Speedbump in the Road

Metaphorically speaking, that’s the excuse I’m going to use for extended delay in Places of My Life posts.

It happened when I started writing L, M, N, O and P.  Well, really just the first two but I’m kind of obsessive about posting in alphabetical order i.e. meeting the “requirements” of the “A to Z Blogging Challenge” in format if not on schedule i.e. within the month of April.

Aside from the standard excuse of “life happens,” which I could so use right now, I would like to add that I was speeding down the road to completing the challenge, which was not easy considering the length of the posts I wrote.  When I reached L and M, and started drafting those entries at my breakneck speed, I found that I needed to slow myself down to more carefully consider the material and thoughts I really wanted to convey.  The post I started for L included Las Vegas, Laughlin, and Lake Tahoe (plus nearby Reno).  These are all cities in Nevada where I spent a lot of time and/or where momentous life events took place.  After some consideration, I dropped the last three cities and decided to limit myself to my Vegas experiences alone.

While I was considering and deciding on this truncation, I also started my M post in hopes that I would not fall further behind on the schedule.  I copied and pasted my usual plagiarized from Wikipedia background info on Malad City, Idaho, the very un-L.A.(which I could also have written about as a Place of My Life) town where my husband lived and completed high school in 1972 (same year as me) before rebelling against his parents and moving to So Cal with one of his older brothers.  (Husband is baby of his family.)

I then went back to work on the Las Vegas post, where I had written a couple of stories including (1) how it was the weekend getaway destination for my parents when Sis and I were little; (2) a memory of one of my earliest trips there with them and (3) how the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino provided entertainment for three family generations simultaneously on at least a couple of my kids’ school holidays.  Those stories had already made the post way too long, which defeated my prior purpose.  I also came to realize that I should limit the places of my life to the Places of MY life alone, that MY life and the development of MY thoughts and attitudes really happened before I became a parent.  They also happened before I finally met my husband, when we were both 34 years old, and the majority didn’t involve my parents very much, either.

There you have it.  After reaching this conclusion, I knew that my M post would not be about Malad but will instead be about Mexico.  Meanwhile, as I said, life is happening and actually kind of piling on right about now and for the next few weeks.  I have decided, then, to reprioritize my efforts from my writing to my real life, at least for that time period.  I do solemnly promise and swear and affirm, though, to get back to conveying the effects of the Places of My Life ASAP after that.  You do believe me, don’t you?

Knoxville and Me – a hate-love relationship

Knoxville is the home of the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee, whose sports teams, called the “Volunteers” or “Vols,” are extremely popular throughout the entire state.  It is also the major source of the hate part of my relationship with this city. The Tennessee Technology Corridor, home to 13 research and development firms, stretches across 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) between West Knoxville and Oak Ridge, where I live.  That’s part of the life of this city that if I don’t love, I at least appreciate very much.

I love that Knoxville is home to a rich arts community and has many festivals throughout the year. Its contributions to old-time, bluegrass and country music are numerous, from Flatt & Scruggs and Homer & Jethro to the Everly Brothers.  Contrast this genre with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (KSO), established in 1935, which is the oldest continuing orchestra in the southeast, as well as the Knoxville Opera.  If that’s not enough music for any area resident, in its May 2003 survey of “20 Most Rock & Roll towns in the U.S.”, Blender ranked Knoxville the 17th best music scene in the United States and, in the 1990s, noted alternative-music critic Ann Powers, author of Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America, referred to the city as “Austin without the hype”.

Although there are really way too many “festivals” (a term which I am defining very loosely since the setting and attendance of those I have visited vary quite widely) in the Southeast US, some of the more popular and well known held in April alone in Knoxville include the 17-day Dogwood Arts Festival and the Rossini Festival, which celebrates opera and Italian culture. There is also a range of large and small ethnically related festivals and fairs that celebrate, among others, the region’s African American, Latin American and Greek American heritage and communities.  Although I have not attended many of these events, just the sheer variety, plus, more tellingly, the lack of overtly religious-related events in the list, have started what is the tenuous love relationship that I have developed to date with Knoxville.

Since moving to the South ten years ago, Husband and I have developed a real interest in the Civil War.  After Virginia, more of the battles of that “War of Northern Aggression”, as it’s referred to by some Southerners, occurred in Tennessee than in any other state. Most of the larger battles in Tennessee did not take place in the Knoxville or Nashville proper areas.  I am sure that there are many fine historical and educational institutions where I could have learned more about the history of the Nashville area, when I lived there, if they had been as widely available, well publicized, and reasonably priced as they are here, closer to Knoxville.  Aside from the wide array of cultural sites and activities in the area, the major reason I have really started to love the part of the Volunteer State where I now live, is the plethora of nearly first hand educational opportunities I have enjoyed, including many that really informed me about the history and development of Knoxville.

First settled in 1786, Knoxville was the first capital of Tennessee. The city struggled with geographic isolation throughout the early 19th century, though the arrival of the railroad in 1855 led to an economic boom. During the Civil War, the city was bitterly divided over the secession issue, and was occupied alternately by both Confederate and Union armies.  I saw remnants of the battlements from the Battle of Fort Sanders when I toured the UT Archaeology Research Lab a couple of years ago, including artifacts discovered during the excavation of that site in advance of the construction of a “Sorority Village” at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  As a result of the finds, the Sorority Village plans had to be slightly modified to commemorate this key location in the Siege of Knoxville, though it’s possible that some of the cannon emplacements may still have ended up under the one of the newer and therefore more popular sorority houses. More recently I have made the acquaintance of Dennis Urban, President of the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable and have attended several of his interesting and well-researched presentations describing some of the colorful citizens of Knoxville at the time.

And speaking of colorful citizens, both corporate and individual, movie theater chain Regal Entertainment Group and Scripps Networks Interactive, broadcast and production home of HGTV, DIY Network, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel and Great American Country, are both based in Knoxville.   The largest privately held company based in Knoxville is Pilot Flying J, the nation’s largest truck stop chain and sixth largest private company, which is owned by the Haslam family.  Members of this illustrious family include Tennessee’s current governor and former mayor of Knoxville, Bill Haslam, and Jimmy Haslam, who recently purchased the Cleveland Browns professional football team.

Following the war, Knoxville grew rapidly as a major wholesaling and manufacturing center. Between 1880 and 1887, 97 factories were established in Knoxville, most of them specializing in textiles, food products, and iron products. By the 1890s, Knoxville was home to more than 50 wholesaling houses, making it the third largest wholesaling center by volume in the South. The Candoro Marble Works, established in the community of Vestal in 1914, became the nation’s foremost producer of pink marble and one of the nation’s largest marble importers The post-war manufacturing boom brought thousands of immigrants to the city. The population of Knoxville grew from around 5,000 in 1860 to 32,637 in 1900. West Knoxville was annexed in 1897, and over 5,000 new homes were built between 1895 and 1904.

Knoxville’s reliance on a manufacturing economy left it particularly vulnerable to the effects of the Great Depression. The Tennessee Valley also suffered from frequent flooding, and millions of acres of farmland had been ruined by soil erosion. To control flooding and improve the economy in the Tennessee Valley, the federal government created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. Beginning with Norris Dam, TVA constructed a series of hydroelectric and other power plants throughout the valley over the next few decades, bringing flood control, jobs, and electricity to the region. The Federal Works Projects Administration, which also arrived in the 1930s, helped build McGhee-Tyson Airport and expand Neyland Stadium. TVA’s headquarters, which consists of two twin high rises built in the 1970s, were among Knoxville’s first modern high-rise buildings.

