Sunday, June 28, 2009

Miramar Road Trip: Retreat from the Heat

Sunset on the mighty Pacific, the western edge of America. You can see the last of the sun's rays reflected in a couple of the windows, lower right.

The same view at dawn, next morning. You can see why they dubbed the small bay "Half Moon."

It was really hot this morning when I made the decision to head for cooler weather. The oddest thing I've discovered about California is the lack of air conditioning. "You'll never need it," people say. "The heat here is dry heat."

Dry heat can make you just as wet as wet heat and in the wet-heat-climates, people have sensibly turned to air conditioning (Florida comes to mind). It's not a new thing. It's available everywhere. Except in the San Francisco Bay Area, apparently. They think it isn't green-appropriate. But actually, the most environmentally sound thing to do (in my opinion) is to air condition every house on the planet and keep those machines going full blast twenty-four/seven. That way we'll use up all that nasty petroleum and then be forced to discover greener alternatives.

This is the long way 'round of telling you I headed for the coast this morning. If they won't move the air conditioning to me, I'll just have to move to the air conditioning. It is only 23 miles to the Pacific Ocean from my digs, over a small mountain and into the lovely cool. Everyone else had the same idea, so the road was jammed. But it wasn't Philadelphia jammed. It was just slightly slower than usual. Fortunately, my car has an air-conditioner.

Leaving the Santa Clara Valley it was 100F at 1:00 p.m. and as I--along with the rest of the world--coasted down toward the Pacific, the thermometer dropped to 77F. Aaaah.

I left home with only my toothbrush and without hotel reservations. But it was Sunday and I bet on finding a vacancy.

Miramar Beach with the tide coming in. It is just south of San Francisco.

Within the city limits of Half Moon Bay, but still well outside of town, I dropped out of the traffic on Highway 1, and found a little beach village called Miramar. It was charming and just far enough off the road to be nice and quiet, except for the pounding of the surf. Looking around Miramar, I found an inn right on the beach. The Landis Shores has just eight rooms. Breakfast--made to order at the time of your choice--and afternoon hors d'oeuvres are included in the fare, and, if you come Sunday through Thursday you can make a bargain with the owner and his wife on price. Ellen and Ken Landis are sommelier (she) and chef (he) and they built the inn from the ground up.

The Landis Shores on Miramar Beach, owned by Ellen and Ken Landis.

My room wasn't quite ready, so I had the chance to take a stroll along the stretch of the California Coastal Trail that runs adjacent to the hotel. I'm not big on hiking. I prefer to get my exercise on a treadmill at the gym and do my walking among the counters at Saks. So it takes a really nice trail to capture my attention. This certainly did that.

The California Coastal Trail was busy today, but the people I saw must have been lost in the mist when I took this photo.

It is perched along the cliffs just over the ocean, and this stretch, which runs about eight miles, is surrounded by acres of native coastal foliage. It is paved for strollers, rollerblades, bicycles and people like me who like to walk on flat surfaces. The wildlife was buzzing as I walked along and the sky was full of mist, swirling around from the sea. I could feel the sting of salt on my lips as I dallied, taking pictures of the surf below, the beach houses adjacent, and the trail itself.

A beach cottage along the Coastal Trail.

I've complained about California's distaste for air conditioning, so now let me tell you something California has done a much better job of than has my "other" home state of Florida: preserving its shoreline. In 1972, California voters approved the funds and the plan for this Coastal Trail and the state has been putting the pieces of it together since then. No high-rise condos mar the view along this stunning coast, and everyone can thus enjoy its beauty.

A gorgeous beach house along the trail. I'm sure the upkeep is a real pain in the neck.

The wealthy have low-impact homes along the path, and the working stiffs have easy access to the beaches. In Florida the view would be blocked by enormous high-rise buildings full of concrete condos and if one questioned the efficacy of this, one would hear the dreaded words "private property rights" as a code for unbridled development.

Many of the fences along the trail are of old, recycled redwood lumber, which holds up well in the salty air of the coast.

As if people all over the this great land had not limited those rights repeatedly, for the benefit of the whole, with planning and zoning rules of all kinds. For more than thirty years my home state of California has been getting it right. Florida is beautiful too, but I could never understand why it was so far behind California in this. Air conditioning, Florida has heard of. Coastal preservation? Not so much.

Looking from the Coastal Trail, back toward Highway 1. No big high-rise buildings mar the view.

The California Coastal Trail, near Miramar Beach.

California Coastal Trail

Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Winchester Mystery House Part II: The Horror! The Horror!

The Winchester Mystery House is a Bay Area curiosity, but until I wrote my recent post about the plan for an upcoming Winchester Mystery House movie, I had never been inside it. I decided it was time to go exploring.

