Walking along the Columbia

The Riverwalk. Looking east.

The Riverwalk. Looking east.

In Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, you can walk along the shore on an asphalt path.  The path is called the Astoria Riverwalk and runs almost 13 miles from one end of town to the other and beyond that to the east.

The Riverwalk runs parallel to railroad tracks layed down more than a century ago. A 1913 trolley regularly rumbles down these tracks, noon to 6. The single car is usually crammed full, standing room only.  That’s one of the reasons Nebra and I chose one late afternoon to travel the Riverwalk by foot into town for supper. It is only about a mile and a half from the lodging on 34th Street and Leif Erickson.

Tanker in the Columbia.

Tanker in the Columbia.

The air is invigorating, cool now in the 60s with a light westerly breeze in our faces. We wear wind-breakers. Unbelievable that in 48 hours we have gone from an inferno in Phoenix to this in Oregon.

Only  a few pass us on the Riverwalk.  Some afoot, some jogging, a few on bicycles.

Season for harvesting wild berries.

Season for harvesting wild berries.

The Columbia has little activity. Several huge tankers are anchored in mid-stream waiting for what I do not know. Across the river to the north, the hills and mountains of Washington rise up as an emerald wall.  To the west, the horizon is broken only by the 4.1 mile Astoria-Megler  bridge that leads to Cape Disappointment and other interesting and historic places in Washington.

A tug boat ushers a tanker under the bridge, guiding it around the treacherous sandbars. The Columbia’s mouth is known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific.” A sign listing those sailors who have perished in these waters rests at the side of the Riverwalk.

IMG_2116Between us and the river is a lush strip of wild bushes and a few trees.  Nebra stops to examine wildflowers and patches of blackberry and huckleberry.  My camera is busy shooting the mossy-coated, green piles sticking out of the water. At one spot we see gulls (or are they terns?) resting atop of every one, all facing west to the setting sun.

As we close in on Astoria’s downtown, a concoction of museums, like the Maritime, restaurants and brewers pop into view. The main drag, Commercial Street, is up a few blocks on the left.

Astoria Megler Bridge.

Astoria Megler Bridge.

At 8th Street, we swerve south into the main part of Astoria. It is at this point of departure from the Riverwalk, we find at the Buoy restaurant. It’s No. 2 on Trip Advisor, says Nebra, who venture inside to check the menu.  She says there is a window in the floor looking down on the docks where a sea lion lazed.

Night on the river.

Night on the river.

And so the walk ends. It has been pleasant.

The Riverwalk, I think, is an ideal way to become acquainted with this little logging and fishing city at the edge of America near where the Lewis &  Clark Expedition made history.

The way a writer flies

Arrival at Portland International.

Arrival at Portland International.

A writer is a writer. You don’t have to write a novel.  Or get a magazine article published.  It’s the way you think. That’s what makes a writer a writer. It’s the way you fly.

I remember a story about the humorist James Thurber.  James is sitting at a supper table with his wife and some friends.  James is not eating and he is not conversing.  Wife looks over at James and sees his lips moving.  “James,” she says, nudging him,  “Stop writing.”

That’s a real writer for you. Always composing.

Taking notes, writing actually, filled up much of our flight to Oregon. It’s a little crazy, I suppose.  But this is how I fly.  Somehow this info may regurgitate into something special. Maybe no more than a line in an entire book I may write someday.

A label-maker has written “Oregon 2016,” and I have stuck it to the cover of a skinny 4″ x 8″ reporter’s notebook. I number the inside pages in red ink, upper right corner.  I am ready to begin.

I started Day 1 of our journey with the date and a little drawing. It is a circle with little lines radiating from it.  Everyone knows that means sunshine, which is the state of the weather right now in Phoenix.

It is Saturday, Sky Harbor Airport.  I have paid a Yellow Cab driver $15.25 for delivering us from the house.  In truth, I fling a $20 bill at him and say, “Keep it.”

Saturday afternoons are slow at airports generally.  It sure was today. We checked bags, got  boarding passes and sailed through security in all of 30 minutes. We arrived at Gate C-1 at 2:32. A screen behind the Southwest Airlines counter says it is sunny and 75 in Portland. Very good news. This is all in my notebook.

We lift off at 4:12. Forgot to note the time the plane pushed away from the gate. I usually do that. Two and a half hours to PLX, which is airlines shorthand for Portland International.

Hours and some sleep time later, just as I see the snowy top of Mount Hood west of Portland, a huge mountain emerges on the port side of the plane.  It is so close to the plane that it fills up most of the window.  I later ask the lead stewardess, “Do you know what mountain that was?”

