Monday, January 31, 2011

A Gorgeous World of Water in Motion

I had the pleasure of meeting Rebecca Fogg today. Although, like many of us, she works at a "real job" by day, she is an artist who had made a career of exploring flowing forms of water. Her versatility is manifest in her beautiful work in etching, painting, photography and computer graphics.

Besides the tempting sample to the left, you can view a generous sampling of her work on her blog.

Rebecca has exhibited throughout the United States, as well as in Japan and Venezuela. But I'm looking forward to seeing something locally. She and her husband, woodworker Will Tait, have a show at the Hayward Regional Shoreline Interpretive Center through March 20.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mixed Race People - Growing Like Crazy

The New York Times published a story about how college campuses have unprecedented numbers of multi-racial students. The Multiracial and Biracial Student Association at the University of Maryland is highlighted in the story.

I know about this--I live with a multi-racial college student--my son. His mother is African-American and I'm white/Jewish. This is a fine and attractive young man who is living in a time when he has something in common with the president of the United States.

Race is not necessarily ethnicity, as is brought out in the article and in my experience. My wife and I are not especially enthnically identified, which perhaps made marrying and living together easier. We have had nothing but acceptance and welcoming from both sides of our family in our 24-year relationship. We don't feel like anyone is looking at us oddly when we go places. Actually, I don't think a whole lot about it, unless I read a story in the New York Times and understand how much things have changed in the world.

Our son identifies himself as Black--and would likely be categorized that way by someone who meets him, but ethnically he's just a middle class American--not any particular color.
My other son is married to a beautiful woman who is half white and half Asian, which makes my granddaughter a quarter Asian. That's my all-American 21st-century family and I like it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Eichler Homes--Midcentury Modern

I was driving by the local Eichler development and saw a sign--so I drove up the hill to the Greenridge development. There I saw a 1963 property available. It "needs TLC" but is reduced 90 grand below it's comparable models. Well...

I'm not looking for a new house, but I spent four years living in an Eichler home when I was a teenager. They are noted for being open plans, with lots of glass--but it wasn't in front, it was inside. Think Frank Lloyd Wright for the masses. Eichlers were often no more expensive than ordinary boring tract homes but gave a particular style.

We brought our colonial style furniture out from Connecticut and plopped it down into our brand new Eichler and it looked a bit out of place. But we got used to the flow of the glass walled atrium (garden). I spent some of my weekends washing windows with a squeege and a bucket. That's my stingray bike parked in front of our house in the photo.

Check out an Eichler if you have a chance (and live in California). Joseph Eichler developed thousands of them during the 1960s and 70s.

A Greenridge development Eichler

What's So Smart about Wisdom Teeth?

My son had his wisdom teeth pulled yesterday. Yowch! He took it like a man, no complaints, and now has chipmunk cheeks and is sipping yogurt smoothies instead of eating double quarter pounders with cheese.
I never had any wisdom teeth removed--only one showed up and the other three, well, they're still in there somewhere. I think at this stage of life I have accepted that I'm only 1/4 wise.
But I am visiting my dentist today to get my sixth crown. So my son and I will be dental buddies this weekend.

Yes, they're WAY back there--and nobody needs or wants them anymore.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I Remember the Challenger Disaster

It's hard to believe that the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up 25 years ago. Like anyone who was around then, I have memories of where I was when I heard it and how I felt afterwards. It's that sick feeling that I associate with a few other unnatural disasters in my life, including the Kennedy assassinations, John Lennon's murder and, of course, the most horrible thing to happen (to Americans) in my lifetime--the World Trade Center destruction on 9/11/2001.

I was getting ready for work in San Francisco. I was watching it on TV (as I recall) and saw the sickening "wrongness" of the spacecraft in flight. You know, after 25 years maybe my memories are unclear. I may not have seen the images until later. I do know that we all felt stunned during that workday. I just read that in that pre-Internet, pre-cell phone time, almost everyone knew about it almost instantly. Thank TV and radio, and lots of calls on the land lines.