The first thing you notice about the old house is that, alas, it is trapped in the middle of San Jose's considerable urban sprawl, bounded on one side by a freeway, on the other by a mega-movie-complex, with high rise office buildings on the third side and the Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park on the fourth. There are just 4.5 acres remaining of the original 162 acre estate owned by Mrs. Winchester. Down a palm-lined lane, through a charming gate, it isn't.

The Victorian gables of the Winchester home are a sharp contrast to the modern buildings just across the boulevard.

It spite of all this, the house is striking even as you come upon it in its unusual setting. Parking, at least on this weekday in June, was easy and entirely free. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places, which gives it a bit more gravitas than the average tourist attraction. Sarah Winchester, the heir to much of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune, did live here and was the odd home's eccentric designer.

It was an eight-room farmhouse when she bought it in 1884 and began her curious program to placate the spirits of the dead (who had been killed by Winchester weapons) by continuously building on the home for 38 years. When she joined the spirit world herself in 1922, she left a home with 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, 47 fireplaces, and three elevators. If you plan to visit and take the tour--be sure and wear comfortable shoes.

The towers, which brought the home to seven stories, collapsed in the 1906 earthquake, which also briefly trapped Mrs. Winchester in her bedroom. The towers weren't replaced and Mrs. W closed off the 22 damaged rooms and started building on the other side of the house.

The really scary thing about this house, I discovered, as I took a guided tour for $26.00, is its chock-a-block architecture and its wretched decor. Forget the doors to nowhere, the staircases that end at ceilings, and the repeated use of the number thirteen. The design is ghastly!

Mrs. Winchester put bars on the window of the Seance Room. To keep what out, exactly?

Small rooms. Low ceilings. Expensive and terrible wall coverings. Mrs. Winchester's own furniture is long gone, but has been replaced in some rooms by really awful Victorian, machine made, over-carved junk, which is said to resemble what she had here. The house is almost entirely built of redwood; but, she didn't like the way it looked so she had the redwood painted to look like Birdseye maple. The horror! The horror! To think this rich old lady could have afforded the best. It really does make you shudder.

And yet, in the midst of it, there are some remarkable details, and most of these are in the windows. Why she put spider web windows in one of her bathrooms, we may never know. But they really are beautiful.

The spider web windows of the bathroom. One was found in a closet which housed the hot water heater.

When she died, they found several windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany in a storage room on the first floor. Whether she had them installed and removed them during the never-ending construction, or whether she intended to install them and never got around to it, we don't know. But they are stunning, and with the resurgence in interest in Tiffany's work, ought to be in a museum.

This window, with the spider web theme she loved, was designed by Tiffany Studios for Mrs. Winchester at a cost of $10,000. It would bring millions on the market today.

Another window, believed to be of Tiffany's favril glass, found in a storage room in the mansion.

Seeing some of these beautiful details was almost worth the trip. Still, where were the spirits said to haunt the place? Weren't they part of the tour too? All I saw around me as we trudged through the house was the occasional interesting touch, generally obscured by the overweight Americans thundering along behind our diminutive guide.

Then, when I returned home, I did find one curious photo among my pictures. A distortion of the light, I'm sure, and yet ...

My digital camera captured this optical illusion with all those little sparkly dots. At least I think it is an optical illusion.

Sara Winchester interited $30 million, before the creation of income tax, back when $30 million was a real fortune. Perhaps spirits do haunt the place, and if so, they may be crying out against all the costly artistic sins committed within the walls of old Sarah's home. Looking around, it is a little scary. All the wasted millions. All the lost architectural and decorative opportunities. They shall not pass this way again.

The photos for this article were all taken by Robin Chapman, except the historic one (courtesy of the Winchester Mystery House) unless that was taken by me in a previous lifetime.

Re-Read Robin's Part One on the Mystery House

Mystery House Web Site

Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Landmark Worth Saving

The U.S.S. Macon headed into Hangar One at Moffett in the 1930s.

Hangar One at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California is something you can't miss if you have ever come in to or out of any of the San Francisco Bay Area's airports. Built in 1932 to house the observation dirigibles of the U.S. Navy, this one building covers eight acres and is large enough to hold ten football fields. From the air, you can't miss it. And from the ground, driving around the Bay Area, you still can't miss it. It rises 198 feet above its base of reinforced concrete set on pilings so strong, eight decades of earthquakes have rumbled beneath it to little effect.

Its doors weigh five hundred tons each. The structure is so big, military pilots who have flown in and out of the base over the years say it has its own weather in there.

The dirigible fad came and went quickly in the 1930s. The airships were designed to be used for naval observation and to launch small planes call Sparrowhawks, but they turned out to be problematic at best. The U.S.S. Akron visited Moffett Field only once, in May of 1932 before it returned to its base in Lakehurst, New Jersey and went down in an Atlantic storm in 1933. Only three of its seventy-six crew members survived. The U.S.S. Macon was based at Moffett after its delivery in 1932 and cruised the West Coast until it was lost off the California Coast near Point Sur in 1935. In that accident most of its crew survived. But it was the death of the airship.