Knoxville hosted the 1982 World’s Fair, one of the most popular world’s fairs in U.S. history with 11 million visitors. The fair’s energy theme was selected due to Knoxville being the headquarters of the Tennessee Valley Authority and for the city’s proximity to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Sunsphere, a 266-foot (81 m) steel truss structure topped with a gold-colored glass sphere, was built for the fair and remains one of Knoxville’s most prominent structures.  Knoxville’s downtown has continued to develop since that watershed event and now includes the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the East Tennessee History Center.  Since 2000, Knoxville has successfully brought business back to the downtown area. The arts in particular have begun to flourish; there are multiple venues for outdoor concerts, and Gay St. hosts a new arts annex and gallery surrounded by many studios and new business as well. The Tennessee and Bijou Theaters underwent renovation, providing a good basis for the city and its developers to re-purpose the old downtown, and they have had great success to date revitalizing this once great section of this city that has endured more than its fair share of economic ups and downs.

Now, back to the hate part of my relationship with Knoxville.  The University of Tennessee (UT) does have its good points, including the aforementioned Archaeology Research Lab and its externally funded research centers that partner with major progressive institutions such as the Appalachian Collaborative Center for Learning, Assessment and Instruction in Mathematics, the National Institute for Computational Sciences, the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, and the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT).  UT and the nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory also jointly conduct numerous research projects and co-manage the National Transportation Research Center.

For me, that is the best part of what The University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus can contribute to my quality of life.  On the downside, Neyland Stadium, where the Vols’ football team plays, is one of the largest stadiums in the world, and Thompson-Boling Arena, home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, is one of the nation’s largest indoor basketball arenas. I have not attended a game played by any of these teams, mainly for fear of being sickened by the sea of orange and white (the school’s colors and not my favorites anyway) I would be forced to confront in any of the seats in those megastadiums.  This effect is only slightly ameliorated in my mind by the prior presence within those programs of recently retired quarterback Peyton Manning and Patricia Sue (Pat) Summitt.

Pat Summitt is the former UT women’s basketball head coach who now serves as its head coach emeritus. She coached from 1974 to 2012, all with the Lady Vols, winning eight NCAA championships (an NCAA women’s record when she retired), and surpassed only by the 10 titles won by coaches John Wooden of UCLA’s men’s basketball dynasty and Geno Auriemma who still coaches the women’s team at the University of Connecticut, longtime rivals of Pat’s Lady Vols. She was named the Naismith Basketball Coach of the Century in April 2000. In 2009, the Sporting News placed her at number 11 on its list of the 50 Greatest Coaches of All Time in all sports; she was the only woman on the list. In 38 years as a coach, she never had a losing season.  In August 2011, Pat Summitt announced that she had been diagnosed three months earlier with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Despite the diagnosis, she did complete the 2011–2012 season in a reduced role, stating “There’s not going to be any pity party and I’ll make sure of that.” In 2012, in recognition of her many accomplishments, unusual for a woman in so many ways, Pat Summitt received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

I find Pat Summitt, who could boast of a 100 percent graduation rate for all her players who finished their career at UT, and her admirers to be admirable and generally broad-minded and forward-thinking, at least as far as Southeastern Conference (SEC) Sports fans are concerned.  The same cannot be said of SEC football fans, however.  On December 1, 2008, Lane Kiffin, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, was announced as the new head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers football team.  This was his only year at UT, a year in which the Vols finished the season with an unforgivable, at least to the rabid and rowdy UT faithful, record of 7-6. During this short period of time, according to Wikipedia anyway, Coach Kiffin made a series of “controversial” decisions, at least in the eyes of some UT alumni.  For the 2009 season, UT paid $3.32 million to all assistant football coaches, the highest combined salary among public schools.  Kiffin’s departure for USC (the University of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, not south Carolina) in 2010 after just one season as head coach of the Volunteers upset some students and fans of the University of Tennessee.  Hundreds of students rioted on campus at the news of Kiffin’s departure. Knoxville police and fire department were brought in after students blocked the exit from the Neyland Thompson Sports Center and started several small fires.

One of our personal vehicles was also affected by this outpouring of Orange and White anger.  Husband drove our maroon and gold (USC’s team colors) Ford Expedition to his job at the Nissan production plant in Smyrna, Tennessee.  It also sported a souvenir USC Trojans license plate, which apparently made it a visible and highly desirable target to be egged by some disappointed UT football fan or fans where it was parked in the lot next to his office on or about on or about January 12, 2010, that infamous day when Lane Kiffin departed “the Hill” as the heart of UT’s main campus is known by students and alumni.  I have carried forward a mild hatred of that place and that institution ever since, which has been softened of late by exposure to the more genteel UT fans who are now my neighbors.


Two East Tennessee “J” Towns

I currently reside in one of the newer small towns in East Tennessee.  This is a naturally beautiful and historically significant part of the state that encompasses many isolated and interesting small towns.  Many area events and points of interest relate to the geography and culture of the region, especially the Appalachian and Great Smoky Mountains.  When we first moved to the area, Husband and I took a drive to visit two of the J towns around here, both located in Washington County.

Our primary destination was Johnson City, home of East Tennessee State University (ETSU), the alma mater of my last boss, aka “Twit,” with our secondary destination of Jonesborough, hometown of the cousin of a now former friend, one of the few friends I made while living in Brentwood whose acquaintance I was actually grateful to have made.   The cousin’s family includes Josh Kear, a songwriter and Jonesborough native who has become known as one of the country genre’s most consistent hit makers.  He has written several popular and award-winning hit songs including “Need You Now” performed by Lady Antebellum and “Before He Cheats,” one of Carrie Underwood’s earliest chart toppers.

I was a country music fan long before (well, maybe for 5-10 years or so) we moved from L.A. to Nashville in 2006.  Long before then, even, I had read a novel by Catherine Marshall, who was born in Johnson City.  That book , Christy, is a work of historical fiction set in the fictional Appalachian village of Cutter Gap, Tennessee, in 1912, and explores faith and mountain traditions such as moonshining, folk beliefs and folk medicine.  While endowed with abundant natural resources, Appalachia has long struggled and been associated with poverty. In the early 20th century, large-scale logging and coal mining firms brought wage-paying jobs and modern amenities to Appalachia, but by the 1960s the region had failed to capitalize on any long-term benefits from these two industries. Beginning in the 1930s, the federal government sought to alleviate poverty in the Appalachian region with a series of New Deal initiatives, such as the construction of dams to provide cheap electricity and the implementation of better farming practices.   On March 9, 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission was created to further alleviate poverty in the region, mainly by diversifying the region’s economy and helping to provide better health care and educational opportunities to the region’s inhabitants.

In Johnson City, ETSU has a host of programs that benefit both the region and nation, including the Quillen College of Medicine, consistently ranked as one of the top schools nationwide for rural medicine and primary care education. Unique programs at ETSU include a nationally acclaimed and accredited program in Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music, the nation’s lone master’s degree in Storytelling, and the Appalachian Studies programs, focused on the surrounding Appalachian region.  Jonesborough is the home to the International Storytelling Center, which holds the annual National Storytelling Festival on the first full weekend in October. The Festival builds on the Appalachian cultural tradition of storytelling, and has been drawing people from around the world for more than 35 years. The festival inspired the development of ETSU’s  storytelling program.