I'd watched numerous other NASA space flight liftoffs, including John Glenn on our old black-and-white TV. Watching launches become a ritual familiar to my family. Early morning, groggy by the set, waiting and waiting for that one small event. "T-minus X minutes and counting" became a familiar phrase.

Astronauts are genuine heroes, even as they have become NASA employees doing various jobs in space today. They were especially heroic in the early days, when the risk was so extreme. We didn't expect these "routine" flights to ever go wrong, but as we all know now, two shuttles have vaporized in space.

So sad, so shocking. And we went on to launch many more, successfully.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gordon Lightfoot Lives On

I have loved Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot's music since 1975, when my first wife bought me his Summertime Dream album. It contained a song I liked, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a lengthy maritime ballad of the loss of an iron freighter in a storm in Lake Superior. I later collected every LP I could find, and then CDs. Today, I listen to him on my iPod.

Lightfoot is a survivor. He drank in earlier years, but cleaned up and became quite healthy later. Good thing--it helped him live through an abdominal aortic aneurism that nearly killed him a number of years ago. His voice has faded considerably in recent years, but the man still puts on a great concert, and is still touring at 72. Live, he shows his warmth and humor--something his serious album cover portraits never brought out.

A big favorite is Song for a Winter's Night, recently covered by Sarah McLachlan.
In a book by Bob Mercereau, The Top 100 Canadian Singles. Lightfoot placed three songs in the top 20: If You Could Read My Mind at #7, The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald at #15, and Sundown at #19.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Heard a Herd of Camels

It seemed innocent enough. I created a "camel noise" by squeezing my nostrils closed (as camels are famous for doing in sandy conditions) and emitting a loud snort with my head turned towards the sky. My first wife and I thought it was hilarious. (Well, maybe only I did.)

To celebrate this talent, she bought me a small ceramic figure of a seated camel--with two small packs containing, as it were, salt and pepper. Cute. I set it on a shelf at home.

Well, that's when the herd started forming. I found a camel here, a camel there. There were Camel cigarettes promotions, books about camels, posters. One Christmas/Chanukah holiday, I received nothing except camels from my relatives and friends. It was getting WAY out of hand. We even had a cute stuffed camel (Mr. Camel) who "talked" to our baby and had a position of honor on the sofa.

Before long I had a three-tier shelf bursting with camels of all kinds. If I had not separated from my wife a few years later, I might still be adding to my collection.

That original camel sits today in my kitchen window. Most of the rest are packed away. However, a couple of days ago I ran into a wonderful ceramic camel teapot at Molly Stone for only $14.95 and was tempted to start the whole thing over again. I have resisted (so far).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cubes Rule!

I just got an announcement from the Cube Owners Club (of Great Britain) that they're having an event. If you're across the pond, be sure to go.

I love the Nissan Cube. It looks funky, is fun to drive, gets good mileage and is very good at carrying your stuff. And--it's very affordable --starting at about $15,000 including shipping--and you won't have trouble finding it in the parking lot!

The Cube has been around in other parts of the world for years, but just came to the U.S. recently. I've driven two of them -- a 2009 and a 2010 -- and they are more than the sum of the parts. However, a number of people told me they thought it was UGLY. Well, beauty is really in the eyes and hands of the beholder (driver). I'm a fan.

The photo above is of the first Cube I tested.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Neil Diamond Turns 70 Today

Is this possible? I remember Neil Diamond from the mid sixties (see left). That's the guy who sang Cherry Cherry, I Am I Said, Sweet Caroline, and Kentucky Woman (a favorite of mine).

Neil's first hit, Solitary Man from 1966, is one of the first songs I played on the guitar as a teenager. Here, in 2011, he finally got into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. What a year.

An energetic performer, Neil will likely be entertaining audiences for decades to come.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sun Makes All the Difference

It's almost 70 degrees today. I can't remember the last time it's been this nice--at least since late November, I'd say. I went outside wearing a T-shirt and it felt so good to have sun on some skin that hasn't had any for awhile.

