Thursday, October 12, 2017

Whispering Jesse and Hurricane Irma

Brian cooling it after helping set anchors in Marine Stadium
(Click photos for full-size views)
(I apologize for the delay in posting this account. The events depicted took place September 7-10, 2017.)

When I received the mandatory evacuation order from the Coconut Grove Sailing Club in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma making landfall in Florida, I knew I would need to travel to Miami and move Whispering Jesse to a safer place. I flew there on the Thursday before the hurricane struck on Sunday and was met by our friend Brian McGrath. He picked me up at the airport in the early afternoon and drove us to the club, where we quickly fired up the boat's engine and motored across Biscayne Bay to Marine Stadium on Virginia Key, north of Key Biscayne. The stadium is an abandoned motor boat racing basin that now serves as Miami's best hurricane hole. It is protected on all but the northwest side, the shallow water keeps the wave action to a minimum, and the muddy bottom offers good holding. The other recommended hurricane hole is the Coral Gables Waterway, a mangrove enshrouded estuary where Brian and his co-owner had moved their boat, Lionesse, a couple days before.

Marine Stadium was less crowded with boats than expected considering our late arrival, and we found a good anchoring spot away from other boats, though a little exposed, about halfway down the basin, across from the abandoned concrete bleachers. We spent the afternoon hours setting anchors using the strategy outlined by former CGSC Commodore Bill Beavers during his annual hurricane preparedness seminars. The idea is to set three anchors 120 degrees apart from each other with about equal scope. I was pleased with my foresight in having replaced the short, rusty anchor chain attached to Whispering Jesse's primary anchor, a 40-pound CQR, with 100 feet of chain and new nylon rode just this past spring. The boat included a second anchor, a 26-pound Danforth, when we purchased her, and I had added a second similar one after Bill's seminar three summers ago.

Miami skyline at dusk from Marine Stadium
We turned the boat into the northeasterly wind and dropped the primary anchor off its windlass, letting out all 100 feet of chain and about 50 feet of rode. Then, using neighboring boats as markers, we maneuvered the boat as far off the wind to port as we could and dropped the first secondary anchor off the stern. We did the same with the remaining anchor on the starboard side. We then led the secondary anchor lines up to the bow, adjusted their slack, and cleated them off separately. Finally, we took back the 50 feet of rode on the primary, readjusted the secondary lines for sufficient slack, and securely snubbed the primary anchor's chain. With all three anchors secured at the bow, the boat could spin freely if it needed to, though the possible tangle would be difficult to unravel after the storm.

In addition to setting the anchors, Brian and I needed to reduce windage, but we were sweaty and tired, and it was starting to get dark, so we opted to wait until the next morning. We spent the evening eating sandwiches Brian had picked up and discussing the current political situation, about which we have opposite but well-reasoned opinions. Then it was off to restless sleep in the stifling cabin.

Whispering Jesse is a cutter rig, with two furling head sails. They are a serious pain to remove, so I left them in place, tightly furled and with the sheet lines wrapped in spirals from their clews down to the deck, where we secured the extra to the lifeline stanchions. The main sail we also left in place, secured inside its heavy nylon Doyle Cradle Cover. We took down the canvas bimini and dodger, secured their frames, removed the Forespar davit we use to raise and lower the outboard engine, removed the covers from the engine itself, and replaced the dorade cowls with plates. It wasn't as much as we could have done, but I hoped it would be enough.

Whispering Jesse secured with 3 anchors in Marine Stadium
Juan from the sailing club picked us up around noon in a launch and took us back to the club. The mooring field there was eerily empty. There were still a few boats remaining and Juan explained that the owners were unable to move them, because of distance or health issues, or because they no longer cared. Juan said the club's policy is to "86" those boats from the mooring field and bill the owners for their boats' removal.

I had been in touch with other friends from the club, Erik and Karen, and they had offered to let me stay in their guest room during the storm. Brian drove me to their place, about a mile from the club, and we parted company, with my undying gratitude for his invaluable assistance and with best wishes for our boats making it through the storm.