The U.S.S. Macon out over Moffett and Hangar One, 1930s.

In 1940, future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, starred in Murder in the Air featuring scenes at Moffett's Hangar One. In a foreshadowing of his proposal for a missile shield, Reagan's "Brass Brancroft, American Secret Agent" uses the super secret Inertia Projector to shoot inertia beams at an enemy airship that stop it cold. What a great idea!

The U.S. Army Air Corps--later the U.S. Air Force--used Moffett Field for training during World War II and the hangar to safely store its planes. Actor Jimmy Stewart took his flight training in the shadow of Hangar One before he went off to help win the war in Europe as a bomber pilot.

Since World War II, Hangar One has been a friendly landmark for visitors and residents and a white elephant for the government. Who should maintain it? What should be done with it?

Hangar One at Moffett today.

For some time in the 1980s and 1990s, people who owned remote-controlled airplanes had club meetings in there and flew their miniature aircraft all over the place inside the hangar. That ended after September 11, 2001 when NASA/Ames, which now operates Moffett Field, suddenly discovered there were PCBs in Hangar One's siding, and closed the inside of the hangar to the public.

The latest proposal is to get a HazMat crew to removed the PCB siding and to leave Hangar One as just a skeleton. What a silly idea that is. It is a hangar and it should look like a hanger.

That is my father and me at Moffett with Hangar One in the background, in a photo taken earlier this month.

You can visit the hangar, at least its exterior, if you drive to the gate at Moffett and tell them you want to go to the Historical Museum there. A group of terrific volunteers operate the museum and will be glad to walk you through the hangar's history, and the latest efforts to preserve it.

With all the "stimulus" money flowing out of Washington, you might think removing the contaminated siding and replacing in properly would be just the kind of project to keep Silicon Valley's economy stimulated during these troubled times. Hope somebody figures it out.

Hangar One needs preserving for the sake of Brass Brancroft, his inertia projector, hero Jimmy Stewart, the crews of the airships, and all the dreamers who managed to get those airships floated. America is the land of impossible dreams, made possible. Every big, creative idea here, whether success or failure, leads us on to the next. The airships and their stupendous hangar were just such a dream: a big idea that has left us an astounding monument to cherish.

All photos courtesy of the Moffett Field Historical Society.

Santa Clara Valley History

Moffett Field Museum

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Some Thoughts on Father's Day

Dad remembers me when I was this size--post baptism--and the rest is just a blank. By the way that is Dad, happy. (Note we're posing in the shade of an apricot tree with an orchard of them across the Los Altos, California street.)

Have you seen the movie Father of the Bride, the old one (1950) with Spencer Tracy as the father and Elizabeth Taylor as the bride? It is a story about the perfect American family, the one MGM executive Louis B. Mayer never had. The one most of us never had. That's probably why the movie is so attractive. If you were going to insert yourself into a movie--the way Woody Allen had Mia Farrow do in the Purple Rose of Cairo--you would definitely want to the join the Banks family in MGM-ville. The worst problem the Banks have is winnowing down the wedding reception invitation list so they can fit everyone they know and like into their lovely living room.

I say this as a prelude to a Father's Day confession. My father was always a distant father to me, until he began to lose his mind. In fact, the people in my family were always so distant from one another, in both triumph and disaster, that I decided our Chapman Family Motto must be: "Every Man For Himself."

Anyway, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, or so they say.

People who have not experienced this think you must be kidding. My friend Kathy, for example, is so incredibly well-adjusted and seems to have come from such a happy family that she has always fascinated me. Her parents loved her. They sent her to Stanford University. They gave her a big wedding. She's had a healthy marriage, a successful career, a loyal (not to mention rich) husband, and three intelligent, happy children. She never brags about this because she is too nice to brag. She's a kind friend.

I always wondered what planet she was from. Where is this planet anyway?

My Dad does love children, and when my sister and I were children we did have some fun together, though he had little enough time for fun of any kind. He worked long hours at the office. Then, he worked long hours at home to maintain the house and yard to the standards my mother set. He was in the Army Reserves. He worked after-hours to get his Masters Degree. At the dinner table, he said almost nothing.

Dad at his engineering office in San Francisco, probably about the year I was born, the last year he now remembers very clearly.

In fact, one of the most interesting things about his dementia now is that he talks so much! I believe he's talked more in the last year, than he did in all the other 88 years of his life combined.

And the things he remembers are so odd. He talks about my sister and I being born and then, poof, nothing. He doesn't remember our vacations together, though they were few enough and short enough as it was. He doesn't recall taking my sister to Chico State. He doesn't seem to remember how I excelled in high school and college. I don't think he knows anything about my career in television news, though even when that brought me accolades he didn't' say much about it.

