Basically, Wonderful Ones, MM and myself are home bodies. We love pottering about, reading, doing household tasks and wrangling cats.  It’s a good thing, too, because now that we’re both retired, looking to live out our years on our income from Social Security, modest pleasures are best.  For many of our fellow oldsters the centerpiece of retirement is the opportunity to travel widely and travel often. We know people who do that and I congratulate them for having the means to make it possible.  Our own travel dreams hinge on the fuel-efficient car we bought a year ago.  It should allow us to journey here and there in the U.S. a couple of times a year without busting our budget.   And for that odd blow out adventure to some far-flung corner of North America, we’re thinking trains are our ticket to affordable vacations.

We test drove our concept last year during a getaway to a certain glittering desert oasis in south Nevada (please see Road Trip Las Vegas!).  We had a good time on that outing and, although it seemed then that we’d had enough of bright lights and casinos, when I wondered about a destination for a “quickie” springtime road trip this year, Reno– Nevada’s other gambling capitol– came quickly to mind.  We don’t gamble to speak of but there is something about the idea of a lot of people in one place all “having fun” that draws in the imagination and peaks one’s curiosity.  Also, I’d been by the town a couple of times over the years but had no sense of how it was laid out or what else might go on there besides casino tourism.  It was a blank spot on the map which needed to be colored in, so we packed our crayons and went there.

In Part I of this post you may have read my tale of the logistical and ethical boogymen which almost de-railed the trip. This present part, however, is just a scrapbook of “field notes” and random observations.  The photos are impressionistic because I mostly used my iPhone camera and the images were often too poor to be shown.  The few pics I have included here are simply a scattershot of the best ones or those I think are fun.  Cheers!

Near the rest stop at Donner Pass.

Next to the rest stop at Donner Pass.

On our way to Reno Sunday afternoon we were surprised by the lack of snow in the mountains.  The most we saw near the road was at the top of Donner Pass and it looked to be melting fast.  My first thought when we were planning the trip was that we would take our snowshoes and stop for a hike along the way.  After I checked a ski conditions cam I abandoned that idea, but even so I expected at least SOME snow would be left by April.

Late in the afternoon as we approached the desk to check in at the Silver Legacy, a cheerful employee came around with a silver tray offering glasses of bubbly.  Of course we were glad to accept! Cheers, indeed 🙂

Our hotel is one of three hotel/casino “resorts” (along with the Circus Circus and the El Dorado) which are clustered together in downtown Reno and interconnected by pedestrian arcades.  Originally they must have been competitors but somehow now they’re part of one large complex with three big hotels, three big casinos and many dozen restaurants and shops.  Together they’re a maze — initially a rather happily confusing warren of neon, blazing slot-machines, stairways and curious twists and turns.  By our second evening I began to find my way around pretty well and it was possible to see past the smoke and mirrors to the ordinary details of “business as usual” in an efficient theme park.  Actually, the smoke was no joke.  Smoking was allowed in the casinos and eateries and the smell of tobacco hung on us even in our non-smoking part of the hotel.

In the lobby of our hotel.

In the lobby of our hotel.

We were in room #1878 on the eighteenth floor at the end of an extremely long hall.  It was your basic hotel room but nicely done and very clean.  I even liked the wall art.  Our view to the west was  of the Sierras and a newish but vacant hotel three hundred yards away (“Best Rest in the West” was it’s motto). The first night was noisy on our floor because the hotel was overrun with teams of teenage girls in outfits with an acrobat/cheerleader sort of look. By night two they were gone and middle-aged or older bowlers had arrived for a big, multi-day competition. Things got a lot quieter then.

Our room was at the end on the left.

Our room was at the end of this hall on the left.

Mt. Rose and Sunflower Peak from our room.

Mt. Rose and Sunflower Peak seen from our room.

Our big party was the night we arrived.  We toured the casinos, dropped a few quarters, got lost, had a couple of drinks and went to eat in a high-roller steakhouse.  The meal there was good enough but I thought the dark, probably faux, wood-paneled decor and the hovering young waiters all just a few feet from a smokey casino full of penny slot-machines felt tacky and jokey.  But, hey, I later read in a restaurant guide that it is considered one of Reno’s finest “fine dining” spots.

MM in a bar named DringX sipping something called a Sex on the Beach.    MM in a bar named DrinX sipping something pink called a Sex-on-the-Beach.

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Day two dawned beautifully and we spent it out and about, starting with a fine breakfast at  IHOP. Next door MM saw a strip mall sign: ” Jelly Donuts /Laundromat.”  She was delighted with  this inventive business model, but it turned out, sadly, to be two seperate storefronts. Continuing on, we trolled around Reno neighborhoods to get a sense of how the peeps live (those with $$$ have handsome brick homes with lawns, the rest of them live….like us),  took the cook’s tour of the Peppermill Hotel/Casino (much posher than ours), visited an art gallery suggested by M.’s friend (a very chic place w/ “interesting” art), had lunch (next to a four lane boulevard named Moana LANE)  and took our extra fries to a little urban lake to feed the ducks, but didn’t stop ’cause it was mobbed by SEAGULLS, for gosh sake, and white with guano.

Then we motored to the handsome new museum housing the late Bill Harrah’s car collection. I expected all those cars would be a bit of a bore, but they WEREN’T because they told me a great story about human ingenuity and mapped out an interesting social history of the recent century.  MM and I agreed that seeing the National Automobile Museum was the highlight of our Reno visit. Check it out!

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A crazy 1921 Rolls. All copper!

A crazy 1921 Rolls. All copper!

And now, the car of the future!

And now, the “Car of the Future….”

MM’s secret wish for the rest of the afternoon was to hang out in our the room with a bourbon and soda and read, and mine was to be in our room to watch the sun set over the Sierra Nevada.  Three hours later….missions accomplished!  Dinner that night was Mex at a joint in the Circus Circus (“Dos Geckos”) where the Mexican restaurant shared space with a sushi bar!  Actually, we think it was a sushi bar AND full liquor bar, although I can’t say if the bartender also rolled the hamachi, LOL.

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Exif_JPEG_PICTURE                                               In the background, the dead hotel.

That evening MM curled up in bed with Netflicks on the iPad (we never did turn on our big flat-screen TV) and I went out to see what was going on at the United States Bowling Congress Open.  The competition was being held only a block away in an vast temple called the National Bowling Stadium.  It’s facade features an imposing gold geodesic dome to symbolize, of course, a bowling ball.  Entering, one stands in a five story atrium supported by great white pillars.  Left and right, long escalators sweep up to the third level where the crash of toppling pins can be heard.  At the top is an enormous room sixty-five bowling lanes (!!) wide with wall-to-wall electronic scoreboards and an expansive spectator gallery.