Karen is an emergency services coordinator, so naturally she was called out for the entire duration of the storm. Erik is a college professor, and all the schools were closed in anticipation, so he would have been home alone if not for my company. Their boat, Ms. Mary Lou, was secured in the Coral Gables Waterway near Brian's. The night I arrived at their place, they hosted a hurricane party with other CGSC members. Erik and Karen are quite the cooks and served up an amazing meal of grilled meats and vegetables, homemade bread, and homemade pumpkin pie with homemade ice cream. The drink of choice was the aptly named Dark and Stormy, dark rum and ginger beer over ice.

Karen was gone before dawn the next morning, leaving Erik and me with the minor task of preparing their place for the coming storm by closing their hurricane shutters and securing loose furniture, outdoor plants, and ladders. Over many cups of coffee, there was plenty of time for talk about past sailing adventures, storm tactics, personal histories, and politics. Erik and I are more of a mind than Brian and I when it comes to political philosophy.

Saturday night was blustery but Sunday slowly degenerated into a serious tropical storm. Erik and I couldn't see much from behind the hurricane shutters but what we did see was concerning. There was not much rain but the winds were fierce, with gusts we estimated at 80 knots or more. Trees were beating against the house and losing branches. Shrubs were denuded. Cell and internet access had died the evening before and the electricity had gone out by morning, leaving only my battery-powered radio tuned to Miami public radio for storm updates. The announcers warned people to stay inside and not be "knuckleheads" by going out into the thick of the storm, so we sat in the little light afforded by battery-powered lanterns and worked up serious cases of cabin fever. By late afternoon, when we had convinced ourselves that the worst was over, we donned our rain jackets and ventured out to see what there was to see, a couple of reckless knuckleheads afterall.

What follows is a slideshow of what we saw:

Falling trees destroy a wall along Bird Avenue in Coconut Grove

The intersection of SW 27th Avenue and S. Bayshore Drive, looking toward Dinner Key Marina, is knee-deep in water

Looking southwest along S. Bayshore Drive toward Peacock Park and the Mutiny hotel

Kenneth M. Myers Bayside Park exercise equipment is underwater; Coconut Grove Sailing Club clubhouse is in the background

Howling winds, MT Celebration crew securing lines, empty CGSC mooring field, club house in distance

Debris in Dinner Key Marina parking lot; a man's body was found in debris piled near the Mutiny hotel

Destroyed sailboat in Dinner Key Marina

Grove Bay Grill/Scotty's awning framework with destroyed sailboats and massive piles of debris

Sinking catamaran and debris piled at Grove Key Marina; Erik and I were interviewed here by a USA Today reporter but as far as we know the story was not published 

One of many sailboats we saw tossed up on shore

Next: The day after the storm

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pinback at the Summit Music Hall in Denver

Pinback at Summit Music Hall in Denver on September 2, 2017
Nan and I drove to Denver over Labor Day weekend for a concert by one of our favorite bands, Pinback. We had seen them once before, at the Ogden Theatre in Denver back in November 2009, and had a wonderful time, so when we heard they were returning, it was an easy decision. Nan gave me the tickets as a birthday gift.

Summit Music Hall is located in the LoDo area of Denver, close to Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies play. We had a quick dinner at nearby Kachina, a newer restaurant featuring southwestern cuisine, and then walked around the corner to see that there was already a line forming at the Summit's door more than twenty minutes before opening. We had hoped to find seats in the balcony but by the time we got up there, they were already taken. We did find standing room at the rail overlooking the stage and the view was not too bad.

While we waited for the opening act to take the stage, we chatted with Ian and Ross, two brothers from Jacksonville who were sitting next to us. They had been to the same concert the night before and were excited to see both bands again. Ross mentioned that Rob Crow from Pinback was personally manning the souvenir stand downstairs. I had suspected as much when I rushed past on my way up to the balcony and saw a familiar-looking redheaded guy, though he was much thinner than I remembered. I missed my chance to talk with Rob before the previous concert, when it turned out that he and his band mates were eating dinner at the same diner we were before their concert, but I wasn't sure it was him until he took the stage later.

