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December 2009
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February 2010

Yosemite This Time

Vicki and I spent three lovely days at Yosemite National Park over the Martin Luther King Birthday weekend. We took the San Joaquin train from Martinez to Merced, then took a bus to the Ahwahnee Lodge inside the park. Since I hate driving (especially driving in ice and snow, or even when ice and snow is threatened), this mode of getting there was a substantial relief, even if it did take a while longer than driving. We were right on time for quick, clean, comfortable transportation.

We were lucky enough to get into our room early (check-in is at 4), and were also fortunate, finally, to get the vaunted room 444, which has a perfect view of the falls and its own semi-private deck (shared with one other room on the fourth floor). It was expensive but worth it--or would have been worth it if not for the nearly incessant rain. I was out on the deck every moment it was daylight and not raining--which wasn't very often.

Vicki had an unerring sixth sense about when it was best to hike, and we managed to do almost all of our hiking without rain, except on Monday, the last day.

The room was lovely, the staff was attentive, the meal in the Ahwahnee dining room was spectacular. Since I had a coat and tie, I easily met the dress code for dinner: "Dinner dress code in The Ahwahnee Dining Room is 'Resort Casual'. Gentlemen are asked to wear collared shirts and long pants. Ladies are asked to wear dresses, skirts or slacks and blouses." It's in the brochures, and they remind you when you make dinner reservations, and still people show up for dinner in shorts, flip flops and tee-shirts. Go figure. Welcome to California. I admit it; I had the prime rib. They really did it right, and served me enough that I could have it for dinner the next night as well.

The park was spectacular, as it is always, at any time of day, any time of year. Beauty sublime and spectacular, and the perfect person to share it with, my wife Vicki.

We did our usual hikes, to the falls on the back trail (the unpaved one), then to Mirror Lake (also on the unpaved trail), plus a few rounds of the valley floor. Checkout Monday was noon, but our bus didn't leave until 3:40. We whiled away three hours in the lobby. The bus was late, and the bus "shelter" was cold amid the whipping wind and rain. The bus poked along, and included a 20-minute stop to remove its chains once we were nearly out of the park, which had experienced a mix of rain and snow that morning. As the YARTS bus poked along, making all the stops where no one got on or off, we noticed that it was going to be touch and go to catch our train at 6:30. We arrived at the Merced train station at 6:29.

We needn't have worried. Our train was three hours late. The torrential downpour that day in Southern California (whence the northbound San Joaquin originates) was apparently the equivalent of "leaves on the track" in Britain, in terms of its effect on train transportation. Fortunately, the Merced station is comfortable and heated, so we whiled away the time reading. Fortunately, we had food and water along as well. Alas, we ended up at Martinez at 11:30 instead of 8:30. It made the next day in school seem extra long. I consoled myself with the fact that I've been on planes that were that late.

The Princess and the Frog

3 stars out of 5

If you raise your children right, your daughter will still be willing to watch a Disney movie with you when she's 29, and I can prove it. We were going to see Invictus, but there are two movie theaters in Emeryville, and I mistakenly took us to the wrong one. She looked up at the big board and asked, "Have you seen the Princess and the Frog?" I hadn't, Invictus had been going for 20 minutes and was 10 minutes away, so in we went. Regular readers will know I am a sucker for good animation, and this was good animation. Alas, the music, while OK, did not exactly soar. I mean, we're not talking about Little Mermaid here, more like Sherman and Sherman from the mid-60s. There was dumb stuff, pretty stuff, moving stuff, clever stuff, and a very satisfying Disney ending. I didn't feel my 90 minutes were wasted, and you might not either. Especially if you go with your daughter.

Speaking of daughters, my younger daughter is kind of boycotting the film; she objects to the fact that the first Disney movie featuring a Black princess has her spend most of her screen time as green frog. "It doesn't seem fair," she notes. Still, she adds, the ancillary market for stuff based on the film seems to be going nuts, so Disney must be doing something right.