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Maybe twenty-five teams–some with matchy shirts, most in street clothes–were bowling.  The scene was surprisingly low key with no announcer and only a handful of spectators, so perhaps it was an elimination round.  These were very good, presumably amateur, bowlers who were throwing strike after strike and deftly picking off spares.  All the same I did notice a small number of gutter balls.  Before I left one dude scored 300, a perfect game, and a great cheer went up.  The most fascinating detail was the fact that EVERY bowler came back from EVERY “at bat”  (or whatever rolling the ball is called) and high-fived EVERY member of his/her team!

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When I got back to our hotel I mooched around the casinos and dropped a few bucks into dollar and nickle slot-machines.  There were no roulette or craps tables to be seen. Maybe  serious money was changing hands at the card tables, but on the whole the action seemed to be geared toward the low-stakes gambler.  Penny slots were everywhere and were popular.  I did witness a guy score a jackpot on a penny slot.  The machine rang up credits over and over and over. It went on doing this for so long that I finally lhad to leave, and by that time the credit window showed well over $1800.!

A few closing impressions of Reno:  The town seems like a work in progress.  It’s situated prettily right at the foot of the mountains (much like Boulder, CO) and a handsome small river does run through it. Downtown, though, is barren and shuttered except for a few bigger enterprises like the casinos, and looks to be in need of redevelopment.  The area next to the Truckee River is being  sweetened up and promoted as a cultural corridor.  The car museum to located there among other new things including parks and a River Walk.  The burg sprawls for sure, with waves of McMansions visible on the hills to the west and north. We thought we could walk from our hotel to the good stuff but everything we wanted to get to was along or near Virginia Ave, a long straight commercial strip which runs south from downtown for several miles.  Reno is going to be just fine, I’d say,  but I don’t see us going back there very soon unless we take up bowling seriously.

This morning reflection looks west toward the mountains....and home.

This morning reflection looks west toward the mountains….and home!

MM and I got out of Dodge mid-morning and reached Truckee, CA in time for breakfast at the most down home, mainstreet cafe you can imagine.  The regulars were there and one waitress was telling them how she’d leave town if she could and go somewhere warm like LA.  The other filled me in on the wave of youth suicides that had the locals baffled and hurt.  We knocked off a few more minutes checking out the chi-chi shops along Main and then drove on down the hill.  Along the way my wife noticed that trees which had been barely budding on the way up had leafed out already.  In Sacramento we visited R. and young Roy for an hour, admired the garden and new sofa and caught up on family news.  We were anxious to return our borrowed car quickly , so we  continued on our way and pulled up in front of the house by 3:00 pm.  We were glad to be home and, Wonderful Ones, in the end we’d had a good trip.  Next time, however, we will be taking our own car!

-NeRP

Wonderful Ones, this happened the day before we planned to drive far away, across the mountains to visit Reno, Nevada.  I had fueled the car and pressurised the tires just so when it occured to me that the engine oil had not been changed since the previous fall. Yikes! More than ten thousand miles had rolled under the wheels since then and, indeed, the oil was blackish and wornout looking on the dipstick.

I thought at first about running the car over to an oil-change franchise, but I had heard stories about such places which had unhappy endings.  The Hyundai dealer wasn’t an option at that late point on a Satuday, either, so I decided, finally, to change the oil myself.  I’ve done this numberless times on various vehicles, though not on anything newer than my 1998 pick-up truck.  Our family sedan, however, is a 2012 compact aerodynamically low to the ground and with an engine compartment crammed with largely incomprehensible mechanical and electronic “stuff.”  Nevertheless, motor oil is motor oil I told myself as I got to work elevating the wheels on blocks just enough for me to squeeze underneath the front end of the car.

The oddly oversized oil-drain plug was easy to get to and luckily I had the correct wrench to remove it.  As the oil poured into a pan I wondered why it looked more red and clean than it had on the dipstick.  Once the last of the oil had dripped out I replaced the plug and then skooched over with my nose to the bottom of the car to remove the old oil filter. That thing was in a nice tight spot, and–dang!–my gripper tool wouldn’t hold; the filter canister simply would not unthread from the engine block.  Well, OK, this wasn’t the first oil filter I’d had difficulty removing and with the day growing old I went ahead and poured four quarts of fresh oil into the top of the engine anyway so we could at least make this trip without compromising the motor.  Later, I would take the car to the dealer for the multi-point checkup it needed in any case and have them put in a new filter then even if it meant changing the oil a second time.

Fine, but then a really curious thing happened.  When I re-checked the oil level on the dipstick it was higher, MUCH higher than it should have been and still quite a dark color.  I was startled and utterly baffled for long seconds until, at last, the penny dropped:  I had poured the new oil in on top of the old oil!  I hadn’t drained the engine at all, instead I had drained the transmission!!

What followed was an hour of denial and desperation.  It was late in the afternoon on a weekend and instead of having checked off one pesky problem, I suddenly had two egregious complications to fix really fast or we would not be going on our long planned road trip after all.

Now, let’s break from that moment and step back in time one week to the previous Saturday.  MM and I  had been out to a birthday dinner at a chic spot in downtown Oakland.  There were many friends at table, we were nicely dressed and we had a good time.  At the end of the meal the division of the check was rather complex, everyone (except the birthday girl) with their wallets open, counting money and helping to make change so that each paid her/his proper share.  The next day was a different, sadder event: a memorial for another dear friend who had succumbed, too young, to cancer.  Again good clothes were called for and while dressing I realized my wallet was missing.

Had I misplaced it during all the money handling and pants changing that had gone on?   Whatever the cause the wallet had vanished, and now replacing my driver’s license might take a while, the credit cards perhaps even longer….not even to worry about the lost cash.  This put our Reno travel plan for the week ahead in jeopardy (sound familiar?) because I would need my DL and cards for the trip.  At that moment it seemed best to cancel our hotel reservations while we could still do so without a penalty.  Well, wouldn’t you know, after the credit cards, bank card and hotel had all been cancelled and as I was standing in line at the DMV to apply for another driver’s license, MM called to say the lost was found!  The black wallet had slipped off the bureau top into one of the drawers and down among my black socks.  Everything was there.

That week old episode was a hassle, no doubt about it, but in the end there was a comical element to it and not much harm had been done.  Sooner than I had imagined I had shiny new credit/debit cards (in the same ratty wallet) and the hotel reservations were easily remade.   This new crisis, on the other hand, had worse implications.  The cat sitter had by now made room on her calender for our three days away,  the reservation dates were in this case so close that cancellation would mean the loss of real money and, for me, a big hit to my personal credibility.  It might be amusing to have lost a wallet in a sock drawer, but would I be so easily forgiven for carelessly sabotaging our trustworthy chariot more or less moments before we were to drive it away on a pleasure trip?

