Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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It begins again…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:45 pm

Today was the start of stair climbing season for me. I’ve been practicing at the library at Caltech all summer, but this was my first trip downtown to climb a big building. The venue was the Mellon Bank building at 400 S. Hope St in downtown Los Angeles. It’s only 26 stories, but that’s about the same size as the building we raced in in San Diego back in June, and so I thought that this could be good practice for that event next year.

I rode the train downtown with Morgan from my office. We got signed in at the YMCA and walked across the street to the building. My first trip up the stairs was a leisurely one. I’d brought a pad and pen to make notes on the way up so I could make a map of the stairs. I didn’t time my first trip up, but I think it was about 6 minutes. At the 25th floor they had the door open and a sign directing us to the elevator for the trip down. But the stairs continued on, so we kept going up to the roof door, which was two more floors up.

On the way back down, I had a look at my notes. It was 533 steps to the 25th floor, and 580 to the roof door. Almost all of it was flights of 11 steps with right turns. This was good, since it meant that the pattern I’d worked out last spring at the Aon building would work here. So when we got to the bottom, I stashed my notepad, put on my gloves, and we headed up again.

My first timed run came in at 4:43, which works out to about 10.3 seconds per floor. I was averaging 10 seconds a floor for 56 floors at Aon practice last spring, so I think I need to get back in the swing of things. I climbed the building three more times after that, posting 5:05, 5:21, and 5:23. By the end, I was really dragging. Still, that’s not bad. The climb to the roof is an honest 26 stories, so that makes for 130 stories, 2,900 steps, and about 1,765 vertical feet.

And of course, I made a chart of the staircase:

We’ll be heading back there on Wednesday to do it again. And then next week, we move to the 777 Tower, which is 52 stories. Good times.


The Watts Towers

Filed under: — stan @ 2:41 pm

This Sunday’s bike club ride was a sightseeing trip to Watts to see the Watts Towers. I’ve always been fascinated by strange things that are the product of someone’s strange obsession. And since the towers were built by Simon Rodia out of junk he found over a period of more than 30 years.

The route was basically straight south to Whittier Narrows, where we got on the southern portion of the Rio Hondo bike path. That took us down through Pico Rivera and Downey to the Los Angeles river. Then we got off on Imperial Highway and rode across Lynwood. We crossed Alameda Blvd, and I took a moment to look down into the trench to see the railroad tracks that they built to carry the freight that is shipped into the port of Los Angeles.

When we crossed into Watts, we saw “111st St”. I presume that is pronounced, “eleventy-first street”.

Then we got to the towers. There is a small park around them, and there are plaques that tell the story. There are docent-led tours there, and Carla said that they are interesting. Someday I’ll have to go see that.

I rode down to the end of the block to see the Blue Line tracks there. I rode the train to Long Beach once, and I didn’t know that the tracks go right by the towers.

On the way home through Montebello, we saw some emus and llamas by the side of the bike path. That was odd. The sign said “Montebello Barnyard Zoo“.

It was a nice ride, with some cultural interest, and almost no hills at all.

49 miles.


Fortunately, the miasma theory of disease has been disproven

Filed under: — stan @ 5:37 pm

I recently read The Ghost Map, which tells the story of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London. Central to the story is the fact that, according to medical thinking at the time, disease was spread by bad odors from sewage. And as a result, great efforts were made to build a sewer system to pipe all the sewage into the Thames. Sadly, the Thames was the main source of drinking water for London, so you can pretty much guess how well that worked out. But due to the efforts of Dr John Snow, it was established that cholera was transmitted by contaminated water.

So we know now that bad odors don’t spread disease. But that doesn’t change the fact that they do, in fact, stink.

My neighbor’s house caught fire back in June, and they are currently in the process of fixing it up. So the construction company has set up to do a complete rebuild of the interior of the house. They’ve been working on it for about two or three weeks so far. The construction guys said that it was probably going to be several months before they’re finished.

At first, I was a bit concerned when I saw that they’d put their portajohn on the driveway about five feet from my bedroom window. But it wasn’t a problem.

At first.

Now that it’s been a few weeks, and it’s been hot, it’s becoming a problem. It cools off nicely here at night, so I generally put a window fan up to bring in the cool air. And it brought in more than cool air last night.