I'd like to think that one's environment--including the meteorological weather--doesn't matter, but for me it does. It matters who I'm with and who I'm not with. It matters if I like what I'm doing or not. It matters if it's light or dark, or if I can see outside or can't. If it's hot or cold. It matters what mood people are in around me, whether it has anything or not to do with me.

And when I write it down, it's called test driving life.

Time to go out and mow the weeds, take a walk, grab some vitamin D.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Comedy in San Francisco - Maximum Volume!

Last night my wife and I enjoyed a comedy show at Cobb's Comedy Club hosted by surprisingly humorous musician Matt Nathanson and Sex and the City consultant and funny man Greg Behrendt. We had seen Matt in a concert a month ago and he not only sings with incredible energy and passion but is a riot, in a natural, take-you-by-surprise way. Self effacing, goofy and quick-witted, he was why we went last night.

Greg I knew less about but he's definitely a pro at making you laugh and gasp too--and he and Matt were great together. They developed a bit around "turkey circles" that was hysterical.

All this was presented as Maximum Volume!, part of the 10th Annual S.F. Sketchfest--the San Francisco Comedy Festival. Running from January 13 to February 5 (yes, it's still going!), it features a wide range of comedy and entertainment personalities. If you're in the S. F. Bay Area or plan to visit soon, it's worth the price of admission.

Cobb's Comedy Club has moved from it's previous Cannery location to several blocks away (915 Columbus Avenue), but the room worked well. We stood in line outside for 45 minutes on a surprisingly dry and balmy evening, but were rewarded with seats right AT the stage. We were looking up at the comics all night. I could tell you the brand of shoes they wore (and color socks, too).

Featured acts were the ranting Brody Stevens (we laughed and kind of cringed at the same time), Brendon Small, Mark Maron (who flirted with an 18-year-old woman next to us) and as a kind of dessert, the legendary Bobcat Goldthwait, who was even funnier than I remember him from his heyday.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Uncle Clifford is Gone

My Uncle Clifford was a wonderful man. He was my father's only sibling--just a couple of years younger. He has just died from complications of cancer surgery at about 80 years old.

Uncle Clifford battled cancer before but was in great shape when we visited him four years ago at his "cabin" in the Catskills. He and his longtime wife and business partner, Jean, showed us a great time, and it was a little like spending time with Dad, who has been gone since 2002. I truly regret that we will never get to do that again.

When I was a bar mitzvah boy many years ago, Uncle Clifford was working in New York City in the office machine business. He sent me a portable typewriter -- not much bigger than today's laptop computer -- which I not only still have but I used to get through college as an English major (back before the PC era).

Clifford and Jean ended up founding and running an incredible Japanese antique art company in New York City, their home. Go see Flying Cranes Antiques online--or better yet, in person, and you'll be blown away.

Jean told me today that a celebration of my uncle's life is planned and we will do our best to fly back to New York for it.

The photo above shows Cliff and Jean in 1978.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Coffee House on Satellite Radio Offers a Tasty Blend

I sat down in my borrowed car yesterday and turned on the audio system. It was tuned to Sirius Channel 30--The Coffee House (also available on XM Radio Channel 51). It was just what I felt like listening to. I've heard this channel before but had forgotten how enjoyable it is.

It's mellow--singer songwriters. That could be anyone from "seasoned" acts like Paul Simon or Bob Dylan or brand new artists like Peter Himmelman (Impermanent Things) or Cas Haley (Better).

Also, you'll hear live acoustic versions of songs that were originally scored for a full band or even an orchestra. I just heard Maroon 5 a half hour ago on my way home doing a song I didn't recognize. I heard Boz Scaggs singing Lowdown with just a couple of accompanying instruments.

What really impressed me was the "Coffee Covers." Think Elvis Costello performing Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire. Or, how about the Rolling Stones' classic Mother's Little Helper by the young Irish singer Eleanor McEvoy?

Of course, there are many young artists just arriving on the scene, which makes it all a real treat. Satellite radio, branded as Sirius XM, is a combination of XM Radio and Sirius--the original two options for getting your radio broadcast from a satellite transmission. The beauty is, you get it every where--you can hear it in New York or New Orleans, Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine.

