Ray LaHood sounds gleeful in his whitehouse.gov blog posting about high-speed rail. It is a pretty exciting project. I like trains. I don’t really know why they have to be high-speed except that they are commuter runs, meant, in many areas, to rival air flights. Does he really say that the LA to San Francisco run would only take 2 ½ hours? Wow.
Archive for January, 2010
Robert B Parker, creator of Boston sleuth Spenser, PI Sunny Randall and small-town sheriff Jesse Stone, passed away on 1/18/10. He was found dead at his desk where he had been writing, which seems like how he would have wanted it.
His other series were fun, and Appaloosa and its sequels interesting, but I grew up with Spenser.
I started reading the Spenser novels in the late 1970’s. Spenser was a hunky, clear-eyed rebel, a manly man without a lot to prove, and a streak of purposeful silliness. In one book, he tries to get confidential information from a welfare worker. The female worker correctly refuses. He asks her if she’ll get it for him if he does a one-armed push-up. She hesitates, so he drops to the floor and does a one-armed push-up. She rolls her eyes, but gives him the scoop. Unafraid to be silly in the cause of righteousness, that was Spenser.
In the late seventies, I thought I was a clear-eyed rebel. Things seemed simple. Spenser stood against some things, and for some things. His connection with Hawk, the African-American mercenary, epitomized a kind of cool, the same kind of cool, strangely, that Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little personify in Blazing Saddles—the real men, who know what it’s all about, who have cut through the denial, the hypocrisy and the bullshit to reach a place of mutual respect. In the early Spenser books, this respect is sharp-edged, since it seemed very probable that one day each will be called upon to kill the other. Two warriors, finding a balancing place of trust, at least for the space of a book.
Looking back, I wonder if this was the fragile, secret hope of men coming back from Viet Nam; poor white men and poor black men sent to fight someone else’s war, who reached a place of trust and understanding, and hoped it would last when they went stateside. Well, we all know how that went. Hawk remains an artifact of that unspoken hope.
Hawk is a bigger mystery than Spenser. We never know Spenser’s first name, but we never know Hawk’s original name, where he was born, how he grew up, where he learned to fight, to track, to kill. We don’t know why in his spare time he reads thick tomes on geopolitics and economics while sipping Cristal. Hawk kills more easily than Spenser does, and sleeps better after it. He is what Spenser could have become, and still could become, if he starts to cross the line, to violate his own personal Code.
Back then the whipcord-taut dialogue was a work in progress, but the lean, matter-of-fact action sequences were already perfected. And even then, Parker wasn’t afraid to give his readers women who were smart.
Susan Silverman, Spenser’s main squeeze, a suburban Jewish Princess, is smart enough, and tough enough, to last the long haul with Spenser, and get a Harvard PhD in the process. During those books, written in the mid-eighties, we watch Spenser struggle with the changes Susan is experiencing. The Code doesn’t provide an answer for everything. Other women characters stand out; Rachel Wallace, who is, on the surface, everything Spenser should dislike, and Patricia Utley, a madam, as elegant as a strand of pearls, smooth as an alabaster bowl, and tough as a tempered steel blade.
Back then, Spenser battled corrupt businessmen and women, the Boston political machine and its crime machine. In the eighties, the decade of greed, when crack cocaine was introduced into the inner cities, Spenser and Hawk fought drug dealers, gangsters and murderous real estate kings. Abandoned children, whether literally abandoned or emotionally and spiritually abandoned, figured prominently, including Paul, who becomes the son of Spenser’s heart. In one chilling book, Hawk and Spenser face a pair of soulless teenaged thrill-killers.
Spenser also battles to keep Susan, who actually leaves and takes up with a very bad man in one of the books. Along the way we find out more about the Code. Take a pencil and make a point at the Spenser books, lay down your straight-edge and draw a line straight back through popular culture history to Yul Brummer and the Magnificent Seven. That’s what this is about.
In the early 90s Spenser took on hypocritical right-wing hate mongers and toxically bored suburban housewives. Those of us who had been clear-eyed rebels were becoming middle-aged, and issues were no longer so clear-cut. Villains intertwined with good guys. Talking points became more important that an honest conversation. Fundamentalism of all stripes thrived. Spenser and Susan bought a house in the suburbs, just for awhile. Parker’s female characters grew stupid and predictable, while the men became stamped out copies of Spenser and Hawk; the latino Hawk, the gay Spenser. (In the Sunni Randall books, we have a gay Hawk). Instead of tough cool warriors they started to seem sad and quaint; a group of “get off my lawn” old farts reminiscing about the good old days, only with guns. Don’t get me wrong, they could still bring it. It was what happened in the space between the electric-charged action sequences that was lacking.
