executed her lead runs, licks and chord arrangements. This was the first time I'd heard her play with a band and I was stunned by her polished acumen. I felt like Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy: “I can't do that! Can you do that? How can she do that?” Giv'em, Tracer!
I shared a table with several of Tracy's close friends, having a beer or two, and we hooted, whistled and applauded throughout the performance. I reflected on how far the commercial industry of popular music has come since I first witnessed the high school sophomores who would become Creedence Clearwater Revival almost sixty years ago. The idea that a private school would come along offering an array of classes in popular music as well as bandsmanship seems like a natural step in the progress of popular music as a major part of our social fabric and culture. In the old days you were on your own, learning the hard way, if at all. Electric guitar players, now a ubiquitous commodity, were far and few between.
That the old 78 rpm records would be replaced by the 45 and 33-1/3 rpm variety that would be replaced by cassette tapes that would be replaced by CDs that are today well into an archaic obsolescence, replaced by digital downloads that live in clouds and places I don't understand, has always perplexed me. I've always been slow to get on board with change, unwilling to adopt new formats after building collections that took decades to put together. Does all this technology make for better music? The recent (and excellent) “American Epic” program aired on PBS puts up an argument to the contrary, recreating music of the 1920's, recorded live in a single take through a single microphone, while the recording lathe cuts a 78 rpm master capturing a spirit and soul that doesn't depend on a stereo image or audio trickery.
I've been badgered at my local gym because I was listening to a cassette tape rather than an i-Pod. “This thing holds a thousand titles!” said the goon, proudly pointing to the device strapped to his well muscled arm. I acknowledged his digital wonder and the fact that the access problems encountered with tape no longer exist once you graduate to digital selection. I didn't bother to tell him that I usually prefer the fidelity of analog tape, that access is less a problem when you compile your own playlists, or that I would probably find the great majority of his thousand titles unlistenable. I once saw a cartoon of a father and a son engaged in the pros and cons of a generational argument that well illustrates what has gone on in the music business:
The father, playing his trump card: “Well, our music was better.”
The son, not giving an inch: “We know how to get it for free.”
The muse declares: “You get what you pay for” and further doesn't believe that quantity equates with quality. Can someone with a Pro-Tools rig in their bedroom match the fidelity produced forty years ago in a professional studio with tube-based equipment, rolling tape? I imagine similar arguments will go on as long as generations continue to inhabit the earth.
* * *
Major league baseball is sadly underrepresented in Hawaii. You could safely say that it's not represented at all, save the occasional scout who might drop in to appraise some high school or UH standout. The opportunity to see a major league ballgame with my daughter on Sunday afternoon before heading home Monday morning had for me a tremendous appeal. She could follow me to Oakland and we'd return the rental car before the game, enjoy a dinner after the game, and then she could drop me off at the hotel. The Detroit Tigers were in town to take on the Oakland Athletics in an afternoon contest.
I was mildly amazed that we could choose our seats and pay for them on line and they would magically print themselves from Tracy's computer. The Luddite in me salutes this aspect of the digital age. Field level, second row, just beyond third-base, a C-note each. I didn't care about the cost. This is such a rare opportunity for me, and the best seats we could get would be worth it. The real shocker was that two beers and a bag of peanuts set Tracy back $38, not realizing what she had stepped up for. I was prepared for something like that after the pirates (they weren't from Pittsburgh) at the entry gate demanded a twenty to park the car. The whole experience was a modern day economic wake-up call. Back home a day at the beach or a walk in the forest surrounded by magnificent natural beauty doesn't cost anything, although it's easy to spend twice what we did to be pampered for a couple of hours at a Wailea spa if that's your thing.
We were blessed with perfect baseball weather and I reveled in the game, soaking up every pitch and play, made even better by the company of my daughter who was a competent player in softball leagues and is herself a fan of the game. To watch a major league third-baseman, up close at field level, do his defensive stuff is breathtaking. These guys have physical skills—reaction times, balance and coordination—that belie human ability, not to mention an arm that can throw a baseball as if set in motion from the discharge of a canon. The Athletics won the game in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run, a perfect ending to a great day, which was also blessed by the return of my jacket from the rental car people who I seemed to know would hold on to it for me.
* * *
I hope Oakland manages to keep the Athletics and builds them a stadium worthy of the fine teams they've put together over the years. It appears, for the second time, Oakland is losing the Raiders, and I've heard second-hand reports that the world-champion Warriors are casting an eye towards San Francisco. I don't know what to think of these corporate, dollar-inspired moves at the expense of the fans and municipalities who've supported them for decades. There's something contemptible, even vulgar, about a billion dollar-plus indoor stadium for pro football in Las Vegas, a town with a shady soul and a sport that is fast losing its once gritty and down to earth appeal. The Las Vegas Raiders? Maybe they mean panty-raiders. Real Raiders belong in Oakland.