Jonesborough, the Washington County seat and “Tennessee’s oldest town” attracts heritage tourism because of its historical status and its significant historic preservation efforts.  Its annual October National Storytelling Festival, held in town since the festival was founded in 1973, has grown over the years to become a major festival both in the United States and internationally.  Husband and I whipped through what we considered to be the high points in Jonesborough, The International Storytelling Center and The Jonesborough Historic District which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.  We went through quickly as, at least at that time, neither one of was a storyteller.  I didn’t find the history of those buildings to be that interesting, especially compared to the history of the town I now live in, and surprisingly did not indulge in any retail therapy in any of the shops currently occupying most of the historic buildings.  Other than ETSU, Johnson City did not hold many attractions for us either.  Its location, layout and structures paled in comparison to those in Chapel Hill, NC, another “college town” I have visited. The town’s downtown district, most of which was probably built in the 1930s when it was for a time, the fifth-largest city in Tennessee, really showed its age, with blocks and blocks of tarnished and empty brick buildings.

Johnson City’s biggest growth spurt seems to have occurred in the early 20th century.  During the 1920s and the Prohibition era, Johnson City’s ties to the bootlegging activity of the Appalachian Mountains earned the city the nickname of “Little Chicago”.  Stories persist that the town was one of several distribution centers for Chicago gang boss Al Capone during Prohibition. Capone had a well-organized distribution network within the southern United States for alcohol smuggling; it shipped his products from the mountain distillers to northern cities. Capone was, according to local lore, a part-time resident of Montrose Court, a luxury apartment complex now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Together with neighboring Bristol, Johnson City was noted as a hotbed for old-time music; it hosted noteworthy Columbia Records recording sessions in 1928 known as the Johnson City Sessions.

By 1990, Appalachia had largely joined the economic mainstream, but still lagged behind the rest of the nation in most economic indicators though, at least in my neck of the Appalachian woods, there are many nonprofit organizations that continue to work with people here to improve their living conditions. I am an active volunteer with one of those organizations that is headquartered in the town where I live.

Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties (ADFAC) began in the mid 1980’s as a local ecumenical effort to provide assistance to impoverished families and evolved to become an independent nonprofit agency that exists to serve the basic needs of primarily low-income residents in Anderson and surrounding Appalachian counties. ADFAC’s goal is to help families become stable and self-sufficient through a variety of direct assistance services provided through both Social Services and Affordable Housing programs.  This nonprofit group envisions and supports the development of sustainable, healthy and viable communities where families are self- sufficient, productive and free of the need for continued public assistance whenever possible by continuing to focus on addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in Appalachian society and providing the most comprehensive scope of services of any agency serving this still needy community.

I first discovered ADFAC when I was still a working woman and saw an ad in a local publication for its “Dine & Donate” program.  This is actually a monthly event through which area restaurants donate a significant portion of their sales to support ADFAC’s work in the community.  The organization promotes Dine & Donate as a fun way to raise needed funds for ADFAC and support local eateries.  I saw that it had an added benefit, especially for working women, as a way to feed a family and do some good in the community while requiring little to no manual labor.  I was “in” for that event while I was working and have delved deeper into ADFAC’s efforts to help Appalachian residents since I retired.

Israel – My admittedly biased perspective

As a whatever kind I want to call myself Jew, the history, presence and land of Israel continue to exert a great deal of influence on my world view and the way I live my life here in the US.  Israel, just in case there is anyone out there who does not already know this, is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank to the east, and Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the southwest.  More importantly than its historically unfortunate location, at least in my mind, Israel, in its Basic Laws, defines itself as a Jewish and Democratic State, even though this tiny and newish country has no official religion.  I won’t go into a lot of the history or current politics, but just want to give a little background about how and why Israel came to be, and why it still is so important to me, even now, nearly forty years since my one and only visit there.

Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and is often referred to as a Jewish state. The country’s Law of Return grants all Jews and those of Jewish ancestry the right to Israeli citizenship.  Since the existence of the earliest Jewish diaspora, the hopes and yearnings of Jews living in exile have been an important theme of the Jewish belief system, based on historical ties but also, unfortunately, sometimes as a matter of life and death for anybody who is identified as a Jew, even if they don’t self-identify as one, in some places in the world even today.

The first wave of modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.  Pogrom is a Russian word and is defined by Wikipedia as a violent riot aimed at massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly one aimed at Jews.  Although the Zionist movement already existed in practice, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism, a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, thus offering a solution to the so-called Jewish Question (this phrase is an eerily familiar carryover to the 20th Century) of the European states. The Second Aliyah (1904–14), began after the Kishinev pogrom, which was not even the last one to happen in Europe.

During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.  The Declaration stated that Britain intended for the creation of a Jewish “national home” within the Palestinian Mandate.  After World War II, Britain found itself in intense conflict with the world Jewish community over Jewish immigration limits to this promised Jewish “national home.”  At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees sought a new life far from their destroyed communities in Europe. Palestine-based Jewish/Zionist activists attempted to bring these refugees to the “Promised Land” but many were turned away or rounded up and placed in offshore and/or barb wire enclosed detention camps by the British.  Finally, after a lot of strife and some death in the interim, Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on 11 May 1949.

My Jewish father and his divorced mother were able to leave Germany, though I do not at this point know exactly when or how, and get to England sometime in the 1930s.  My dad was born in 1930, so I’m pretty sure he was just a small boy when they made this big move, all on their own, I imagine, and descended in the strange big city of London just as WWII was looming on America’s horizon, and may have been descending, along with bombs, from the skies over the city, courtesy of a possible pending and potentially deadly for my dad German invasion.  From 7 September 1940, one year into the war, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights. Mom tells me that it was on one of those nights, as people streamed into the deep-level shelters that were built under London Underground stations to protect its citizens during The Blitz, that Grandma met the person who would make it possible for her to make a living as a cook for Turkish embassy and military personnel stationed in the city.  I guess her acquisition of this position, as well as her understandable concern for the safety of her one and only child, led her to find alternate housing for Dad with a Quaker family in what should have been the more peaceful countryside in Surrey.  Mom has often told anyone who’ll listen, that Grandma had to give her written permission for Dad to stay outside as he watched the fireworks of the German bombs that landed elsewhere, though I’d guess still uncomfortably close by for any mother’s comfort.

I’ll probably never know if, when, or how much abuse my grandparents and parents endured as Jews in Germany, in England, and even in the good old USA.  I’ll probably never know if they ever feared for their lives during any of those incidents.  I just know that, for whatever reason, be it stubbornness or tradition or even possibly hope or pride, they have always been and will always be Jewish, and they passed this belief system on to me and my sister.  As I was growing up in Southern California, to the best of my recollection, I experienced just some mild peer-related discomfort due to my little discussed Jewish heritage and lesser observed Jewish traditions, like celebrating Hanukkah instead of Xmas and missing school on the High Holidays. Way back then, in the 1960s and 70s, the bat mitzvah, a ceremony recognizing a girl’s coming of age within Judaism, was not as common as it is today and I don’t know if my parents had ever even considered it as an option for me or my sister. They did, however, send us to religious school, well into our high school years, with the culmination of that experience and education taking place in a confirmation ceremony at the Temple, right around the end of tenth grade, I believe.  That was a pretty impressionable time for me, and probably for most kids, as we painfully, in fits and starts, matured into adults.  That was also a time of a lot of turmoil in and around Israel, as it fought a series of wars with its much larger Arab neighbors, who at various times since its birth in 1948, and from various locations, had tried to destroy the Jewish state (kind of like Iran and what still exists of the Syria’s government today) and sweep all its Jewish citizens into the Mediterranean, assuming no non Arab countries would take them as refugees, as few had thirty years earlier.

I had Jewish friends in college and joined the Jewish sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi, on my campus for my last year or two there.  I had a Jewish boyfriend that I’d met in band there, though by the time I got my degree in 1976, I knew I had forced my mom to the harsh realization that her baby would not emerge from there with the degree she wanted me to have, the Mrs.!  She did, however, offer me, possibly as a substitute for the missed bat mitzvah and to maybe find a future Jewish husband, an all-expenses paid six week trip to Israel and Europe that summer.  I took this trip with the non-college grad daughter of one of Mom’s divorced Jewish friends and it was of course organized by a Jewish travel agency.

