Spent an extended holiday weekend with my cousins in Phoenix. We get together every few years for a bit of catch-up time, usually either down there or in Portland for family gatherings, but generally, I go down when the weather up here is a little cooler. Just my luck, after months of unseasonable cold, and seasonable wet, I pick the first really decent stretch of good local weather to go away for four days.
No matter. Things always turn into a bit of an adventure when we get together. This time around we'd planned to do some hiking up in Sedona, and after looking at the weather reports decided Saturday would be the better in terms of not being super-hot, even though there was "a chance of rain and thunder showers".
You can see where this is going already, can't you?
We set off around mid-day Saturday, borrowing Dave's (my cousin Kim's boyfriend) brand-new Chevy Tahoe (at his insistence), since we were heading for a hiking trail on what appeared to be a rather rough unpaved road just west of town. He also suggested a "really cool scenic route into Sedona with spectacular views!" and provided us with some easy-to-follow directions to find the road. I ended up driving, which was fine by me. I love driving, particularly roads I've never been on before, so I was totally up for the adventure.
Things started off pretty smoothly. Except for a bit of congestion just outside of Phoenix heading north on I-17, we managed the trip up in about two hours (AZ has a 75 mph speed limit, which helped), and the exit to the suggested road was clearly marked. Once we went off the pavement, however, Kim, sitting in the back seat grumbled, "this looks just like the sort of "road" Dave WOULD suggest", but it also looked reasonably well traveled, flat, and wide enough for adequate passing of oncoming vehicles, and in fact we saw several camp-sites with largish RV's parked, so I figured, if they could get in here it couldn't be that bad. And for about two-thirds of the 12 mile detour, that turned out the be the case.
The last four, on the other hand...
We came around a bend, and found ourselves on the top of a ridge with a quite spectacular view of the large mesas just to the north of Sedona. However, once we began heading down into the arroyo, things started to get a little hairy. The road narrowed considerably to a one-lane, heavily rutted and wash-boarded track with sheer drop-offs of easily 1,000 feet. After a couple minutes of this, we came to a lookout point, and Kim's quaivering voice came from the back seat, "do you want to stop and take a picture?"
I looked back to see she'd shifted from the right-hand to the left-hand side, as far away from the precipice as she could get, her eyes were both the size of silver dollars, and she'd actually turned a bit pale.
Now, I'm no rocket scientist, but I can tell when someone is scared out of their wits. Clearly discretion would be the better part of valor in this case.
"Naw, that's okay," I replied. "Besides, it's getting late, and we want to finish the hike before it gets dark, so why don't we just keep going?" There was an obvious look of relief on her face.
Meanwhile, my other cousin, Kristie is in the front passenger seat laughing like a loon at her sister's obvious discomfort; she's actually enjoying our predicament.
"Ooh, look at that one Chris, isn't it beautiful?" she says, pointing out a particularly interesting bit of scenery.
While from the back seat comes, "don't you DARE take your eyes off the road!"
So, I dropped the Tahoe into "low 4" and crept slowly down the oversized goat trail, honking the horn at each blind hairpin curve to warn anyone coming up the hill of our approach; which turned out to be a smart move, as apparently almost nobody takes this route INTO Sedona, but lots of trucks, tour jeeps, dune buggies, motocross cyclists, and a few genuine crazies in small passenger sedans do make the trek up FROM town, and we met at least a dozen of them coming up from the opposite direction, which forced me to edge uncomfortably close to the steep drop off in order to leave passing clearance.
By the time we made it down to the flats, I had one cousin bouncing up-and-down like an excited retriever puppy, and another quivering anxiously like a nervous chihuahua. I was just happy to be able to release my hands from the death-grip I'd had on the steering wheel for most of the previous half-hour.