The only drawback is that you have to pay for it on a subscription basis and it has drop-outs when you drive under an overpass or a thick stand of trees and driving in a tunnel--forget it? You get well over 100 stations, including a wide range of music from Classical to Swing to Hip Hop to Bluegrass. The Rock is separated into multiple categories beyond the 50's (Channel 5), 60's (Channel 6), etc. And many stations have NO COMMERCIALS!

A highlight? Hearing the California duo The Weepies.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beloved, Neglected Metropolitan

I have loved Nash Metropolitans since I was a kid. They were cute, kid-sized cars that were zipping around my neighborhood in M&M colors. Our family had a Nash Ambassador sedan as a family car so I'm sure I saw them in the dealership while it was being serviced, and said, out loud, "That's my size car!"

I always wanted one, and my 1956 green and white coupe, which I found on Craigslist, looked nice when I found it. But it turned out to have serious wiring issues, so it didn't get driven a lot. It's neither safe nor legal to drive without brake lights and turn signals. So it has spent most of the last several years in my garage.

When I was about 10, I wrote a song:

It's the cutest car in the world,
In the world, in the world.
It's the cutest car in the world,
In the world, in the world.
A teeny, teeny Metropolitan
The cutest little car in the world.
A teeny teeny Metropolitan,
The cutest little cutest little car in the world!
It's the cutest car in the world,
In the world, in the world.

Not bad for 10, huh?

I hate to do it, but I need to find my little car a new home. I wanted to make it nice and drive it around, but I have learned two things. First: Little cars that are not sports cars that are 50 years old are not really much fun to drive. Fun to be seen in, to look at, to spot in traffic, but that's about it. Second: I don't like working on cars.

So, if anyone wants to finish putting in the new wiring harness, my little baby could be an easy and rewarding project. And the rest of it is pretty sound.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Classical Music Shifts Gears in the S.F. Bay Area

I've listened to KDFC 102.1 for decades. They used to be very snooty--and announced only the composer and name of the work. Then, they became more chatty when KKHI, the other classical music station, which had that kind of format, went away. I've noticed that they have started saying "Classical and then some"--meaning you might hear the movie theme from Harry Potter after one movement of a Beethoven symphony. They don't play the whole piece unless it's a special program.

Now, they are becoming a non-profit and moving way up to the short end of the dial, at 89.9 and 90.3. I hope that means they'll cut out the commercials! Unfortunately, their signal was already iffy in some areas and the new station will be even weaker. Well, that's why I own an iPod.

Prepare for pledge drives!

Read an interesting story that ran today on the San Francisco Chronicle's website.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Colin Firth Wins a Golden Globe for The King's Speech

There are many stories about royal life to be had--some of them of battlefields, some of love and romance, some of debauchery. But Berty's struggles (his name was Albert) and the help he receives from speech therapist Lionel Logue are very moving.

The movie is based on recently discovered diaries by Lionel Logue, the man who helped him learn to speak in public. A lifelong stammerer, the future king is brought to frustration when he must step into the role for which he was not prepared--being King of England--when his older brother, Edward (David) forsakes the throne for his true love (American, divorced, non-royal Wallis Simpson).

King Edward VIII's story is often told, but George VI's is not. He is the leader who rallied his people through World War II, and his wife, the Queen and later Queen Mother, was a beloved figure for decades. Berty couldn't have done it if he were speechless, and Logue helped him gain that back.

The book is a good read, too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

MAZDA2 Does it All

Mazda has done very well with its Mazda3 compact sedan and hatchback. But the world needs smaller cars, too, so the Mazda2 represents the company’s entry in the subcompact segment.

Available only as a four-door hatchback, in two levels, the Mazda2 offers amazing utility while still taking up very little space in your driveway. It will carry a bass; the rear seats fold down in an instant.