Carroll Cat Column, Rae spots scanner story, Reynolds checks In, Health Care Solution Video, Dan Grobstein File

Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle: Crafty cat tricks

My daughter Rae noticed this: TSA tries to assuage privacy concerns about full-body scans

Craig Reynolds checks in:

A regular reader sent in this cute video link:
The "Grow A Pair" Solution to Health Care Reform

Dan Grobstein File

  • Complaint Box | The E-Snub

    In the good old days, people used to duck your phone calls. But in the electronic era, a new brand of disdain is in vogue.
  • Doughnut Hole of Knowledge
    I would say that I have a doughnut hole in my obsessive knowledge of events which runs from the mid-70s through the mid-90s, probably because I was working working working. [Ed. note: this person's news profile closely matches my own, and perhaps that of many middle boomers]
  • And the old days with armies of bookkeepers and tellers and collating, storing and mailing cancelled checks was somehow less costly than the all electronic systems of today?

    Plus the banks were giving 5% on savings accounts.

    Oh yeah. They didn't pay multi million dollar salaries and bonuses.

    From The New York Times:

    YOUR MONEY: Free Checking Could Go the Way of Free Toasters

    Overdraft fees had helped to subsidize free checking, but as those fees begin to fall, free checking may disappear.
  • I read all his books when I was a kid except for the writing articles in your spare time one. I reread "Ensign O'Toole & Me" and "All the Ships at Sea" about a year ago & googled him and was surprised to find that he was still alive.

    ARTS | January 14, 2010
    William J. Lederer, Co-Author of 'The Ugly American,' Dies at 97
    Mr. Lederer was a writer and career naval officer who co-wrote "The Ugly American," a novel that barely veiled a blistering critique of the nation's foreign policy in Southeast Asia.

Rest In Peace, Dr. Patricia L. Swenson, 1917-2010

One of my mentors, one of the most important non-family members in my life died this week, and it appears The Oregonian is going to take its own sweet time in posting an obituary. Apparently, in their desperate rush to fire anyone who knows anything about Portland and its history, the editors of the paper have stripped it of any institutional memory. Dr. Patricia L. Green Swenson was a Portland institution for five decades, and deserves a public commemoration.

In the meantime, a search for "Patricia L. Swenson" should reveal something more than her donation of the KBPS papers to the University of Maryland.

There is a brief obituary on the KBPS website (which is apparently not indexed in Google). There, you can see a picture of her, in case you aren't sure if this is the same Dr. Swenson you knew.

[UPDATE: The Oregonian finally got around to posting an obituary on Jan. 10]

She was "The Doctor," our PLS... our Pretty L.... Supervisor (she signed everything with her initials), aka  "She Who Must Be Obeyed." She was a force of nature, and a force for good, and even though, as far as I know, her Ph.d. in Education never resulted in her spending a single day in the classroom, she was one of the greatest educators I ever met. In June 1947, she replaced the late Mary Elizabeth Gilmore as KBPS manager, a position Dr. Swenson held until her retirement in 1994.

She had a long marriage to Daryl Swenson, an engineer at KOIN-TV. They had no children. Daryl pre-deceased her, as did her sister.

Dr. Swenson was tough but fair. She was sometimes difficult to work with (I only knew her as a student), but she was fiercely loyal and worked very hard for her students.

Two stories about The Doctor I knew.

We were coming back from a remote broadcast. Both my hands were full of equipment, so I hip checked the door to the auditorium, and climbed to the station's studio and office on the second floor. I put the gear down, turned around, and... no Doctor. I went back downstairs, where she was patiently waiting outside, to remind me that gentlemen held the door open for ladies, a lesson I've never forgotten.

When I came to KBPS, I was an unpolished but very enthusiastic and talented freshman. When I left four years later, I was chief of staff and had a 1st Class Radiotelephone Operators permit. I'd been a disc jockey at KVAN and a talk show host at KLIQ. I owed it all to the doctor (and my Benson radio shop education). I made mistakes, and she made sure I learned from them.

In the summer of 1973, I had mailed applications to more than 100 newspapers for a summer internship. All of them turned me down, including my hometown paper, the Oregon Journal. I called Dr. Swenson to find out if I could get a summer job at the station. She said to me, "Don Sterling, the editor of The Journal is on my advisory board. Let me see what I can do." A week later, I got a letter that said the paper had changed its mind, and asked me if I could start on May 28, 1973. I could and I did. It was the start of my 28-year career in journalism. I owed it all to The Doctor.

