A Motorcycle Beauty Pageant

Red Bull Race Sign
Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway

Three years ago my husband asked me if I wanted to go to the Red Bull United States Grand Prix motorcycle races at the Mazda Raceway in Laguna Seca. First question: Don’t you have any motorcycle nerd friends who would want to go with you? No, he didn’t. I knew that when Michael was a boy in Greece, he had read a lot of motorcycle magazines, seen pictures of the track at Laguna Seca outside of Salinas, and dreamed of being able to go there one day. So I knew I had to humor him, and I reluctantly agreed to go to the races.

Well, it just goes to show you that sometimes you have to be dragged to the party. I had a great time! I loved the race and being around a gillion motorcycle-loving riders. And so we’ve gone to the races for the past three summers. Last weekend we joined over 135,000 spectators to watch two races. It was a bright and sunny day, and the race was close and exciting.

Below is a picture of where we park when we get to the races. Since we ride Michael’s old–I mean “classic”–BMW to the race, we take a special motorcycle-only road to the parking lot. When you arrive, there are rows and rows of beautiful bikes lined up on acres of dirt.

Motorcycle Parking Lot at Laguna Seca
Motorcycle Parking Lot

Motorcycle Parking Lot
Another view of the parking lot

The first year we went, we didn’t really know what to bring with us, but this year we were pretty organized. Although we leave from Monterey, where it’s often overcast and cool, by the time we get to the track, it’s usually sunny and warm, so we have to be prepared. I dress in layers, bring a hat I can squish into a backpack, bring a moving blanket to sit on, and two of those soft folding chairs to give support to our aging backs. This year Michael added one of those shade tents so we wouldn’t burn up in the sun. Next year I plan on bringing a soft cooler for drinks and sandwiches so we don’t have to wait in the snack bar lines. This year we sat on a hill above Turn 2 for the race.

Raceway Turn 2
On the hill above Turn 2

Australian Casey Stoner won the race in a tight battle against Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo. (We were rooting for Lorenzo because he rides a Yamaha, my husband’s favorite kind of bike.)

One of the best things about the weekend is going to Cannery Row in Monterey on Saturday afternoon. Officials close off the road to cars, and hundreds of motorcycle riders who’ve come for the races bring their bikes down to put them on display.

Cannery Row - Monterey
Looking towards the aquarium at Cannery Row

Another View of Cannery Row
Another view of Cannery Row in Monterey

It’s really a beauty pageant for motorcycles. Before long, two rows of motorcycles, handle-bar to handle-bar, line both sides of the street, and people walk up and down admiring them.

Bikes on Display
Bikes on display

Rows of Motorcycles

It’s so much fun to see the different motorcycles and their riders. I’m partial to the “girly” bikes in pinks and purples. There’s usually only a few of them out of the hundreds of red, yellow, and blue “manly” bikes. And yes, I know that I am stereotyping here, but just take a look…

Pretty in Pink
Pretty in shimmering pink

Scary and Pretty
Scary and pretty pastel

Pink and Black
Love the swirly pink pin-striping

Beautiful Blues
Beautiful blues

Glorious Greens
Glorious Greens

Tony the Tiger?
Tony the Tiger bike

Fur Coat
Showing off a new fur coat

How’s that for creativity!

Dining at Francis Ford Coppola’s House

Okay, so it wasn’t actually his “house.” But it was one of his restaurants — Rustic–located in Geyserville, CA. Since my husband and my sister’s husband both have their birthdays in April, we like to try and find a way to celebrate by doing something all together when we can. Friends had told us about this restaurant made up of Francis Ford Coppola’s favorite foods and located at a winery he purchased in 2006. We decided to give it a try, and on a warm beautiful April day, we met in Novato and took the 45 minute drive together.

The winery was right off the highway, and we could tell as we pulled into the parking lot that this was a swanky place. We posed for a photo on the curving steps leading up to an outdoor area that featured a swimming pool, a bandstand with a jazz band playing, and an outdoor bar/cafe where you could buy food and drinks. The location definitely had the feel of resort, unlike many of the surrounding wineries in our area, which tend to be smaller and more intimate.

