Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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The egret is back

Filed under: — stan @ 10:34 pm

The egret was back on campus today. This is the same one that likes to hang around the ponds at Caltech.

I got a nice close-up shot of it this time, as well as some of the turtles and tadpoles in the pond. The tadpoles were easily the biggest I’ve ever seen anywhere. They were as big as a Six Dollar Burger. No wonder the egret likes to eat from the ponds. I don’t actually think the egret could eat one of them, but it probably eats the ones that haven’t had time to grow quite so large.


The other Hollywood Blvd

Filed under: — stan @ 6:48 pm

Who knew? The Boulevard of Broken Dreams is also a place to go bike riding. Since tomorrow is Easter, I can’t go on the regular Sunday ride. So I convinced Gene, Newton, and Matt to go on a ride today in the Hollywood Hills.

We started out on the standard route out of Pasadena and across Eagle Rock, and then into Los Feliz. After crossing the Shakespeare Bridge, we went south and got onto Hollywood Blvd. On the east end, it’s Little Armenia for a bit, and then it becomes Thai Town. That was where we saw the Thai food place with a big hot dog on the roof. We also passed the infamous Jumbo’s Clown Room. Legend has it that several now-famous women did turns stripping there.

After Thai Town faded away, we were on the part of Hollywood Blvd that every tourist sees. The Walk of Fame. We just passed most of it by, but we did make a point to stop and see the star for Godzilla, since he is one of only a few completely fictitious characters who have stars there.

Most tourists think that Hollywood Blvd ends at La Brea Ave. The locals know that it goes on to Laurel Canyon, but I know that it goes even farther than that. On the other side of Laurel Canyon, there is a little street that goes up the hill. That is the continuation of Hollywood Blvd. It’s a little residential street in the hills, the kind that looks like a noodle on the map.

We rode up the hill, stopping to look at one house with a weird chimney. We only took one wrong turn on the way up, which was surprising, since a lot of the intersections up there are not well-marked. A lot of times, it’s hard to tell which way is the continuation of the street and which is the cross street. We continued on until the Boulevard of Broken Dreams merged into Sunset Plaza on top of the hill. From there, we went down the other side on Lookout Mountain Road, down into Laurel Canyon.

At the bottom of the hill we did a quick left and right on Laurel Canyon Blvd, passing by Houdini’s old house, and then up Willow Glen. This is a very narrow and steep street that climbs up the side of Laurel Canyon to the Mt Olympus area. I always remember reading about Mt Olympus in the October 1969 issue of National Geographic. The article was about the floods and mudslides that year in Los Angeles, and it had a photo of Mt. Olympus, which was a new development at the time. Part of the caption read:

To protect Mount Olympus in Hollywood, right, developers graded slopes and moated lots with storm drains. Sites near the summit sell for as much as $85,000.

Needless to say, $85,000 sounded like a staggering sum back in 1969, but it seems ludicrously cheap by today’s standards.

After passing the faux-greek temples on Mt Olympus, we went down into Nichols Canyon. Turning left on Nichols Canyon Road, we then climbed up out of the canyon to the top of the ridge at Mulholland Drive. Crossing Mulholland, we took Woodrow Wilson down to the freeway.

Crossing the freeway, we were back in the city, but we took one more detour, going up Wonder View to Lake Hollywood. This was one more climb, but it was worth it to avoid the traffic in Cahenga Pass.

After all that excitement, we headed home across Burbank, Glendale and Eagle Rock. For some reason, I was pretty tired from all that climbing, so I was actually quite glad to be taking the relatively non-hilly way home.

52 miles.




Filed under: — stan @ 8:23 pm

Lucinda went to Legoland today with her friends Ryann and Taylor. They had a fun time, even though it was a long day. The park is about 80 miles away, so it took them something like two hours to get there. But Lucinda was excited by it and said she had a good time. Sadly, Mommy is not the picture person, so we have no photos from the occasion. But everyone assures me that the kids had fun.



Filed under: — stan @ 7:09 pm

Just a postscript to the story about Fargo Street from yesterday. I guess I really did give it maximum effort, because I’m sore today. My legs, arms, and back are all sore from the exertion. I really can’t remember another time when I got sore arms from a bike ride. So it’s just one more reason why Fargo Street is something special. And of course, why I’ll have to try it again in the future.


Gettin’ ethnic and other stories from our house this afternoon

Filed under: — stan @ 11:22 pm

This afternoon was kind of strange, but in an interesting way.

Cathy and Lucinda gave Buddy a bath. Most dogs hate getting a bath, but not Buddy. He seems completely content to be sitting in the water, and he even likes the blow dryer. It’s strange.