That question followed me around the room biting my heels as I walked in furious circles sweating and trying to think my way out of the mess.  I had an crankcase badly overfilled with (still) dirty engine oil and a transmission with no fluid at all.  I could fix the former now that I had identified the correct drain plug, but what could be done about the latter?  Was it feasible to replace the lost transmission oil, and why couldn’t I see a fill-tube for it there under the hood? A call to the dealer just before they closed confirmed my fear:  our transmission was a “sealed” component which could only be refilled using a garage lift, some specialized knowledge and several quarts of a certain expensive fluid which probably couldn’t be found at the type of auto parts place that might be open on a Saturday night.  In other words there was no way I would be able to fix the transmission myself as might have been possible with an older vehicle. Our little car simply wasn’t going to be going anywhere soon.

At that point I picked up the phone again and this time called Expedia, prepared to cancel our reservations for the second time.  At the last moment, though, I hesitated and instead went outside, drained the engine oil down to a normal level, took the car off it’s blocks and cleaned up my oily rubbish.  I had needed to clear my head with action while I tried to think if there were plans C, D or F which might save our getaway.  But, after rapid reflection as well as passing them by MM, my various ideas (a rent-a-car, the train, my truck) were for various reasons tossed into the rubbish container too.  I contacted Expedia once more and was a click away from ditching our reservations when our neighbor arrived home from her day on a hiking trail and asked what was going on.

J. is our friend –and what a friend– ’cause the next words from her lips were, “Take my car. I insist!”  For years she’d driven a reliable enough old beater, but two weeks before this she had traded up to a brand new silver Corolla over which she was still suffering buyer’s remorse.  The idea of driving off to a distant vacation in a new vehicle the owner had not even bonded with yet gave me the hebee-jeebies and caused MM to wrinkle her nose.  Still, J. was adament that she would not need or use the car for the days we’d be away, and I began to feel it would be wrong to look such a freely given gift horse in the mouth.  We accepted, finally, but on the condition that J. use my stick-shift truck in case she did need to get around.

So, the lost wallet was found and now the journey to Reno had been saved in the nick of time.  Were the gods for me or against me this week?  I was confused and chastened but glad in any case to be getting out of town.   We did leave about midday on Sunday and had an uneventful three and a half hour journey across the Sierras to the Silver Legacy Resort and Casino in downtown Reno (I’ll mention some things about our experience in Part II of the story). With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, however, I think that we should not have accepted our angel’s loan of her car.  It would have been smarter to decline, even at the sacrifice of our getaway, for several reasons.

For one thing J.’s car was so brand new it had, I was surprised to find, only 350 miles on the speedometer.  This meant we would effectively be the ones to break in her engine during the trip.  These days a new car break-in period is short (about 500 miles) and is only a matter of driving conservatively and gently excersizing the engine throughout it’s normal RPM range. The consequences of doing it job badly, however, could be shorter engine life and I’m not sure even now that hours of sustained freeway driving, to say nothing of two climbs to the top of Donner Pass (7227 feet), is really a suitable break-in regime.  I did try to vary the engine’s speed as much as possible and was careful not to lug it even slightly while going up hill, so I’m hoping no harm was done.

The second thing was that after we’d accepted J’s offer she found an injury on her heel where her hiking boot had created a silver-dollar sized blister and then rubbed the skin completely off.  She insisted this did not alter our agreement, that she’d be fine without her car, but actually she became worried enough about infection that she visited a doctor while we were away.  She tried to drive there in my truck but couldn’t depress the clutch enough to start it and had to ask a friend to take her!

Finally, there’s the fact that shit does happen, furniture does fall off passing pickups, rocks do roll onto the road in mountain passes and inebriated drivers in casino parking garages can back into other cars.  By taking J’s Corolla away from her for two days we were exposing it and ourselves to a world of hazards any one of which could do severe damage to her car and to our friendship with her.  As it happened we were able to return her car unscathed, washed, vacuumed out and with a full tank of gas.  J. was relieved to have it back and acknowledged in a perfectly nice but frank conversation that she just might have been too impulsive in offering it to us.  For my part, I allowed that taking her up on the offer had been one of at least three notable goofs during the week which I expected to find in my “permanent file” up in The Cloud or wherever it might be.

Washing J.'s car before handing back the keys.

Washing J.’s car before handing back the keys.

The morning after we returned I had our disabled car towed (free, by AAA) to a friendly nearby transmission repair shop where it’s tranny was refilled with the authorized fluid and it was put back on the street before noon.  Then, I drove it to the dealer where the engine oil was finally changed and the balky oil filter replaced.  It was also given a routine detailed inspection and even washed!  At that point it was possible, I suppose, to say, “All’s well that end’s well.”  At least my wife seems to think so, bless her.  Just now she remarked, “It’s past tense, honey. It was just a little conflagration of events.”

There was, at any rate, a fateful moment early in the affair when one of the gods must have looked down from on high and deigned to save me from terminal mortification.  If, while flat on my back under our car, I had actually succeeded in breaking loose that oil filter and unscrewing it,  the quarts of hot black motor oil in the still filled engine (which I thought was drained) would have gushed out onto my chest and face and into the street. That, Wonderful Ones, would have really been a bad trip!

-NeRP

Notes on the DNC

September 9, 2012

Wonderful Ones,  I just want to say a few of things about the 2012 Democratic Convention which ended last week.  For the first time in our lives MM and I sat and watched the complete  broadcast of a political convention, in this case for three nights.  I didn’t know why exactly I was paying attention this time.  I certainly wasn’t able to bear more than a few minutes of the Republican’s version, although we did briefly check in on the gushing Anne Romney and then Clint Eastwood’s cring-worthy attempt at political theater.  I think it seemed as though, with Right Wing knife-fighters closing in on Obama and hoping to administer the coup de grace to any remaining notion of liberal governance in this country,  I needed to watch carefully for  what smoke signals the Democratic Party establishment would be sending, so as to understand if they were intimidated, or whether they even cared about defending this President.

Delegates at the DNC

Well, it turns out that they do care….most emphatically and passionately and vociferiously.  The sheer spectacle of this convention was one part of it’s message (I’ll say something about that in a minute), but most fascinating to me were it’s primetime speeches, all of which were just excellent, kick-ass statements of Dem solidarity with and admiration for Barack Obama.  There was no hint of the ambivalence that reportedly clouds the minds of progressives and liberals within the party when they reflect on Obama’s four years in the White House.