Literally thousands of young people owe their start in life and/or broadcasting to the guidance of Dr. Swenson. It is trite, but true: after God made her, He threw away the mold.


December 1977. It was a weird time in my life. I was 25. My fiancée had broken off our engagement (she met someone else) and tossed me out of the Cow Hollow apartment in San Francisco we shared (her name was on the lease). I was coming up on my first anniversary as a PR man for Bank of America, but over Thanksgiving I'd had a job interview in Portland that made it seem likely I'd be going to work for the Oregon Journal in the New Year. I had finished the manuscript for my first (and so far, only) book, and the proofs had come back from the publisher. I'd met several women at a World Affairs Council wine tasting (including the one who has been my wife for 30 years). I was living in PG's spare bedroom in Noe Valley. He let me drive his convertible Mustang sometimes, because I didn't have a car.

Like I said, a weird time in my life. The bank had a policy (dictated by federal regulators) that all employees had to take all their accrued vacation every year. Turns out most bank fraud is discovered when the fraudster is on vacation. The policy applied to all employees, even PR people with absolutely zero access to any bank assets of any type (except our paychecks). So, I had to take a week off in December. I had my proofs, and they needed to be corrected. The bedroom I was living in was both small and a bit depressing.

I had only been living in SF for a little over a year, and I'd never been to Yosemite. How romantic, I thought. I'll edit my proofs at Yosemite. I reserved a Canvas Cabin and, during our third date (dinner at her apartment in Berkeley), asked Vicki to join me. She declined. So I drove to Yosemite by myself. It was beautiful and magical, and fortunately the roads were clear and dry. I kept the top down and wore a heavy coat and gloves, because who wants to drive a convertible with the top up?

Yosemite was truly, madly, deeply cold. Bereft of distractions, I spent my days staring at the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen and marking typos on the proof sheets of my book. I ate every night in the Ahwahnee dining room, and developed a crush on the (female) piano player in the lounge. She was polite but disinterested. I fell in love with the Ahwahnee and with Yosemite Park--a love that has lasted for 32 years. Vicki had I have been a dozen times, with and without our daughters, and have stayed in canvas cabins, in the motel and at the Ahwahnee. We are taking the train and bus to the park for the three-day weekend. A major storm is predicted for Sunday and Monday. Regardless of the weather, it will be magnificent, because Yosemite is always magnificent.

Me and Orson Welles

4 stars out of 5

I haven't read the Robert Kaplow novel that Holly Gent Palmo adapted for this movie, although I have read descriptions and reviews of it on the Internet. I love a novel with a great conceit, and this is a great conceit; a star-struck kid from the suburbs walks in and lands a bit part in Welles' famous Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar. Director Richard Linklater handles the material deftly, pulling a subtle performance out of Zac "High School Musical" Efron, and staying out of the way of another cinematic triumph by Claire Danes. Christian McKay channels Welles is a way that is absolutely spooky. He has the look and the voice down pat (apparently, he's done a one-man show as Welles). This movie really stayed with me, which is why I gave it four stars. It is a brilliant portrayal of the most amazing week in a young man's life. In fact, when it's over, you might not even realize only one week was depicted (I only figured it out after reading about the film afterwards). What particularly struck me was the vivid portrayal of the total deflation of a return to normal life after sampling the heights. I had a similar experience after I was not allowed to follow the Robert Kennedy campaign from Oregon to California in 1968. Watching Zac back in school after his Welles adventure ended was touching, and oh-so-true-to-life. A rollicking, fast-moving, marvelously entertaining film.

Looking for Dean Vannice, Craig Reynolds Checks In, An Afghan Note, Dan Grobstein File

Another plea: If you know anything about this commercial photographer, particularly where its negatives ended up, please let me know!

  • Dean Vannice Photography
    Industrial Publicity
    ORegon 8-6035
    929 S. La Brea
    Inglewood, CA

Craig Reynolds checks in:

A quick political note: The Afghan Trap--US provoked Soviet Invasion in 1980

Dan Grobstein File