In July 1976 an airliner was hijacked during its flight to Tel Aviv by Palestinian guerrillas and landed at Entebbe, Uganda. Israeli commandos carried out an operation in which 102 out of 106 Israeli hostages were successfully rescued.  I was touring Israel as these events took place.  I think we had just left the Golan Heights, where it was I could feel how dangerously close the area captured from Syria and occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War was to populated and exposed areas in Israel.  When we entered Jerusalem and shopped in its open air markets we saw, and may have even picked up on our bus, Israeli soldiers who strolled or sat casually in their olive uniforms, machine guns over their soldiers, which I initially did my best to try to overlook.

During the two weeks I was in Israel, the feeling grew inside me, though I have only a vague memory now of how it actually came to be.   In the middle of all that potential danger, I felt safe.  Given the political direction of my own country now, where, heaven forbid, discrimination among citizens based on religion could become a real fact of life, and in light of the discrimination actually experienced by own family on that basis not so long ago, I am still comforted by the reality of Israel today.

Huntington Beach and why I’m still hbsuefred

Huntington Beach (locally initialized “HB”) is a seaside city in Orange County in Southern California, known for its long 9.5-mile (15.3 km) stretch of sandy beach, mild climate, excellent surfing, and beach culture.  Our little family, Me+Husband+Two Young Daughters (approx ages 2 and 4) moved to a two story house on the end of an HB cul-de-sac in 1994.  We all reluctantly moved away from that home, on a pie shaped lot with a pool + a yard in the back + less than a mile from the beach, about twelve or thirteen years later.  Our girls gained some degree of maturity + some other “gifts” they took with them when we moved but I, their mother, believe I took many more.  The gifts I received there, that I have carried with me in my heart and in my spirit since we left, fall into two general categories.  (1)People and (2)Fitness.

With our girls approaching school age, we made the obvious decision to move from a small house, the first one that Husband and I had purchased together, in a family-friendly neighborhood which was, unfortunately, located too close for comfort to a high crime, gang-infested area.  At the time, I was working, on a temporary/contract basis, for McDonnell Douglas in HB.  While performing due diligence to locate a place for us to move to that was both geographically desirable and affordable, I came across an article in the L.A. Times touting Huntington Beach as “The Best City for Children.”  Decision made.

The house we bought had one of just 19 addresses on Dragon Circle, in one of several La Cuesta housing tracts built in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s in the very desirable neighborhoods of South Huntington Beach.  When we moved in we were warmly welcomed by our neighbors next door since, besides theirs, ours was the only home on the street then that had young children living in it.  Over the next five or so years, the number of homes where young children lived more than doubled and, since we lived at the closed end of the street, the children congregated on the street in front of our house to play while their parents congregated nearby to watch over them.  I wish I could say that all of these similar families, by income, size and just general characteristics, continued to get along with each other over the years, while all the children went to school, played, joined sports teams and Scout troops together.  Sadly, I cannot, but that is a tale for a different post.  One of those new neighbors who moved in with her family became my best friend and now, even after both of our husbands retired and we are separated by thousands of miles, we still enjoy a weekly scheduled hour long (or more) conversation.  Gina and I both look forward to those events, and have visited each others’ new homes, after we both left HB, her for Southern Oregon and me for first Middle and then East Tennessee.

Construction of any kind on the beach is prohibited without a vote of the people, allowing Huntington Beach to retain its natural connection to the ocean rather than having the view obstructed by residential and commercial developments.  Swells generated predominantly from the North Pacific in winter and from a combination of Southern Hemisphere storms and hurricanes in the summer focus on Huntington Beach, creating consistent surf all year long, hence the nickname “Surf City”. The city includes just a small industrial district in its northwest corner, while the colorful and active downtown district includes an art center, a beach-centric shopping district, and the International Surfing Museum. The HB Pier, domain of fishermen (also women and kids), strollers and people and surfer-watchers, stretches from Main Street into the Pacific Ocean. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery is based in Huntington Beach.

The HB tourism website, surfcityusa.com, advises visitors and residents alike to “Mark your calendars for all the fun-filled events Huntington Beach has to offer!  Some of the most popular annual events include the Surf City USA Marathon in February, Annual Huntington Beachcruiser Meet in March, National Professional Paintball League’s Surf City USA Open in April, US Open of Surfing in the summer.”  It goes on to say “You might notice that people in Huntington Beach don’t stay indoors for very long.  That’s because this is a fit, active town where residents and visitors not only spend their days at the beach, but also take advantage of Surf City USA’s other outdoor and natural attractions.  We’re home to Orange County’s largest city parks and… (y)ou can bicycle for miles along our coast, go horseback riding, or even try yoga on a paddle board in Huntington Harbour.

Now, contrary to the way the people in HB are described above, I did stay indoors for very long before we moved there.  Over time, though, even I came to enjoy and appreciate the variety of more healthful and physical activities that I could try just by stepping out my front door.  Actually, I found many new outdoor pursuits to attempt by perusing the free local papers I regularly picked up off my driveway.  So, after determining that I needed to do some good and possibly fun things for me and me alone, for both my mental and physical health, I decided to go ahead and try a few.  So in 2002, I believe, I started training for the Long Beach Half Marathon using its Official Training Program called, appropriately for me, A Snail’s Pace.

The group I trained with met on Saturday mornings at HB Central Park.  The program, at least as currently advertised, offered, besides fun group training, 16 Weeks of Expert Coaching/Training, structured pace groups with safe interval training and an evidence based structured training program to maximize efficiency and minimize risk.  All half marathons are 13.1 miles long. I actually completed the Long Beach Half Marathon twice, as well as a couple of Surf City Half Marathons and half of the first Orange County Marathon that ended with me calling home to be picked up out of a pouring rain!  The course time limit for those distance races, both Marathon & Half Marathon events, is usually 7.5 hours.  I did my first Long Beach Half Marathon, mostly walking with a few very slow jogging splits, in about 3 ½ or 4 hours.  I finished those other distance events plus the Music City Half Marathon in Nashville,  as well as a 5K or two, since then, but that was the fastest pace I have ever had in any timed event.

I had so much fun in that first training program that I was inspired to keep moving even after I finished that first race.  I kept training with that group for a year or two after that but veered off into less formal training with a girlfriend who moved into a La Cuesta neighborhood just a five minute walk away from mine around 2005 or so.  Kathy was a friend of a friend and we had only met each other a couple of times before she moved to HB, the first time when we co-hosted a wedding shower for our mutual friend.  She and I hit it off from that beginning, and our bond was strengthened by other shared factors besides our close geographical proximity after her move.  We both, along with our mutual friend, were purchasing agents working in the local aerospace biz.  Kathy also had two daughters who were close in age like mine, though hers were slightly older, as well as a fairly small family of parents and in-laws and a couple of sisters and nieces who lived in Southern California.  Her girls were active in school and other extracurricular activities similar to mine, and her husband worked a lot of hours in a stressful job, like my husband.

Just by a happy happenstance, when I found out that Kathy would soon become a neighbor, I asked, I think, if she would be interested in joining me for walks in the area.  She was and, looking back and totaling up the time that passed while we took our nearly weekly jaunts, I can hardly believe that they only occurred over a few, possibly three or four years.  IDK why, but the time we spent and the distance we covered on those walks, both literally and figuratively, loom monumental in my memory.  I guess, though, the time flew by because we spent it in mutually rewarding and invigorating conversation.  Even before I moved away from HB, I had begun to miss those talks with Kathy more and more, as she got busier on her job, after being promoted a few times and taking on more responsibility, and as her husband was able to back away from the stress of his job and began biking with her.