His wife, Michelle, explained his great heart and fine motives at length in a strong, persuasive voice;  Bill Clinton conducted (as someone called it) a “master class” in campaign truth and lies, and declared Obama to be the champion of the middle class that the nation deeply needs at this moment in history.  And Joe Biden movingly proclaimed his loyalty to “his friend” Barack and defended the President’s record so ferociously that at times he seemed about to burst into flame.  These and other Democratic  stalwarts, as well as it’s fresh-faced rising stars (Elizabeth Warren and the twin Castro brothers from Texas, as examples) spoke, and spoke so wonderfully that I fell in love with each one in turn….as did the gathered delegates who listened with wet eyes or stood and roared their appreciation.

There was a good reason for this.  It was part of The Plan that we should swoon over our party’s heros.  Back in the day (my childhood and earlier), conventions were generally political free-for-alls, with often intense jostling, polling, negotiating, shouting, speechifying and horse-trading sweeping back and forth across the floor of the hall.  The presidential and vice-presidential candidates were settled upon then, not during the months prior to the conventions as they are today, and intra-party partisanship was expected and messy and exciting to hear about….so democratic!

Then came TV, putting everyone on their best behavior.  Conventions slowly became showpieces rather than moments of decision, and now they are slick media events with almost no inherent drama.  Candidates are still “nominated”,  state party delegations still come to vote for “their” nominee, and the candidates, once “approved”, formally “accept” the honor of running for office. There was some scuffling in the background this time about certain details in the party’s platform language, but if you weren’t paying attention you wouldn’t have known that it was going on.

A convention then is all procedural and ceremonial but,  you know,  the night of the roll-call of state delegations I watched the entire countdown and it was definitely fun to see.  Each state has X number of delegate votes, some of which can go to one favored candidate and some to another.  In principle many votes may be taken to finally arrive at consensus but, as expected, all the votes of every state went to Obama on the first roll-call.

All those delegates, though, came in a wide variety of shapes and colors and genders–they really were “The People”–and they were genuinely excited and proud to have their moment, their say in the political process.  Before announcing it’s votes, the delegation representative(s) took the opportunity to boast about their “great” state of Virginia, or the “beautiful” state of Montana.   Sometimes they were sweet or creative or humorous in doing this; often small urgent speeches were made and sometimes the Party Secretary taking the votes had to keep things moving along, which she always did charmingly and firmly.  By the time the last state–Wyoming–was polled, the hall which had been thronged an hour and a half before was practically empty.  The big TV networks had long since ended their coverage and it was 1AM in Charlotte.  Still, I was glad to be on hand when the Democratic National Convention chairman, the major of Los Angeles, gaveled the day to a close in front of about fifty die-hard delegates and a crew of impatient technicians waiting to kill the lights.

So yeah, the DNC was basically a tightly choreographed television production, a three day mini-series specifically designed to get the delegates–the street-level activists of the party–and the unwashed mass of Democratic voters “fired up” for the last sixty days of the presidential campaign.  It wasn’t even a reality  show with the possibility of random surprises.  It was seamless, more like watching a movie– a REALLY well made movie.  This was a political film seemingly created by  Hollywood’s best writers and producers and directors.  The scriptwriters developed such GOOD word-perfect speeches, the directors worked intimately with the speech-givers and brought out their BEST preformances, while the producers assured that the MUSIC built just the right mood and that a fresh set of colorful SIGNS appropriate to the theme of each new speech (or thousands of American FLAGS!) was passed out to every attendee in the hall.  Whether Hollywood talent was actually involved or not, it was, I thought, a masterful piece of work and one which did indeed get me fired up.

By the end of the convention I felt reassured that Barack Obama (his speech here) had actually worked hard in our best interest, that he was in fact a man of principle, that his vision for the country was still intact and that his party does stand squarely with him.  I  was also persuaded that the Democratic party now has some backbone and is willing to push back against corporate and fat cat tax privilages and Big Money’s influence on government policy. These are the messages I got and I’m going to go with them.  Naturally, there is still a milling herd of tamped down contradictions and conflicts within the party, but for the moment it feels good that the convention has helped frame a unified, coherent Democratic opposition to the Romney campaign and to the Right Wing, anti-government hatchetmen who are standing in the shadows just behind him.

President Obama

Wonderful Ones, a thousand commentators have had oceans to say about  both party’s conventions, but if you’ve not had time to follow any of that during the hubbub at the start of school or while you’ve been hustling to meet a work deadline, then maybe these thoughts  offer a hint of what the Dems, at least, hoped to communicate.  And hey, maybe you’re even “fired up” too!

–NeRP

Our Partial Eclipse

May 27, 2012

Last Sunday morning MM came into the room with an old shoe box in her hand.  She asked me if the box and a piece of aluminum foil would make a useful pinhole camera.  I thought it might, Wonderful Ones, but my wife does not usually take on DIY experiments and I was very curious to know what her project was about.  She said an eclipse was coming up and she wanted to put together a “camera obscura” in order to be able to see it safely.  I hadn’t heard this interesting news, and after a confused conversation about whether it was a lunar eclipse (at night) or a solar eclipse (during the day), a quick look on the Internet told us that, indeed, a (solar) eclipse of the sun would occur in the afternoon.

According to a map on one website, the heart of the shadow created by the moon passing in front of the sun would sweep across far Northern California.  It appeared that near places like Crescent City and Mt. Shasta one would be able to see a total eclipse and the famous “wedding ring” effect produced when the dark disk of the moon is perfectly outlined by solar fire.  From our vantage point in the Bay Area, though, the eclipse would be only partial.  I figured for us the moon would appear to bite off only a small piece of the sun’s visible surface, and most people going about their day might not even notice it was happening.  Still, an eclipse of any sort is an exciting phenom and I wanted to see it too.

MM made a tiny hole with the point of a pin in a piece of aluminum foil.  When she held this up to the bright sun with a  white card placed behind in it’s shadow, a miniature picture of the sun was projected though the hole onto the cardboard.  This proof of principle showed the pinhole camera idea would work, but it also revealed that the image would be so small –only the size of the head of a pin– that it could not be seen well.  Of course, looking directly at the sun is an absolute no-no unless one wears a welder’s helmet or some other extreme eye protection which we did not have.

I tried to think of a better way to be able to see the sun.  Pulling a dusty photography tripod out from under our bed and my binoculars out of the hall closet, I attached the two.  Then I clipped a square of white cardboard to a wooden rod and fastened the rod to the binoculars with rubber bands.  Finally, I cut a round hole in a larger piece of cardboard and fitted that around one lens of  the binocular.  Viola!, when this contraption was pointed at the sun  it projected a beautiful, clear picture of our star onto the cardboard target.  The image was about the size of a quarter and it was so sharp one could even see half a dozen black dots–sunspots!–scattered across the surface of the sun.  I had a dark red photographic filter the right size which I placed on top of the “monocular” lens in order to reduce the brightness of the image.  Now, the sun projection was a dramatic scarlet and completely safe to view with the (actual) sun comfortably at one’s back.  Cool!

