Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas San Diego, Ca. March 2012

Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas San Diego, Ca. March 2012
Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas at Luche Libre Taco Shop in San Diego, March 2012

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Only Things, That Matter

There is no way to know if this is true for anyone else, but there is something that has become increasingly more evident to me as the years pass

Things really do not matter

Now, it may be due to growing up deprived and underprivileged, but for the longest time the only thing that mattered was, in fact, acquiring things

There was a period, a couple of decades long truth be told, wherein I gathered, hoarded - things. I had to have material goods, and not just any material goods - I had to have things that others desired, things that would be desirable to others

Nowadays, not so much

Nowadays the things I desire...are of an intangible nature. I have lived long enough to have acquired most of the things I need...now what I want is the stuff of dreams

Happiness and security for my family and friends

Peace and prosperity

The knowledge that those I care about are doing well

The knowledge that those I don't care about are being kind to themselves and others

The one true thing...that sense of self worth that comes from knowing you are truly doing your best

It must be true what they say, that all good things come to those who wait. I waited a long, long time...and now, all good things are here.

Good things that cannot be seen or touched, only experienced

As of 04/30/2014, I am still the luckiest man I know.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Operation Hermit

Cast of Characters

Ned Stradley - He investigated the rumors of "old new bones" at the excavation site, and was the first to understand the meaning of the hastily scribbled messages on the cave walls...

Dr. Fumiko Ishii - She staked her reputation and life on a theory of ancient animal husbandry that stood the anthropology world on it's head...and tail...

Donna Clifford - A resemblance to Ex-Soviet KGB agent Ilya Vavilova was not the only reason she was suspected in the death of her husband...

Dr. A. Preston Chapman - Disgraced former CEO of Biogenetics 
Corp., his talents in cloning and hybridization might be the key to Pandora's box...

Tomas Robinson - Adventurous, devilishly handsome, and saddled 
with gambling debts that could motivate most any man to cover his tracks with murder...

Roy Woodall - Claimed to be British, his passport was found inside of Barry Clifford's briefcase...stamped "invalid"...

Dmitry Linyow - College classmate of Barry Clifford, his presence seemed to arouse the passions of every woman that crossed his path...including married ones...

Isabel Garcia Solas - Beautiful Spaniard who spoke flawless English and bleached her hair...all of it...

Barry Clifford - Brilliant, ambitious, and unscrupulous...a recipe for success or a one-way ticket to an early grave?...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Thought That Crosses The Mind In The Middle Of A Long Drive

I'm as narcissistic as the next guy...
...as long as the next guy is me.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wright Designed House In Springfield Illinois

Springfield Illinois, like many American cities that were founded in the 19th century and built primarily by European immigrants or first generation Americans, features older homes that reflect the design aesthetics of 18th and 19th century Europe, especially Victorian and neo-classical styles.

Many of the homes of the 19th century's wealthier residents reflected their owner's heritage, or rather, a fantasized version of their heritage that included the turrets of medieval castles and bay windows like those seen on British country homes that had been built in the Italianate style.

The rule of thumb seemed to be that the wealthier a homeowner was, the more castle or manor-like their house had to be.

Of course, homeowners of more modest means built houses too, but the designs were far simpler and less indulgent.

Then there was the young widow Susan Lawrence Dana.

Near the turn of the 19th century she inherited a considerable fortune, as well as an Italianate mansion on the corner of 3rd and East Lawrence in Springfield, and decided she wanted to renovate the home into something unique and impressive, but also much different than what was currently considered unique and impressive.

She searched far and wide for an architect who would be able to turn her old stodgy mansion into something new and exciting, something that reflected her bold and independent spirit (this was a woman who, ten years after she had this house built, when she was 49, married a 25-year old - we're talking original cougar here).

She found her man in Frank Lloyd Wright, who, along with his team of five men and two women, had set about creating what was to become known as the Prairie Style. The year this house was commissioned, 1902, was the year the Prairie Style reached full maturity.

This particular house is somewhat of a mash-up between the clean lines of the Prairie Style and the then-current vogue for all things Japanese.

Lloyd Wright's team of architects, draftsmen, designers and other artisans went far beyond a simple renovation of the Italianate mansion. They designed and built a whole new home, complete with over 400 stained glass windows, door panels, wall sconces, lamps, and skylights (at least according to the tour guide - that's way too much counting for me).

Susan Lawrence Dana and Frank Lloyd Wright both shared an interest in Japanese culture, art, and architecture, and the Japanese influences are evident throughout the house, and especially in the design of the roof.