“No,” she said. “You’ll have to ask the pilot. We’re not allowed to look out the windows.” Really? Now that’s valuable stuff.

This stew is pretty silly.  I hear one of the passengers across from me, a tall, long-legged blonde in shorts, call this “a party flight.”

At one point, this middle-aged stew asks us to sing “Happy Birthday,” to 6-year-old Ryan who is sitting near the front of the plane. Not only that but we are asked to make candles for an imaginary cake. Everyone turns on their overhead lights.  Soon, Ryan is requested to blow out the candles.  And so off go the lights, or most of them anyway. Ryan will no doubt treasure this moment forever.

Touchdown at PDX at 6:31.  Arrive at Gate, 6:33.

And suddenly we are in the airport proper, heading for baggage claim.  Welcome to Portland! Our escape to Oregon has begun.

These are valuable notes. Anyone can see that.  Should you read a book someday and notice any of the above information in them, I hope you will give me a call.  I’m not against suing someone for stealing my notes.



Escape to the Oregon coast

A coastal trip in the Great Northwest.

A coastal trip in the Great Northwest.

It has been a dreadfully-hot summer here in the arid lands of Arizona.  We are closing in on a record number of days in which the temperature has reached 110 or above.  That number is now about 25 days with no end in sight. The record is 33 days, in 2011, and, not eager to further punish ourselves,  Nebra and I plan to do what millions of other Arizonans have done over the ages.

Run for cover in the cool climes of the Pacific Coast.

For us, it’s a sea-change from the sunny beaches of Southern California.  We’re Oregon-coast bound. Think 60-degree weather, clouds and, hopefully, not much rain.

We have only a passing acquaintance with the Beaver State.  I’ve driven through Portland a few times and seen a few episodes of ” Portlandia.”

Our itinerary takes us to Portland by air, then rental car to Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River, then south along U.S. 101 and numerous seaside towns.  I count 30 of them on the visittheoregoncoast.com map, Washington’s border to California’s.  A friend of Nebra’s tried to play down the negative by simply saying the coast is “uh, very busy” in the summer.

The 101 highway, by the way, is a famous route, now diminished by Interstate 5, an hour’s drive to the east. It runs almost the entire width of the nation, north and south, Olympia, Washington, to Los Angeles, a distance of 1,550 miles. In California, it is known as El Camino Real (The Royal Road).

Oregon, I read, has 363 miles of “enchanting” coastline, but our idea is to travel no farther than 237 miles of it, to Coos Bay, the largest of the coastal communities.  Coos Bay, an old but still active fishing port, is far from a village, population about 16,000.  From there, we go inland and begin doing the second part of our three-pronged trip.  Visiting the college towns of Eugene and Corvallis and walking up the steps of the capitol in Salem.  The third part is hiking around Portland and in the Mount Hood region.

How our heat-wracked bodies adapt to a 50-degree drop in temperature is a mystery I’m eager to engage.


Flying the flag

Patriotism is not one of my virtues.  Anti-patriotism is.

The American flag flies outside our house at this moment, on Independence Day, only because of Nebra. She feels right-wingers are not the only ones who should claim the patriotic high ground. That ground is not high to me.  It is Dead-Sea low.

I see very little in America of which to be proud these days. And not much to be hopeful for.

Racism is now shouted where once it was muted. Congress is divided and useless.  We move through life via a politicized Supreme Court, presidential executive orders and Dark Money.  Refugees are not welcome. U.S.  foreign policy and fanatical right-wingers lead to terrorism.  Religious fundamentalists want to stomp on individual rights. George W. Bush’s war in Iraq has opened Pandora’s Box in the Mideast. Equality is a joke. Democracy is a myth.  It does not exist.  An oligarchy of corporations and the wealthy pay off lawmakers to do their bidding.  Violence is everywhere. Gun laws bow to the whims of the NRA and weapons manufacturers, leading to a hideous interpretation of the Second Amendment. We want to build an expensive wall across “the border,” although our own appetite for illegal drugs is a big part of the perceived immigration problem. The voting process is rigged by two out-of-touch political parties.  Our two presidential candidates are widely unpopular. Just what the Founding Fathers foresaw.

Why would “God bless America”? Our wounds are self-inflicted. If you recognize these failings, any of them, how can flag-raising patriotism remedy the problems?

Fly the flag if you will.  But it makes no sense to me.  Waving an S.O.S.would be more appropriate.



A journey to the cloud and back

My puffy little cloud of almost 40,000 computer files is located in the netherworld of Carbonite.  Because none of those thousands of files was backed up inside my stolen computer, an actual piece of hardware, they now only live out there in Carbonite’s digital la-la land.  Invisible yet retrievable. The process is known as cloud-computing. And it saved my ass.

