Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stuff and Nonsense

In which we go over a few items and updates

Vinapedia is Live
The beta version Vinapedia, my website about wine designed with the beginning wine enthusiast in mind, is finally live. Though still pretty bare-bones, it was nevertheless a long, hard slog to create those 55 pages of content. Whew! The first phase is over. Coming soon will be a blog, a forum and maybe even a wiki. Stay tuned.

Jane Doe Returns
Annie, darling -- you'll be happy to note that Jane Doe, my neighborhood deer, has been returning to my ivy patch and happily munching there, sometimes in the night, sometimes in the early morning. She's got Bambi's eyelashes.

Traveled to Washington D.C. with pops in April, but I haven't had a chance to write about it because of the Vinapedia project. Sit tight. I'll blog the capitol soon. There's lots to tell. This weekend I'm in the other Washington, Washington State. I'll be in Seattle for a conference. I've only been there once, a few years ago, and I'm looking forward to me second visit -- and finally getting to see the Space Needle!

Never a Cop Around When You Need One
Last week I went to the mom-n-pop bike shop near my office to have my back wheel trued. The owner is an elderly gentleman with a pronounced limp. He's helped me a couple times, hefting my bike up onto the stand with a grunt that makes me feel awful for not helping. (Granted, if I tried to help he'd probably punch me.)

But the other day when I went in he was nowhere to be seen at first, though his chubby little dog came out from the office for a belly rub. Instead, one of the young fellows who works there helped out. After a while, the owner appeared, limping, as usual, but also with the most magnificent shiner I've ever seen. The right side of his face was red and black and blue from forehead to jawbone.

I asked who'd given him a black eye and how the other fella had faired. He said, "Well, when a bike goes up against a car, the bike's gonna lose." He'd been riding into the post office parking lot, down the street from my office, when BAM! Lights out… for four days. He woke up in the hospital after four days in a coma, with no recollection of what had happened, and significant memory loss to boot. The driver, to his credit, did stop and phone emergency services, though has not as of this writing admitted fault. (I can't imagine this elder gentleman performing too outrageous a maneuver on rusty old ten-speed.)

Week before last, while riding my bike to work I got pulled over by one of Burbank's finest for blowing a stop sign on a quiet, residential street. It was early, probably 6:45 a.m., and I was on my way to the gym at my office. I go this route daily.

The roller chirped me to get my attention and I pulled over. He got out, and with a tough-guy tooth pick in the corner of his mouth, asked for my ID and where I was going. I cooperated politely. Then he proceeded to lecture me on the law, stating that I had "not even looked" when went through the stop sign. (Actually I had, and could see that the coast was clear 50 yards in both directions, but I don't argue with people packing heat.) He noted also that I had been riding with no hands, which was an offense and "unsafe at any speed." Thanks, Ralph Nader. He reminded me that bikes must obey all the same traffic laws as cars. (By which I assume he meant that all people on bikes must obey the same laws as people in cars.) He acted like I'd just held up a liquor store or something.

Now, I did break the law and the cop was fully within his rights to give me a ticket (which, by the way, he didn't). But here are my beefs. First off, the law may say that cyclists have to obey all the laws as motorists. But that isn't true, is it? If a motorist parks his car on the sidewalk and locks it to a parking meter, he's breaking the law. But if acyclists does the same with his bike, he's just staying out of the way. There are many other examples I could go into. Second, Burbank is a big city on the edge of the even bigger, crime-ridden cesspool of a city called Los Angeles. What the hell is a cop doing picking on a cyclist who's doing his part for crown and country by not burning foreign fossil fuels, which fund Islamic terrorists and the governments who support them, or adding to air pollution?

My third and biggest beef is where were the cops when the owner of my cycle shop was run over and nearly killed? Where were the cops the other day when I was nearly lambasted by some cell-phone wielding asshole in an Escalade at the corner of Magnolia and Vineland? Come to think of it, there's never been a cop around when I've needed one.

Where were the cops when I was cold-cocked on a San Francisco city bus? When I was rear-ended by a hit and run driver, who got away, on Christmas day? When I witnessed an armed robbery? When I saw a man get hit over the head with a cock bottle that shattered, filling his wound with ground glass?

Never once has a policeman been there to protect and serve, only to harass. I know the cops can't be everywhere. That's too much to ask. But for crying out loud, cyclists in this town have enough to worry about just getting home in one piece without being harassed willy-nilly.
And the cops wonder why the citizenry is suspicious of them.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Critter Comfort

In which we admit to an inner love for the creatures of the field

For a few weeks now I've been hearing strange noises in the night outside my bedroom window. There's an ivy patch out there and each night, just after I've turned off the lights, usually about 11 or 11:30, I've heard a russling in the leaves. It's not the russling that a cat or squirrel or possum would make -- we had a family of possums out there while, but they seem ot have moved out.

No, the sound was that of a large creature that walks with cautious, deliberate steps. Sasquatch? I should be so lucky.

No, I knew it was a large animal of some sort and, even though I didn't know what it was, it somehow gave me comfort. These night visits made me feel I wasn't alone, and I liked that.

On Sunday afternoon I'd been home all day working on a special project. It was cloudy, a pre-amble to June Gloom, and the day was unusually dark, when I heard the noise outside my window... crunch... a crunch... crunch... heavy, slow, deliberate.