Though it felt sporty, my Spirited Green test car fell down a little when accelerating in second gear uphill. Its 98 lb.-ft. of torque isn’t enough to do it with gusto, but once things level out, whipping along at freeway speeds is no problem.

The car is carefully crafted inside and out to minimize the sense of how small it is. The wedge-shaped body has lots of exciting curves to give a feeling of movement even when stopped. There is very little overhang front or rear, yet the car doesn’t elicit claustrophobia inside. The dash feels substantial where it needs to be but tapers off at the far corners to provide a sense of openness.

The Mazda2 weighs just 2,306 pounds. That means it can use a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that puts out only 100 horsepower and still be a blast to drive. The engine is rated at 29 City, 35 Highway (32 Combined) with the manual five-speed (which my test car was blessed with) and slightly lower 27/33 with the available automatic. I averaged 33.4 mpg.

EPA Green Vehicle scores are 6 for Air Pollution and 7 for Greenhouse gas. That’s below Hybrid levels but excellent for a gasoline-burning car, and earns the Mazda2 SmartWay status. The Honda Civic and MINI share identical Green Vehicle scores with the Mazda2.

The car definitely benefits from the direct action of the slick manual gearbox. The shift knob grows directly out of a protruding section of the center console. The instrument panel is compact, looking like the three-pod gauge cluster on a motorcycle. The 120-mph speedometer is in the center, with a tach to the left showing the revs.

The Mazda2 comes in Sport or Touring levels. The Sport arrives pretty well equipped, with standard air conditioning; power mirrors, power windows and door locks; an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with four speakers and an audio auxiliary jack; and remote keyless entry.

The MAZDA2 Touring (as my tester was) adds features inside, such as upgraded seat fabric with red piping, a luxurious leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, a trip computer and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system. It replaces the Sport's stamped steel wheels with 15-inch alloys. Other dress-ups include fog lights, a rear roof spoiler and a chrome exhaust tip.

My test car came to $16,185, but the Sport starts at just $14,730—including destination charges. Compare that to the Civic, which starts at $16,555 and the MINI, at $20,100.

The Mazda2 is a world car. It was originally launched in 2007 in Europe, Japan and Australia. Since then, it has won 48 automotive awards, including "Car of the Year" accolades in many markets, including Japan, New Zealand, Chile, Bulgaria and Greece. It was selected as the "2008 World Car of the Year" (WCOTY) at the 2008 New York International Auto Show. More than 400,000 units have been sold around the world since its debut.

There are many ways to reduce our dependency on oil (foreign and domestic) and to lower our carbon footprint. Electric vehicles have small ranges and are expensive. Hybrids use fuel very sparingly but remain pricey today. One of the easiest things you can do is to drive a smaller car. The Mazda2 is a prime candidate.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bass Tattoo Gets Finished--with Color

Six weeks after the initial ink was laid down expertly by Doug Hansen of Everlasting Tattoo, I went in again to get the color added. It took three hours, but now the images are quite close to the real instruments, and even in this minutes-old photo, you can see that this is one seriously beautiful piece of art. To see it before the color was added, go to my December 17, 2010 post.

The process was the same as my first visit. I lay down on the nice padded table, extended my left arm, and Doug quickly cleaned and shaved the area. Then, he started with his amazing electric needles.

The first step was to clean up any uneven lines in the background swirls, which took more time than I expected. However, Doug is a real artist and he wanted to make sure everything was just right.

Then, he began to apply brown wood tones to the big upright bass that give it a three-dimensional look. The black fingerboard took some time, and time, with tattoos, means pain. The pain, as before, was significant but manageable, and the instant the needle stopped, so did the discomfort. It doesn't build or accumulate--it's on or off.
The main variable is how long the tattoo artist needs to sit in a single location to get the right look and the location he or she is working in. When Doug went near my wrist or the fold inside of my elbow, it stung like a pack of hungry hornets. But luckily, it wasn't long before he moved on. And the endorphins help too, although I felt less floaty and blissful this time. I just felt happy.