As I walked around the HB neighborhoods less and less often, I substituted bike rides along the Santa Ana River Trail, a 12-foot wide path following the Santa Ana River, a waterway that is cement-lined through much of Orange County and begins at a junction with the Huntington Beach Bicycle Trail.  The closest access point to this easy-riding trail was about a five minute ride from my backyard.   When we moved to Brentwood, Tennessee, I tried to find a similar trail or path so I could continue to exercise in the great outdoors.  Unfortunately, no part of this state is flat for any great distance, which easily discouraged me from trying to ride my beach cruiser.  On top of that, there are four seasons here, and two of them are either too cold or too hot or too wet, either in the form of snow, frozen puddles or humidity I could cut with a knife, to comfortably continue this exercise on any kind of a regular basis.  Riding the recumbent bike in the basement is just not the same!

Gardena – First entry of my WIP memoir

I have been enrolled off and on in a memoir writing class over the last year or so.  During that time I have written several vignettes, dealing with various subjects, parts and times of my life, working off of whatever popped into my head in the days before the next class assignment was due.

Throughout that stressful process I had been struggling with how I wanted to organize those stories in a way that might make them interesting for my audience, which essentially means my two daughters.  They both know a lot about my immediate family, mainly my mom and my sister, as my girls have spent a lot of time with both of them over the 25 years of their own lives.  They are both acutely acquainted with my own self-image and my cynical sense of humor.  However, as young women of the millenial generation, I don’t think they, like many of their peers, have much appreciation for or understanding of the struggles and challenges faced by their foremothers, especially those like myself of the baby-boomer generation.

In the end, at least for the time being, I’ve decided to organize my stories chronologically as much as possible. Fortunately for me, then, I have already written the first story I wanted to tell about the beginning of my life, which took place in Gardena, which is thus also one of the Places of My Life.  Here it is…

I have a lot of good, but hazy memories, of my childhood in the small town of Gardena, California.  Those memories include a range of the usual neighborhood activities, though my childhood home was situated in an unusual location which was not ideal when compared to current standards and preferences for raising a family in safety.

Gardena is a city located in the South Bay (southwestern) region of Los Angeles County.  Some believe the city was named for its reputation for being the only “green spot” in the dry season between Los Angeles and the sea.  Gardena officially became a city in 1930 when it incorporated itself as protection against a heavy county tax imposed on a planned park project.

Gardena is bordered by two cities, Torrance and Hawthorne, that big beautiful park developed by the county that Gardenans didn’t have to pay for, and two neighborhoods, Athens and Harbor Gateway, that are officially part of the city of Los Angeles.  Athens (and I didn’t know till now that it had a name) is a predominantly black, heavily Hispanic, relatively prosperous unincorporated community.  All the schools in Gardena were part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest public school district in the nation, with a reputation for extremely crowded schools, large class sizes, low academic performance and incompetent administration.

Harbor Gateway (as it was renamed by the city of LA) is a narrow north-south corridor situated approximately between Vermont Avenue and Figueroa Street north of Interstate 405, and Western and Normandie avenues south of I-405. The territory was acquired by the city of Los Angeles in a shoestring annexation, specifically to connect San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and the Port of Los Angeles with the rest of the city.  Despite being part of the city of Los Angeles, some parts of Harbor Gateway have a “Torrance, CA”, “Gardena, CA” or “Carson, CA” address because they are serviced by those cities’ post offices. This is where I lived from my birth, on Wednesday, April 26, 1955, until we moved (a whole ten miles and ten years later) to Torrance, so my sister and I could complete our early educations in a better school system.

503 w 157 realtorWe lived at 503 W. 157th Street, on the corner of a busy main street, Figueroa. Fig ran along the side of our house  and the street in front of our house was the entrance to the neighborhood.  Fig was on the side of the house you can’t see in this photo, which I can’t believe I was able to find today online, so maybe the house still looks like this, as it did when I lived there! No matter what they’re called today, like subdivisions or some such other high-falutin or modern terms, I will always associate happy memories, wherever I live, as having taken place in a neighborhood.

Kitty-corner from us across Figueroa was the Spanish American Institute.  I guess I really never knew what went on there, I just knew, or at least I think I can recall, that a small herd of cows may have been housed or stabled there.  I had no idea at the time what function the cows may have served at the institute but we could smell them and touch them and I think maybe even ride on them, unless that was just a figment of my childhood imagination that I choose to hold on to, among others.

sai cattle being examined by bob  kathy hedges
There really were cows across the street!

Our neighbors, both close by and farther afield, encompassed a variety of family sizes, arrangements and ethnicities, during the first ten years of my life that my own small and homogeneous family lived in this little house with the carnations (which had a beautiful smell) and geraniums (whose smell made me want to puke) that grew in the ground along the non-busy side and the large fig tree that anchored the far corner of the brick enclosed back yard.

Gardena, like many of the suburban areas of Los Angeles, now probably falls within the category of urban sprawl but, back in that idyllic time, it was one of the new bedroom communities rising out of the rich California farmlands that were initially cultivated by Japanese and Mexican families.  I know that my family, Dad and Mom, added a master bedroom and bath, with a fashionable walk in closet, to our house, probably around the time my sister came along, about 4 ½ years after me.  I also know that two very different families, in almost every possible way, had lived next door to us in that ten year period, on the other side of those flowers and brick wall.

The first family there was the Millwees and oh my god!  They were four typically rambunctious blonde and freckle faced boys.  Mom was Esta, an unrefined woman who spoke with maybe a slight Okie accent and had the dusky dark skin tone and long lanky physique to match.  Dad was Don, Sr., a construction worker or some other outdoor manual laborer of that time and place, like maybe an oil field operator.  I don’t think he was around very much; he had to work a lot to support that large and active family.  I remember the two older boys, Donnie and Brad, and how I would halfheartedly chase them around the grass and the yard and up the fig tree, sometimes even walking dangerously balanced along the brick fence that separated our ordered backyard from their chaotic one.  Most searingly, my most ingrained memory of trying to act like one of the boys is the one where I stepped off the fence into their backyard, in my rubber go-aheads, only to encounter a nail sticking up out of a block of wood there that ended up with its point embedded in my foot.

On the other end of the spectrum was the second neighbor family, a pretty traditional Japanese one.  Theirs, like ours, was composed of a mom and a dad and two little girls.  I don’t remember a lot of details about those people, but image of the beautiful, colorful, large and sort of exotic Japanese dolls, encased in glass, that were prominently displayed in that home, made a long lasting impression on my by then expanding and inquisitive mind.

I think the neighbors across the street were Filipino, with a grandma who nurtured a beautiful rose garden.   I remember proudly bearing a few of those fragrant colorful blooms to a favorite teacher, with the stems wrapped in a wet paper towel to preserve them, surrounded by aluminum foil to preserve my fingers from the thorns.

I don’t think I have ever again lived in such a relatively small geographical area that encompassed a similarly large diversity of neighbors.  This early exposure to the variety of colors and languages of America’s citizens probably, especially in retrospect and in comparison to the places we lived while my kids were growing up, opened my mind and my heart to appreciating all of our wonderful differences!

Florence, In Italy! XXOO

Florence contains numerous museums and art galleries where some of the world’s most important works of art are held. The city is one of the best preserved Renaissance centers of art and architecture in the world and has a high concentration of art, architecture and culture. Florence is believed to have the greatest concentration of art (in proportion to its size) in the world.  Thus, cultural tourism is particularly strong, with world-renowned museums such as the Uffizi selling over 1.6 million tickets. Due to Florence’s artistic and architectural heritage, it has been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  I agree with this assessment, and remember it fondly still for some of the beautiful artworks I saw and purchased there.

