Archive for the ‘North Bay’ Category

These are some shots taken with my trusty digital. Most are of San Francisco. Some are nice photos of a fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. A couple were taken in other parts of the Bay Area. Enjoy.

This shot was taken from the green hills of the Marin Headlands. The Marin County Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge is at the upper left. The San Francisco Tower is barely visible above the fog line at the upper right.

This one was taken from the end of Marine Drive at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks to my buddy, who was an army photographer during Vietnam, I managed a decent composition after several tries. The real view was overwhelming.

This beautiful panorama of the City of San Francisco was taken from the Twin Peaks lookout. The business district with its tall buildings glistens across the top while residential areas rise toward Twin Peaks. Market Street, San Francisco’s “main drag,” splits the City from mid-right to the San Francisco Bay in the distance.

A rather hazy shot of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and parts of San Francisco taken from Coit Tower, one of San Francisco’s premier landmarks. We were out and about early, and the haze as we looked into the sun obscured sharp details.

A part of San Francisco as seen from the Bay Bridge, with Coit Tower in the Upper right corner. Notice the artistic composition of the roadway and the bridge barrier. Even concrete looks good in the Bay Area.

This was my last shot of the day, the restored Benicia train station. Benicia is a quaint little town at the North end of the Benecia-Martinez Bridge, one of two that span the Carquinez Strait. I used to cross the bridge regularly on my way from Novato to Pinole. In the 1800’s, Benicia was briefly the capital of the State of California. I’d swear the old town hasn’t changed. If you look closely, you might spot me taking this picture.


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When the story first broke, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to CNN News. CNN is the news outlet after all that continually flashes “Breaking News” or something similar across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Every thing is “breaking” or “developing.” My mind numbs itself in self defense.

But then something caught my attention. I heard the words “Richmond High School.” There are other Richmonds in the U.S., including Richmond, Virginia. I went back to my latest issue of Country Weekly magazine.

As I read, I heard the announcer, I think it was Kyra Phillips, mention California. My ears perked up. The gang rape occurred on the grounds of Richmond High School, Richmond, California. Once upon a time, I attended that very high school. My tenure there was brief, but still, things stick in the mind.

Richmond when I lived there was a classic All-American town, or perhaps I should say a classic California town. However, I’ve lived in many towns and the habits of teens weren’t substantially different from the habits of Richmond’s teens.

In Richmond, as in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, cars were a big deal, and every Saturday night, McDonald Avenue, Richmond’s main drag, would be lined with cars full of kids dragging the street from 23rd Street in the east to the train depot at the west end of town.

If the kids weren’t tooling up and down shouting at one another or at a gaggle of girls walking along the street toward the movie, they were parked in or just idling in any available spot near a drive-in with real live and often good-looking girls taking and delivering orders.

If you want to get a good idea of Richmond then, watch the movie American Graffiti. The movie wasn’t filmed in Richmond but in several nearby towns like Petaluma (the primary filming location), Pinole, Concord, Larkspur, Mill Valley, and San Francisco.

Mel’s Diner in the movie was filmed at a diner (since torn down) on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. And 4th Street in San Rafael was used for many of the street scenes. Another coincidence: my wife and I lived on 4th Street shortly after we were first married and then later in Petaluma.

Times have changed since American Graffiti was released in 1973. Most of the towns where the movie was filmed have undergone dramatic growth spurts accompanied by an influx of people from other areas of the United States and from foreign countries.

Richmond has also experienced its share of changes. But unlike the positive changes in many other Bay Area communities, the changes in Richmond have been mostly negative.

The reputation of Richmond today is a place to avoid. The town is widely known as the murder capital of the state. In 2007 (last year I have a figure for), there were 37 murders in this town of roughly 100,000 people. And, the part of I-80 passing through Richmond has achieved dubious standing as a war zone based on the number of shootings that happen along that short stretch of the highway.

To compound these negatives, the Richmond-San Pablo area has become rife with gang activity that often erupts in violence. And lesser crimes such as robbery and burglary are beginning to spill over into once small and peaceful enclaves like El Sobrante.

The causes of Richmond’s decline have often been attributed to its ethnic shift. While the town was once overwhelmingly white, today whites make up about 25 percent of the population. The balance consists mainly of Blacks and Hispanics.

However, the attribution of Richmond’s ills to its ethnic balance is a specious argument. So many variables come into play that it’s difficult if not impossible to narrow the root cause or causes to one factor. More likely, the cause lies in both economics and a failure of civic leadership to address Richmond’s burgeoning crime rate and rapidly declining infrastructure. McDonald Avenue, for example, that one-time image of Americana embodied in American Graffiti, became an absolute, decaying roadway to nowhere before the civic leadership seemed to wake up.

Regardless of the reasons for Richmond’s decline, there can be little doubt that many of the students at Richmond High School are products of the current culture of violence, poverty, drugs, decay, and a nation-wide attitude that drives individuals to seek the immediate gratification of their own desires.