The tour guide related that FLW was given an unlimited budget. The house took two years to build, and when it was finished, furnishings and all, the tally was $60,000. That's a bit over 1.6 million in 2014 dollars. 

The house is a remarkably well-preserved example of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, inside and out. 

The only occupants of the house before it was acquired by the state of Illinois were the original occupant, Susan Lawrence Dana from 1904 until 1928, and Charles C. Thomas, who bought the home in 1944.

When her fortune started to dwindle, Susan Lawrence Thomas closed the main house and moved into a smaller home on the grounds until she began to suffer from dementia in the 1940's. The house and it's contents were then sold to Mr. Thomas, a publisher who bought the home in 1944 and lived in it until 1981.

Charles C. Thomas and his wife fully appreciated the value of maintaining the house and the original furnishings and fixtures. They sold the house to the state of Illinois in 1981 for one million dollars, which was a heckuva deal for the state, as the furnishings alone could have been sold at auction for that much.

The house underwent a three-year restoration in the late '80's, reopening in 1990 looking very much like it did when it was finished in 1904.

FLW designed every element of a house, including gates, fences, walls and railings. This gate is made of wood, and for being 110 years old (that's 110 mid-west winters...) is in remarkably great shape.

The emphasis on clean lines and the lack of superfluous decoration do not make the house feel clinical, which is what I was somewhat expecting. On the contrary, the house has a warm and comfortable ambiance to it.

No area of the home was considered unimportant or not worthy of attention. Even the back door was decorated with a sumac-themed stained glass window panel.

Photography is verboten inside the house, but I just had to sneak two pics with my phone. The pic above was taken from one of two musician's balconys and shows the entryway to the home - the way the sunlight came through the front door and lit up that area was flat out brilliant.

This window is actually nine separate pieces of art glass that are hanging in front of six separate windows. It is as spectacular a window as I have ever seen.

There was a nice architectural model of the house inside the house, but the tour guide said 'No photography inside the house" even when I asked nice and polite like. I suspect she may have guessed I took the two previous pics when I was lagging behind the group.

However, there was this model of the house made of Legos in the administration offices, which, while not quite to scale, is still pretty damn impressive!

If you like FLW, and happen to be in Springfield, Illinois, stop by the house and take the $5.00 tour. it's a well-spent hour of your time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Pilgramage To The Final Resting Place Of Abraham Lincoln

                                           The Illinois State Capital at Springfield

I regard Abraham Lincoln as one of the five or so greatest humans who ever walked upon the earth, so of course it was imperative that I drive down to Springfield, the capitol of Illinois, to pay my respects at his tomb in the city's Oak Ridge Cemetery.

                       Nice sculpture by Mark Lundeen in Springfield's Union Square Park

Although President Lincoln was not born in Springfield, he did adopt it as his home in 1837, and spent twenty-four years there working as a lawyer or in politics.

Mural featuring Abraham Lincoln graces a building in Springfield, Illinois

The city of Springfield has embraced it's role as the caretaker of Lincoln's legacy. The city is not only home to Lincoln's Tomb, but also to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, as well as several other smaller memorials to the great man.

 Even the city of Springfield's bicycle racks pay tribute to President Lincoln

Springfield is a fairly small city, with just over 110,000 residents. Getting around is easy, as the city utilizes the basic grid street layout, and the streets are designated north, south, east & west to help establish which quadrant of the city you are in. 

Oak Park cemetery, where Lincoln's tomb is located (and incidentally, the second most visited cemetery in the U.S. after Arlington National Cemetery in D.C.), is in the Northwest quadrant of the city, though close to the city center.

                             Main entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery

                             Lincoln's Tomb, designed by architect Larkin G. Mead jr.

     Children leap to touch the nose of a copy of the bust of Lincoln sculpted by Gutzom Borglum

                                               Rear-view of Lincoln's Tomb

The Arkansas marble memorial, ten feet below which lie the remains of President Abraham Lincoln

                         Of the several statues of Lincoln in the tomb, this is my favorite

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wrigley Field, 100 Years Old & Going Stronger Than The Cubs

                   CRB at the intersection of Clark & Addison in Chicago, Illinois

Being a degenerate, unrepentant Baseball fan, it was absolutely, 100% necessary I take time out of my visit to Chicago to catch a Cubs game. It was a sunny (though still somewhat chilly) day, and the Cubs were celebrating the 100th year of baseball being played at Wrigley Field.