After that, they made Easter cookies. Cathy cut the cookies, and Lucinda acted as the artist and decorated them.

Then I sat down and got ethnic. I got in touch with my Chinese heritage and made chaio-tzu (aka ‘dumplings’) and siu mai. Hand-made and all that. Just like Mom used to make when I was a kid. It’s all part of the Master Plan to help pass on the Chinese food meme to Lucinda.

Fargo Street

Filed under: — stan @ 8:39 pm

Today’s ride was down to Echo Park for the fabled Fargo Street Hill Climb. Word on the street is that Fargo is the steepest hill in Los Angeles, and I’m inclined (so to speak) to believe it.

We started out going through San Marino, South Pasadena and Highland Park. We passed Flor y Canto, which is a little art gallery, bookstore and community center. We went there once to see Keith Knight, the creator of the K Chronicles.

When we got to Echo Park, there was already a big crowd at the bottom of the hill. Looking up at it I had my first “oh shit” moment. I’ve been practicing on Nolden St. in Eagle Rock, but Fargo really did look a lot steeper. I went and did a little practice run part-way up the street one block over just to see if I could turn the pedals and keep the bike moving.

When my turn came, I tried to just apply the same formula that’s worked for me many times before: just knuckle down and power straight up the hill. As programmers know, there’s often nothing better than sheer brute force to get something done. I got about half-way up the hill before the intensity of the effort caught up to me. That’s the problem with trying to apply brute strength at age 45. It was truly a struggle for survival just to turn the pedals. I knew there was no way to maintain that level of exertion, so I started to tack back and forth across the street. Then, on one of the turns, my back tire slipped. That was the end of that run. I didn’t fall, but I was forced to dismount. After a few minutes rest in someone’s driveway, I managed to get moving again and made it the rest of the way to the top. But I needed to make it non-stop to get the official patch.

After coming back down, I rested a bit and then tried again. This time I went a bit slower and tacked across the street from the start. This helped, and I made it a little farther than the first time. But still, when I was doing one of the turns, my front wheel came up off the pavement, and this time I did fall. Plop! Right down on the pavement.

I sat on the pavement for a couple minutes thinking about what a Revolting Development this was. I pulled out my camera and snapped a picture of the view from up there. It was clear, and I could see the Hollywood sign. Then I walked down, pausing for a moment to get a picture of John making his attempt at the hill. He made it about as far as I did before he slipped and fell too.

Wow. In over 30 years of riding my bike everywhere, I’ve met my match. Fargo St. is the only hill I’ve ever met that I couldn’t just grit my teeth and power up. It was humbling. On the way back, John and I were comparing notes and marveling at just how tired we were after just a few minutes of truly maximum effort. I think part of it also has to do with the ‘agony of defeat’ effect. When I used to race, whenever I won or placed highly in a race, I always felt good afterward. No matter how hard the race was, if I did well I had energy to do a little dance, spike the bike, or whatever. But defeat always left me exhausted.

So after the hill experience, we rode back by way of Griffith Park. We passed the Mulholland fountain just outside the park. A fountain seems the most fitting tribute to William Mulholland, since he brought water to L.A. and thereby made the Owens Valley what it is today. No problem of urban sprawl there, nope.

From there we went into Glendale, passing a man in a chicken suit outside El Pollo Loco. Then we went up the hill into La Crescenta. We sort of noodled around in the hills there a bit before heading into Montrose and stopping at a bakery there. Then we headed home up “Hospital Hill” and back down the hill into Pasadena.

44 miles.



Old Friends

Filed under: — stan @ 11:32 pm

This evening we went down to South Pasadena for dinner at Shiro to see my old friend Gordon and his wife Bei. They are passing through Los Angeles on their way to Death Valley and Las Vegas. I’ve known Gordon for over half my life now. We worked together at my first job at McDonnell Douglas from 1982-84, and we’ve remained friends ever since, even as we’ve gone our widely separate ways.

I first met Gordon when I was on my plant trip to McDonnell Douglas in 1982. I’d been offered the job, and they flew me out from college in Texas to visit. We got along right from the start. The prospect of moving across the country by myself at 22 was kind of a scary thought, but I felt like I already had a friend there, and that made it better. And after I got there, we became good friends. Gordon even took this picture of me in the Douglas parking lot when we were on our way to our joint going-away party when we both left the company.

Now we live on opposite ends of the country. We’re quite a bit older, and we’re both more settled in our lives. But we’re still friends, and that’s really a special thing.