So, about mid-day we set up our  new Solar Observatory in the driveway and waited for the eclipse.  It was such a beautiful day.  The sun was warm, there was a light breeze off the ocean and the sky was blue and utterly clear.  As the afternoon progressed we checked the Observatory every few minutes while doing other things around the house and garden.  Always the sun was there, round and red as a freckled plum with no hint of the moon moving in to take a bite of it.

All afternoon we watched the sun, repeatedly adjusting our rustic Observatory in order to track ol’ Sol as it moved imperceptibly down the sky.  We were having fun, but we were impatient too.  Where was the eclipse?  Was it possible, we asked, that those astronomers got it wrong like weather forecasters sometimes do?  Checking the Web more deeply, I read that the event would be seen LATE in day and into the early evening.  Oh, OK.  That was still fairly vague,  but we didn’t have any other plans and luckily the ocean fog which often rolls in at the end of a warm day was nowhere in sight.

At last, sometime between 5:00 and 5:30 I checked the Observatory again and saw that a piece of the sun was missing on it’s right edge, as if it had been snipped out with sharp scissors.  The moon had arrived!  For an hour we watched as the snippet grew into a larger and larger half-circle of darkness across the face of the sun.  Meantime, the sunlight shining on our bit of the landscape was changing too, although the effect was subtle.  Somehow, the light was still intense but there wasn’t as much of it.  It was bright and darker at the same time, which is different than when a cloud passes across the sun.   A clearcut transformation, though, was that the shadows cast by tree leaves had become exotically,  beautifully crescent shaped.

                                                                                                                                                                                   

At a certain point, with about two thirds of the sun hidden, it was plain that the moon was not passing BY the sun but was advancing to the left directly across it.  On this trajectory it would soon cover the entire sun.  Wow….the astronomers MUST have gotten it wrong, I thought.  We were about to experience a TOTAL eclipse. We were going to see the spectacular Ring of Fire, baby!

But, slowly, slowly the dark half-circle seemed to pause and then, as if it had gone into reverse gear, the moon backed up and moved to the right–the way it had come in–and the crescent of bright sun grew infinitesimally bigger and bigger.  It was a perplexing phenomenon and I still don’t get it.  It must have had something to do with our viewing angle relative to the sun and moon increasing (as our spot on the earth rotated away from them) faster than the moon was actually moving across the sun.  Whatever the cause, the astronomers were right, we were seeing a partial eclipse only (although a more stunning one than I had expected) and now the show was coming to a close.  I watched for a while longer using both sides of the binocular to project sun images, but this seemed less magical than the original setup and I ended up playing silly Eclipse Party games.

As the late afternoon light returned and the wonderful crescent leaf-shadows faded, I disassembled the Solar Observatory and put it back in the closet and under the bed.  Light cocktails were served and dinner was ready.  It had been a great day puttering about at home and watching the sun as it moved across the blue sky.  I thought green growing things must “watch” the sun too, attending every moment to it’s location and how much energy it is beaming onto their leaves.  Wonderful Ones, I felt that like a plant I had had a relationship with our Sun on Sunday.  I felt a definite glow….although possibly that was my lack of sun-block talking.

–NeRP

Big Boxes

March 8, 2012

Wonderful ones, here’s a little story just for you.

A short time ago our friend  visited us on her way back to her adopted home in Indonesia.  Her mother had just passed away (in Florida) and, naturally, she had inherited a few things.  As she was leaving she asked if her mother’s dishes could be shipped to us and stored, “for a while.”  We said that would be fine even though my wife and I live in a small bungalow with a rundown single car garage, both of which are seriously filled up with our belongings.  It was just a box of antique porcelain, right?   How big a problem could that be?

The answer arrived a few days later when we came home from work to find seven large cartons stacked on the front porch, almost blocking the door.  Right away,  my wife and I were mad and a little scared.  Where in hell were we going to put this great pile?  Already our friend was safely back home in Bali, on the other side of the planet, and we had promised to care for her precious crockery until bloody whenever!  I felt then as though the friend was a  Dr. Suess Mayzie Bird who had flitted off about her business, and we were Horton the Elephant, the generous naif  left behind to sit on her nest and keep it’s egg warm in her absence.  Only in this case there were several eggs, each about the size of a compact refrigerator.

For twenty-four hours I glared at those boxes.  They were imposing, all fitted together like an ancient Inca stone wall.  And they were packed cunningly too.  Each one apparently had just a few items inside, well embedded in some cushioning material like bubble wrap.  The individual boxes were bulky but generally light enough that they could be lifted without extreme effort.  By the second day, the passivity of simply being angry started wearing thin.  I was still annoyed and worried, but I decided I should at least put my initial reaction to the test.  Was it possible there actually was someplace in our snug home where these dishes could coexist with us?

For instance, the dining room is relatively large, and even though the table might be put beyond our use, how much entertaining do we do, anyway?  Not enough, but it could actually be convenient most days to eat plates-on-knees in the living room (with the TV)….all the more so once it’s clear of distracting large shipping cartons.

An alternative is the breakfast nook….here, cozily filled with big boxes.  While the nook IS lovely to have, dedicating it to storage wouldn’t hurt so much because there are scads of other  spots where a simple breakfast can be eaten….sitting on the bed, for example, or standing in the kitchen.   Oh, right, and there would be the dining room table again!

The bedroom has an obvious negative in terms of bulk storage.  The dishes appear comfortable enough, but how in the world would we make our bed in the mornings?

MM’s study shows some promise as a valuables vault.  Certainly, it’s dry and the air circulation is good.  What is problematic, though, is making the folding futon available to overnight visitors now and then.  Certain guests may not mind sharing their bed with dishware, but that is really not the type of hospitality we want to be remembered for.  Our friend stayed in this room during her recent stop-over.  If the carton cache had been here at that time, she might not have been a very happy camper.

The bathroom?  Hmmm, what is that word?  Noooo?

The kitchen is the last of our seven rooms, and this reminds us that there are seven boxes of dishes.  Is it merely coincidence?  Perhaps not.  One thing is for sure, in this storage scenario our  family would be eatin’ out and takin’ out.  As they say, “If you can’t stand the squeeze, stay out of the kitchen.”

Several days of living together helped us feel more at ease with the boxes.  After all, the situation wasn’t their  fault and they were clean and quiet enough.  Except for the 26 cubic feet of space they denied us in our home we might even have learned to enjoy their company.  Fortunately our relationship was brief, because about this time I suddenly, finally realized that a work associate had warehouse space in North Oakland with a vacant corner I could borrow.  Such, sweet relief!