                   Walk 40 feet from the entrance to Wrigley field and this is the view

The game featured the Cubs playing the Arizona Diamondbacks, but as this game was to mark the centennial of the first game played at the venue on April 23rd 1914, the two teams took the field wearing the uniforms of the two teams who played the first game - the Chicago Federals and the Kansas City Packers.

                       The view from the upper deck, still a pretty sweet view

As I had arrived a bit late, I missed out on the Throwback jersey give away. Fans attending the game were given a Chicago Federals jersey from the 1914 season. I stared enviously at the punctual attendees with their souvenir jerseys periodically as I watched the game.

Beginning of the 9th, Cubs have a 5-2 lead, the crowd starts to thin...

After the crowd sang Happy Birthday in the fifth, I left my seat for a self guided tour of the "friendly confines". At 100 years old, Wrigley is the second oldest Baseball field in the U.S. - Fenway Park in Boston is the oldest, at 102 (caught a Red Sox/Yankees double header at Fenway a few years back - that was a great day!)

                             Rooftop seats on apartments across from Wrigley Field 

The "friendly confines" nickname is apt for two reasons. First, most everybody there is super-friendly. Second, the place is small, and feels even smaller than it's actual dimensions. The upperdeck and rooftops give the place a claustrophobic feel.

Unique to Wrigley are the rooftop seats on apartment buildings along Waveland and Sheffield avenues, which overlook right and left fields (The huge hand-turned scoreboard in centerfield prevents any rooftop seats from getting a view in that area). The seats were amateurish affairs until the 1990's, when actual bleachers were built by the building owners. The Cubs planned to build "spite fences" due to the owners charging for the seats, but a compensation deal was worked out so the fences were never built.

The people in those stands are not counted in official attendance figures, btw.

         Foul balls are plentiful in the ballpark, but if you don't snag one, souvenirs can be bought

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ballpark, adverts from different eras were plastered all over. Pricing for souvenirs, food & beverages, as well as admittance, were all about 2014 though.

Step right up and get yourself a keepsake...

Cubs fans love their team. It's mind boggling how decked out in Cubs gear the average fan is. Very, very few fans were not sporting at least a Cubs hat. 

                              Somebody is handy with a needle and thread

Many fans wore Cubs gear that was home made. That's dedication right there. 

The dedication to singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" was pretty impressive, too. I've never witnessed so many people singing along in any other ballpark. Maybe it was just due to the 100-year celebration.

There were a few former Cubs players, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams, as well as former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, and even the late Harry Caray's widow, Dutchie, leading the crowd in the sing-along.

                                The "KC Packers" rallied in the 9th and won it

The game ended with a failed Cubs attempt to rally back from the Diamondback comeback. Cubs fans emptied out Wrigley in mellow spirits, but with an odd, causal acceptance of their teams collapse. I swear I heard a few fans already talking about next year...it's only April!

                            Birdseye view of Addison and Clark in front of Wrigley Field

Somehow, the Cubs blowing a 3-run 9th inning lead and losing to the Diamondbacks was the best first Cubs game at Wrigley Field that I could have hoped for. If they had rallied to win, I think I would have felt cheated.

The Diamondbacks, who are stinking up the NL West, might want to consider keeping the uniforms and name of the KC Packers. Couldn't hurt.

                             Fan apparel for every Chicago team but the White Sox...

The area around Wrigley Field is an old neighborhood teaming with restaurants and bars, and after the game they were packed. The Cubs faithful recounted the highlights and low-lights to one another as they knocked back beers and ate great pizza, all the while talking about the "good 'ol days" of Cubs baseball...

Seriously. The good ol' days.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Heart Stopping Moment Of The Day

If you look very closely at the driver's side very rear tire on the tractor-trailer in this photograph, or maybe CSI-enhance it, you will notice that not much of the tire is actually there.

That truck was driving right alongside me moments before the photograph was taken.

The tire being in a mutilated condition is due to it blowing out with a loud snap/BLAM! just as I was making a move to pass that Semi. It went snap/BLAM! and then large pieces of tire debris flew off in my direction like shrapnel from a landmine, with a particularly large piece (maybe 4" X 12") slapping nearly dead-center of the windshield.

It happened so quick I could barely react, and the only reaction I actually had was to grip the steering wheel tighter and lift my foot off the accelerator. 

My heart, of course, was in my throat.