Kris had brought a bottle of champagne, and they charged a very reasonable corkage fee and gave us a bucket of ice and some plastic wine glasses. We sat outside in the sunshine and listened to the band, talked, and drank while we waited for our table.

Inside, the restaurant is large, cozy, and noisy. Large windows look out onto a rolling valley of tended grapevines and oak trees. The best part, not surprisingly, is the food. The entrees are made up of Francis’s Favorites, recipes of foods that he’s enjoyed while traveling around the world. Part of the fun is reading the menu, where Coppola talks about his inspiration for each meal. I had the Habit-Forming Ribs which were sweet and tangy and practically melted off the bone. Instead of bread, they serve Zeppole, which are small, airy, deep-fried fritters that you swirl around in olive oil. The bad thing about the Zeppole is that they don’t give you nearly enough and you have to pay for each order, which can really add up since you don’t really want to stop eating them.

After lunch, we wandered around and discovered a wine shop/movie museum. Numerous display cases showed off memorabilia from Coppola’s films, including his Academy Award statues and a car from the movie Tucker. Michael said the Oscars weren’t real, but they looked real to me.

We had coffee and dessert by the pool and the boys played bocci ball for a while. All in all, it was a great way to spend the day, and we’ll definitely go again.

And I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today

It feels like it’s been raining non-stop in Northern California for a few months now. I know that’s hyperbole, but that’s how it feels. Ordinarily, I love the rain, particularly thunderstorms, hail, and downpours that happen while the sun is shining, which is what’s occuring outside my window right now. However, I’m half-way through my week long spring break, and I was hoping to get a little gardening in, but the weather is working against me. The leaves I neglected raking when they originally fell have turned into a soggy mess, and I will have to wait until they dry out before I can remove them.

Mostly, I’m trying to avoid reading and responding to 150+ seventh grade persuasive essays that I brought home with me. I did just finish reading my first class set today, which makes me feel the need to reward myself with a little computer time. I’m trying to pace my reading, so my comments stay positive and don’t get too cranky. My intention was to read one class set a day, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. I was going to start on Monday and be done by Friday, but I ended up having to visit my father and sister on Monday and Tuesday, and so I’m already two days behind. That means either I’ll have to double-up and read sixty papers over the course of two days or resign myself to reading over the weekend.

Now don’t get me wrong–I love reading my students’ papers–I really do, but reading over one hundred and fifty of them is a daunting task. If I spend just five minutes reading and responding to each essay, that’s twelve and a half hours. Trust me; I’ve done the math. And that’s all done at home, since I don’t have the mental dexterity to try and read their essays during class when I’m supposed to be teaching them something. And my 50 minute prep period zooms by as I prepare lesson plans for the following week, correct other assignments, enter grades, answer emails, fill out forms, etc., etc., etc.

My dad says I should become a P.E. teacher and then I wouldn’t have to grade so many papers. Been there. Done that. In my first middle school teaching job about twenty years ago, my assignment was four periods of English and two periods of P.E. Man, I was a lousy P.E. teacher. Not surprising since I was a lousy P.E. student back in the day. Luckily for my students, my inadequate knowledge of volleyball rules probably did not make them unemployable after graduation. And I was fortunate that the administration saw the error of their ways, and I was soon teaching all English classes. The P.E. teachers at my current school may not have a lot of papers to grade, but they do work their behinds off. Their classes often have over forty students in them. In addition, they’re outside in all kinds of yucky weather or scrambling to find a place to take their classes when its raining, like it’s been doing over the last several months.

I did have one uniquely traumatic moment while teaching that P.E. class, and it didn’t involve the necessity to use C.P.R. on a student. It was shortly before Easter. My students and I were all on the field trying to look like we were exercising. The school’s field was surrounded by houses, many with simple cyclone fences separating us from neighborhood, which made it easy to look into people’s backyards. All of a sudden, we hear a horrible high-pitched wailing noise. We all turn around and see a man in the process of slitting a pig’s throat. Just putting a meal on the table, I suppose. The death throes of that hog were nothing compared to the screams of thirty-five eight-grade girls witnessing this lovely rite of spring. No . . . teacher education just can’t prepare you for moments like that.