So, Sedona. Not really much to look at so far as the town is concerned: pretty touristy, albeit in a very muted, earth-toned, new-agey kind of way; even the local McDonald's has begrudgingly caved in to the town's strict building regs by sporting teal arches instead of their standard mustard yellow (and of course, figured out a way to turn even that concession into a marketing gimmick: there's actually a big sign on your way into Sedona touting the fact that this particular location is "the only McDonald's IN THE WORLD with teal green arches!"). We drove through the central business district and headed west to the park entrance, paid our $5 parking fee and dropped the Tahoe back into 4WD for the kidney-pounding four mile drive to the trail head. At least this time we were on the flats, with only a couple of dry-fords to cross and some extremely bumpy spots to negotiate.
We finally got to the parking lot for the trail head, and literally at the moment we parked and got out - it started raining. Within 30 seconds the rain had increased to a full-on downpour, with the three of us huddled under the rear hatch door debating our options. At this point there really weren't any: the rain didn't show any sign of letting up, and it was already late enough that twilight was starting to creep up on us, even despite the hovering gray clouds. So, we quite sensibly decided to call off the hike, got back into the Tahoe and headed back into town.
And suddenly, it was like something out of a movie: the rain was literally coming down in sheets, like being poured from a gigantic bucket; at times it was so dense that the wipers, even at maximum speed, couldn't squeegee it off the winsdhield fast enough to be able to see through. Lightning was flashing all around, so close I could barely get to "two-mississippi" before it deafened us. Pea-sized granules of hail began pounding the roof and hood. The red desert clay of the road was splashing up to the doors every time we hit a puddle. The dry-washes had already become raging torrents, and we had to ford creeks that only a few minutes before were nothing but rocky indentations across the road. The outside temperature gauge on the rear-view mirror plummeted from 74 degrees down to 51 in literally a matter of minutes. I am NOT making this up, and NOT exaggerating either. I'd thought the earlier drive down into Sedona had been a bit of a nail-biter, but this excelled even that, and was literally one of the worst half-hours of driving through inclement weather I've ever experienced.
We finally made it back to the road. The hail had stopped, and the rain had let up somewhat. Strangely, the tourist jeeps were still coming into the park, passengers huddled under the open sun-roofed backs, cheap disposable plastic rain parkas clinging to their wet skin and clothing; they looked like they've just been picked up at the dry cleaners.
By this time, we'd pretty much called it a day, but decided to have dinner before heading back to Phoenix (we had - briefly - considered staying the night and trying the hike again the next day, but the weather report wasn't looking any better for Sunday, so that idea was scrapped rather quickly). I'd done a little research beforehand, and found a place that looked promising: Elote Cafe, just south of the center of Sedona, tucked away behind the registration desk of a rather nondescript local hotel. Online commenters gave the place rave reviews, so it seemed like the only opportunity we'd have to salvage something out of our day's misadventure.
We were not disappointed. The Carne Asada turned out to be the best skirt steak I've ever had: melt-in-your-mouth tender (which, with that cut is no easy feat), and with a generous dollop of blue cheese melted onto the top for good measure. Definitely worth a visit if you're ever in that area, although get there early. We walked in the door right when they opened at 5:00 p.m. and the place (not big to begin with) filled to capacity within 15 minutes.
And of course, it continued to rain in torrents with lightening flashes illuminating the growing darkness outside, throwing the mesas to the west into sharp relief. When we left about an hour later, it was still coming down so hard that we were completely soaked by the time we crossed the 50 feet from the restaurant entrance to the car. The cousins had to crank up the heat in order to get warm - such a rare occurrence we actually had to hunt around for a few seconds to find the right set of switches on the dashboard to turn off the A/C and turn on the heaters.
The drive back was equally uneventful; the rain stopped almost exactly at the moment we turned back onto the main highway, and by the time we hit the outskirts of Phoenix about an hour and a-half later, the temps had gradually climbed back up the the mid-80's with clear skies all around. When we pulled into the driveway and got out, I noticed, somewhat to my dismay, that the intervening rain had washed away every trace of evidence of the rollicking four-wheeling we'd done earlier in the day. I didn't even have any pictures to show for our trouble.