His memory seems to be frozen at about the time he got out of the army from World War II and married my mother.

You might think he doesn't want to remember the rest. My friend Anne, who is a psychiatric social worker and facilitates a support group for Alzheimer's families, thinks dementia patients have some ability to look back to times they want to remember, or times they want to review and to ignore the rest. It is true that for most of my life my father wasn't emotionally present, or didn't seem to be.

But, we recently took him for a CAT scan to see what might be causing his dementia. The test showed that his brain is actually shrinking from some sort of neurodegenerative disease--many kinds of which strike people when they are old. Doctors don't really think it is possible for patients like my Dad to choose what they want to remember. But who really knows?

It doesn't appear that he can make any thoughtful choices now. Yet, I am still able to do so. And on this Father's Day, I just want to say that the reason my father and I are close now is that I decided we would be when he became ill.

It is the first time anyone in my family has ever needed me. I decided to come out to California and be a loving parent to him while he is ill. And it doesn't really matter whether I'm trying to be the kind of parent to him that I never had, or whether he was a present father, or whether he ever said anything at the dinner table, or whether, for whatever reason, he occasionally had a violent temper, or not. We only have him now for a very short time.

And I've chosen to love him. Because I can't think of anything else to do.

I carried this photo of my Dad--circa 1970--around in my wallet so long it has a big fold in the middle of it.

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cutting 'Cots in the Santa Clara Valley: A Guest Post at Apricot Time in California

Robin writes: The scent of the apricots is what I remember best. That, and the first taste of a sweet, warm 'cot, sun kissed and right off the tree. The Santa Clara Valley, just south of San Francisco, is one of the few places in the world where this rare fruit grows to perfection. And though many of the old trees are gone, some remain. Here, as the 'cots ripen and ready for picking, my friend from childhood, Lisa Gutt Arnold, looks back at the joys of growing up in the shade of her family's apricot trees.

Guest Post
Lisa Gutt Arnold

The fruit of Prunus armeniaca, like the plum and peach, is a stone fruit, or, as Archibald MacLeish would say, “globed.” It is self-pollinating and sets after white flowers blossom. Formerly considered a native of the Caucasus and Armenia (hence the species name armeniaca), current studies suggest that India is its country of origin.

Brought to California by the mission fathers in the early eighteenth century, the apricot tree now graces California hillsides, loving the temperate climate and living from 50 to 100 years.

Our apricot orchard on Summerhill Avenue in Los Altos Hills was small: thirty-two trees dotting the hillside behind and above our home. As a child I imagined the trees to be an army of men protecting my family. With stiff, bowed arms they undressed in winter and wore the lace of their betrothed in spring. When they came full fruit they were transformed magically into trees, their gray, rough bark contrasting with the bright green, heart-shaped foliage tinged with red.

An army of apricot trees marching down the hillside on the property of the Packard Foundation in Los Altos Hills.

As it ripened, the furred fruit seemed to dance, exuding a fragrance reminiscent of the blossoms. In late June, when the heat began to rise early in the day, our mother would pluck just enough fruit to bake apricot nut bread or pie (which we served instead of cake at my wedding on the summer solstice). After the first flush of harvest, we began to pick the fruit in earnest.

When all the fruit is a soft orange color it is ready to pick.

My father returned from the hillside with buckets of fruit, pouring the ‘cots onto a wooden tray. My siblings and I sat at each of the corners, taking knife in one hand and fruit in the other. Finding the golden seam in the center, we cut in one gesture around the curve. Succulent juice rose from the pores as we tossed away the stone. Setting each half on the tray, we watched our own triangle of cut fruit grow to meet the others.

For the tray to be a success, each ‘cot must touch another on every side. The feng shui of the tray slowed the passage of time. Our mother, watching from the kitchen window, brought us cold drinks as we shifted to sit under the shade of the mulberry tree. Closing in on the space in the middle of the tray, we left it for Mom to place the vital centerpiece, the largest of the ‘cots.

After a tray was complete, Dad carried it to the hillside. When all the fruit was cut (about 200 pounds), Dad set up the sulphur house, sliding the trays inside. Then he lit a can of sulphur that burned all night. The fumes of sulphur dioxide circulating inside killed any parasites. In the morning Dad removed the trays and set a ladder beside the house.

We helped him carry the trays to the roof where the apricots lay to dry, exposed to the sky night and day. After a week the ‘cots were ready to eat, shriveled in size, shape, and weight, but sweeter than a robin’s song.

Lisa Gutt Arnold
Bainbridge Island, Washington

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Out of Control Pop

If only life were like the old family album where everyone is always smiling. This is Dad and Kimmy (the taller one) and me at the Grand Canyon one summer at dawn.

With dementia patients, you find some sort of routine that works and, just as you do in your life, you toodle along assuming what works one day will also work the next. And just as in life, it doesn't always do that. You come up against the perversity of animate and inanimate ofjects, the curvature of the earth, the unpredictability of the dice and all sorts of other things.