Pulled over to check for damage and didn't find a scratch on the car or a chip in the windshield. As both the trucker and I were cruising at 65mph, I thought that was incredible. Praises galore to Lexus, at least the glass and body departments.

I got back on the road and quickly caught up with the Semi, and it was just toolin' along oblivious to the fact that it was sporting a shredded outside rear tire. By the time I had caught up to the truck, My heart had returned to it's proper chest cavity, and I figured there was no way I was going to get the driver's attention, so I decided to pullover in the next town and grab a bite to eat.

The next town was Joliet, and it just happened to have a White Castle restaurant on the main drag (part of a stretch of historic Route 66, btw). I had been wanting to taste a White Castle burger ever since I heard the Beastie Boys bragging about them back in the '80's.

I picked up six sliders to go - I had to get back to Chicago in time to catch the Cubs vs Diamondbacks game at Wrigley, and it was due to get underway at 1:20pm.

I wolfed those tasty little sliders down quickly. They were indeed delicious, but they were also small - like, two-bite small.

Still, delicious. Absolutely.

I got back on the interstate and made for Chicago. On 90/94, heading into the famed Chicago Loop, traffic suddenly slowed to a near-standstill. The wail of a fire engine's siren pierced the air, and as I looked over into the southbound lanes I saw a car pulled over onto the far shoulder of the freeway...on fire. The car was on fire, flames and smoke billowing out from under the hood.

And once again I found myself counting my lucky stars...sure, I got slapped with chunks of rubber on my windshield...but it could have been so much worse.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Break In The Tedium Of Driving I-80 Through Iowa

If you should ever find yourself driving along Interstate 80 in the middle of Iowa and are in need of a diversion, may I suggest following the directions given on a series of signs advertising a genuine Danish windmill in the genuine Danish village of Elk Horn.

Elk Horn is one of two Danish villages located just north of I-80, the other being Kimballton. The two villages comprise the largest rural Danish community outside of Denmark, boasting a combined population of roughly 1,000 persons of Danish ancestry.

Both of the villages were founded in the later half of the nineteenth century as agricultural communities, and while there have been a few prominent changes over the past century (paved roads of course, but also quite a bit of solar panels are being installed on roofs!), they are both still the same small towns they have always been.

The few residential streets are lined with multi-story stick-framed homes. White-picket fences optional. 

Being a Danish community, there is a very well-kept Lutheran church in the middle of town.

Like most small towns in the heartland of the United States, Elk Horn features a prominent monument to the men and women from the area who served the country.

What sets Elk Horn apart from every other small town on the Prairie is a genuine full-size Danish windmill, similar to the one in Solvang, Ca. Except this one has a grain elevator and silos behind it.

This much smaller windmill looks like the model used by miniature golf courses all over the country.

There is much more to see in Elk Horn than windmills, of course, such as the Danish History and Cultural museum in the north end of the town.

Just keep driving along the main street and at the intersection featuring rust-covered antiquated farm machinery, turn to the left.

The museum is housed in a building that reflects Danish architectural influences, and is being expanded. The large concrete foundation walls on the left will be the site of the addition, due to be completed by Summer 2015. 

Immediately south of the museum is a walking path that leads to what appears to be a unique modern sculpture garden. But it's not - It's unique modern outdoor exercise equipment!

One of the first exhibits seen upon walking into the museum is dedicated to Denmark's largest export, Legos. There are a few examples of objects that can be built with the wonderful blocks, and at a table alongside those are a few thousand of the blocks for kids to build with.

As the museum is currently expanding, a large number of the exhibits have been put under protective wraps (the construction rattles the building a little). Still, there are a few displays kept in secure file drawers that showcase the crafts and interests of the Danish immigrants and their descendants.

One drawer features handcrafted pipes covered with intricate designs, something far more involved than the simplicity of line and reverence for functionalism that is usually associated with Danish craftsmanship.

Even with the museum in a state of flux, there are still some gems to be found - this sculpture was sitting (literally) behind glass in the conservator's room. It is titled "Seated Woman With Bird" but unfortunately I cannot read the name of the sculptor - too much distortion caused by the glass. 

There is much about the history of Denmark, especially the Danish/German conflicts and other factors that contributed to the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Danes to the United States.

This Memorial Day weekend, the 24th and 25th of May, the villages will be celebrating the 34th annual Tivoli Fest, which will feature traditional Danish foods, a parade, folk dances, music and, well, all things Danish - even a Tour de Tivoli!