I have a friend, a gentleman and a mild San Francisco elitist, who once put Oakland in its place by voicing his outrage over a man he encountered urinating in a wash-basin at a Raider game because there were long lines at the trough, vowing never again to return to the Coliseum, as though this were a common practice for Raider fans. I thought about using the basin myself if they tried to charge me to use the trough (“ … how much to wash my hands?”). How many times have I encountered people urinating on the sidewalk in broad daylight in San Francisco? Okay, I'll concede it was mostly in the Tenderloin, and that we don't wash our faces on the sidewalk, if you'll agree that maybe those packaged sanitary towelettes might be a good idea at public arenas.
* * *
Tracy dropped me off at the hotel after a fine Vietnamese dinner at a downtown restaurant. I gave my lovely daughter a parting kiss, ready now to steel myself for an early wake-up (1:30 AM Maui time) and again face the trials of boarding another plane. It's a little easier and less traumatic when you are headed for home and the comforts that await you there. Nonetheless I had a rough start.
The bedside alarm was deafening when it went off, ultra-loud high-pitched shrieks sounding as if from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I bolted from the bed fearing it would wake the whole wing of the hotel. Then I couldn't get the damn thing to stop shrieking, pushing every button I could find, finally jerking the chord from the wall to silence it. The back-up call of course came while I was engaged at the toilet. After my shower, which never got comfortably warm, and throughout which I couldn't stop looking over my shoulder for Norman Bates with his butcher-knife, I discovered that the coffee in the modern single-cup brew machine hadn't brewed. I tried again, going through the steps plainly set out on the machine itself. No luck. What am I doing wrong? It's as easy as one-two-three, but the damnable appliance again refused to go into its brew cycle. I give up, assuring myself that I had done everything right, but still wondering what it was I could possibly have screwed up. As civil as I could be, I informed the desk clerk about what I felt were shortcomings in their otherwise comfortable hotel.
I got to the airport, the shuttle van all to myself, and had some coffee before boarding my flight which departed without distraction or delay. I was still mildly ticked-off about my morning struggles at what was otherwise a well run hotel, but what the hell, I suffered no serious damage. I'm on my way home and the lady sitting next to me is a perky and friendly co-passenger; I am relaxed and immersed in a good book. About forty-five minutes into the flight, the overhead intercom came on:
“Ah, ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. We've encountered a mechanical failure in one of our generators and FAA regulations do not allow us to fly such a great distance over water with only one working generator. I'm turning the aircraft around and we are returning to Oakland. Every effort will be made to get you on your way with a minimum of delay.”
The hell you say? There was an audible groan throughout the plane, but anyone who'd like to bitch, argue or make a scene about this turn of events might have the feds waiting for them at the gate. I resigned myself to whatever would happen, deciding I should be thankful that it didn't appear that we were about to fall from the sky.
* * *
The confusion at the gate was crazy-making. No one knew how long it would take to fix the problem. We exited the plane and were told not to go far; be back in one hour. Another official said half an hour. After that half hour and the hour expired, some passengers with connecting flights were getting booked on other flights, but there were very few available alternatives. We finally learned that our plane was fixed but we now needed a new crew because regulations wouldn't allow crew duty to exceed a fixed number of hours. A new crew was being brought in from god knows where. Our flight was rescheduled to leave at 8:00 PM that evening, 13 hours after original departure.
Okay, at least now I know the score. They offered hotel accommodations to those who might want to go back to bed, not a likely scenario for me. BART comes right to the terminal and I am a born and raised Bay Area boy, at home here as anywhere. I knew right away how I would spend the time. First I would look up my old friend and employer, Michael, in whose downtown Oakland law office I had worked for a decade before escaping to Maui. Then I'd see if I could hook up with Stuart and Virginia, good friends who live in Berkeley and with whom I was overdue to visit.
It all worked out better than I had hoped. I found Michael in his office and my Berkeley friends at home. Michael was scheduled for an afternoon court date in Martinez and would drop me off in Berkeley on his way. The visits were unexpected, but warm and affirming, with people who maintain a place of importance in my heart and history. It was as though the mechanical problems with the airplane had happened for my benefit, giving me extra opportunity to connect with old friends, after which BART efficiently delivered me back to the airport.
Travel comforts may be few and logistics challenging, but worth all of the inconvenience and surprises when measured against the pleasures and rewards of reuniting with those who have made a difference in my life. An old man returns to the comforts of his wife and home in need of a good night's sleep but feeling recharged and carrying with him the spirits of those with whom he has reunited, somehow younger than he was when he first set out on his pilgrimage.