After a burglar slit a screen and entered the house through a bedroom window on May 25, I knew only one thing.  I would never see that 15-inch Acer laptop again.  That meant the files were gone too.

Some of those files were invaluable to me.  None more than the 162 text pages of the index to my research notebooks going back to about 1987.

Worse, I was apprehensive. I did not know for sure that I would ever get my files back.  This was the first time I would try to restore them with Carbonite, the Boston-based company to which I pay $60 a year to do the automatic backup.  I type and file.  Carbonite copies, transmits and holds the info on a server — the cloud. And in case of computer crash or theft, it returns that cache of files.  In theory.

Make no mistake.  Restoration is long and tedious.  At least it was for me.

At some point early on, I had to transfer the licenses of my Carbonite account to the new computer.  Ditto Norton Security.  The new computer came with a temporary McAfee security program which I believe is not as good as Norton.  Once the Carbonite license was switched, I suspended backup.  It’s called freezing.  I read you should do this before restoring files.

Another obstacle loomed. The Dell, like many new computers, lacks a DVD drive.  Without the drive I can not use the installation discs.

I reviewed several external drives on the Internet.  I learned how the pricing goes.  If you want to use Blu-Ray expect to pay out the nose for a drive. I had a general idea now of what I wanted.  Something cheap, no  Blu-Ray.  So out I went to Best Buy and picked up a LG Ultra Slim Portable DVD Writer, price $40.   Back home, I hooked it into the new computer and, bingo, everything started to look halfway sunny.

And so I began.

It took 3 1/2 days, DAYS, just to restore my 40,000 files into a large folder on the desktop of my new 15-inch Dell.  But I could not write to or read any of them.  Since Carbonite does not backup program and system files, missing were Microsoft Office, the software that runs text editing, and PhotoShop Elements 12 that tends to my photos.  My restored documents folder showed “empty” files.

I didn’t want to deal with the text files immediately.  I was worried I couldn’t resuscitate them.  So to the back burner Office went.  Less critical were the photo files.  I chose to experiment with them first first.

Task No. 1.  Find the Elements 12 installation disc.  I had only the vaguest idea where it might be located.  I hadn’t seen it in several years.  It wasn’t at the first and most logical place I looked, a carton of installation discs. But then, not yet in a panic, I spied the Elements 12 box on the top shelf of Nebra’s desk in the study.  And to my great glee, the box with the Office installation disc lay right beside it.  The discoveries saved about $300, the cost of acquiring new programs.

I stuck the Elements disc in the external drive, and went through some preliminaries.  Then, oh, no.  To install, the disc required a serial number to verify, I suppose, that I am the software’s owner.  Eventually, I stumbled across the number inside the disc’s container. Hadn’t thought to search the most obvious spot.  Never dreamed I would need it again.  I typed in the 24 numbers. Success.

Believing that the almost four-day Carbonite restore was largely due to the “jpeg” photographs, I hesitated to transfer those 1,835 photos to Elements 12 via Carbonite.  Instead I used the camera’s chip card.  Swish. In about 30 minutes all photos were returned to Elements but, just like the Carbonite resstores, they were unformatted.  None of the cropping and color tweaks I’d made survived.  I’d have to live with that, no other choice could I see.

Believe it or not, I waited a couple of days to install Office.  It would be painful if it didn’t bring the text files to life. I now had the new computer on my desk for six days and had not been able to really use it.  I was feeling antsy.

Cautiously I slipped in the Office installation disc into the external drive, typed in the Product Key of 25 characters. And off we went.  I just sat there in front of the computer watching a green bar slowly make its journey to 100% installed.  At any moment, I expected the install to stop and state it could for some reason no long proceed.  But all went well.  The install took 1 hour, 20 minutes — most of it for updates.

Files and folders were not quite in the places I left them on the old computer.  But, it appeared, I had everything restored.  Appeared, yes.  But me being me, I wonder if all this was for naught, that the new computer world I’ve made will  soon blow up.

New files are being backed up as I write.  Little green circles on the text files tell me so.  Yellow circles for those in wait.

For all practical purposes, I’m in the cloud again.


Ali’s attraction

No single post on Long Row has ever drawn more interest in one day than “Muhammad Ali and the real draft dodgers — our fathers.”  Hundreds responded on June 4, the day after Ali’s death.  No other post is even close.

The post, published five years ago (June 23,   2011), also generated more comments than any other.  All of those comments were critical of the post and painted Ali as a coward and a draft dodger.  One comment called the author an “idiot.”

Few other people in the world could draw that kind of visceral interest.  Ali was special.  He was controversial.  He was hated and loved. There seemed no middle ground.