Needless to say, Dave had a good laugh over it when we told him the story, although knowing Kim I have a feeling he didn't exactly get the last word in on the subject.
But still, an adventure is an adventure; you take them where you find them.
Here's a question I've been asking myself for quite some time:
Is personal blogging (like what you're reading right now) dead?
I've noticed a perceptible drop-off, not just in my own posting frequency, but in those of my compadres in the blog-o-sphere (e.g. those folks in the left-hand column) for quite some time. I realize many have not been very frequent posters to begin with, but even among those who are, sites that used to update once every day or every couple of days are down to maybe once a week, if that.
Now granted, there's been a slow-yet-steady attrition rate (as the number of dead-links down towards the bottom attests), just about since Day One, as people become either bored by the "novelty" of online posting, or else gravitate to more immediately gratifying sites like Facebook, or it's several (now mostly defunct) predecessors.
But, I also think a lot of it has to do with the increasing ubiquity of what pundits are calling "the Twitter phenomenon", which is itself an extension of the Instant Messaging craze from a few years back (and which is still very much all the rage among the under-20 set, apparently). Now, it's all about "micro-blogging": increasing compressing both the message format, as well as the medium through which it is transmitted and received.
Whereas blogging requires an honest-to-goodness full-sized keyboard (for those of us not particularly adept at thumb typing), a not entirely insignificant amount of time, and generally some thought or consideration in terms of preparing the content, Twitter, IM, M-B, et al, require almost none of this: they're fully portable, easily compactible, of nearly microscopically short duration, and yet in that time can convey almost instantaneous stream-of-consciousness iteration, and with very little in the way of actual cogitation involved. You just blurt it out over your cell phone, or Blackberry, or via your laptop keyboard, in nouvelle cuisine appetizer-sized portions, and then move on to view the 37 other, equally miniscule updates from your "friends" that have landed in your feed list in the six or seven seconds it's taken you to do it. It's sort of like we're all going through our daily business, but with the constant background buzz of other people's tiny, random thoughts popping up in front of our eyes in an unceasing, nearly continuous stream.
I'm not sure whether it has any appreciable effect on our already rapidly shrinking attention-spans, but considering just the number of people I personally know who seem, well, nearly addicted to "checking status" (and I admit to being somewhat amongst that number myself), there's clearly some sort of need being met by all of this. Are we that starved for intimacy that constantly checking up on the minute-to-minute minutae of our friends, colleagues and co-workers (not to mention complete strangers whom we befriend merely because they ask us to do so) satisfies some otherwise unmet yearning for actual human contact?
Maybe I'm reading too much into it; maybe it really is just as simple as providing a fast, convenient, one-stop shopping method for keeping track of people in our busy, busy world. But, there are times when it all feels a little TOO real to BE real, if that makes any sense. After all, by the time you read someone's update/IM, they've probably already read a dozen others sent their way, and are 30 seconds or so into the next thought that will soon be transmitted for consumption. It's like we're all just slightly out-of-sync with each other, and everyone is desperately trying to catch up to all be on the same page (or screen) at the same time, but we can never quite get there; Zeno's Paradox for the online set.
Then again, maybe all this is just another reason why the ephmeral nature of live theatre continues to appeal to me, where at least you're in a room with a bunch of other people sharing the same experience, live and in real-time, without all the pale little screens and twitching thumbs.
Although, I bet we'll start having to add "and please - no texting during the performance" to our ever-growing list of pre-show admonishments any day now.
And If The Train's On-Time You Can Get To Work By Nine
Well, it's now official, so technically I'm not "spilling the beans" as it were.