Florence is famous for its history: a center of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, it is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, and has been called “the Athens of the Middle Ages”. The Historic Centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and I was one of those in the summer of 1976 as I ate my way across Europe on one of those culturally satirized and based on reality two week guided group bus tours.  I remember Athens as extremely dirty and smoggy that summer, which we were told was exacerbating and speeding the crumbling process of all of its precious marble statues and buildings.  Too bad, so sad, no idea what they state of the air or works in that city are today.

My journey included a stop in Austria, unscheduled because the bus broke down, near one of those iconic Alpine meadows, green with fresh grass and blooming with colorful native flowers.  This was where I had my “Sound of Music” experience that quickly ended when I stepped in a lesser known feature of iconic Alpine meadows, the cowpie.  This post led me to dig out the photo album of that trip.  I had been dreading looking at those pictures since, by the time that trip ended, I was a roly poly 180 pounds at least, on my 5’4” (to be generous) average-sized frame.

cookie box on bus

I didn’t even have to flip the pages to see in my mind’s eye the photo I took at that unscheduled Austrian stop.  It’s a picture of a colorful box of cookies leaning against the back of my seat, posed on a colorful beach towel which covered that hot seat in the bright sunshine.

As I ate my way through Italy in particular, including other stops in Venice, Pisa and Rome, slurping and wolfing down the wonderful fresh gelato that was available from carts all over the place, I remember having the following thoughts in each of these other cities.  In Venice, where our tour naturally included a gondola ride and a visit to St. Mark’s Square, I remember thinking (1) Wouldn’t this be romantic if I was here by myself with some studly guy who could overlook my acne and obesity? And (2) How will I protect my gelato, of which I don’t want to miss a single drop, from the pigeon droppings?  One of those bombs may have landed in my hair, which could be washed out later, but I couldn’t remove it and still finish my gelato, right?


pisa (2)



In Pisa I got to the top of its famously leaning tower. Don’t ask me how I got my body up there; I think there must have been an elevator. There was a great city view from that point but my main thought was fear that my added weight might cause it to lean more!




In Rome, I threw one coin (as opposed to the traditional and hopelessly romantic three) in the famous Trevi Fountain. Note that the photo of me in front of the fountains barely shows the top portion of my body. That’s because by now I was wearing that damned light cotton sleeveless tent more often than anything else, since by then it was one of the few garments that I owned that wasn’t too tight!




This was the theme of 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain and the Academy Award-winning song by that name which introduced the picture. The plot went that, on their way into town, the three main characters, all single gals, stop at the fountain where they share the popular tale that, according to legend, if each throws a coin in the fountain and makes a wish to return to Rome, she will. Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder.  Also note the no longer politically correct lyrics as you enjoy this rendition of the movie’s Academy Award nominated theme song.




We visited the Uffizi in Florence.  It is one of the most famous and important art galleries in the world, and it has a very large collection of international and Florentine art. The gallery is articulated in many halls, cataloged by schools and chronological order. I don’t recall that any of them made a big impression on my then young, just barely 21, eyes at the time, though I did comprehend that an appreciation of great and famous art would be a quality that the first female Secretary of State, as I aspired to be then, having just completed by BA in International Relations, would be expected to have.  I also liked the way that name just rolls of the tongue, making even an Ugly American sound vaguely Italian.

The Galleria dell’ Accademia houses a Michelangelo collection, including the David, which made a big impression on my psyche for many reasons. First, it plainly shows probably the largest penis any living, breathing, red-blooded American girl could actually see on an Italian man, even if he is only a stone one. Really, it gave me an opportunity to inspect an anatomically correct model of this organ in vivid detail. I had not seen one up close in the flesh yet, so I wanted to learn a little about its construction to prepare myself for that event.




We were also told that the eyes were carved in such a way that the viewer felt that they were following you as crossed in front of the statue.  Wikipedia describes them less vividly as “The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome” when the statue was initially installed in front of the Palazzo della Signoria in 1504.


Of the many bridges in Florence, one in particular stands out for many tourists— the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), whose most striking feature is the multitude of shops built upon its edges, held up by stilts. This area was, of course, a great spot to indulge in some “retail therapy,” an activity I engage in when I’m feeling lonely, have some time to kill and/or need to just get out and walk around a bit, even if I don’t (or don’t have to or want to or can’t afford to) purchase anything. Of course, I wanted to get some artistic souvenirs in the places I visited, and I was so enamored of and enchanted by Florence that I purchased two especially significant items there.

florentine print

One was a box of stationary with a stunningly beautiful, fantastic and brightly colored Florentine tapestry pattern. It was so beautiful I even held on to the box for a long time after I’d gone through the paper and similarly decorated envelopes. The other was a mosaic pendant in the shape of the Star of David mounted to a neck chain by two opposing points on a short and now extremely tarnished chain.  I still have it, though it fits more like a choker now so it’s almost uncomfortable to wear even if or when I might have an occasion to.

florentine necklace 2

El Camino (Junior) College

El Camino College is a two-year public community college located in the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County known as Alondra Park.  In 1907, the California State Legislature, seeing a benefit to society in education beyond high school but realizing the load could not be carried by existing colleges, authorized the state’s high schools to create “junior colleges” to offer what were termed “postgraduate courses of study” similar to the courses offered in just the first two years of university studies.  I often learn new information from Wikipedia about my hometown and home state and, even though Wikipedia does not vouch for the accuracy of its facts, I know from personal experience that ECC was really thought of as the local high school extension program when I graduated from West (Torrance) High in 1972.

The El Camino Community College District was officially established as of July 1, 1947 and today serves nearly 23,000 students of a diverse background mostly drawn Southern California’s South Bay, including the cities of El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Lawndale, Hawthorne, Lennox, Gardena, and Inglewood.  Wikipedia lists the following diverse group of celebrities as ECC enrollees, though most did not graduate before they left school to pursue their dreams and finally gain financial success and public acclaim:  Frank Zappa (avant garde musician, Rock N Roll guitarist); Brian Wilson (Beach Boys founder); Chris Montez (singer); Suge Knight (Rap impresario); Fred Dryer (Actor, producer and former football defensive end in the NFL); Bo Derek (actress and celebrity);Chet Baker (jazz trumpeter and vocalist).

Many members of my school’s class of ’72 planned to “attend” ECC, which really meant they planned to register for classes to satisfy their parents’ post-graduation requirements that they either get a job or go to college.  Many of the surfer dudes and dudettes who matriculated in the local So Cal beach cities, plus a few Valley dudes and dudettes, briefly flashed their proofs of registration at any of the many local Junior Colleges, then merrily skipped out to play and party for as long as their parents bought that excuse as justification to continue to provide financial support to these older, but still juvenile in many ways, delinquents. “JC’s,” as they were dubbed by high school guidance counselors  who recommended them to these kids and their parents in hopes that some might benefit educationally, or at the very least be kept off the streets as bums, were very nearly free then, too, which was an added bonus for all concerned.

A brief history of California’s public education philosophy and resulting systems reveals that in this area my home state has for a very long time demonstrated forward thinking and a leading edge approach rare among its peers, one which continues to this day, even in today’s trying economic and social environment.  A collegiate “department” of Fresno High School was set up in fall of 1910.  This later became Fresno City College, which is the oldest existing public community college in California and the second oldest existing in the United States. In 1921, California passed legislation which allowed for the creation of community college districts and launched the current model of community colleges that would now offer general education courses for which knowledge and credits could be transferred to four year colleges and universities. The first ever transfer student was from Modesto Junior College and transferred to Stanford in 1922.