I got up once after a couple of hours to stretch and take a sip of water, but otherwise, I just lay there contentedly, listening to a mixture of uptempo music and occasionally chatting with Doug, one of the other tattoo artists, or my patient wife, who, once again, accompanied me. (Those are her four slim fingers in the very top of the photo.)

When we were done, I got up, and after we took a couple of quick photos, Doug wrapped my arm in plastic, just like that leftover piece of ham from dinner. We paid him, and off we went. I felt fine, and drove us home.

Now, for my next tattoo....
Note: New tattoos can look a little messy. The ink will smooth out, the swelling will go down, and that smudged look (bruising) on the top swirl will disappear.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Got my FIRST 2010 Quarter today!!

I've been waiting for a year to see any of the new 2010 quarters. After the U.S. Mint's enormously successful (and profitable) 10-year Statehood Quarters series, they came up with another way of parting collectors with their money--the America the Beautiful Quarter Series. The plan is to issue 56 more quarters, five per year (yeah, will there be a sixth one in 2020?).

Today, in the McDonald's drive through, the most prosaic place on earth, I got my very first one--the Yosemite quarter. It's the third in the series. The portrait of George looks a little flat, with low detail (kind of a surprise) but the Yosemite image on the rear is handsome, if a bit stylized. I'm thinking that the proof versions directly from the mint will be much nicer, if I opt to get them.
Go to the U.S. Mint's website for details.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Do You Know at 18?

As I consider the life of my 18-year-old son post-high school, I remember my first full-time job, at a small restaurant in downtown San Francisco called Chris' Seafood, founded in 1918.

I remember the giant green fish-shaped sign that hung over Mission Street when I first approached it on my first day.

I was a suburban teenager and had no idea what I was in for. This little place had been around for years, and was a perfect complement to the seedy hotels and denizens they harbored in what is now the Moscone Center and Yerba Buena Gardens. We had homeless guys come in looking for money back when the word "homeless" wasn't invented yet. They were just called "winos." They objected when we offered them crab salad sandwiches instead of coins towards a bottle of Thunderbird.

I mopped floors, bused tables, and washed the dishes. I was taught that when the big hot tray came out of the stainless steel box, to dump the silverware into a large white towel and rub it dry. That basic flatware shone. I can still feel the heat and smell the soap today, 40 years later.

We served fried fish, but specialized in prawns, scallops and abalone, all covered with a homemade Louis dressing. I know--because I helped make the mayonnaise it contained from scratch. We also made the French fries by hand--something you rarely see today.

I spent six months working from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. before taking off and strumming my guitar for five months--and hitchiking to Arizona and back. But that's another story.

Here's my beautiful boy, at the same age as I am in that photo above. His part-time career? Model at a clothing store.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Horticultural Haiku

Poking up its head
Flower strangely beautiful
Time to clean the yard

Traffic Jammin'

I drive 32 miles EACH way to work every day, except Friday, when I give myself a rest and work at home. But today, being Tuesday, I got the joys of motoring with many other folks.

It's not always terrible. When the cars are flowing, or if there's an especially appealing song on the iPod, or the sunset is stunning, or if I see an unusual old or brand new car, it can be OK. But when it hits gridlock, it rapidly becomes a real drag.

I've found that when I'm in a rush it's especially painful. Driving home on a Tuesday night, knowing I need to pick up dinner and get to orchestra practice by 7:15 p.m. is much more stressful than leaving home at 7:15 a.m. and having plenty of time to get to the office. Which shows that it's all in your perspective.

When we're not moving or crawling at 5 mph, I tend to think of the people in front of me as idiots who are impeding my progress. What are they all doing here in my way? Then, once in a while, it dawns on me--I'm just as much a part of the mess as they are. Why am I driving right here, right now? I take a deep breath and try to relax. If I'm lucky, the iPod is dispensing Schubert's Trout Quintet and not Led Zeppelin. But there's a time for those guys too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fizzy Lizzy--Natural and Tasty

We went to Fuddrucker's tonight for a tasty burger. I normally order some old-fashioned, sugar-laden beverage, but this time I tried Fizzy Lizzy. It was sitting right there in the center of the drink case--hard to miss.