Given such an environment, it was probably inevitable that violence would eventually reach the ground of the high school. In fact, at least one of the active participants in the gang rape apparently wasn’t a student and shouldn’t have been at the homecoming dance to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the school’s students are undoubtedly decent individuals doing their best to make it in a cruel environment. Moreover, the high school wasn’t exactly pristine when I attended it. There were fights, usually between individual boys over a girl, and other students would gather and watch, cheering on one or the other of the gangly teens.

But there were no rapes on campus, gang or otherwise. Those were different times. In retrospect, so innocent. Sadly, once upon a time will never come again.

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As a youngster, I thought nothing of moving from one place to another. In fact, I used to describe my itchiness as an overpowering desire “to be where I ain’t.” Any excuse was sufficient as a reason to head for new pastures, or to return to old ones, as the itch struck.

My wanderlust didn’t stop when we married. Not immediately anyway. Let me count the times I uprooted children from playmates and wife from a settled existence and her circle of friends: Oakland CA to San Rafael; San Rafael to Petaluma; Petaluma to Riverside; Riverside to Honolulu; Honolulu to Tracy CA; Tracy to Honolulu.

If my math is correct and my memory intact, that’s six times in about four years, not a large number, but those long-distance moves weren’t the whole story. Once we had settled in a new town, it wasn’t unusual for me to move from house to house on a whim.

But that still isn’t the whole story. I had a traveling job. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend 60 days at a whack in a single foreign country and then fly directly to another country for 30 days before returning home.

My life would have been wonderful for a single guy or gal, but when you’re married with children, complications can arise. Like the day I called home from the Philippines hoping for a nice chat with my wife only to be met by a breathless daughter who said without preamble, “Dad, I quit college.” She later finished, but that short sentence almost gave me a heart attack and forced me to reexamine my lifestyle.

I gave up traveling and moving around, but I failed miserably when it came to dreaming and talking. If I casually mentioned another location, my family would become agitated. They’d mill around, and one of the girls would say something like, “Mom, Dad wants to move!”

The fear in them was there for anyone to see, but I didn’t. I think the turning point came when, after one of my rambling monologue about “new pastures,” a daughter asked plaintively, “What about me,” obviously anxious about the possibility we would leave her behind.

Throughout this period, my wife tolerated my behavior, but she didn’t offer overt criticism. That wasn’t her way. Rather, she continued to work, smiling and pleasant as usual but with an unmistakable coolness until I shut up. She was always very effective when it came to guiding me in the “right” direction.

Over time, the girls left home to establish their own careers and families. My wife and I often talked about finding a nice retirement spot but that’s as far as it went. We were comfortable here and my desire “to be where I ain’t” had faded away.

Then, the unexpected unexpectedly happened. She passed away so suddenly that it absolutely stunned me. At first, I panicked. With the help of two of our daughters and a son in law, we packed up some stuff and headed for the airport, leaving the house under the watchful eye of a police officer friend who lived next door.

In these moments of panic, I had visions of moving permanently but that goal shifted and I decided to spend some time in Tejas, Annapolis, and the Bay Area, with side trips to garden spots like Reno, Lovelock (where my mother lived in another age), and Winnemucca.

But even that plan changed as I found myself wanting with all of my heart to return to the home where all of my memories of her resided. I’ll return, of course, but will I stay or will I once again want “to be where I ain’t?”

I have a hunch that her spirit in the family home is the power that will hold me there until I join her. When that happens, I’ll never again want to be where I ain’t. She planned it that way.

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Imagine my surprise the other day when, surfing through Google Earth, I discovered the house of my birth in Google Earth’s Street View. This is startling when you consider that this little town in The Old Country is off the beaten path, literally off the grid. What the heck is Google Earth thinking, cruising up and down the town’s streets and snapping photos?

I’ve also found pictures of two homes where we lived in Petaluma, an apartment in San Rafael, a house in Tracy, one in Rollingwood, and, traveling further back in time, a mid-childhood home in Norwalk. Sadly, I don’t recall the address of our apartment on Mission Street in Daly City (my cousin says San Francisco) but I am certain it still stands.

Some of the houses I’ve mentioned seem to have defied the aging process, some haven’t. The house I was born in was built in 1910 according to my granddad, who owned it along with a vacant lot next door and a house on the other side of the vacant lot where my two sisters were born. For some reason, the old house has stood the tests of time better than the ones in Petaluma, both of which seem a little ragged around the edges today.

But my perceptions are probably skewed by one foot in the Dark Ages and one in the modern world. The Neo-Confederate States of America are—well—in an alternate universe, a softer, more traditional world. The South reveres the past and places great value on historic buildings and classic pre and antebellum homes.

California, however, is afflicted with an acute case of Neo-Modernity, a condition causing the rapid deterioration of old stuff. Sure, California also treasures its history, but the state’s population exploded during and after World War II, with a corresponding need for new homes.

Vast tracts of once pristine golden hills were blanketed with cookie-cutter houses that originally sold for $15,000 to $30,000. New construction rather than renovation and preservation became the model of need and remains so today.

122208-0553-themanytrea1.pngThe overhead shot of a part of Pinole taken from Google Earth illustrates the proliferation of tract homes in but one small corner of the Bay Area. Why renovate when you could move on up?