It was not surprising that the assassin who nearly ended Spenser’s life was called the Gray Man. Grayness was what Spenser and Hawk were up against now. It’s also not surprising that in a much later book (Rough Weather) Hawk and Spenser confronted the Gray Man, and let him live, because even though he’d done bad things, he’d done them for the daughter he had just discovered. Apparently the warrior code, the cowboy code, wasn’t just black and white either. Sometimes it was gray.
I didn’t like the later books very much, and yet, I remember Spenser and Paul building a cabin in the woods. I remember Spenser driving Susan’s car somewhere. It’s a Japanese import shaped, he tells us, like a carrot. It has push-button, electric everything. Spenser is driving west and the lowering sun is shining in underneath the visor, and, Spenser thinks, “There’s not a damn thing the car could do about it.” He likes that—the fact that ingenuity and technology can’t change some things.
And I liked those books. I loved the terse short-handed dialogue and the rhythm it gave to the prose. I love the little bits of physical detail and description dropped here and there for the reader to trip over, discover, and carry away. I loved the things Hawk and Spenser share, like boxing, and how the gym where they work out slowly changes, becoming a Health Club with a weight room in a back, with a heavy bag and a speed-bag for the regulars. I love how cool they were, and how cool we were, back then.
I’ll miss Mr. Parker, and I’ll miss Spenser, and I’ll be grateful for those early books, for the character who stood up for things. For children, for people who’d been hurt. For what felt right. For honor. For his Code.
Philip walked almost ceremoniously along the shingle towards the bank of pebbles at the edge of the land. The first time he came—he came many times—he was eager to reach the water edge, and only took in the human clutter and the tenacious vegetables with sidelong glances. He met no one. It was his adventure, and felt like his place. When he came to the end, he scrambled up the bank with the pebbles rattling and rushing below him, pulling him down with them, so that he went up slowly and with effort. There was the sea, to be seen from the unstable summit. He stood under a sunny sky and saw that it was dark and deep, with patches of wind, and contrary currents, pulling this way and that, and the waves coming in, and in, the shifting and grinding of the stones. He thought it would be good to see it in a storm, if he could stand up. He was at the edge of England. He thought about edges, and limits, and he thought about Palissy, studying salt water, and fresh water, springs and runnels on the earth. He hadn’t even considered the fact that the earth was round, that he stood on the curved surface of a ball. Here, seeing the horizon, feeling the precariousness of his standpoint, he suddenly had a vision of the thing—a huge ball, flying and covered mostly with this water endlessly in motion but held to the surface as it hurtled through the atmosphere, and in its dark depths, blue, green, brown and black, it covered the colder earth, the sand and stone, to which the light never reached, where perhaps things lived in the dark and plunged and ate each other, he didn’t know, maybe no one knew. The round earth with hills and valleys of earth and the liquid surface. It was pleasant, and frightening, to be alive in the sun.
The Chidlren’s Book
Well, since I can’t find anything worthwhile to say about writing, here’s a blatant steal from Brian Fies on story-telling. Click here. Brian is talking about graphic novels, a specific technique, but notice what he has to say about timing, pacing and building suspense.
Auburn is about thirty miles north-northeast of the California capital of Sacramento. It is in part a bedroom community for people who work in the capital and surrounding towns like Roseville and Elk Grove. It’s also one of the historic mining towns that line State Highway 49, a traditional Sierra foothill village tucked in among the hills and ravines. The population is about 13,000, and it’s the county seat of Placer County. The original downtown area has been re-imagined as Old Town, a mix of history and tourism, with a beautiful domed courthouse presiding over it.
The courthouse was built in 1894. It is technically the third courthouse, although the first structure, called a “courthouse” by the residents, was in fact a large tent. The second courthouse was a graceful Grecian revival style building made entirely of wood. As time went on, that building began to have maintenance problems. The locals began to worry about having a hall of records that was entirely wood, and these fears grew when Auburn had a couple of serious fires. That’s why they built the third one, crowning the largest hill downtown, three-stories high, with a further sense of grandeur added by the long row of stairs that leads up from each side to the second story entrances. Lawyers and legal clerks in Auburn must have some good calf muscles.
The courthouse is still in use as a courthouse but the ground floor also has a lovely museum that shares a little bit of Auburn’s background. During the work week, visitors have to go through a metal detector to get into the museum, but they do not on Saturdays and Sundays. I felt torn. I was pleased at the convenience (me, with two cameras, two lenses, a purse and a tote bag) but also, as a county worker, a little insecure, thinking that someone could come in on a weekend and hide out until Monday when they could run amok.