It was the grapefruit flavor--one of eight they make. Contents are 62 percent juice and 38 percent "fizzy water." Yummy, sweet, but no white sugar. Almost healthy, really, considering.

At $2.39 it wasn't a steal, but I felt guilt-free while consuming my half pound of beef and spicy fries.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thoughts While Driving

There was frost on my 2011 Suzuki Kizashi test car this morning as I took off for work. I switched from my usual hat with the bass clef on it to my 25-year-old wool cap. Just the thing for what's turning out to be an unusually cold January in Northern California.

My iPod decided to randomly pick more Jazz than usual today, and it was a fine accompaniment to the fairly smooth ride in. Brad Meldau's piano played nicely off Larry Grenadier's always-terrific bass work; I got two cuts from Bill Evans' Village Vanguard recordings featuring my favorite Jazz bassist, Scott LaFaro, doing his thing. Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson contributed too.

Funny things to see: A flatbed carrying nine portapotties--with a tenth towed behind it on its own tiny trailer. A Toyota 4Runner with the license plate WEEEZL.

The Suzuki is very comfortable. Of course you always wonder who the buyer will be for a brand best known for its motorcycles. But this is a very good car, especially with its quick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, 26 miles per gallon, and upscale interior.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bass with Breakfast

Continuing from yesterday's popular "found photo opportunity" theme, I discovered today that the beautiful breakfast my wife cooked for me had a bass clef shape in the toasted croissant! I did have to make the dots, I'll admit, but this is very cool. Tasty too.

In bass news, I just acquired a new bass. This one is an acoustic-electric, meaning it looks and feels like a regular acoustic guitar but has four big fat bass strings. It's perfect for hanging around the campfire or in somebody's kitchen when the strumming starts. It also has a jack for plugging in, so if the volume goes up you're all set.

This photo shows it (the lighter one on the right) next to my 12-string guitar. I look forward to getting familiar with it. I ordered a "Yellow Submarine" themed strap for it, which Amazon assures me is on its way.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Accidental Hearts Collection, Part 1

I collect images of accidental hearts.

When I see one, I photograph it and immediately send it to my wife. I think she appreciates the attention, although some of them are very odd looking.

I'll post these hearts here now too, along with other interesting images I capture as I test drive life.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Orchestra Conductor for a Day

Here's a cool idea: At the Community Women's Orchestra's forthcoming Chamber Music Soiree, on Sunday January 23, at 2:30 pm., you have a great opportunity to bid to conduct a piece with the orchestra next season.

It includes a private conducting lesson with award-winning conductor Dr. Kathleen McGuire. The Conductor-for-a-Day also gets a souvenir conductor's baton, a photo with the orchestra, and a video recording of the performance.

Even though it's an all-female orchestra, the Conductor-for-a-Day can be male or female. So give it a shot if you've always dreamed of standing up there running the musical show!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Chevy Volt Arrives in S.F. Bay Area

I normally drive a car before writing about it, but this opportunity was too good to pass up. I heard about the first Chevrolet Volt to be delivered in the San Francisco Bay Area and went to the new owner's blog. He had written all about the car and the process. Go see it for yourself. There was his email address, so I contacted Patrick Wang, and within the hour, we had made plans to meet.

Over coffee, Patrick told me all about his decision to buy the new plug-in hybrid Volt and then gave me a tour and a ride. Read all about it in the San Leandro Times.

In 25 words or less, it's a new way of driving, but feels familiar. It's an electric car for the first 30 to 50 miles, and then a gasoline engine kicks in to charge the battery for many more miles of motoring. I'm looking forward to driving one myself before too long.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gerry Rafferty is Gone

Sad to see another musician of my generation die, but I read that Scottish singer Gerry Rafferty has left us, at only 63. Yes, he's a little older than I am, but I remember the sound of Baker Street and Right Down the Line in the late 1970's. The latter song has a wonderfully snappy bass line that sticks with you all day. And who can forget his slide-guitar-filled Stuck in the Middle with You when he was part of Stealer's Wheel? Not me.