In short, what works one day with my 89-year old demented father, does not work on another. And I end up in tears because I don't know how to fix it. I did that today.

At one of the Alzheimer's support groups I have attended, a man had to put his wife into skilled nursing because he was unable to care for her, with her dementia, any longer. This so angered her damaged brain that he could no longer visit her in the nursing home. If she saw him, even in the hallway, she would go berserk and yell that he had put her in "this prison" against her will and she would be out of control like that for at least 24 hours. The nursing home people asked him not to visit.

There was just enough of a grain of truth in his wife's reaction--just a grain, not actual truth--that the man was wracked with guilt. Yes, he knew he had done the right thing, and yes he knew that going into a nursing home would upset practically anyone. But no, her reaction was not that of the loving wife he had known for sixty years. Her brain was not the brain he had known. So, he would sneak into the nursing home to keep track of her care, but he would have to stay away from her room. His daughter could visit and his wife would be okay with that, but he was devastated that he could not see her himself.

Another person in a support group of mine had been married to her husband for more than fifty years. He had had a brief first marriage that lasted less than two years before they had met. But as his dementia worsened he would confuse his second wife with his first and tell his present wife (as if talking to his first wife, if you follow me) that no, he had not loved that "second woman" and wished the first wife and he had never divorced. He would find his divorce papers and brood over them endlessly. The woman cried as she told us she had had to put her husband, who had Alzheimer's, in assisted living because she could not longer handle the stress.

My own father was like that this morning. He was mad from the minute I entered the kitchen with the pancakes he always enjoys. Mad because I had sent (with his permission) an Ascension Island cap to his old friend-from-the-Army Herb, who is himself in skilled nursing. I had sent a note to Herb's wife Ursula because I wanted to let her know I had been in touch with a woman on Ascension who was going to call her to seek out historical information on World War II U.S. Army sites there.

Somehow, my poor father got it in his head that I had been corresponding with his old friends behind his back. Yesterday, I had showed him my correspondence with them, and today he said he hadn't read it and I should have showed it to him. But I didn't have it with me. It just got worse from there. His total deafness doesn't help: he is so tuned into faces, because he cannot hear, that if you make any kind of face that shows exasperation it makes him angrier and angrier. He slammed his hand so hard on the kitchen table today I was afraid he might hurt himself. I figured a retreat, under the circumstances, was the only sensible thing to do.

These things become a tangled web because your loved one responds in the same tone of voice, and with the same gestures and manner than he once did when he actually had something to be angry about. You are now seeing the same picture of an angry parent: only this time you have to keep telling yourself it is not the father you knew. But that is tough, because he is sitting right there, looking almost just as he did, and definitely sounding as he once did when you came home late from a date, or told him to buzz off when he wanted you to eject the rock and roll tape from your radio.

Added to the fun is the other parent who can't seem to face the fact that it is time for Dad to be in skilled nursing, for his own safety and for ours. She likes to pretend everything is as it was. Certainly, that helps her survive, and I do understand that. But it does not move us toward the next steps we need to take in this truly difficult struggle.

My Dad is still well enough to feel sorry hours later when he realizes he has been irrational or difficult. But that isn't the point. I'm sorry we can't do more for him. The trouble is ... doing more for him is never enough.

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who is Reading This Blog?

Ever wonder who is reading this blog with you? We've now reached almost 5000 hits since we first started tracking with Google Analytics. That's a hefty number for a blog that is not yet a year old.

Who is reading us out there?

People from 69 different countries for one thing. We had a nice note from a reader in Scandinavia who liked the vintage postcards we often use as illustrations on the site. And we have some loyal readers in India, one of whom sent this note regarding an article Robin wrote about leaving her Florida home. (The article included a picture of her living room): "I had read about some of the writers' rooms. Today I am educated a little bit more !!!! (After reading your article on your room). Here is the link describing the room of Virginia Woolf : Sincerely, N.L., Ahmadabad, India"
(Miles to Go Before I Sleep)

We recently had a nice comment on our (admittedly tongue in cheek) post about the differences between Florida and California. (The post is several months old but that is one of the wonders of the blog. People find you by Googling a subject you may have written about several months before.) The note read: "We are from California now living in the Keys. Your comments are so right on but you did not mention the beautiful sunsets in California due to the pollution content the more smog the prettier the sunset." Well hey, we like the Florida Keys too! It's like living in the Caribbean only with U.S. money and better food.
(Sunshine State Vs Sunshine State)