I called the company today, and they said that they’d make arrangements to move it and call me back. You can pretty much guess the rest. I came home, and it’s still there. And it’s Friday afternoon. Fortunately, it’s not all that heavy. So I was able to just scoot it about 10-15 feet away from my house and onto the neighbor’s front lawn. This should take care of the problem for now.


2012: Odyssey’s End

Filed under: — stan @ 5:04 pm

We didn’t have time to do any more tourist-things before we left to go home on Tuesday. Gordon gave us a ride to the airport, so we didn’t have to make the epic journey by train this time. And it also gave us a little more time to visit.

When we were getting ready to take off, I looked out the window and saw an Airbus A380 for the first time. It was on the taxiway, right behind a little regional jet, which made it look even bigger, and it’s pretty comically big to begin with.

There were thunderstorms most of the way across the continent today, and some of the thunderheads went up to over 40,000 feet. So the airplane spent a good deal of the trip sort of slaloming between the big thunderheads. This went on all the way to Nevada, where the clouds ended. I saw the big solar power plants that are under construction in the desert just inside the California border.

And finally, we were home. It was a fun little trip.


2012: The Odyssey Continues

Filed under: — stan @ 10:37 pm

Monday was our big playing-tourist-in-New-York day. We had a short list of things to see, and all day to go see them. Since Gordon is effectively retired, he was able to come along for the sightseeing.

We started off with a ferry ride across the river from Hoboken. That was actually the first time I’ve ever taken a ferry across the Hudson, despite having grown up in New Jersey and gone into the city countless times. We stopped off at the World Financial Center to admire the palm trees in the atrium. We’re used to seeing palm trees growing like weeds everywhere, but it must be quite a sight to go there on a winter’s day in New York.

Our first stop was the 9/11 Memorial. I’d gone to the World Trade Center back in 1976 when the observation deck first opened up. And I’d been there a few times more over the years. So it was more than a bit jarring to go back to the site and see the memorial. They did do a good job with it. It was nicely done, and it really seemed appropriate. They had the names of all the people who died in the attacks written around the two waterfall pits that took up the spaces where the towers had been. Just like the Vietnam War Memorial, it was just wrenching to see all the names of all the people whose lives were cut short. I saw the Luis Eduardo Torres, and I recognized his name from having read his story not long ago. I also saw Todd Beamer, the “let’s roll” guy from United Flight 93. The edges of his name were polished just a bit more than all the others. I think that because he’s become something of an American hero, people must be taking rubbings of his name at the memorial.

Moving on in our tourist quest, we walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge, only stopping to get some iced tea at a Starbuck’s. The ice was a wonderful thing, since it was hot and muggy, and I find it hard to believe that when I was growing up, I just thought that feeling like that was just normal. Yick.

We got to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked about 1/3 of the way across. We read the plaques telling the story of the bridge, and it was pretty interesting.

Our next stop was the Museum of Sex. This was up at 27th St, so we took the subway. I was always fascinated by the beavers on the wall of the Astor Place subway station. I know that they’re there because the Astor family started out as fur trappers, but it’s still weird to think that there used to be woods and beavers living in Manhattan.

The museum was pretty fun to see, although the air conditioning wasn’t working in some of the rooms. So it was a bit of a steam bath in most of the galleries. But it was still fun. And it was kind of odd to see some people we know in some of the exhibits.

After the museum, we walked up 5th Avenue to 34th Street and the Empire State Building. I’d been there once when I was about eight years old. I remember that they took us up to the observatory to look at the view, and I thought that there must be a staircase going up there, and I wondered what it would be like to climb it. Maybe someday I’ll get the chance to try it.

Our last stop was for pizza. By then it was raining, and we were very tired. But the pizza was good, and after that, we headed home to Gordon’s house. It was a fun time, even if we were tired, hot, and sweaty at the end.


2012: Odyssey Three

Filed under: — stan @ 11:47 pm

On Sunday, we began the second part of our trip. A visit to Hoboken to see my old friend Gordon, and then to play tourist in New York City.

We started with a short cab ride from the hotel to the Park Ridge train station. While we were waiting for the train, I noticed Cyclesport across the street. Back in the ’70s, when I was racing for the North Jersey Bicycle Club, Cyclesport was the headquarters for our arch-rivals, the Italian Cycling Association. It appears that they still have a racing team, although it’s under a different name now.