When I stepped up to the souvenir stand, Rob was standing behind it wearing a black "Crew" t-shirt and two fans were looking at what was available, which was not much. There was an assortment of Pinback and side project CDs but no t-shirts or caps. When the other fans left, I looked up at Rob and said, "No coffee cups?" He just chuckled. I glanced back down at the CDs, then up at Rob and said, "Well... I have all the music already, so... I guess I'll just go and hear you play it live now." He smiled, I gave him a thumbs-up, he waved, and I walked back to the balcony stairs. It wasn't much of a conversation but I'm pretty sure he could appreciate how much I love his band's music.

Minus the Bear opened, and while I like their music, it all sounded the same to me after a few songs. I recognized a couple of the songs from the only album of theirs that I have, "Menos el Oso", and they closed with one of those, "Drilling".

Pinback's set was excellent. It was an hour and a half of songs I know by heart, including some they didn't play last time, such as "Boo" and my favorite, "Concrete Seconds". Last time, Pinback was a five-piece band, but this time it was only guitarist Rob, bassist extraordinaire Zach, and a drummer. I couldn't tell how they were doing it but there were keyboard fills and extra bass lines. The effect was seamless and every song was perfectly executed but extremely loud. Our heads were buzzing on the walk back to the hotel and into the next morning during the drive home.

Monday, June 5, 2017

People Who Died

(with a nod to The Jim Carroll Band)

I have reached an age--59 later this month--at which many of the people I have known in my life are now dead. Relatives, friends, associates, so many are gone and so many have met unnatural ends. At odd moments, I find myself mentally cataloging all the different ways they have died. Here, in no particular order, are the people who come to mind:
  • Uncle Bud died at 47 of a heart attack during open-heart surgery.
  • Aunt Mary Anne died of breast cancer 19 days later.
  • A guy I worked with at the MSOE student newspaper died of AIDS in the early '80s.
  • Henry drowned while whitewater kayaking on the Crystal River.
  • Victor drowned at Lake Powell while swimming between boats.
  • Ryan drowned trying to save his dog from drowning. The dog lived.
  • Haley died in a water skiing accident at Ruedi Reservoir.
  • David died in an avalanche while helicopter skiing in Canada.
  • Atsushi died in a fall while climbing Mt. McKinley.
  • Doug died when his helicopter crashed while setting utility poles near Glenwood Springs.
  • John crashed his plane into Monterey Bay.
  • Bob died when his plane crashed, along with a client and the client's dog.
  • A guy from my guitar class died while paragliding when he couldn't stop a spin.
  • Mary crashed her car into a bridge abutment in Milwaukee.
  • Jeff was killed on his motorcycle in a collision with a truck near Glenwood Springs.
  • Gary died of complications following a bicycling accident.
  • Dan died of a heart attack while skiing at Snowmass.
  • Howard died of a heart attack while mountain biking near Aspen.
  • Greg died of a heart attack while water skiing at Ruedi Reservoir.
  • Eric died of a heart attack at 42.
  • Pete died of Lou Gehrig's disease at 47.
  • Randy died of lymphoma at 49.
  • Chris died of lymphoma at 66.
  • Nancy was killed in her sleep by an intruder with a hammer.
  • John, Joe, Chris and Larry all died from long-term cocaine abuse.
  • Deborah died of an intentional cocaine overdose.
  • Gene died of an accidental cocaine overdose.
  • Dan died of an accidental heroin overdose.
  • Bob died of a drug overdose before cancer could kill him.
  • Sam died from internal bleeding after mixing an antidepressant with ibuprofen.
  • Bruce drank himself to death.
  • Jim killed himself after a messy divorce.
  • Kevin killed himself after being bullied by his boss.
  • Bil killed himself over money troubles.
  • Scott killed himself when he couldn't fulfill his dream.
  • Stewie jumped off a pedestrian bridge on his way home from work.
  • Larry was killed as the result of a hit-and-run accident while driving home from work.
They are not forgotten.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Waiting for the Return