I never attended El Camino as a fulltime regular student at any point in my undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate educational programs.  That doesn’t mean, though, that I didn’t ever take advantage of the free, or at least very low cost, educational opportunities available to any and all Californians through the community college system.  I know I took a math class at ECC at some point, which I initially thought may have been a trigonometry class that I know is generally a pre-req for calculus, a subject which is now a requirement for admission to most of your better MBA programs.  I dodged that bullet, though, as it was not a requirement at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management when I applied there in 1978.

I have always done well with accounting, or any figuring that revolved around dollars and cents i.e. “real” numbers.  I struggled through basic Algebra in high school, which may have been a class that I repeated at ECC.   I really never progressed past basic Algebra, though I may have tried to do that at ECC.  I never understood made-up numbers, like sines or cosines or tangents, when I first encountered them while trying to prepare myself for grad school, just in case I might have needed to know at least what they were.  I might have been living in either the Los Angeles City College (LACC) or West Los Angeles (Community) College when I tried trig.  I don’t recall for sure, though, probably because I was so confused by just the full and proper name of that daunting subject.  I do recall, though, taking professional certification courses in contracts management at WLA, where I also clearly remember meeting a 6”8” dapper fellow student who was not a basketball player, or any other type of athlete, I don’t believe.  We went on exactly one date, where I learned that a Cadillac was the only standard automobile that could accommodate his length behind the wheel.  That guy and that date and that semi-related story were clearly memorable to me since I still recall all those details, though probably not to him since he never asked me out again.

Last in my ECC saga is a story that came to mind as I was writing this post, which I related to Husband as a reminder and a clear indication of the value my family put on education, along with a statement about how much it cost them to help me achieve this goal, even back in the 1970s, when college costs were considerably lower than they are now.  As I was graduating with my BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California, a private school which was very expensive then in relation to public universities, a gap which has closed considerably in the 21st century, my mom said “Look, my arm is staring to grow back,” by which she meant that she and Dad had been paying “an arm and a leg” to send me there.   My more reserved and ever-practical father took the opportunity to tell me, at that late date, that he wished I’d gone to El Camino first and then transferred to USC.  Thanks to Hubs and Dad for reminding me of one of the latter’s more endearing qualities.

The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education was a turning point in higher education in California. The state funded four year college and university systems were to limit their enrollments, yet an overall goal was to “provide an appropriate place in California public higher education for every student who is willing and able to benefit from attendance”, meaning the junior colleges were to fulfill this role.   The Master Plan for Higher Education also banned tuition, as it was based on the ideal that public higher education should be free to students (just like K-12 primary and secondary education). As officially enacted, it states that public higher education “shall be tuition free to all residents.” Thus, California residents legally do not pay tuition. However, the state has suffered severe budget deficits ever since the enacting of Proposition 13 in 1978, which led to the imposition of per-unit enrollment fees for California residents (equivalent in all but name to tuition) at all community colleges to get around the legal ban on tuition. Non-resident and international students, however, do pay tuition, which at community colleges is usually an additional $100 per unit (or credit) on top of the standard enrollment fee. Since no other American state bans tuition in public higher education, this issue is unique to California. In the past decade, tuition and fees have fluctuated with the state’s budget. For much of the 1990s and early 2000s, enrollment fees ranged between $11 and $13 per credit. However, with the state’s budget deficits in the early-to-mid 2000s, fees rose to $18 per unit in 2003, and, by 2004, reached $26 per unit. Since then, fees dropped to $20 per unit, down $6 from January 2007, which was the lowest enrollment fee of any college or university in the United States.

Of course, that was almost ten years ago now, and I know, again from personal experience, that those costs, or fees, or tuition, or any combination thereof that they are called now, are going back up again.  I know this from my youngest daughter, the possible future psychiatrist, who recently completed refresher courses in biology and physics at Santa Monica College, yet another two-year, public community college located in the greater LA area, as preparation to hopefully perform well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) which she plans to take for the first, and hopefully last, time next month.

The caliber of the student bodies, the challenge level of the coursework, and the competition for admission to any and all of the fine and still comparatively low cost institutions of the California Community Colleges System (CCCS) have risen dramatically since my spotty presence there during the 1970s and 80s.

Disneyland is my happy place

As Walt Disney sat at a bench, at an amusement park, watching his daughters play, he noticed how ragged and filthy the small amusement park was. He also observed people’s reactions to different rides, and noticed how children’s parents had nothing to do. They would be anxious to go home, while their children were still having fun, and playing.  This is where Walt was conjuring, and planning a new type of amusement park; one that would be clean, and would have attractions for parents and children together. This was Walt Disney’s idea, which he brought to fruition with his creation of Disneyland.

Disneyland is the first of two theme parks built at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.  Opened on July 17, 1955, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world, with over 650 million guests since it opened.  These two sentences contain all the basic facts you need to know about how and why this still magical place and “The Happiest Place on Earth” colored my childhood, my youth, my young adulthood, my dating and parenting life, and really my entire outlook on life, today and into the future.  Critical to Disneyland’s lasting impact on me is that the park and I are the same age, with both of us officially beginning to exist on planet Earth in the year 1955.

Years before Disneyland was constructed, Walt was thinking, generating, and creating everything in his mind. He traveled the United States, and visited buildings of America’s most prolific inventors and creators, such as Thomas Edison’s Workshop, the Wright Brothers Bicycle shop, and the home of the Dictionary magnate Noah Webster. While visiting these places, he was formulating and dreaming of a “Mickey Mouse Park” with a western village, Main Street, and more; these ideas would eventually form Disneyland.

The concept for Disneyland began when Walt Disney was visiting Griffith Park in Los Angeles with his daughters Diane and Sharon. While watching them ride the merry-go-round, he came up with the idea of a place where adults and their children could go and have fun together. He hired a consultant from Stanford to gauge the proper area to locate the theme park based on the area’s potential growth.   The recommended location was on 160 acres of orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim, southeast of Los Angeles in neighboring Orange County.


To fully appreciate the facts given as initial background above, one must be able to picture the landscape of Southern California in the 1950s and at the same time jump ahead and compare it to that landscape today.  Los Angeles was spreading out block by block and tract by tract, as more and more housing was built in response to increased demand.  This increased demand was generated over the decade by the booming economy as it changed over from agriculture, oil drills and basic manufacturing to more advanced manufacturing of airplanes and rocket ships and jet engines, from the basic black telephone and party lines and operator assistance to intercoms and automatic telephone exchanges and microelectronics.    This manufacturing change and growth in turn led to the expansion of supporting retail businesses and services until the urban sprawl became suburban sprawl that crept out of the L.A. coastal basin, east over the Santa Monica Mountains (really foothills) into the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, north to Simi Valley and sleepy coastal communities, and of course South to the now infamous Orange County, “The OC.”  This sprawling and seemingly haphazard growth, along with improvements in the manufacture of automobiles, including some assembled locally, made cars cheaper and more ubiquitous on existing roads and led to the necessity of moving all these new Californians from place to place.  This became LA’s famously crowded freeway system.


Griffith Park still serves as an oasis of nature in the heart of the urban jungle that is Los Angeles proper.  It is today, in fact, one of the largest urban parks in North America, referred to as the Central Park of Los Angeles, though LA’s park is much larger, more untamed, and rugged than its New York City counterpart.  Conversely, Orange County is now the third-most populous and the second most densely populated county in California, the sixth-most populous in the United States, and more populous than twenty-one U.S. states.  The completion of Interstate 5, known to Angelenos as the Santa Ana Freeway, in 1954 helped make Orange County a bedroom community for many who moved to Southern California to work in aerospace and manufacturing. Orange County received a further boost in 1955 with the opening of Disneyland.