This was my first time riding the New Jersey Transit Pascack Valley Line. I always remember seeing it when I was out on bike rides, but I don’t recall ever seeing a train on the tracks ever before. I always wondered how they did it, since most of the line is single-track. So while we were riding the train to Hoboken, I paid attention, and I saw that there were about two or three places where there were passing tracks built along the line to allow trains in opposite directions to pass each other. It was a pleasant ride, and pretty soon we were in Hoboken. I’ve been through the Hoboken station countless times before, but never before have I actually gone out the door to the town outside. But this time, that’s what we did. We walked outside, and Gordon met us there to give us and our suitcases a ride to his house.

After a short rest, we decided to start our sightseeing. We took a walk down to the waterfront, passing the “Cake Boss” bakery and the line down the block of people waiting to get in. There is a park built on one of the old piers where we had a nice view across the river to Manhattan.

Next, we walked back to the train station and took the PATH across the river to the 14th St station. From there, we walked west to go to the High Line. I’d read about this park some years ago, and it sounded interesting. It’s certainly a good way to reuse an old structure.

We walked up to the end of the High Line at 30th St, and then we took a cab back to Greenwich Village. We passed by the Stonewall Inn, which was where the gay rights movement got its start in a riot on a hot June night back in 1969. Then we walked around Washington Square Park a bit until it was time to head over to Houston St to meet up with my friend Thaddeus for dinner.

We met with Thaddeus and his family at Veselka Bowery. We had a nice dinner there, and we got to talk and catch up on stories. It was a nice evening, and afterward, he showed us to the subway entrance so we could make our way back to Hoboken. It was amazingly hot and stuffy down in the subway stations. I know I’ve been in the subways in summer before, but I don’t remember it ever being quite so totally uncomfortable. But the trains were air conditioned, so once we were moving, it was all right. We rode the train back to Hoboken and Gordon’s house, and we planned our sightseeing for Monday.


2012: Garden State Odyssey Two

Filed under: — stan @ 11:35 pm

The second day of our New Jersey adventure was a full one. No traveling, but some activities.

It started off in the morning with a tour of our old school, led by a classmate who is now a teacher there. For the most part, the inside of the school looks pretty much the same. They replaced all the leaky old windows years ago when they put in air conditioning, but aside from that and one small new wing, it was pretty much the same. And looking at some of the graffiti on the walls confirmed that human nature hasn’t changed at all in the last 35 years. Still, it was fun to see the old place again.

The afternoon was our off time, so we could rest some from the long day yesterday. And then when evening came, it was time for the main event. The big party at the hotel ballroom. Paul had set up a reception, buffet dinner, and bar service for us. And we had a good turnout. Out of 600-something graduates back in 1977, we had about 120 or 130 show up. That’s not bad for 35 years later. And I wasn’t even the one who traveled the farthest. There were at least five of us I met who had come from the west coast.

A big part of going to things like this is to tell stories of adventures we’ve had over the years. I told everyone about winning the baking ribbon at the Los Angeles County Fair, and I’d brought along a batch of my award-winning cookies to hand out to everyone. I told stories about running up skyscraper stairs, and also about the old days of bicycle racing. I got to see some more old friends from way back when, and got to hear a lot of good and amusing stories from others there, too.

Overall, it was a very fun time.


2012: A Garden State Odyssey

Filed under: — stan @ 11:48 pm

It’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years since I graduated from high school. So when I found out that there was going to be a 35-year reunion this weekend, I figured it would be a fun thing to go to. Even if it would be an epic journey to get there.

‘Home’ in this case is Ridgewood, New Jersey. I lived there starting in 1972, and graduated in the class of 1977. I haven’t been back there to visit since my father retired to San Diego after my mother died in 1994.

I was able to get a good deal on airfare with jetBlue for a flight from Burbank to JFK. Now, JFK is on the wrong side of New York City for a trip to New Jersey. But it was a good deal, and it was worth it to not have to fly out of LAX. I figured that flying into either Newark or JFK would involve dealing with a mega-airport, so being able to go out of Burbank, with its cute little 15-gate terminal was worth it. Also, it’s closer to my house. So we set the alarm for early, and we headed over there for the 7:15 departure.