My office is moving this fall, mid-October to be precise, to lower CapHill. I cut a check for the deposit late last week, and aside from a few details to hash out in the lease agreement, we're pretty close to signing. The landlord has been very accomodating, agreeing to some specific build-outs we've requested at no additional cost to us, as well as to holding the space for us for several months (which gives him time to contract the interior work), until our current lease expires at the end of October. And because of the super-depressed commercial real-estate market, we're getting a pretty good deal: a little over $12 / fs all-inclusive, which means once some additional costs of janitorial and parking are factored in we'll still be saving roughly $600 a month in rent. That makes our board happy, will no doubt make our accounting staff in L.A very happy, and should make our national staff estatic (once they hear about it), since they've been hammering the notion of "cost savings" into our collective heads in anticipation of the new Fiscal Year which started May 1st.
I'm particularly happy about the move, since the new space is less than a mile and a-half from my apartment, with the added bonus that the theatre is directly on the route at almost exactly the half-way point between the two, which means I'll be able to walk to work most days, although I figure it will essentially double my commute time from 15 to 30 minutes.
Can you say "ridiculously convenient?". I knew you could.
There is also the added benefit of actually being in the immediate vicinity of such basic amenities as: a post office (2 blocks), my bank (3 blocks), a branch of my office's bank (4 blocks), a grocery store (5 blocks), not to mention innumerable coffee shops, restaurants, book stores, and other retail establishments. In short, I'll be working in a real, functioning urban environment, making it a vast improvement over our current office, which, while located on a major arterial, is not really close to anything of consequence (aside from a 7-Eleven three blocks away).
The new office is also practically within spitting-distance of our TV news units, which are concentrated around the edges of the Seattle Center, and will also put us within a two mile radius of roughly half our membership, either from where they live or work, which means we'll be much more accessible to them, and as a result (we hope) we'll be able to attract many more members into the office for meetings, social events, workshops, seminars, and the like.
And for those not within close range, we're on convenient bus routes from downtown, and will be a mere three blocks away from the new Capitol Hill light rail station, which means we'll be literally within public transit distance from just about anywhere in the county by the time the station opens in 2016.
Scheduled move-in date is mid-October, and we hope to be fully up-and-running by November 1st.
Not bad so far as birthday presents from your employer go.
I feel just terrible that I'm only now hearing of Greg's passing.
I first met Greg in 1990, when I performed in one of his plays, a silly little thing called "Betsy Green, The Mushroom Queen" at a mosquito-infested outdoor theatre literally within sight of Snoqualmie Falls (immortalized that same year as one of the iconic images from David Lynch's TV drama "Twin Peaks"), and later had the enormous privilege of directing one of his plays "The Big Bad Wolf (And How He Got That Way)" at the same location in 1997. As the playwright, Greg attended as many of the rehearsals as his busy schedule would permit, and was a gentleman through the entire process: generous with his time, judicious with his comments, encouraging with his criticism.
We stayed in touch over the years, and I always enjoyed our meetings, whether it was chatting with him and his son Ned (pictured with Greg, above) at opening nights at the 5th Avenue, or long telephone conversations brainstorming about a project he'd had in mind to archive all of the recorded footage of theatrical productions accumulated over the decades by the local TV stations.
Greg was truly one the "good guys", a singular, unique, intelligent, witty, outspoken, opinionated personality, a "lovable curmudgeon" of the sort that our modern era seems to be all-too-quickly losing (Not to mention his eerie "separated at birth" resemblence to Wallace Shawn.)
Just got off the phone with my friend Dawn, whose birthday is today, and she imparted a bit of, well, surprising news.
She's getting married in September.
Now, for those of you who don't know the history (all six out of ten of you): Dawn and I have been good friends for nearly 20 years. We dated for about five of those, lived together for four, I even proposed to her at one point.
So yeah, it's a bit of a shock.
I'm happy for her, truly I am. We wouldn't have remained friends this long, through all the changes in our relationship, if there wasn't the foundation of a genuine friendship and affection holding it together. All I've ever wanted for her was to be happy, and considering the rough turns her life has taken the past couple of years: losing one job, getting another she hated; her mother passing away - a year ago on Mothers Day of all days - after a long illness, if there's anyone who deserves some happiness in her life, it's Dawn.