     Aturok stood at the western shore and gazed up at the night sky. The moon had not yet risen and the Pleiades shone brightly. He could clearly see each of the seven stars in the open cluster. It wasn't difficult for him to imagine his ancestors calling this star system home, though it was more than four hundred light years away.
     Aturok had been born on the planet where he now stood, the product of a coupling between a male ancestor and a female native. His mother had not survived his birth and so he was raised by the ancestors in the years before their departure. Bridging two worlds, two cultures, two life forms, Aturok was a being of both and neither.
     His creation had been no accident. The ancestors were ill-adapted to life on this planet and needed intermediaries to fulfill their purposes. Aturok was one of many they had created to serve them and then abandoned, with the promise of their eventual return. Now, many years later, Aturok still looked to the sky for some kind of sign.
     During his childhood, Aturok learned from the ancestors about their worlds and culture, with special emphasis on their technology, the technology he would use to control the native people and to mine the resources needed by the ancestors.
     The ancestors were believed to be gods by the native people. Aturok and the other hybrids were treated as the children of gods. The native people's creation myth foretold of a time when the gods would descend from the heavens, and the ancestors did nothing to dispel this belief. On the contrary, to ensure their cooperation, the ancestors applied their technology, which the native people considered pure magic, to build stone temples and monuments that reinforced native beliefs.
     When Aturok was of age, he took a native woman as his mate. As every hybrid was male, there was no other choice. But in common with the mule, a cross between a horse and a donkey, the hybrids were sterile and produced no offspring.
     Aturok's first mate was one of a succession of mates he had been paired with over the years. His ancestral genetic heritage gave him tremendous longevity, though not so long as the ancestors who had crossed the vast distances between stars.
     The natives who had been alive when the ancestors arrived were long dead, and the succeeding generations knew of them only through stories, temple ruins, and the persistent presence of the hybrids. Though Aturok and the other hybrids continued to exert control, there were grumblings from the native people and insubordinate questions. They wanted to know when the ancestors would return, and they believed the hybrids knew but would not tell them. If only it were so, thought Aturok, but the ancestors had taken their technology with them when they departed and there was no means for communication. Thus, he watched the night sky.
     Though doubts persisted among the native people, they still admired the hybrids for their knowledge and abilities. With no possible offspring, and with native people incapable of mastery, those advantages would ultimately die out. The native people, in deliberate attempts to prevent this eventuality, took to flattening the heads of their infants, believing that hybrid intelligence was contained within their unique head shapes.
     One of the infants thus affected grew to manhood as a leader of his people. He was confident, as were they, that he was the equal of the hybrids, and he sought to challenge them to prove it. What this leader lacked in hybrid-level intelligence he compensated for with guile and cunning. He would engage the hybrids in games and connivances, which the hybrids would purposely lose to preserve the peace. Instead of gloating over his small victories, the leader would seethe with anger over the knowledge that he was being manipulated. Finally, he called upon his people to rise up against the hybrids and force them to reveal the date of the ancestors' return.
     That event had taken place earlier in the day, as the sun was setting and the light was tinged with red. Now Aturok stood at the shore and awaited his fate. He turned at the sound of approaching footsteps and faced the leader holding a spear aimed at his heart. When will the ancestors return, the leader asked. Aturok gazed calmly at the leader and spoke the words he had come to know as truth: They will not return.
     With an anguished cry, the leader plunged the spear into Aturok's heart. Aturok did not cry out. He dropped to his knees and slid slowly to his side on the sand. With effort, he turned his head for a last look at the Pleiades and then closed his eyes and welcomed the starless darkness.

Aturok and the other murdered hybrids were buried among the stones of the temple ruins in graves befitting the children of gods. The native people abandoned their ancestral lands for new lands, where they could forget the past and resume living as they had before their creation myth had become their reality.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

John Denver shrine on Aspen Mountain

Me at the John Denver shrine on Aspen Mountain
Nan and I made a quick trip back to our old stomping grounds in Aspen this past weekend. It was a chance to catch up with friends and ski some familiar terrain. We have skied two days here in New Mexico this season, at Sandia Peak and Taos, but we really wanted to ski in Aspen again after not having skied there in almost four years.