The flight out was pretty easy. We only flew in a circle over Pennsylvania for a few minutes before we got clearance to come into JFK. It was raining, and I think that had incoming traffic backed up a bit. But we landed pretty much on time, and after we collected our bags, we headed off for the next leg of the journey.

They built a train to JFK since the last time I was there. That was convenient. We rode that to the Long Island Railroad’s Jamaica station, where we caught the first train into Manhattan. That was easy, aside from having to carry our suitcases up the stairs to the platform. It’s well-known that I believe elevators are for wimps, but I’m willing to make an exception when I have to carry a 37-pound suitcase.

When we got to Penn Station, we walked just a short way to find the New Jersey Transit section of the station. We had 10 minutes before the next train left. Too bad the line for the ticket machines took 15 minutes. But since it was just a bit after 5:00 PM, there were lots of trains running. So we caught the next train out to the new Secaucus Junction station in the middle of the swamp, also known as The Meadowlands. Building that station is easily the best idea they’ve had. It cut a good 45 minutes off our trip, and saved us from having to take the train through Hoboken. So after just a few minutes wait there, we got on the fourth and final train up the NJT Bergen County Line to Ridgewood. The whole trip on the four different trains had taken just under two hours, which really isn’t all that bad, considering the distance we covered. And in NYC traffic, a car probably would have taken just as long.

When we got there, we walked one block to meet up with my old friend Steve for dinner at The Office. We had some food and some beer, and we recovered from the journey. We had some laughs and just generally caught up before it was time to go across the street to the Blend Bar for the Friday night party.

The Blend had lost its liquor license and closed last Tuesday. But Paul, our fearless organizer had contacted the owners and arranged to just rent the space out as a hall for a private party. So we all just chipped in some money to cover the rental, and Paul had arranged for an open bar, as well as a band made up of people from our class. They only had about three days to practice playing together beforehand, but they were actually quite good. And of course, they played all the music we remember from the mid-1970s that was the soundtrack of our high school days.

I got to see my old friend Chris there. This was the first time I’d seen him since I went to his college graduation back in 1983. That was fun. And I got to see all the other people I knew and didn’t know from high school. I wasn’t very social back in those days, so it was good to catch up with the people I knew, and to meet the people I didn’t know, and to find out that they’re really pretty nice people after all.

By the time midnight came around, the party was still going, but we were pretty tired from the day’s epic journey. Chris gave us a ride to the hotel where we were all staying for the weekend. It was a fun day.


Mt Washington

Filed under: — stan @ 4:31 pm

This Sunday’s ride was the old Mt Washington route. It’s a slightly shorter route than our usual rides, but it does include a nice hill. We’ve done this ride numerous times, and nothing really remarkable happened along the way. Still, it was a pleasant ride.

38 miles.


The reluctant icon

Filed under: — stan @ 5:11 pm

Today’s bike club ride was the old Toluca Lake route, with a stop at Forest Lawn to pay respects to an icon of our times. A very reluctant icon, to be sure, but still someone who had a major effect on Los Angeles and its culture. We were going to see Rodney King.

The ride out was pleasant. It was a nice day, and we made good time. Along the L.A. River bike path, I noticed that they’d put up new LED street lights. Maybe that will take care of the problems they were having with homeless people digging up the wires under the old street lights to sell the copper.

When we got to Forest Lawn, we made our way up the hill, almost all the way to the back of the cemetery. The entry in wasn’t very specific about the location, but I was able to figure it out from looking at the pictures. He does not have a marker yet, probably because he died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. The whole Rodney King story is really quite sad. I don’t think he deserved any of the bad things that happened to him, but at the same time, it’s complicated. After all, it was all the bad things that happened to him as a person that led to some real reforms in the LAPD, and that has been a real improvement for the city of Los Angeles. In the end, he will be a footnote in the history books, but on the other hand, that’s more than just about any of the rest of us will ever be.

Continuing on, we rode into Burbank. We passed the Starlet apartments, which had their sign repainted. It looks quite nice now, and not nearly as down-and-out as it used to. Besides the faded colors on the old sign, I always thought the thing that made it was the rough splotch of paint across the pool, almost certainly covering up the word ‘HEATED’ that must have been there before.

Our snack stop was at Priscilla’s, which is a good place to stop on a hot day. The tables outside are shaded, and really quite pleasant.

The route home took us up into La Cañada, and then back across Altadena to the start. It was a nice ride.

45 miles.

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