When I began loading the big cartons on my pickup for the trip across town it was clear I was not Horton the Elephant at all.  He was a steadfast  fellow who never went back on a promise.  His motto?  “I said what I meant and I meant what I said. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent!”  Far from being faithful, I couldn’t get those Mayzie-egg-boxes out of our nest quickly enough.

In the warehouse I felt a twinge of remorse.  The dishes would be totally secure there but they would not be looked after, or counted occasionally, or handled with care.  And they certainly wouldn’t be warm.  That would have to wait until they were transported some time, some way to tropical Bali.  In the meantime the boxes looked inoffensive, even diminuative, in the corner of that large room.  What had all the fuss been about, anyway?  I could have given this question more thought….but instead I turned out the lights and locked the door.

There’s a postscript to the story, Wonderful Ones.  When our friend learned we were besieged by her big-ass boxes she called us right away.  She got that there was a problem, and her regret was sincere.  What’s more, she began to work out a plan to have the dishes shipped on to her in Indonesia ASAP.   That plan is still being hatched and she is keeping us posted.  So, there ya go….we may lack the virtue of Horton the selfless elephant, but at the same time our friend is not such a thoughtless Mayzie Bird after all.

NeRP

Gigi Occupies Santa Rosa

November 9, 2011

Hi, wonderful ones, I’ve come back already to quickly tell about last Saturday afternoon.  When I arrived at her house for our regular visit, Gigi asked that we drive into downtown Santa Rosa so she could take part in a planned march from the Occupy Santa Rosa encampment near city hall to the Bank of America office a few blocks away.  She’s ninety-two years of age and needs her walker to get around outside the house, so it was nice that we were able to park in a public garage  right across the street from  the Occupy camp.

There were probably fifty tents at the site and a hundred plus people of all ages were milling around. It turned out two of Gigi’s friends from her fellowship were there, Nancy and her daughter, Mary.  The scene was animated with much excited conversation, a circle of drummers, people waving their signs at passing traffic and many cars responding with honks of endorsement.

There's Gigi in the purple windbreaker, Nancy in the red coat and Mary with the violet brolly.

Rain was spattering down off and on, and although the mentioned time for the march came and went nothing much was happening.  Suddenly, a block away a group of chanting people with banners appeared who walked up the street toward the encampment and then into it.  We thought  they were the vanguard arriving to lead the march.  Instead it turned out they were the just returning from the foray to the BofA.  The march was over!

Several of  the returning marchers gathered at a tiny stage and took turns making statements and announcements. Each of these was repeated line by line by the onlookers.  This was apparently the “human megaphone ” phenom,  SR edition. It seemed a bit silly, I thought, because the crowd was small and everyone could hear what was said just fine.  Anyway, we were told that three people had made some kind of action at the BofA and were now in police captivity.  A hat was also passed around for donations to buy hay bales for the encampment, and $125 was quickly collected.  Then word went out that another march would soon be made, this time on the police station in support of the arrested activists. Our party took shelter under a tree and waited for it to start.

There seemed to be three or four bright-eyed young guys present who were sparkplug organizer types.  I’m sure plenty of consensus was going on, but such high energy people always lead the way.  Two of the dudes were talking near Gigi and one of them suggested such-and-such a tactic Occupy could deploy “next year.”  Gigi smiled at them and said emphatically, “I can’t wait that long!”  They both burst out laughing and one leaned down and hugged the fiesty elder who had just chided them for unrevolutionary wool-gathering.  When the march to the police station finally formed up and headed out, Gigi was at the front, just behind the big four-person “Occupy Santa Rosa” banner.

The marchers (maybe forty strong) moved along briskly.  Gigi put on her best speed but it was more than she could do to keep  pace.  At the end of the second block we were in the back of the pack and she had just about run out of steam.  We stopped then and said goodbye to her friends, who waved as they hurried in pursuit of the disappearing march.  After a moments’ consideration, Gigi and I turned right and made our way to a nearby cafe called Flavor which she likes (it’s next to the restaurant where we had her 90th birthday party).  The place was mostly empty, so we chose a table for two in front of the fireplace. Perfect!  Madame had a crabcake buried in tiny sweet potato frites, moi enjoyed a tasty pilaf and a glass of house red.

By the time our pleasant lunch was over the rain had arrived in earnest. On the short trek back to our parking garage Gigi had to ford a flooded gutter in her  open-toe sandals.  We thought we might meet some of the marchers returning to the Occupy camp so we could ask what had happened, but  none appeared.  We drove home to Gigi’s place where she put on dry socks and settled into her recliner.  Almost immediately the phone rang. She picked up and listened for the longest time to someone  speaking enthusiastically at the other end about something.  Turned out it was Steve, who had spent HIS Saturday afternoon attending a general assembly of people planning an Occupy Sebastopol camp. Steve was thrilled that the Occupy movement had reached his small town and he knew exactly how he was going to support the Occupiers….Chico’s would provide boxes of hot coffee!

It was getting dark, so I kissed Gigi goodbye and headed for home.  She was satisfied with how the day had gone and pleased at having done something, however small, to support the hope for change in our country.  Wonderful Ones, I think we should be proud of her doing that.

NeRP

Road Trip Las Vegas

October 19, 2011

Testing, testing….

Hello, wonderful ones — we’re live.

It’s taken me hella long to complete this feature  in which to tell you a few things about our recent vacation.  I’m hoping the news hasn’t gone completely stale in the meantime!

If you’re wondering why we drove to Las Vegas,  the answer would be  a.)  We needed a destination we could go to, enjoy and return from in six days (so, Wyoming, our first choice was not on) and  b.) It had to be sort of novel, at least to one of us (i.e. another option, Los Angeles, was out too).  Also, we wanted to give our new car a serious run to see if it’s suitable for the long retirement drives we imagine we’ll take in lieu of your pricey ocean cruises and European culture tours.  Michela had never been to Vegas, so when the idea came up it seemed perfect.

We left Berkeley on Sunday morning in the rain and I immediately became worried that it might be snowing at Tioga Pass in Sierras where we were headed.  It would have been early in the year for that, but I worried anyway. Over the phone Oami did some quick weather research for us indicating the way was clear, and during our lunch stop I found a Yosemite webcam which showed blue sky.  I was reassured as we headed into the mountains.

For us highway 120 is the direct route over the Sierras, but since it runs right through Yosemite Park a traveler must pay the standard $20.00 entrance fee.  However, if you’re an old coot you can do as I did (when prompted by the park ranger) and buy a Lifetime Pass to all our national parks for $10.00.  With this plastic card in hand you then drive through “free”.

Here we are at an epic Yosemite overlook (Cloud's Rest Mountain, left) discussing what to do with the $10 we just saved!