One of the nice results of the rain, of course, is that everything is green green green! It’s especially green around my dad’s house. His home is surrounded by forty acres of rolling pastures, scrubby and non-scrubby oaks, wetlands, and blackberry bushes. This is my favorite time of year at his place because everything is so lush. Even the neighbor’s horses enjoy lounging on the field in front of his house and mowing it for us. Things will start to heat up soon enough. The grass will turn brown and the only things that will be green besides the leaves in the trees will be the dastardly star-thistle, which will force the neighbor’s horses to relocate to more friendly terrain.

I’m Not a Hoarder! I’m an Artist!

Okay . . . I’m ready to admit it to the world . . . I am addicted to A & E’s show Hoarders. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I compare watching Hoarders to driving by an accident on the freeway. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to slow down and look, but you just can’t help checking to see if there are any dead bodies lying by the side of the road.

Hoarders is full of dead bodies . . . cats, rats, possums, birds . . . and the lives of people buried under mounds and mounds of stuff.

In case you haven’t seen the show, the premise is basically the same in each episode. First we’re taken on a tour of an anonymous person’s home, which is always an awe-inspiring train wreck. From basement to attic, people have spent years accumulating junk, (I mean “treasures”) until they have narrow pathways leading from one room to the next. Every surface from floor to ceiling is inevitably piled with an odd assortment of every possible thing you can imagine being in a house– times twenty. Sad-faced family members are interviewed and they tearfully try to explain what it’s like to life with and love a hoarder.

The hoarder herself (most of them are women) sits in the one foot by one foot space she’s carved out for herself in front of the TV on the couch and talks about her “collections.” Most of the time, these people are in extreme denial about the condition of their home. I remember one woman being interviewed and as she was laughing off the situation some of the stuff behind her started to fall on top of her. Another woman had to go to a local gas station to use the toilet and wash up because she couldn’t get into her bathroom.

We usually discover that there has been some traumatic event in the person’s life that triggered the hoarding or caused it to worsen — a death of a loved one, a disability, a sick spouse, children leaving home and moving far, far away. Sometimes the hoarders are men, but usually they are women and part of their problem is compulsive shopping. Clothes and shoes and purses are piled in heaps everywhere, much of it with tags still attached. Many of these women pride themselves on being able to find bargains that they just can’t pass up at thrift stores. And the men are often junk collectors, buying broken things so they can be fixed.

After we get a good look at the miserable situation these poor people are in, the experts come in to help. Usually a crisis has brought them there. Maybe someone’s called Child Protective Services to remove children from the home. Maybe the city has ordered them to clean up their property or face enormous fines and jail time. Someone called for help (and called A & E), and now there’s a psychiatrist who specializes in compulsive behaviors and a professional organizer with a team of people ready to help remove all the crap and get this person’s life back in order.

And so they begin. Usually there’s a struggle. The hoarder may move so slowly, pouring over every tiny scrap of paper or broken toaster to decide whether it should be tossed or donated or SAVED! Well-meaning family members watch on the sidelines with incredible frustration. Or they rant and rave and throw their hands up in despair. You know that they would just like to take a giant shovel and just start scooping and tossing everything into the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? trucks that are standing by. But the hoarders just can’t let go. “Save, save, save . . . okay, toss . . wait, wait, wait . . . let me look at that again” they say about a boxed Christmas decoration covered with rat urine and feces. EEK! And that’s not the worst of it. This show is not for the squeamish . . . believe me!

But 80% of the time, by the end of the show, yards and houses have been cleaned and the hoarders have looks of stunned relief on their faces. A postscript at the end of the show will tell us whether they are using after-care funds to continue working with a therapist or professional organizer or has refused help. Either way, you can’t help but wonder whether it’s going to last.

One of the recurring mantras you hear from family members on the show is that they just can’t believe that their mother/father/spouse has chosen stuff over them. It’s like these people spend their lives building walls around themselves as a challenge – – come in and find me if you love me enough.

So why do I watch such a depressing show? Well, I take it like medicine because I can see a tiny little piece of myself in these people. I’m sure my mother was a hoarder, especially when it came to clothes. Having lived through the Depression, she had a really hard time throwing stained, torn and out-dated clothing away, even if she hadn’t worn it for years.