I'm feeling a bit - I'm not sure exactly what. It's certainly not jealousy, not envy; even that feels like too strong of a word to describe it. (some I suppose would reverse the two, and consider envy the more destructive.) But, what's the next step down from that? Sadness? There's a little, yes, after all, at one time in my life I was hoping to be that "lucky guy" myself. But that too seems insufficiently vague. The French probably have a word for it - or the Germans. The Germans have words for all sorts of subtle, in-between-emotions emotions (we'd probably use more of them, except they're all 27 syllables long and require coughing up half a lung to pronounce correctly.)
The only thing that comes close I suppose is "ambivalence". I certainly feel a bit conflicted: happy-yet-sad, although definitely more the former than the latter.
It'll be a transition to be sure, no matter what you call it. For the longest time we've been the ones each of us would be the first to call or talk to when something good - or bad - occurred. Now, that's going to change, it has to change - and I guess that's where the "sad" part of the conflict comes in. It feels like a loss, a loss of some degree of intimacy with another person, one who's been an important part of my life for a long time.
Which is not to say we won't still be friends, of course. But I can't help but feel a sense of diminishment on the horizon. From here on out, I have to live with the knowledge that I won't be the first one to hear the news from her; and in the future, I'm afraid I'll be hesitant to be the one to share news WITH her, because, well, she has another life.
It's a hard transition to be downgraded from "best friend" to "friend". I'll get through it; I'm a pretty resilient guy.
But, it's still going to take some getting used to.
Get Me Back On The Earth, Put My Feet On The Ground
Normally, I get a bit of a post-tax season lull, but not this year; work has been super-busy what with April being the end of our fiscal year, and me having to prepare budgets for the next FY that started May 1st. Plus, we've have a TV series shooting in Portland (TNT's Leverage). PLUS, May 1st is also the beginning of our new billing period, and I had to generate a bunch of paperwork for our broadcast station Bargaining Units to calculate new dues amounts for station staff. PLUS, our national office needed information from us to complete THEIR audit and tax return (thank goodness THAT little task has been taken off my plate!). PLUS, we've been in negotiations with our landlord for a new lease.
So I don't think it would be an understatement to say things at work have been a bit busy as of late. Fortunately, most of the above has been dealt with, which means things SHOULD start quieting down - a bit - from here on out, at least for a while.
Fortunately, most of this coincided with a general slow-down in extra-curricular activities: things at the theatre are running pretty smoothly, and don't generally require huge amounts of my time or attention right now. And of course, with the intermittent improvements in the weather situation, I'm getting out more, getting a bit more exercise (I've managed one day - well, several hours in the course of one day to be exact - of hiking each of the past three weekends, and of course lots and lots of yard work. In fact, I've got several hours scheduled for this morning, but hopefully, that should put things in pretty good shape, and there shouldn't be much more to do aside from routine maintenance for the remainder of the summer.
So yeah, not much of this falls into the "that is SO exciting I just have to blog about it!" category; just normal, routine, day-to-day stuff.
When Mama Wants To Please Me, She's Only Got To Cheese Me
Going to a bar-b-que tomorrow afternoon, so decided to make some macaroni & cheese as my "hot dish" contribution to the masses. But, of course, I can't just make ordinary mac-&-cheese, I have to mess around with it. So, in addition to the Béchamel sauce AND the five cheeses (sharp Cheddar, Mozzarella, Monterey, Colby, and a bit of aged "Naughty Nellie" from River Valley Ranch), I added a half-pound of crumbled hickory-smoked bacon, and topped it with crushed Tim's Cascade "Original Style" Potato Chips, hence my decision to dub this dish "Crack-aroni & Cheese", since I'm guessing even people who KNOW it's not good for them will be unable to resist it.
And we won't even get into the "dork" I ground for burgers...