"Half Dome (left)? Been there....Done that."

"I enjoyed the view, Ross. Can we go now?"

Indeed, we were in a hurry to cross the mountains because we weren’t sure how long it would take to reach our resting place for the night, Bishop, California.  We turned south at  Mono Lake, not stopping to visit the tufa towers, and bee-lined down highway 395 through the high desert on a beautiful afternoon with the steep wall of the Sierras backlighted to our right.  Sooner than we expected we descended a long grade into the wide Owens Valley with the White Mountains–home to the ancient bristle-cone pines–to the east and Bishop like an oasis in the distance.

Ah, sweet home away from home!

Drinks on the lawn of the Elms Motel, with tennis players, skateboarders, fly-fishermen, ducks and canada geese all doing their thing next door in the city park.

The Elms Motel is charmingly old-school. For anglers there's a fish cleaning station near the ice machine.

And it is "Dutch Clean"

Monday morning was bright and warm.  We ate our complimentary continental breakfast on the lawn, washed squashed bugs off our windshield, loaded up, gassed up, stopped by a main street coffee bar and then hit the road. Michela was at the wheel as we motored south, still through rolling high desert and still running alongside the stark rampart of the Sierras a few miles to the west.  MM is seldom interested in sidetrips once the route has been set, but suddenly she  slowed down and signaled a right turn off the highway.  She had unexpectedly seen a sign pointing to the site of Manzanar, one of the notorious WWII relocation camps where thousands of American citizens were imprisoned because of their Japanese ancestry.

The landscape near Manzanar.

The only original structure remaining is the large camp auditorium which has become a museum. The place is now called the Manzanar National Historic Site.

A concentration camp in the desert. 10,000 people existed here in tarpaper barracks.

Apart from the auditorium (foreground) only a square mile of foundation stones and sagebrush remain.

But Manzanar and nine other wartime relocation camps are fresh in the memory of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Goodbye, Manzanar.

We continued down route 395 to Lone Pine where we turned right and headed east toward Death Valley.  The landscape became increasingly sere as we approached the Panamint Valley, DV’s next door neighbor.  At the edge of the valley we stopped at a viewpoint where Rucha and I had pulled over during our Southwest roadtrip in 1994.

The desolate view of Panamint Valley in the distance was the same as when we were here before....

....but what had been a wide shoulder of the road was now an extensive car park with restrooms.

Back in the car, we descended a thousand feet via switchbacks to the Panamint Valley, crossed it’s flat, dry floor and climbed over the mountains on the other side.  There was Death Valley, wide, low and hot. It’s an extreme desert environment MM found unfriendly and was anxious to be out of.  So, we stopped in Furnace Creek (105 degrees!)  just long enough to have lunch and shop for  curios.  Then, ascending from of the valley we pulled off to check out the classic view of DV from Zabriskie Point. After that it was full speed ahead across a final 100 miles of wild Nevada desert to Las Vegas.

"OK, got the picture. Back to the car!"

At last, desert weary and road-dazed we arrived in Vegas and navigated to our hotel for this night–the Luxor. When Rucha and I were in LV seventeen years ago the Luxor was a new, glossy black pyramid at the edge of town.  Now the city has engulfed the hotel and the International Airport next to it, and the Luxor’s glass/metal exterior looks sadly sun-worn.  The searchlight blazing straight up into the night sky from it’s apex is still stupendous, though, and I’d always been curious what the rooms were like with their sloping window walls and views into the cavernous interior of the pyramid.  Now we would see.  As we trudged through the casino with our luggage in search of the check-in desk,  MM became  dazzled  and fell behind.  She approached a hotel employee for help and told the woman, “I’ve lost my husband.”  With touching concern the staff person said,”Oh, I’m so sorry!  Please accept my condolances!”

Looking straight up in the interior of the Luxor. Elevators are in the corners and rooms are accessed by the tiered walkways. We were on the 12th floor.

Room #12050 was spacious, rather stylish and had two super comfortable beds.

Our excellent view of the Strip and the Luxor's guardian sphinx.

Once again....The Sphinx!

My guess is the pyramid's intense beacon is probably visible on our moon!

Dinner was at a stylish "mexican" restaurant in the next hotel (The Mandalay). MM wasn't aware of the mural behind her until she saw this shot of it in the camera.

Later, we made our way down The Strip on an interlocking network of elevated shuttle trams and pedestrian overpasses.

This new hotel, The Aria, puts on quite the crystalline lightshow.

The Bellagio Hotel has an 8 acre lagoon--a lake!-- out front.

I'd forgotten whatever I'd heard about this phenom....so when music came up and the lagoon erupted with brilliant swaying fountains, I was so surprised.

I think the music here was an Italian tenor singing an operatic aria. The ensemble effect with the "dancing" water was excellent.

During climactic musical moments the fountains erupted 100-200 feet high with loud, percussive booms like fireworks. It's an exciting crowd pleaser, and unlike fireworks this show can be (and is) repeated all night.

Tuesday morning. This was the day we shifted our base of operations to the Desert Club Resort a few blocks away. It had been nice to get a taste of The Strip’s hotel glamor, but what we really needed was a lower impact crib with good car access.  We rolled up our stuff, had breakfast (2 coffees, a yogurt cup, a fruit cup at the hotel’s Starbucks–$25. Yikes!), checked out and then killed a little time by visiting the Luxor’s pool. At last we motored over to the Desert Club where they welcomed us and kindly allowed us to check in hours early.

Breaking camp in room #12050. Did I mention that there are almost 4500 rooms at the Luxor Hotel?

And did I point out that the interior space in the Luxor is said to be the largest atrium on our planet?

It's a faceoff at the Luxor's pool.

The pool complex is expansive and well set up. It might have been a nice scene except for an intrusive piped-in music soundtrack which was punctuated by loud commercial spots for hotel services. We were glad we hadn't intended to stay.

Suddenly, we're at the Desert Club Resort pool! Here too an annoying rock soundtrack during the day made relaxation improbable. In the evening the canned music stopped-- though the heat of the day remained--and that was the time to swim.

An extra bonus---no sunblock required.

"See you back at our shack, Jack."

After our dip we shlepped The Strip again, hitting Harrah’s and the heavily themed Venetian Hotel where the density of the crowds was overwhelming at times.  Amazing….and this was an “off-season” week night.

Buck and Winnie, a pair of Harrah's highrollers. Check out their priceless expressions.

The Venetian was all about wonderful rocco knockoffs like this ceiling. The shot, however, gives no hint of the mobs moving through the hotel, to say nothing of the street.

I'm tellin' ya, the streets were jammed....

....really, REALLY jammed, dude.