The museum had, as one of their rotating exhibits, a series of wedding dresses through the decades. The 1920s dress was pure flapper; a simple thin bodice that looked like a boy’s undershirt, a short silk skirt with a handkerchief hem and a veil that also functioned as a train, about three times the length of the dress. As a bonus, they had a set of photographs, and a picture of that wedding was included. The bride was, well, slender, not to say skinny, with the 20s style headpiece and the veil curling around her ankles like seafoam. They had two dresses from the 1940s, much longer, needless to say, and a simple, lovely white dress from 1910, which was also, to my surprise, kind of short, ending at the ankle.
The museum also has an interesting exhibit on the dentist, Dr Hawver, who, in the late 1800s, located the area’s famous fossil cave. Our docent pulled out the models of the fossil skills of a smilodon, the saber-tooth cat—okay, there’s a good logo for a dentist—and a dire wolf, both of which were found in Hawver cave. The cave has been closed to the public for quite some time because of damage, but the locals are working to get it reopened or at least allow tours. The place was full of Pleistocene era fossils, most of which are now at UC Berkeley. It’s not every day at a local museum that you get to play with a saber-tooth cat skull.
In the lobby they have a wonderful set of Native American baskets from tribes across the continent; from Midwestern cradleboards to Pomo berry baskets and woven water bottles, from the Pate family collection.
The museum was wonderful, and there are two other museums in town we didn’t visit, which was a mistake. Instead we walked down to Old Town, which has a lot of antique stores, some bars, many restaurants and lots of cutesy gift shops. A little disappointing. There is a brew-pub that looked like it might be a good place to eat. The museums would have been a better choice overall, although we did visit an interesting jewelry gallery called Oz, with some wonderful metal sculptures, and a great collective next to the brew-pub. The collective had wood, glass, photography, sculpture, pottery and paintings, and they were having an opening. A Native American woman, not local, was displaying her work. She was in full native regalia and she looked wonderful! The room her display was in was so crowded that we couldn’t get a close look or a chance to meet her; disappointing for us but great for her.
There are a few inns and B&Bs in the area, but we chose the Best Western Golden Key, We were meeting someone who lives in the area and it just seemed easier. It was the perfect choice. The rooms were fine, nothing luxurious, but sparkling clean and comfortable. The staff were, to a person, the most helpful, cheerful and friendly people I have seen in a hotel in a long time. Chuck gave us a big smile as we checked in, sharing jokes about the weather (“Chance of showers,” he said, gesturing to the Weather Channel, as we shook water off our coats.) He volunteered information about restaurants and amenities such as grocery stores. They booked our friend Sharon into the room right next to us so we basically had a suite. When I went up to the office a little bit later to get an additional towel and some paper towels, they young woman behind the counter went overboard, giving us a whole roll. Or, I don’t know, maybe she just knew us. Maids smiled and said hello as we passed them in the morning, and even the young man lugging a toilet to a room that was being refurbished had a big grin. “I don’t usually do this,” he said. “Honest.” He let me take his picture.
The Golden Key has a pool, and they had covered it with a tent. When we went inside, our glasses fogged up. I took mine off. It didn’t make any difference. It was cold enough outside, and the pool was warm enough, that the place functioned like a sauna.
The Best Western chain offers a complimentary breakfast. This isn’t a big aluminum urn of coffee and some pastries wrapped in cellophane. It’s a high-tech breakfast. They have waffle irons on timers, batter dispensers standing by, hot and cold cereal, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, bagels, toast and muffins, and one-cup coffee makers that had me trying to figure out where the di-lithium crystals went in. These coffee makers have a cylinder on top into which you place a cartridge of coffee syrup. You then place a cup under the spout beneath the cylinder, and close the lid. As a third step, you chose whether you want a full cup or a three-quarters-full cup (three quarters will obviously make the coffee stronger). I am leery of coffee-syrup coffee generally, but this was all right and it was so fun to make that it didn’t matter. The timed, no-stick, even-I-couldn’t-screw-it-up waffle iron was the most fun though.
About a block north of the motel is a super-fruit-stand called Ikeda’s. In addition to citrus, grapes, berries and apples they have dried fruit, home-made pies they are apparently well-known for, caramel corn and snacks, a plethora of smears, salsas, spreads and dips, and Ikeda memorabilia such as T-shirts and tote bags. There is also a small café attached. We didn’t try the pies, but I can attest to the fine quality of their dips and their chocolate covered pretzels. Based on the crowd in their parking lot at any time, I’m not the only one who thinks they’ve got good stuff. If you are in a motel and you don’t want to go out for dinner, you could easily find enough to make a picnic meal at Ikeda’s.