One of the most vivid episodes of Hoarders was about a woman in her seventies who hoarded food. Her refrigerator was a disgusting sight. The psychologist was trying to get her to throw expired food items away, but she felt like if the package wasn’t swollen it would be fine to eat.

On her floor was a black, moldy, rotting pumpkin. A worker was trying to scrape it off the floor with a shovel. “Wait, wait,” she cried. She bent over that shovel and talked to that melting pumpkin. “You were so lovely,” she said. Then she reached her hand inside the darkened pulp and pulled out some seeds! “I can plant these,” she said. It just breaks your heart.

Now I’m not saying that I am a hoarder, but I can definitely see the possibility of falling over to The Dark Side. And I watch the show to keep myself in check and also so I can say to myself, “I may be bad, but I’m not THAT bad!” My “treasures” have been contained to one semi-well-organized room . . . okay, and part of the garage. Oh . . . and the bookshelves in the living room. But you can’t count the books . . . I don’t think.

Still, you can imagine my dismay when last Monday’s episode featured Julie from Englewood, Colorado who considers herself a . . . wait for it . . . an Altered Artist! What?? Now that really is hitting a little too close to home!

Here’s Julie, looking through boxes and boxes of stuff and she’s looking at every little broken thing as a potential piece for an art project. She pulls out a lovely duck decoy with a broken beak from a box and says, “I could use this for something.” And I’m thinking, well it’s a little big, but it does have possibilities.

The psychologist in his infinite wisdom says, “You know, when you’re an artist, and you do altered art, everything looks valuable. It’s very hard to throw anything away.”

Don’t I know it.

Edgar Allan Poe: A Demon in My View

Poe Poetry :: From “Israfel”

I recently added some amazing Public Domain Images that Edmund Dulac illustrated for a collection of poems by Edward Allan Poe. The book is The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe and was published in 1921 by George H. Doran in New York. Dulac’s dark and shadowy paintings fit the mood of Poe’s poetry perfectly. Even when Poe appeared to be trying to write a love poem or something “uplifting,” he just doesn’t quite seem to pull it off. There’s always this melancholy gloom that seem to hang over his work, which Dulac captures beautifully.

Edgar Allan Poe-1
Edgar Allan Poe Pictures :: Portrait

I found this great little biography of Poe’s life in the 1911 edition The Encyclopedia Britannica that I thought I’d share.

Edgar Allan Poe, American poet, writer of fiction and critic, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the January 19, 1809. The family was of English origin, but was settled in Ireland, before the poet’s great-grandfather emigrated to Maryland. His grandfather, David Poe, served with credit as a soldier in the War of Independence, was known to Washington, and was the friend of Lafayette.

His son David Poe was bred as a lawyer, but deeply offended his family by marrying an actress of English birth and by going on the stage himself. In 1811 he and his wife died, leaving three children—William, Edgar, and a daughter Rosalie—wholly destitute. William died young, and Rosalie went mad.

John Allan a tobacco merchant of Scottish extraction adopted Edgar, seemingly at the request of his wife, who was childless. The boy was indulged in every way, and encouraged to believe that he would inherit Mr. Allan’s fortune. Mr. Allan, having come to England in 1815, placed Edgar in a school at Stoke Newington in England, kept by a Dr. Bransby. In 1820 Mr. Allan returned to Richmond, Virginia, and Edgar was first placed at school in the town and then sent to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1826.

Edgar Allan Poe
Poe Poems :: From “To Helen”

Here the effects of a very unwise training on a temperament of inherited neurotic tendency were soon seen. He was fond of athletics, and was a strong and ardent swimmer, but he developed a passion for gambling and drink. His disorders made it necessary to remove him, and Mr. Allan, who refused to pay his debts, took him away.

Edgar enlisted on the 26th of May 1827 in Boston, and served for two years in the United States army. As a soldier his conduct must have been exemplary, for he was promoted sergeant-major on the 1st of January 1829. It is to be noted that throughout his life, when under orders, Poe could be a diligent and capable subordinate. In May 1820, Mr. Allan secured Edgar’s discharge from the army, and in 1830 obtained a nomination for him to the West Point military academy. As a student, Edgar showed considerable faculty for mathematics, but his aloofness prevented him from being popular with his comrades, and he neglected his duty. When court-martialed for missing drills, parades, classes and church, he made no answer to the charges, and was expelled on the 6th of March 1831.