Articles written by screenwriter Steve Latshaw for our blog have elicited comments from his wide range of friends including Dean Torrence of the classic surfer duo Jan and Dean. His articles on Roy Rogers have been read in dozens of countries from Chile to the Netherlands. Even Dustin Roy Rogers (Roy's grandson) wrote in response to the encouraging comments: "We cannot do it alone. It will only happen with a posse whose numbers are as strong as Roy's fan base. I encourage all Roy & Dale fans to join Carole in "shouting as loud as they are praying. Dustin Roy Rogers"
(We Need a Posse to Help Roy and Dale)

Reviewing an indy film called In Search of a Midnight Kiss , we mentioned that in spite of all its awards, we found it boring, vulgar and dreary. Not to mention the lead actress, in her twenties, appeared to be headed for the land of double chins. Someone in Hollywood agreed with us in this letter from Anonymous: "Actually, Sara Simmonds is 30-years-old and she already does have a double chin...ha! I loved your honest review of this film. It is one of the first I've read that I agree with. The entire film from the writing to the acting,...shall I say, "STINKS!"" (Here we must interject the advice of Trady Lords' mother in Philadelphia Story: "Don't say 'stinks' darling. When necessary say 'smells' but only when absolutely necessary.")
(Sunshine State Vs Sunshine State)

We don't want to spend too much time patting our own back. We are just pleased and astonished that we've had this much luck bringing in readers to our general interest blog.

To you, our readers, from all over the globe--from Australia to the Netherlands and from Spain to Ireland, we salute you. Only one little complaint. We've had readers from every state in the United States--except South Dakota. Where are you S. Dakota? Anybody out there amidst the Badlands?

We promise you more fun, travel, books, movies, commentary and amusement in the months ahead. Hope you will stay with us. And bring your friends down, ya hear?

A vintage postcard we love.

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Visit From Uncle Jack

My Uncle Jack and my mom, in Spokane, Washington, August 1945. They are smiling because World War II has just ended and Jack, much to his own surprise, is safely home from the Pacific.

My mom's younger brother Jack stopped by for a visit the other day. He wanted to see his older sister just to say hello. It was a casual thing. A visit between eighty-ish siblings and their spouses. The only notable thing about it is that Uncle Jack had to drive more than a thousand miles to "drop in." He still lives in Mom's hometown of Spokane, Washington.

Jack is another of the "ordinary" heroes in our family and in America's family. As a teenager he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, qualified as a pilot, and flew B-24 Liberators in the South Pacific. Never talked about it that I know of.

But the family legend is that he got airsick on every flight and vowed he'd never fly again if he got home alive. What none of us thought of until recently was that he may not have been airsick: he might have been sick to his stomach from what he saw from the cockpit of his bomber.

In any case, he kept his vow and never flew again, except one time, when he had to fly his mother, my grandmother, to our house for a visit shortly before her death. That was about thirty years ago and he's stayed back on the ground since.

He didn't exactly live the rest of his life without danger. After his service in the war, he worked as a police officer for four decades, serving and protecting the people of Spokane, Washington.

In his early eighties, he is still the kind of imposing guy you'd prefer not to have stop you on the highway for speeding. Over six feet tall and strong of sinew, he still lifts weights. And still hops into his car (American made) and drives a few thousand miles to drop in and see his sister.

Serving and protecting. It seems he has spent his life doing that. He did learn, however, that he preferred to do it from a vehicle on the ground than from a cockpit: who could blame him for that?

Uncle Jack and his Harley, with my long-legged sister at left, me, and, at right Jack's son Kit, our cousin. For many years, Uncle Jack rode his own motorcycle "for fun" all over the U.S.

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Art and Business: Co-op Makes Sense

Viewpoints Gallery on State Street in Los Altos, California.

You don't always think of artists as practical people, but one very practical group of artists in the San Francisco Bay Area has defied that stereotype. They have joined together in a business model that is a delight to art patrons and an affordable platform for artists. Everybody wins.

Viewpoints Gallery in Los Altos, California is an art cooperative that has been around for more than thirty years in the same space. If you love California art, it can be found here. But the artists don't just paint regional scenes. One recent show featured farm scenes and another filled the walls with images of bicycles.

If you can't afford to buy, but simply love to look, the gallery offers a change of art every month. If you're a collector its a real find: the prices are reasonable and the artists are excellent. And for the artists; it is a wonderful place they can show their work by pooling the cost of the gallery's rent and expenses. There are fourteen artists in the group today, thirteen "two dimensional" artists and one potter.

At a recent reception, all of the artists in the cooperative were available to meet and greet their guests. Food and wine in the courtyard behind the gallery brought art patrons outside to see additional panels of art on display that tripled the number of paintings that could be shown inside. The weather smiled and though rain was forecast, it stayed away.

While my friend was queueing at the wine table, I strolled through this mini art fest. And here I had the chance to chat for the second time with one of my favorite artists, Diana Jaye, a accountant turned plein air artist. Plein air artists (the two words mean "open air" in French) take their easels into the out-of-doors to catch the beauty of the changing outdoor light. Jaye waited until she retired from her career crunching numbers to entirely shift over to the other side of her brain and paint. The cooperative has allowed her an affordable way to show her work and to meet other talented artists who want to sell their paintings but who don't want to set a price on them that the average collector can't afford.