Except that those $30,000 tract homes are no longer cheap. How about a half a million for one or, in a now-upscale community like Orinda, you may have to ante up a million or more.

Compare that to my birth house. The last time I checked, I could have bought the old homestead for $30,000, or less. The question is, would a person prefer to live in a small community inhabited by more snakes, chiggers, mosquitoes, and maybe migratory alligators than people or in a nice 400-square foot studio in the basement of a three-story building sitting next to a BART line for a measly $600,000?

The choice is clear. Isn’t it? Or maybe Minden, Nevada is worth checking out. Take a look at the town via Google Earth. Every inch has been photographed up close and personal. Try it. You might like it.

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Yesterday, we filed a report about our innate sympathy for Sarah Palin.

As a counterpoint to our arguments, our East Coast Bureau filed this response:

“Why feel sorry for her? Even after her disastrous interview with Katie Couric, she went on to say that she was “ready, willing, and able” to be the VP should she and McCain be voted in.

“Her enormous ego and towering overconfidence are matched only by her lack of knowledge and her utter lack of interest in gaining knowledge. She’s a “Joe six-pack American,” and that’s all right with her. She’s just like Dubya in this, and no one with any sense feels sorry for him. Don’t waste sympathy on her.”

We want to thank our Intrepid Journalist. And we want to invite all Citizen Journalists to provide us with feedback.

Who among you sympathizes with Sarah Palin? Who among you agrees with our Intrepid East Coast Journalist?

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I tried Facebook’s My Personality application today. Actually, it isn’t a Facebook application but a third-party program.

The app says the personality test was constructed by a team of professional psychologists. I tried five times to take the test but each time I clicked the test page, the program flickered and labored mightily and then returned me to the same page.

After the 5th try, I spotted a little tiny box in the right-hand corner with directions informing me to check the box if I wanted to have my personality analyzed by pros. By that time, I was a raving lunatic.

Well, I checked the little box, worked through the test, and the results pleased me greatly. I rated 50% on every single personality element.

That’s amazing. I’ve taken tests administered and interpreted by a UC psychology instructor. He informed me that I ought to pack for a trip to Napa. Now, Facebook’s proxy informs me I’ve made a startling recovery.

I’d read that people with emotional and psychological issues have a 50-50 chance of improving whether they seeks treatment from a professional or not. My experience proves the theory.

At any rate, none of this explains why I scored a 50 on every single element on Facebook’s Proxy’s test. You’d think one of them would have been 51 or 49 or something.

I wonder if my answers could have affected the results. I checked Neither Accurate nor Inaccurate to every question.

Well, that’s the way real life really is. Sometimes we like poetry sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we like to let our imaginations run wild on all sorts of fantasies, sometimes we don’t. It all depends. Life is just that way.

So, remember, if you’ve taken Facebook’s Proxy’s My Personality test and scored, say, 90 on fantasies, you might think about packing your own bag and hitchhiking to Napa. There’s a strong chance you need a pro to tell you how to answer psychological test questions.

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I’ve always been a lover of lists, stuff like The 100 Sexiest Jobs in Elko NV, Top Five Hunks in the History of Human Civilization, and The 100 Best Places to Raise a Family.

The latter is a real list put together by the Today Show’s Best Life editors from a plethora of sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau, the FBI, and the National Center for Educational Statistics among others.

Using these data and more, the editors ranked and rated the desirability of cities based on the congeniality of a city toward the safety, health, and education of its youth.

The thing that strikes me positively about this particular list is the large number of California cities on it.

Based on my unofficial and hopefully accurate summary, Cal had 22, or 22% of the nationwide total. No other state came close to that proportion.

Moreover, 11 of the 22 are located in the Bay Area, a number still higher than the number for any other single state. If that isn’t commendable, I don’t know what is.

However, I have serious reservations about the inclusion of some of them.

Richmond, for example, came in at Number 73, high but still on the list. I’m familiar with the city and the surrounding area, which causes me to wonder about the family friendliness of a city that has become a gang and murder center fully worth the extra gas it takes to circle the town when heading to Tahoe.

Oakland at Number 84 is another city I would think seriously about if I were raising children. The murder rate in Oakland is astronomical and the schools leave much to be desired. There may be pockets of tranquility within the city limits, but even that is problematic as a gauge of family togetherness.

One other city, San Francisco at Number 67, made my seriously doubt list. SF is a great place for fun and games, but is it a commendable spot to raise kids in? There are many good neighborhoods, but the question in my mind relates to proximity. Can a parent in one of SF’s garden spots rest comfortably knowing that their adolescent darlings can jump on a bus and ride to the center of the action the minute they’re out of parental sight.

The remainder of the Bay Area cities on the cut include some that seem quite nice. Santa Rosa at Number 10 would be my personal choice. And I always considered Number 64 Concord a real nice spot.

The balance includes the South Bay Area 22, Fremont 38, Berkeley 40, Fairfield 50, Antioch 51, and Hayward 93.

Worth mentioning, not a single California city made the list of the 10 Worst Places to Raise a Family (find this list below the Top 100).

I’m surprised that Davis didn’t make the California state-wide cut. It was Number 3 on the 5 Friendliest Cities in America.

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