Wednesday we slacked. There was reading, and the pool, and I practiced knot-tying with the piece of rope I’d brought along.  Until dinner the principle planned event was a trip to the Atomic Testing Museum not far from our hotel.  The name sounds absurd, like a Monty Python routine, and in that way it seems a good fit among the other surreal attractions of LV.  However, this museum was created by uber-rational scientists and defence bureaucrats and it’s in deadly earnest.  The place was also highly air-conditioned, and it left me chilled in more ways than one.

The Atomic Testing Museum is not large but it is obviously well funded.

It's centerpiece is a small theater styled as a bomb shelter....

which--by design--rumbled and shook violently as a film is showed the evolution of atomic and hydrogen bomb development....

from Cold War era above-ground testing....

to underground tests in the Nevada desert during the '80s and '90s.

The exhibits were sometimes tediously technical in their attempt to demonstrate how much below-ground testing methods have improved over time and how safe they are.

The ATM's explicit message to the public turned out to be that below-ground nuclear weapons testing may have to be re-started one day, and if that happens, "DO NOT WORRY! We experts of the defence establishment have it UNDER CONTROL."

When I emerged from the Atomic Testing Museum I felt as though I had passed through the belly of the Military-Industrial Complex and been crapped out it’s back end.  Next door was a smaller, lighter exhibit on the theme of Las Vegas during the age of atomic testing.  In it’s perverse way it washed off part of the bad smell.  At any rate, it was refreshing to see a small collection of Lee Liberace’s glam gear which may have been rescued from the lamented closure of his namesake museum in town.

A "building BOOM" you might say?

The bomb testing areas were only 65 miles north of LV. People gathered on hotel roofs to watch the detonations.

It was generally felt to be a high time in Las Vegas.

"Now appearing, Liberace! The Rat Pack! Elvis Presley! AND direct from the Nevada Test Site, Mr. Atom BOMB!!"

Back at our digs we had beers, hung on the veranda and watched the sun go down.

This cowboy needs to get out of his boots and chaps more often.

Dinner that night was at Roy’s, a fine and expensive restaurant on Maui (MM thinks it’s divine) which has now popped up in Vegas.  Our meal was  terrific, but throughout it I could not take my eyes off the two men at a nearby table who had their noses deeply in their cellphones the whole time.  Three women were with them, all in evening outfits. One of the guys was at least sharing his phone-thrill with his date, but the other dude never looked up, never acknowledged anyone.  It was shocking and it creeped me out.  I hoped the distraction of those two phone clods hadn’t turned me into another kind of boor to my own adorable dinner companion. If so, she didn’t say anything and afterward we made one last pass down The Strip, had a drink at the Bellagio and said goodbye to all that.

Dale Chuhuily's astonishing inverted glass-flower-garden on the ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel.

Although I'm not such a big Chuhuily fan, I did admire this piece of his in the Baccarat Bar. We also enjoyed two excellent caipirinhas here (@$15.00 each....yikes!).

Let's hear it one more time for the Dancing Waters! Bravo!

Hey!! They just closed the doors of Urban Outfitters in our faces. And it's still only 11:30!

Thursday morning.  Our last day in Nevada and time  for an out of town field trip….to Hoover Dam  and the recently finished, jaw-dropping Memorial Bypass Bridge.  They’re next to one another on the Colorado River about  35 miles east of LV.

The Bypass Bridge leaps from Nevada to Arizona across the gorge of the Colorado.

It's one scary-high bridge, but pedestrians are invited to walk across it. This nice detail is at the bridge approach.

A bridge view of Hoover Dam, way, way, way down there. Previous to the bypass the dam itself was the bridge over the river. But it was always a gnarly switchback route for big trucks to negotiate, and post 911 there was also a security issue least terrorists explode one of those trucks mid-dam.

Two Art Deco seraphim guard the approach to the dam. They're made of sandcast bronze with a dark patina. Their feet are polished bright, however, because everyone passing by rubs the toes for good luck.

Looking across Hoover Dam toward Arizona.

It fascinated me how the concrete dam was stitched into the rocky side of the gorge.

A boffo view down the face of the dam. Below are the halls where the power generators live, and above, of course, is the new Memorial Bypass Bridge.

Looking at Nevada.  The thing glued on the cliff is the Visitors Center.

Looking at Nevada. The structure glued onto the cliff is the Visitor Center.

These intake towers feed water to the generators through tunnels in the cliffs.

The notorious bathtub ring caused by the water of Lake Mead. 25,000 years from now when the dam has vanished, surviving humans will visit "White Canyon" and ask, "What the f--k happened here?"

On our way back from the dam we stopped 7 miles away in Boulder City for a couple of hours.  This tidy berg was built about 1930 as a meticulously planned and supervised federal government town for the people working on what at that time was called Boulder Dam.  It was a dry, vice-free  town for years and even today gambling is prohibited there, which makes it a serious oddity in a state as loose as Nevada.

Home again, though not for long. Our plan was to leave at dawn the next morning, so we took a last look around our dandy little apartment before packing up.

Our unit had a full, well equipped and very clean kitchen, a doublewide bathtub, king bed, a leather couch and two TVs.

We were a dozen steps from our parked car and a 10 minute walk from the throbbing heart of The Strip. All this cost us about $77.00 a night. A great thing too was the five-bar signal I got there on my iPhone. For the first time since I've owned it I could use my phone to move around the internet almost as fast as on our home computer.

Friday morning at 6:30 we were ready to go.  As the sun came up we swung onto the freeway and headed out of town.  On the trip home we drove southwest on Highway 15 toward LA, northwest at Barstow thru Bakersfield and then north on I5.  We stopped for a late breakfast in Bakersfield but otherwise drove steadily and fast until we reached Berkeley about 3:30pm.  Our drivetime down to Las Vegas had been about 12 hours.  The return took 8.5!

The car's loaded and we're headin' out.

Here's The Strip. The lights are on but no one's home.

Later, Vegas!

Michela and I came back happy from our getaway and feeling curiously refreshed.  It was wicked hot there and we drove a lot and we were just fine.  We didn’t gamble at all, mostly because slot machines don’t take actual coins anymore and neither of us was inspired to buy a house debit card in any of the casinos we wandered through.  Our car demonstrated that it’s excellent fuel economy specs are accurate, about 40 mpg for  highway driving.  The Hyundai’s ride is very comfortable, but unfortunately it’s electric steering system is not good.  Without constant alertness and continuous wheel corrections the car can drift from it’s lane.  This flaw makes my neck and shoulders hurt, and it brought us to the painful conclusion that we don’t want this car as our retirement cruiser after all.

That’s a sad note to end on, I know, but the end must start somewhere, right?

Goodbye, wonderful ones!    —NeRP