Early on Saturday morning, our friend Mike, who has been our first mate on every major sailing adventure with Whispering Jesse, including our trip to Bimini last April, and who works for the Aspen-Snowmass Skiing Company, met us at the base of Aspen Highlands to get us set up with rental skis and lift tickets. Then we took a couple of lift rides up to the summit for unmatched views and easy skiing on blue groomers. The weather was beautiful and the snow softened up nicely. Mike headed off to work at mid-day, and we picked up Lori, our friend and generous hostess, and her friend Judy for some afternoon runs.

The original plan was to ski Snowmass on Sunday, but Nan wanted to meet up with friends instead, so Mike and I opted to ski closer to home at Aspen Mountain. The weather was deteriorating in the morning; a front was blowing in from the west with dark clouds and high winds. The lighting was flat and the snow stayed firm, so we stuck to the blue terrain and skied runs off the top of the mountain.

Mike at the John Denver shrine on Aspen Mountain
On a whim during one of our chairlift rides, I asked Mike if he knew where the John Denver shrine was located. Aspen Mountain features many shrines--memorials to beloved locals and famous celebrities who have passed away. The first ones I knew about, back in the '90s, were dedicated to Jerry Garcia, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. One was erected in John Denver's memory shortly after his death in October 1997, but I had never known where it was located, only that is was off the Belissimo ski run somewhere. Mike didn't know where it was either, so we stopped at the Skier Services hut at the top of the lift to request directions. "Can you tell us where the John Denver shrine is located?" I asked. The employee there, a guy wearing a goofy cowboy hat, responded, "No. I grew up here, so I can't tell you. Otherwise, I could. I can tell you that it's that way," he said, pointing down the hill. "Not that way," he said, pointing up the hill. We skied away without thanking him for his arrogant lack of assistance.

A little later, we ran into Steve, a ski patrolman Mike knew, and he explained to us exactly where to go. Following his directions, we skied down the steep part of Belissimo, bore to the right in the flats, and then looked for tracks going into the woods on the left side of the run. Mike led the way as we traversed several yards into the spruce trees, and there it was.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was mostly faded photos and publicity shots of John from different phases of his music career, plus some wind chimes and a makeshift candle lantern. The item that struck me was a photo of John in his later years, looking a little scruffy, with the announcement of his memorial service printed below. I told Mike that Nan and I had attended the service as guests of John's family. I was John's computer consultant back then and had been up at his house helping him get his technology in order for his trip to California just a few days before he crashed his plane into Monterey Bay.

It's difficult to believe that John has been gone for almost twenty years now. Like his many fans and friends, I still miss him.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Who's lucky now?

It has been six months since we adopted Lucky from the local animal shelter here in Artesia, New Mexico. He adjusted quickly to his new life with us and has settled into a reassuring routine. We now believe that he was at most a year old when we adopted him on July 20, as his energy level is closer to that of an adolescent dog than to a mature, adult dog. This has been Nan's and my greatest adjustment, getting used to dealing with a dog who has so much energy that he occasionally goes into what we have come to call the "zoomies," tearing around our one-bedroom apartment like the Tasmanian Devil, sliding blankets off the bed and skating rugs across the floor. He can be calm one minute but then in the next he gets a crazed look in his eyes and takes off spinning his wheels full speed on the tile floors. The only cure is a trip outside, though he already gets miles of frequent walks every day, or a time-out in his wire-mesh kennel, which doubles as his bed to keep him off ours at night.

In the photo taken this morning, Lucky is just back from a weekend at the boarding kennel, which he seems to enjoy, but you can see that he is also very happy to be home. He's clipped into his leash, anticipating the walk he always gets after a trip to the kennel, and he's still wearing the harness we put him in for car rides, with a seat belt that keeps him securely fastened in the back seat. Without it, he would try to get into the front seat to be with us, and that could result in disaster.

His latest stunt is to climb into my lap while I'm sitting in the recliner watching TV. We figure this must be a holdover from when he was a puppy, but it's a little inconvenient to have a sixty-pound dog blocking your view of the TV and making your legs go numb. I don't mind, though, if he lies down, curls up and dozes off while I scratch behind his ears. It's a bonding experience.

The minor adjustments we have made to Lucky's being an "excitable boy" are a small price for the love and affection he gives us every day, but we do look forward to him mellowing out a little someday. Maybe.