We wanted to go out, though, preferably to a place with a bar, so how convenient that there was a restaurant right next to the motel. Lou LaBonte’s looked like a 1960s vintage steakhouse, with the big neon sign out front. Chuck described it, correctly, as “white linen but casual.” He said, “The first time I saw it I thought I was under-dressed to go in. Then I watched people walk out and decided, maybe I was over-dressed.” That sounded promising. We walked over to make a reservation. The entrance takes you straight into the bar, with a TV screen in the back and a long curve of dark polished wood. The bar has two levels—almost like a dance floor or stage at the back, although they had tables set up with balloons tied to the chair, celebrating someone’s 70th birthday. They have karaoke after nine on Fridays and Saturdays. Three steps down lead you into the dining area. There is a fire place on the south wall. Our very nice hostess saved us a table next to it. The place looks like Dean Martin and Peter Lawford would have hung out there and drunk martinis in the sixties. Well, maybe not Martin and Lawford. Maybe some B-list rat-pack wannabes who dressed like them. Over the hall into the kitchen is a dark green semi-circular awning that reads, “Lou La Bonte Theater.”
That wall is mirrored, creating a pleasant illusion of more space, and the walls facing west are windowed, although you’re only overlooking Interstate 80. The hills beyond it might be nice in the spring, though. Throughout the place they have old black-and-white photographs of celebrities. It turns out Lou La Bonte was a musical arranger in Hollywood until the 1950s when he burned out, and came north. He opened the restaurant 61 years ago and they are celebrating that anniversary. The menu is heavy on the beef; prime rib, steaks, burgers, but there are a lot of fish entrees and some pasta. The Sig-O and I ordered the prime rib and Sharon had a New York steak, which took up practically her entire plate. The Sig-O, on impulse, ordered an ahi tuna appetizer for the three of us. This was a little miracle, a complete surprise in the Sierra foothills—sushi grade ahi, crusted in sesame seeds, with soy sauce and wasabi and a mixture of finely shredded cabbage and Asian noodles dressed with a light rice vinegar dressing. The fish was so fresh I’m wondering how they did that. It was perfect and it could have been a meal.
But then I had the prime rib too. It was good, and the mashed potatoes were light and flavorful.
We split a crème brulee also, and it was rich and subtle. The meal was very good but the appetizer and the dessert were beyond that, exceeding expectations.
Like the hotel staff, the servers were efficient, friendly, always attentive but never intrusive. We liked it so much we decided to go there again on Saturday rather than the brewery, although we unanimously agreed to forego the karaoke experience.
When I go back I’ll devote more time to the museums, maybe even participate in the Old Town walking tour that leaves from the courthouse on Saturdays at 10:00am. I’ll go up to the old quarry. Maybe they’ll even have Hawver Cave open for tours! In fact, the best plan for the area would be to take a couple more days and tour Nevada City, Grass Valley and Auburn. I could always stop at Ikeda’s for provisions.
13500 Lincoln Way
Auburn, CA 95603-3216
Best Western Golden Key
13450 Lincoln Way
Auburn, CA 95603-3238
Lou La Bonte’s Restaurant
13460 Lincoln Way
Auburn, CA 95603
At 8:00 pm PST, Rachel Maddow dumped her whole scheduled show and covered the Haitian earthquake. She interviewed an American in Haiti via telephone, the Haitian ambassador, and a woman from UNICEF. While she was doing this, MSNBC kept putting up graphics of the 800 number people could use to call to find about relatives and loved ones on the island, and later the contact information for UNICEF and the Red Cross to assist with donations.
On the Fox channel, Bill O’Reilly used this time to interview Fox’s latest “News Analyst.” She had a nice “down” hair style tonight. Since she is a “news analyst” they of course spent time rehashing her response to the 60 Minutes interview which, by the way, she didn’t see. Why do people call them Faux News? She said it was BS that she didn’t know there were 2 Koreas. O’Reilly helpfully asked her if Steve Schmidt was lying. (Note: To my knowledge, Schmidt never said Palin didn’t know there were two Koreas–he said she didn’t understand why there were two Koreas.)
Rachel Maddow inerviewed someone who suggested people not try to come to Haiti to help, not yet. There is no power in the country’s capital, which was very close to the epicenter, and the air traffic tower at the airport is one of damaged buildings. “Keep your feet where they are, and send us your prayers,” he said.