I pulled up a leaf of my Venetian blinds and there she was, a lovely young doe, taking in my ivy as an afternoon snack. I crept outside with my camera phone, but she heard me and all I got was the grainy shot above. I hope I have not scarred her away permanently. I'd miss her if I did.

I've seen deer many times up the canyons from my place, but only recently have they come down to chew on my ivy. I'm pretty sure I know why. Two fires in Griffith Park have devastated the habitat for these semi-urban critters, and they're seeking fresh pasture. The herbivores won't be the only ones searching, however. No doubt we'll see more coyotes and other predators in the 'hood soon.

I do love the semi-wild critters we see around here and I'm always eager to see more. But mothers, lock up your kittens. Otherwise, they're likely to be coyote chow.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ding Dong the Dork is Gone

In which we gloat shamelessly

Jerry Falwell is dead. It's about time.
That is all.
Addendum: And another thing... Slate's been good with pointing out Falwell's many fallacies and foibles. First, The Hitch notes that your mouth can spew as much diarrhea as your system can handle so long as you've got the courtesy title "Reverend" in front of your name, and people will accept it. (As a reverend myself, I ought to be offended. I'm not.) The online magazine has also published a nice little list of some of the meatier chunks of that spew.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Griffith Park Aflame

In which we say not again, not for the last time this long, hot summer

In 90-plus degree heat, Griffith Park, near the Greek Theater, is on fire. The billow of smoke already rises thousands of feet into the air. Flames that crested the hill a few minutes ago were clearly visible from my office window some five miles away, perhaps 40 or 50 feet in height. Helicopters are dive-bombing the flames with water or flame retardant.

Update: Weds., May 9, 10:00 a.m -- Went to sleep last night early thinking that the worst was over only to wake up this morning with the acrid smell of smoke filling my lungs. Last night strong and unpredictable winds fanned the flames causing evacuations of some 300 park-side residents. It raged all night and into this morning. I could still see billows of smoke as I rode to the office. All seems calm now, however. The fire seems to have burnt itself out, having consumed all the "expendable" fuel -- everything on the hill but the houses -- leaving all the critters up there without homes and what little food was available during this dry, dry year. No doubt I'll be seeing more coyotes foraging around the 'hood in the coming weeks.

A friend at the office who lives in Los Feliz and who drives by the eastern slope of the park each day on his way here reports that the entire hillside is black. This was my favorite nearby hiking ground. I was just there on Sunday morning. I'll go there again this weekend to survey the damage.

I nasty brown pall -- I mean nastier than usual -- has settled over the Valley, giving all the light an unhealthy orange cast. It's a shame because the days leading up to the fire were some of the clearest in weeks.

Rumor has it that the fire may have been started by a golfer who carelessly flicked a butt into the brush. No last cigarette for that cock-sucker. No blindfold, either. Just ready, aim, fire...
Photo Courtesy: Dogballs

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bombers Away

In which we say vroom!

Addendum: Thanks to a Good Sam on Yahoo! Answers I was at last able to get this photo I took from my phone uploaded to Travels West. That's a B-17 coming in for a landing, maybe 50 feet over the railroad tracks at the end of the runway at Bobe Hope Airport.

I was quietly reading the Times this morning at Priscilla's Coffee House on Riverside when I heard the rumble. As I glanced up from Dilbert, a man sitting at the counter leapt up and scampered out the door to look up at the sky. The man's actions confirmed my suspicion that a WWII-era bomber or some other vintage, multi-prop aircraft was flying overhead. There's only one kind of rumble like that.
I followed the man out the door and looked up. At first I couldn't see her, but could only hear her throaty, thunderous drone. Then she came out from behind a tree: four engines along her broad wingspan, a single, high tail fin, a stubby glass bubble in the nose, another in her belly. B-17 Flying Fortress. We watched as the behemoth rumbled majestically southward over Mount Hollywood.

I asked the man if there was an air show somewhere today. He told me that there was a travelling show of three vintage bombers, a B-17 a 24 and a 25, out at Bob Hope Airport.

Fortunately, that's just where I was going. My office is directly across from the airport and I was going there to use our in-house gym. I pedaled over to the airport train depot, where I always cross the railraod tracks, and spoke to a man snapping photos from the platform as the bombers flew in and out. He pointed over to the runway where the twin engine B-25 was idling, getting ready for take-off. I watched her take off, imagining the kind of din that 100 of these must have made as they climbed into the English skies 60-odd years ago on their way to devastate the cities of Berlin and Hamburg, Frankfurt and Dresden. (And it was in 25's, let's not forget, that Jimmy Doolittle and his flyboys gave the Japanese their first black eye in his famed 30 seconds over Tokyo.)

After she took off I turned around just in time to see the magnificent Flying Fortress coming in for a landing. She came in low and slow, perhaps 50 feet off the deck as she swept over Empire Street, which runs past the runway. I confess I felt a pang in my heart seeing her so near, wondering what the brave men flew in her were like, if they were still alive, wondering at what stories they might tell. I felt for a second, too, the awesome terror the people of Germany and Japan must have felt at the sight and the sound of these mighty agents of destruction.