Artist Diana Jaye at the Viewpoints Gallery Reception.

As all good marketing projects are, this reception was fun. Whether you were buying or not you had a chance to meet people who were pursuing their dreams and who had the common sense to form a group that helped bring their dreams to the public.

The pursuit of happiness: and making a profit from it. Isn't that what America is all about?

Reception guests study the work of San Francisco Bay Area artist Barbara von Haunalter.

Viewpoints Gallery Link
Artist Diana Jaye Link

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Coda for the Gipper

There is a coda to my story on meeting President Reagan, and coincidentally, it brings me back to the story of my own father ...

By 1992, I had left Washington to take a job anchoring the news at WESH-TV in Orlando, Florida. Most of the time, I worked behind the anchor desk. But, because of my Washington experience, I was sent out to cover political stories from time to time. In 1992, that meant the Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas, where former President Ronald Reagan was scheduled to speak.

George W. Bush, a man who had served Reagan faithfully as his Vice President ("Bush 41," as he is now known) was being nominated to run for a second term. Since that was a foregone conclusion, for most of the rest of that humid week in Houston, things were a little slow, newswise.

In fact, until the day Ronald Reagan addressed the convention, the most interesting thing that happened to me and my crew is that we lost our car. Well, we didn't actually lose it, but we did misplace it for the better part of an hour. How? Well, about 10,000 people came to Houston for that convention and the rental car companies shipped thousands of white General Motors sedans into Houston for the event. We rented one and so did everybody else.

We went to work at dawn each day and finished up late in the evening, doing live reports for the morning shows, the noon news, the evening news, and the eleven o'clock news. One morning we parked our car in an almost empty lot. That night, when we came out of the Astrodome, we walked out toward what we thought was our white Chevrolet sedan and, when we went to put the key in the lock, discovered it was not our car. We looked around.

In the lot, in all the parking places surrounding us, were thousands upon thousands of white Chevy sedans. We walked around for almost an hour until we found the one we'd come in with that morning.

But I digress. On the day Ronald Reagan was scheduled to speak, all sorts of rumors were circulating. He hadn't made many public appearances in the year or two before the convention and people were speculating that the 81-year-old former Commander in Chief was losing it, if you know what I mean, and that the Reagan handlers had thus been keeping him under wraps.

I ran into reporter Morton Kondracke, whom I knew a little from Washington, and he told me, yes, he had heard that maybe the former president had lost a step or two and yes, he was curious to see how he performed that night. If you think about it, we were just looking for a story at that miserable convention, and the only story we could think of was that the old Gipper might be ga ga.

That night, I was in the Astrodome when Reagan entered to thunderous applause. I don't know how many minutes it took to calm the crowd, but it took quite a while. All the time I was sitting there, wondering just how the old guy was really doing.

When the crowd grew quiet, Ronald Reagan looked down at his notes, and as he looked up into the crowd, and into his teleprompter, there, for just a tiny fraction of a second, I thought I saw something odd--a hint of a look that said; "Where am I?"

Then he looked at the 'prompter, read his first word and he was off, giving his usual, rousing speech. It was peppered with the familiar Reagan anecdotes, humorous stories, and his articulate and heartfelt message about the greatness of the American people. There were tears in a lot of eyes when he finished speaking.

I wondered about that moment at the beginning of his speech when something looked slightly wrong for a second: for ...not even a second. But I dismissed it and filed my story.

Two years later, in November of 1994, Reagan's family released his final letter, in which he told the nation he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. He wrote:

"I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you."

At the time, I looked back to that brief moment at the convention and realized that the rumors had, in fact, been true. Alzheimer's type dementia doesn't hit a person like a hammer one day. It comes on gradually and I'm certain Reagan had it when I saw him in Houston. Alzheimer's patients can get that look, especially in the early stages of the disease, and then, when they are reminded by something familiar, as Reagan was by the teleprompter, can click into what needs to be done and appear to be just as they once were, at least for a time.

For many years, until President Reagan died in 2004, I thought how odd it was that someone who had accomplished so much would have a disease that made him forget his incredible life.

And then my Dad got it too. Reading about Alzheimer's Disease and Alzheimer's type dementia, I realized how much Ronald Reagan had in common with the citizens he loved. At least five million Americans, most of them older Americans, have this terrible disease.

Reagan, who had accomplished so much, was a man of many blessings. But time is the Great Leveler. It made even the Great Communicator as fragile as the next man.

He died as he lived--doing the best he could. And he left the rest to the angels.