Uncle Walt, as my irreverent dad would often call him, uttered the following words of wisdom and promise with regard to his new amusement park in the year it was opened.

To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land; dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. Disneyland will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts. The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another’s company. Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see.

When Disneyland opened, in the year of my birth and for a long time after, there were still orange groves surrounding the site.  My grandma lived among those groves when I was a kid, before they were pulled out to make room for more Disneyland parking lots, tourist motels, and the newer parts of Anaheim.  One of the joys of every family visit to Disneyland was to sit together in a glass-enclosed booth in Tomorrowland, talking to Grandma on the hands free phone.  I don’t remember if this “attraction” was managed by AT&T or Bell, though I think I remember that you had to reserve the booth ahead of time.  Dad would dial Grandma’s number and we’d all shout “Hello” at once when she picked up the receiver on her end.  I think we talked to Grandma more often from that little booth inside Disneyland than we did face to face, even though she was only a few miles separated her from us when we were there!

We went to Disneyland at least once a year while I was growing up. When my kids were born, my mom couldn’t wait till they reached the age where a daily nap was no longer required so that she and Dad could go with Husband and me to bring  her “jewels” to Disneyland for their very first visits.  Even now that we all, except Mom, have lived in other states, my girls and I make it a point to visit Disneyland, and the newer Disney California Adventure theme park, as often as we can when we’re back in So Cal, and as often as we can find some way to pay a discounted admission price!  When Disneyland and I were both young, and until we both became teenagers, park patrons would buy a book of tickets, along with admission.  These tickets were labeled by category of the rides listed thereon as A, B, C, D and E. A ticket rides were the cheapest, most sedate and old-fashioned; E ticket rides were the best and newest and most exciting, at least from a kid’s perspective. We long time natives still say that when something is a lot of fun, exciting, and/or adrenaline pumping, it’s a real E-ticket experience.  I used to say that about my last job in California, long after E tickets had gone the way of the dinosaurs but shortly after the opening of California Adventure.  When I walked into the office every morning, I’d welcome my colleagues to the ShinMaywa California Adventure, warning them to prepare for an “E” ticket ride. I only had to explain the concept once, even to the Japanese natives I worked with, before I got their hearty concurrence about the nature of our shared daily experiences.

Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.

This is another quote from Uncle Walt that struck a chord with me.  It mirrors how I feel, or at least want to feel, about myself.  I guess, in the end, maybe this is really why I feel such a kinship with my beloved Disneyland.  It’s still where I want to go when I want to feel like a kid again, even now, when we are both senior citizens.

California Dreams

There are so many facets of California, both mythic and real, that created, nurtured, formed and molded me.  My beliefs, my politics, my continuing education, my standards of living with and being among people anywhere and everywhere, are deeply rooted there, in my experiences and more importantly in my memories.

I grew up in Southern California and lived there for the first fifty years of my current sixty-one.  I was born on April 26, 1955, at Daniel Freeman, a Catholic hospital which no longer exists, in the city of Inglewood.  I lived with, my parents and younger sister, in Gardena.  We moved to Torrance in 1965, where I graduated from West (Torrance) High School in 1972.  I completed my BA in International Relations at The University of Southern California in 1976 and my MBA from UCLA in 1980.  I had various jobs in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, Torrance, Seal Beach, Downey, Lakewood,  Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Huntington Beach, Cerritos and Los Alamitos.

When I met my husband, who’d come to live with his brother in California in 1972, he owned a home in Long Beach but before that he’d lived in apartments in Fullerton.  He’d had various manufacturing jobs in other local areas and was currently working at the port. Our first home together was in Lakewood.  Both of our daughters were born at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.  Our family moved to Huntington Beach in 1994, and we lived there until we moved in 2006.  My mom moved to California in 1944, traveling by train from New York with her parents and younger brother.  My dad flew to California from Germany by way of England in 1945, with his single mother so that they could join her older sister and her family, who had been lucky enough to find their way to the Golden State of opportunity several years earlier, before their family and home were decimated by World War II and the Holocaust in Europe.

After the famous Gold Rush to the West in 1849, California’s name became indelibly connected with fast success in a new world, the “California Dream.” California was perceived as a place of new beginnings, where great wealth could reward hard work and good luck. The notion inspired the idea of the “American Dream.” For people flooding the fields there, California promised the highest possible standard of life for the middle classes, the skilled blue collar workers and small farm owners. Poverty existed, but was concentrated among the migrant farm workers made famous in The Grapes of Wrath, who were seeking the dream, too. It was not so much the upper class (who preferred to live in New York and Boston). The California Dream meant an improved and more affordable family life: a small but stylish and airy house marked by a fluidity of indoor and outdoor space, such as the ubiquitous California bungalow, and a lush backyard—the stage, that is, for quiet family life in a sunny climate. It meant very good jobs, excellent roads, plentiful facilities for outdoor recreation, and the schools and universities that were the best in the world by the 1940s. Even if, for many if not most migrants to the golden state, “the dream outran the reality, the California Dream (was and) is a love affair with an idea, a marriage to a myth.” Even today, observers report a common stereotyped perception that people are happier in California, a perception anchored in the perceived (though I have experienced it to be real) superiority of the California climate.  Later cultural phenomena – the rise of the Hollywood film industry, Silicon Valley, California’s aerospace industry, the California wine industry and the Dotcom boom – continued to feed into the California Dream during my lifetime.

The Spanish explorers originally thought that California was an island.  After all, the name California comes from a mythical, some might say dreamy, Spanish island ruled by a queen called Califia that was featured in a Spanish romance written in 1510.  California is the most populous state in the United States with the nation’s most populous county and its second largest city.  The state is bordered by the other U.S. states of Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, and Arizona to the southeast.  Unlike most of the country’s “flyover states,” California shares an international border with the Mexican state of Baja California to the south and of course the vast Pacific Ocean is its entire western frontier.  California’s diverse geography flows from mountains in the east to coastal beaches, islands, bays and cliffs in the west, from the redwood forests of the northwest, to desert areas in the southeast. The center of the state is dominated by the Central Valley, a major agricultural area. California contains both the highest point (Mount Whitney) and the lowest point (Death Valley) in the contiguous United States.

Mount Whitney
Death Valley

Mount Whitney (l), the highest point in the Contiguous U.S., is less than 90 miles(140 km) away from Death Valley (r), the lowest point in North America

The state’s current and modern economy is centered on the “clean” and “shiny” businesses of finance, government, real estate, technology, science and other “professional” services, though its “dirtier”  agriculture industry has the highest output of any U.S. state. If it were a country, California would be the 8th or 9th largest economy in the world, and the 35th most populous.  California is the 3rd largest state in the United States in area, after Alaska and Texas, and itself is often geographically bisected into two regions, Southern California, comprising only 10 large and diverse counties, and Northern California, comprising 48 additional more homogeneous counties.  Its Sierra Nevada mountain range embraces Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms on Earth.

As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes.  Earthquakes are common because of the state’s location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. About 37,000 earthquakes are recorded each year, but most are too small to be felt.  Although most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, due to the state’s large size, the climate ranges from subarctic to subtropical. The cool California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast, especially famous in San Francisco but also a moderating climate factor in the other major coastal cities of San Diego and Los Angeles, though more so in many of the beachside suburbs listed above, where I lived for most of my youth and adulthood.  Just a few miles inland, though, summer temperature extremes are significantly higher, with downtown Los Angeles and other famous and infamous interior suburbs and cities, like Pasadena, San Bernardino and even beautiful downtown Burbank, where Johnny Carson once reigned, being several degrees warmer, and smoggier, than at the coast.