Edgar Allan Poe - 4
Edgar Allan Poe :: From “To the River”

Mr. Allan’s generosity was now exhausted. The death of his first wife in 1820 had doubtless removed any influence favorable to Edgar. A second marriage brought Mr. Allan children, and at his death in 1834, Mr. Allan left his adopted son nothing. A last meeting between the two, shortly before Mr. Allan’s death, led only to a scene of painful violence.

In 1827 Poe had published his first volume of poetry, Tamerlane and other Poems, in Boston. He did not publish under his name, but as “A Bostonian.” In 1831 he published a volume of Poems under his name in New York. His life immediately after his departure from West Point is very obscure, but in 1833 he was living in Baltimore with his paternal aunt, Mrs. Clemm, who was his protector throughout his life, and, in so far as extreme poverty permitted, his support.

In 1833 he won a prize of $100 offered for the best story by the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. He would have also won the prize for the best poem if the judges had not thought it wrong to give both rewards to one competitor. The story, “MS. Found in a Bottle,” is one of the most mediocre of Poe’s tales, but his success gave him an introduction to editors and publishers, who were attracted by his striking personal appearance and his fine manners, and who were also touched by his manifest poverty.

From 1833 till his death he was employed at different magazines in Richmond, New York, and Philadelphia. His famous poem “The Raven,” was published first in 1845, and soon became extraordinarily popular, but Poe received barely any money for it.

Edgar Allan Poe - 6
Dulac :: From “The Raven”

The facts of Edgar Allan Poe’s life have been the subject of very ill-judged controversy. The acrimonious tone of the biography by Rufus Griswold, prefixed to the first collected edition of his works in 1850, gave natural offense, and attempts have been made to show that the biographer was wrong as to the facts. But it is no real kindness to Poe’s memory to deny the sad truth that he was subject to chronic alcoholism. He was not a gracious companion, and never became callous to his vice. When it seized him he drank raw spirits, and was disordered by a very little. But when he was free from the maddening influence of alcohol he was gentle, well bred, and a hard worker on the staff of a magazine, willing and able to write reviews, answer correspondents, propound riddles or invent and solve cryptograms. His value as a contributor and sub-editor secured him successive engagements on the Southern Literary Messenger of Richmond, on the New York Quarterly Review, and on Graham’s Magazine at Philadelphia. It enabled him in 1843 to have a magazine of his own, the Stylus. However, Edgar’s mania sooner or later broke off all his engagements and even ruined his own venture.

In 1835 he married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, a beautiful girl of fourteen years of age and Mrs. Clemm’s daughter. A false statement as to her age was made at the time of the marriage. She died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1847 after a long decline. Poe made two attempts to marry women of fortune—Mrs. Whitman and Mrs. Shelton. The first of these engagements was broken off. The second was terminated by his death in a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, on the 7th of October 1849.

Poe’s life and death had many precedents, and will always recur among Bohemian men of letters and artists. What was individual in Poe, and what alone renders him memorable, was his narrow but profound and original genius. In the midst of much hackwork and not a few failures in his own field, he produced a small body of verse and a handful of short stories of rare and peculiar excellence. The poems express a melancholy sensuous emotion in a penetrating melody all his own. The stories give form to horror and fear with an exquisite exactness of touch, or construct and unravel mysteries with extreme dexterity. He was a conscientious literary artist who revised and perfected his work with care. His criticism, though often commonplace and sometimes ill-natured, as when he attacked Longfellow for plagiarism, was trenchant and sagacious at his best.

What a great, tragic story. Has anyone done a movie about his life? It seems to have all the perfect elements: orphans, love, death, scandal, addiction, poverty. Why, Poe’s life could have been written by Dickens!

Here’s one of my favorite poems by Poe; it’s a great complement to the biography.


From childhood’s house I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I love I loved alone.

Then—in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed my flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
and the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Edgar Allan Poe - 5
Dulac Illustrations :: From “Alone”