"I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”
—Ronald Wilson Reagan

Ronald Reagan Library

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Meeting the Gipper

They unveiled a statue this week of our 40th President, Ronald Reagan, in the rotunda of the Capitol. I covered Ronald Reagan (and President George H.W. Bush) during my years in Washington, and covering stories involving the President always helped keep things interesting. And, in those fascinating years, some days stand out. The day I was summoned to the White House, for a briefing, for example ....

President Ronald Wilson Reagan at the White House.

It was a February morning, the day President Reagan was scheduled to deliver his State of the Union Message to Congress. I was reporting for the 11 p.m. news at the ABC-TV affiliate in Washington D.C. that year, and I knew I would be going live from the Capitol's "swamp site," as it was known. The "swamp site" is on the East Front of the Capitol and it was there we could count on all the ambulatory members of Congress appearing after a big speech like that, moving from camera to camera in that symbiosis that is an essential feature of Washington life.

That's me with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) getting ready to go live from the East Front ("swamp site") of the U.S. Capitol.

It was about 10 a.m. when the telephone rang at my home. It was the assignment desk at the station, telling me I needed to get cracking and get down to the White House for a noon briefing on the speech. I'd covered these briefings before and they weren't any big deal. The president wasn't usually there, and it was all done in the Press Room, that small area for reporters erected over the White House pool.

"David was supposed to go," said the assignment manager who called me. "But he doesn't want to. He suggested you go." David was our 11 p.m. anchor, a former CBS correspondent and he had, apparently, sat through enough briefings to last him a lifetime.

I got cracking.

I had no trouble getting into the White House as I had been in Washington long enough to have a pass. The only odd thing about this particular day is that instead of being ushered toward the press room, a gloved steward ushered me into the main quarters of the White House where I waited in a hallway along with several other people. It was even more remarkable when I noticed who the other people were.

Dan Rather was there, and Tom Brokaw; Peter Jennings was there and Sam Donaldson; Judy Woodruff was there and a couple of other national correspondents whose names I've now forgotten; and then there was one anchor/reporter each from each of the local network affiliates. The Reagan administration was smart that way: they knew that local anchors and reporters in Washington D.C. has audience members that were among the powerful. Throwing the locals a bone was very wise. I exchanged a few pleasantries with Sam Donaldson, whom I knew a little, and nodded a hello at the others. There were about ten of us.

I realized I wouldn't have been there among this august company if our 11 p.m. anchor hadn't stepped aside and let me have this opportunity. Under my breath I said a prayer of thanks to the old grouch.

We were ushered into the Roosevelt Room, a beautiful room filled with portraits and with the Charles Russell sculptures Reagan loved. A long table in the center of the room was set for luncheon and the usher indicated we were all to take our seats. Dan Rather, whom I'd never met before because he worked in New York, was extremely gentlemanly and pulled out my chair for me. I sure wish I could remember what I was wearing, so I could tell you that I was looking especially fetching that day, but I honestly can't recall.

The President's two key advisers, Don Regan (domestic policy) and Bud McFarlane (national security) gave us embargoed copies of the speech and began to review it with us as luncheon was served. Don Regan mentioned it was the President's birthday and that the President might drop in and share some birthday cake with us. I noticed Dan Rather said absolutely nothing, and ate only half of everything that was set in front of him.

Everybody else asked lots of questions. That was part of the power game. I decided my job was to listen this time, since I had never been in on a briefing like this one. Though I had been a reporter for more than a decade and had been in Washington for half that time, I knew that anyone under forty in Washington was considered a rookie. I listened.

We were just finishing up our dessert (birthday cake: Dan Rather ate half) when the door at the far end of the room opened. President Ronald Reagan stood there for a moment, back lit by the light from the hallway.

"Mr. President," said Don Regan. "We were going to sing you Happy Birthday, but I guess we're all too scared."

"I'm not too scared," said Dan Rather. It was the first time he had spoken all morning, and he immediately launched his baritone voice into "Happy Birthday" while we all joined in.

President Reagan entered the room, beaming, as we finished the song. Then he went around the table and shook each hand, saying hello to each familiar face.

I had covered him as he stood on podiums, but I had never been up this close to him before. He was taller than I thought he would be--well over six feet, I think. He wore no make-up on his ruddy Irish face and his hair was steel gray and appeared to be unretouched. He was in his eighties and he looked fit, handsome, and at least a decade younger than his actual age.

He shook my hand and I knew he had no idea who I was. But that was okay with me. I was doing the same job as those other guys in the room. For less money, of course, but still.

The laughing and joking took only a few minutes and then the President said goodbye and walked back toward the door. As it opened for him, he paused and turned back to look at us all. Up went his hand and the President gave us his Reagan wave. The one you always saw him give on the White House lawn when he was on the way to Camp David.

Maybe it was the back light from the hallway again, but for a moment there it looked as if he had a spotlight beaming right on him, as if he traveled permanently in a warm penumbra of light. And then he turned and was gone.

Photos courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to Robin Chapman News