Gerry apparently had a taste for the drink, and he eventually drowned in it. But those two songs live on in my iPod.

Gerry's not the first baby boomer to overdo it. Every day I marvel at my good fortune to have a healthy liver, teeth, skin, blood pressure, etc. But I'm not a famous rock star, either. It's regret, with a little envy mixed in, I guess.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sugar Addiction for the Holidays

OOOOOOHHHH my the candy-coated chocolate morsels looked good in that giant glass bowl as I poured seven bags of them together on December 31st. It was a glorious mixture of plain, peanut, dark chocolate, pretzel, almond...

It's been our tradition for years to watch movies and eat candy and treats on New Year's Eve and this year, despite a slimming, healthful Summer and Fall, was starting out no differently.

As it turns out, I ate significantly less than usual this year, but still, that meant there were lots of leftover treats sitting there, calling my name. Today, January 4, I have called a halt to it. Well, almost--I ate a brownie at lunchtime...

I love sugar--especially chocolate--so I have to be careful. I feel better when I don't eat it, but it tastes so good.

Nothing clever or philosophical to say about it--no brilliant analysis, and not even guilt--it's just a fact--I'm addicted to sugar. I'm better off when I go cold turkey. Actually, some turkey would taste great about now...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Brown Again

Well, it's 2011 and the state of California has a new governor. I remember Jerry Brown from 1974 -- the blue Plymouth and low key approach seemed cool at the time. He was only 37 when he was elected, and now he's the oldest governor the state has ever had.

I say, let's see what this lifelong public servant can do to get us out of the mess we're in. I have no political skills whatsoever (although I always study the voter handbook before I vote). That means that I expect our leaders to go in there and do the job we've hired them to do. So I respect them for giving these huge challenges a shot but also think they're a little crazy (and probably egomaniacs too) to even try it.
More as it happens.

Governor Brown, Part II

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Test Driving a Cold

Well, it's not always a picnic test driving life, is it? I'm experiencing a New Year's cold.

I could feel it coming on a few days ago but I hoped that a positive attitude and plenty of fluids (some containing alcohol) would do the trick, but they didn't. Thanks to NyQuil and DayQuil I'm semifunctional but I am spending the day reading a very thick book on the Beatles that I got for just over 11 bucks at Barnes & Noble.

I'm drinking large mugs of tea and taking frequent nibbles at the leftover assorted nuts and M&Ms from our New Year's Eve party. Sometimes, I'm supplying myself with a soundtrack by playing the relevant Beatles album on my iPod to accompany the book text. We're at the making of the White Album now.

I am lucky enough to be infrequently ill, so I can remember and connect with previous rare bouts of sickness whenever I'm under one. I will never forget the serious stay-in-bed flu that brought me my my first Spider-Man comic book--number 8--which started me on a long read of Spider-Man comic books (long since abandoned). In Beatle history, that was when She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand were both on the AM radio.

Flashing up to early 1968 I had another cold. This time, I climbed on the flat roof of our house and surveyed the neighborhood moodily. For some reason, Dionne Warwick's rendition of Theme from the Valley of the Dolls is connected with this moment in time. I have a tape recording of songs and talk off KFRC 610 AM from January 26, 1968. Number one that week? Love is Blue (remember that?).

I look forward to test driving something more pleasant tomorrow.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New Goals

So, it's 2011. Another year--another number. There's really no reason to do anything different just because the odometer turned over again, is there?

Well--My plan for Test Driving Life all along has been to go beyond automotive test drives. Yes, I've been writing them weekly for 19 years this month, it's true. You can find them in the San Leandro Times, Castro Valley Forum, Tri-City Voice,, and other places--as well as here. But I have always believed that if you can test drive a car, you can test drive anything. How about a bottle of wine? A sunrise? A concert? A tattoo? (see below).

So, for 2011, I will put up something every day. It may be a photo of something that means something to me or struck my fancy. Or, it could be my thoughts about something that's happening in the world. Or--it may even be a car review.