A little bit later Fox News did provide some information, including Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks and the same footage MSNBC had been showing for half an hour (which is courtesy of the New York Times).
Rachel Maddow explained the presence of UN Peacekeepers in Haiti and how that might help address the immediate rescue and recovery needs, told us the Coast Guard was sending four cutters, and reminded us how to donate, including the ability to text Haiti to 90999 and automatically give the Red Cross a $10 donation (It shows up on your cell phone bill).
Bill O’Reilly hawked goods from the Bill-O’Reilly-dot-com store in the last 3 minutes of his show.
Why do I love liberals?
The end of last year, Holy Roast, in downtown Santa Rosa, and Run Around Brew, a coffee truck based in west county, both helped me say “thank you” to the great folks who work for me.
The week before Christmas I bought coffee and muffins for the Service Center crew downtown. Holy Roast had everything ready early. They don’t make the muffins there (I think Denise gets them from Muffin Street) but it was a perfect selection and they offered to help me carry them out. Since our office is literally right across the street this wasn’t necessary. They also provided two large thermal containers with coffee and decaf and all the “condiments;” half and half, sugar, artificial sweetener, napkins and stirrers. It was perfect.
The county was closed between Christmas Eve and New Year’s as a cost-savings measure, but some offices had to be open to provide emergency services. We were one of those offices. Actually, we were the only office “on campus” so to speak, that was required to be open. I arranged with Lorraine of Run-Around Brew to show up one morning and hand out coffee drinks, on me. This was a great arrangement! Staff liked it, and I have to say they were pretty cheap dates. It was a nippy morning and many, many people ordered hot chocolate, which is cheaper than a coffee drink or a smoothie. It was a simple things but folks really liked it.
Thanks to Denise and Lorraine for great service and fine products!
This link leads to a long and interesting article about a GOP–Republican–Political Action Committee called Republicans for Choice, and some unusual and questionable use of contributors’ funds. I was surprised for a couple of reasons, and the first one was that there was actually a Republican lobbying group that believed in reproductive rights. Some of the percentages quoted in the article are rather reassuring. A large percentage of actual Republicans are pro-choice.
The article also raises interesting questions about how money gets spent, what’s legal and what’s illegal. Legal or not, Ms Stone, the subject of the piece, does not seem to be using the contribution’s shes getting in a very effective manner, as far achieving the PAC’s goals are concerned, and she seems to get a lot of parking tickets!
Infusions tea shop
Sebastopol, Ca 95472
If I post twice a week, and there are 52 weeks in a year, then I should do 104 postings a year. In 2010, at least ten of those will be about chocolate. Those two sentences don’t count as being about chocolate since they’re about arithmetic. Let’s see if I can gracefully segue into a chocolate commentary.
For those of us in the west county who have been in mourning since La Dolce V closed, Sonoma Chocolatiers may offer some comfort. This business originally had a shop in Santa Rosa, but that proved too pricey, so they moved to Sebastopol, and purchased Infusions tea shop. They serve tea, coffee, light meals and dark chocolate extravagances. During spring and summer, you can occasionally find them at the Sebastopol farmers market.
Sonoma Chocolatiers only uses dark chocolate. They make a few bars including a nice one with hazel nuts (the warm nutty flavor offsets the bitterness of the chocolate), but their specialty is truffles. When I first discovered them, they were using warm spices and peppers with their chocolate, creating Mayan spice and other spiced truffles. These were good. They expanded into tea-based chocolate candies. They make a number of tea-based truffles, including a citrus Earl Gray truffle that’s quite refreshing. Of course they make the old standby as well, a chocolate truffle.
Some of their mixtures are a little too adventurous for me. My palate isn’t educated enough to sort out bleu cheese and chocolate truffles. Even lavender truffles, which are becoming more popular and popping up in various places, aren’t my favorite. I’m just saying.
For old-fashioned comfort food chocolate decadence, you can’t beat a Sonoma Chocolatiers brownie.
Valentine’s Day, the national chocolate holiday, is coming up in a month and a half. The Chocolatiers have nice gift boxes and will do an assortment of truffles. Infusions also offers tea—as you might expect—and some light lunch fare. Sometimes they have life music. It’s an intentionally rustic, pleasant place to stop for rejuvenation after you’ve finished shopping Main Street.
You can find the candies other places in town, such as at Adela’s Westside Café, at Viansa Winery in Sonoma, or via the internet. The website alludes to milk chocolate, but I have never seen milk chocolate product of theirs.
25200 Arnold Dr
Sonoma, CA 95476-9222