Body Worlds 2

Filed under: — stan @ 11:21 pm

Today we went to see the second Body Worlds exhibit at the science museum. The big attraction here was the “Suicide by Fat: Obesity Revealed” exhibit. Lucinda and Daddy went to the museum and met Aunt Maggi there. We had a quick lunch at the McDonald’s in the museum, since there’s nothing like having a Big Mac and fries before seeing an exhibit on the horrors of obesity. I also made a point of eating at McDonald’s before going to see “Super Size Me”, so there is a pattern here.

The new exhibit was as big as the first one, but with different specimens. They even had a camel, which was kind of novel. The human specimens showed a range of different things, from the muscles used for skateboarding to various horrible diseases. It was all quite gruesome and also quite interesting.

Afterwards, we went outside and Lucinda played on the “Big Lever” exhibit outside. She wasn’t quite able to lift the truck by herself, but she did it with the help of another little girl.


Dead Men’s Shoes

Filed under: — stan @ 7:25 pm

Today at lunchtime I took a ride over to Memorial Park in Old Town Pasadena. The American Friends Service Committee is putting on an exhibit about the human cost of the war in Iraq. They had 1,519 pairs of boots laid out in the park, each with a name tag, representing the soldiers killed in the war. The concept is simple, much like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in that the exhibit is just there. You are free to look at it and draw your own conclusions.

Seeing so many boots lined up across the park was impressive. It really makes the numbers tangible in much the same way as the time we saw the AIDS Quilt. Most of the boots had just a name tag, giving the soldier’s age and hometown. Others had pictures or other bits of memorabilia donated by their families. Alyssa Peterson’s had an essay that she had written in 5th grade on the meaning of patriotism. I saw a small memorial for Michael Pedersen donated by his mother, Lila Lipscomb. Lila is known for her appearance in “Fahrenheit 9/11″. A few of the boots had tags saying that they had their names withheld at the request of their families. There weren’t many of them.

In another section of the park, they had several thousand other shoes lined up to represent the Iraqis killed in the war, along with plates listing thousands of names of Iraqi civilians killed in the war.

The exhibit is going to be traveling around. The web page lists the dates and places. It’s worth a look.


The biggest hill I ever rode up…

Filed under: — stan @ 11:27 pm

I like riding up hills. It’s fun, largely for the sense of accomplishment I get at the top. I’ve always been this way. When I was a kid, we used to go to the White Mountains in New Hampshire for vacation every year. We hiked up and down lots of the mountains there, and it was great fun.

When I first got interesting in serious cycling, I remember that one of the first things I thought of was, “I’m going to ride my bike up the Mount Washington Auto Road“. The thought just came naturally, since it was the biggest hill I knew of. Everyone I told about this thought I was crazy, which I guess is pretty normal, since I get that reaction about lots of things.

I didn’t get to do it until 1976, when I was sixteen, but it was as much fun as I thought it would be. I rode up to the toll gates at the bottom of the road and they waved me through. I rode across the meadow, and then started up the hill. And it was steep. It was steeper than I’d thought it would be. Steeper than it felt when we’d hiked on parts of it before. In those days the road was about half paved and half dirt. But it was all right. I just kept going, up and up. My parents drove the car up and stopped along the way to watch me ride by. Sadly, we didn’t have a camera, so I don’t have any pictures.

When I got to the top, I parked my bike along the wall where hikers put their packs. I rested a bit and then headed down. I had to stop a couple of times to let my brakes cool off. They were getting really hot, and I was worried that this might make my tires blow out from the pressure, or melt the rim glue, since I was riding the old-fashioned sew-up tires. But when I got down I was elated. I’d ridden up the biggest hill I knew, and had fun doing it.

I rode the Mt. Washington Valley bike race in 1977. The second part of the race was a hillclimb up the auto road, but the weather was bad that day and they only ran it to the Halfway House.

I rode up Mt. Washington one more time in 1981. It was also fun. I even saw two other riders on the road that day.

Sadly, I see that they no longer allow bike riders on the road. They hold a bike ride once a year, and that’s it. I guess that a lot of people want to do it, since the registration fee is something like $300. So I’m glad that I got to do it back in the days when it was just an oddity. I still remember watching all the people gawking at me from their cars when I was riding up the first time.

And I still like riding up hills. Next Sunday is the Fargo Street Hillclimb. This isn’t a particularly big hill, but it’s reputed to be the steepest hill in Los Angeles. I tried it once before, back in 1990, but I didn’t get very far. I didn’t have the right gears. This time I think I can do it. I’ve been practicing on Nolden St, which is almost as steep as Fargo, so I think I’m ready. And I’m looking forward to it. Riding up ridiculous hills is fun.


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