The gist of Long Row‘s post was a defense of Ali as a military-draft dodger.  Ali was one of a few black men to stood up to a white-dominated society and, I wrote, much of the antagonism against Ali was due to white-hot racism.

To many young Americans, Ali’s plight is ancient history.  They have little interest in the long-ago.  Or even yesterday, it seems. Here, for some who may years from now stumble onto these pages, is brief history of those times.

Already the world heavyweight boxing champion at a time in the 1960s when social issues and racism were at a peak, Ali refused to be drafted into the military on April 28, 1967, as the unpopular Vietnam war heightened. He had recently joined the Muslim religion, changed his name from Cassius Clay and claimed he was a “conscientious objector.”

Some Ali quotes at the time infuriated whites and scared blacks.

“I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong,” he was quoted as saying about America’s enemy. “No Vietcong ever called me ‘nigger.'”

“Why me? I buy a lot of bullets, at least three jet bombers a year and pay the salary of 50,000 fighting men with the money they take from me after my fights.”

In no time, Ali was stripped of his championship and convicted of draft evasion.  He waited in limbo for 3 1/2 years — losing the prime years of his boxing career, ages 26-29 — until on appeal the Supreme Court court reversed the lower court on June 28, 1971. Ali was granted draft status as a conscientious objector.

An uproar followed.  Even now almost 50 years later, the seething hatred of Ali is palpable. And misplaced.

I grew up during that era and remember many draft-eligible young men, most of them white and middle class, finding a more “acceptable” way to avoid the draft and the fight in Vietnam.  They got college deferments.  To me, they are the real draft dodgers.  No one mentions them today as racism again sweeps the land. These guys were our fathers,siblings, friends and acquaintances.

Ali all his life stayed true to his religion.  He proved a devout Muslim.

As long as there is racism in America, Ali will receive an undeserved black eye. That means a very long time indeed.


Encanto Walk #1

Swans head for a siesta in the shade.

Swans head for a siesta in the shade.

It is a Tuesday, early afternoon in sunny Phoenix.  Temps in the low 90s.  On my way to the town’s best cheeseburger at the Encanto Golf Course cafe.  Encanto means “charm” in Spanish.  Just looked it up.

I pass the residence in Palmcroft where I first saw my first-ever purple-flowered artichoke. The plant is pretty much shot but the flowers still dazzle.

The park is dead. A pair of lovers lie in the grass under a shade tree. Only one picnic table being used.  Dozens of pigeons and doves feeding on the ground. Everywhere.

A bridge I've crossed over many a time.

A bridge I’ve crossed over many a time.

The swimming pool is filled now.  They began running water into it on the 16th.  The surface is roughed by a stout west wind.  Pool probably opens this weekend. Someone is cleaning up the Snack Bar.

A man in his 60s waves a puny metal detector over a grassy spot near the lagoon.  Looking for coins and other lost valuables, I assume.  I ask how deep the detector can go.  Unsure, he stops to look at a screen on his gadget.  “About 8 inches” is the reply. “But I never find anything that deep.”

An American flag flutters in the wind by the meeting hall.  Reminds of a recent trip I made down Car Row on East Camelback.  Enormous flags flew over four dealerships.  Dealers dig big flags. The bigger the better.  Phony patriotism but good for business.  Two of the flags at half-mast, Honda and Toyota.  Not so at the two U.S. places. Japanese have to fight harder for the dollar than domestics.

Lots of geese and swans floating around in the large lagoon.  One Mallard and a Coot also.

Cafe is all but empty.  Two elderly duffers sit behind me talking golf.  Out the barred windows I see the driving range.  No hackers today.  See only four guys with smooth swings.

A stranger. Not sure what it is.

A stranger. Not sure what it is.

Order the cheeseburger with pot salad and all the fixings.  Lettuce, mustard, pickles, tomatoes and onions. Pepper’s on the table.  Cheese. Swiss or American? I make the patriotic choice. But really. Hate the big-holed Swiss. Comes to just over $7 with tax.  I slip a dollar bill into the tip jar. Service is quicker than usual.  A new female cook.  I tell her about my recent unimpressive visit to at the ShakeShack at Uptown Plaza.  She seems pleased that I like her cooking better than that new “cool” place she’s never heard of. Better food here, bigger portions, less expensive.

Stood by a bench and watched a dozen or so racist pigeons fight over a piece of bread on the ground.  Scrap over a scrap. A grackle and starling finally give up.  Chased away every time.

Checked my pedometer when I get home.  Picked up about 5,000 steps of my 10,000 daily quota. Makes me feel good. I’m much the slackard lately.