September, 2011:

Cars — Appearances Are Deceiving

For about 20 years, I was challenged with one automobile crisis after another. Supporting myself by being a writer didn’t guarantee a big income.  Although my dreams of writing had manifested and I’d received some fame, appreciation and money, I realized I hadn’t factored in financial security. Life was almost a roller coaster ride.

When my ex and I separated and later divorced, I took the family car, a 1974 Oldsmobile 98. We’d bought it almost new at a good price during one of the gas crunches when gas was expensive and hard to get. We’d been proud of our used luxury vehicle: a soft blue exterior with a fairly plush and roomy interior.

By the early 1980s, the Olds was a senior citizen. Her electric windows weren’t dependable and seldom worked for the back windows. Pretty soon I had to resort to leaving them permanently lowered, not too inconvenient considering California has a short rainy season. In 1984, she took me, my Aunt Rosie, my son, Hansi, and my cousin Ray Scott on a Northern California trip that included Yosemite, San Francisco and the Monterey-Carmel coast, and she didn’t break down. If she had, we would probably have laughed, which we did a great deal of during that journey! With her eight cylinders roaring, she made it up the winding road to the viewing spot for the Yosemite Valley below. My son and cousin enjoyed the view.

Beautiful Yosemite National Park

A nice family who ran a nursery school “adopted” the Olds when I bought a newer used car, thanks to selling my home and downsizing. My cute white Datsun, a shift transmission, had her problems and taught me not to judge a book, or a car, by its cover. She was fine if I was headed straight down the road, but she refused to back up. Fortunately, she was small and light; if I needed a backwards push, a handy friend could help. I learned to anticipate how to maneuver and avoid backing up—it was hell to park, however! Forget parallel parking! Being an optimist with a good sense of humor, I figured it was the Divine telling me I didn’t need to go backwards.

An acquaintance gave me a good deal on a rebuilt transmission but it didn’t prolong the car’s life for very long. My friend Bonnie knew a woman who wanted to sell her used Ford LTD for $400 (as I recall). It had hardly any mileage since for years she’d only used it to go the 8 miles back and forth to work. The fellow I was dating named it the Ghetto Glider, which was funny until one tire, which I didn’t know was a retread, came apart when I had to pick up my daughter, Heidi, at traffic school, some distance from home.

No cell phones in those days—it was leg power and public phones. No buses on Saturday either, so I had to hoof it for a mile to get Heidi, after I left the disabled car. The expensive results of that adventure included a costly new tire, a pricey cab ride, and a disgruntled dog groomer, who had to wait over an hour past closing time for us to pick up our Cockapoo.

Before the Glider left my possession, her timing belt was broken, the dashboard lights didn’t function (try estimating your speed at night!), and the trunk wouldn’t open.

In between cars, a new friend lent me his used taupe-colored Porsche since he’d bought a brand new one. What an adventure that was! I had learned to drive on a shift car, and Ms. Porsche just purred around corners and on the canyon roads nearby. Not long after, he took back the used car and lent me his brand new white Porsche 944. It’s a complicated story and so interesting I’ve written a long “short” story about it. I enjoyed it for a while and even crowded two friends into this gorgeous vehicle to attend Pasadena’s bizarre Do-Dah Parade, the humorous answer to the Rose Parade. Within a couple of months I was without transportation again as my friend Bill’s drama played itself out.

Being without an automobile in Los Angeles is a challenge. I was lucky to have available friends with cars, and that Agoura Hills, where I was living at the time, had cheap taxi service. I remember one Sunday I walked a couple of miles, roundtrip, to see a Whoopi Goldberg movie. Besides laughter at the movie and at my predicament, I’d gotten some exercise.

Isaac, a musician and poet friend, came to the rescue. He had an almost new Yugo and was ready to get a more expensive car for his wife and baby. All I had to do was take over the reasonable payments. It was a darling little blue car and smelled like baby crackers. The car didn’t have much gumption and we do have some steep grades between various valleys in Southern California. I put the pedal to the metal and prayed, in the slow lane.

 

Books soon to be released through Kindle:

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

An Army Brat in Libya

Tripoli in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…


Cars – My First Experiences

College senior me in MGB

In the US, most of us can trace our histories by the cars we owned, used, or learned to drive in. Not to mention the cars that provided room for early sexual  exploration. Whether you “made out” or “went all the way,” who doesn’t remember a few cars that were special?

My first driving lessons were in my dad’s  1953 white Ford convertible. My mother was my first instructor, but she was so nervous in the passenger seat she was already slamming on the imaginary brakes a half block from a stop sign in a residential area. The top was down so visibility was great, but my mom was a worrier. My dad didn’t fare much better, although he stayed calm during the lesson. “I need a beer,” he exclaimed to Mom when we got home safely. I got my learner’s permit but no car or permission to drive the family Ford.  I’ve recently used a photo of me sitting on that Ford’s hood in Tripoli.

Driving lessons in an old Nash Rambler were the perfect excuse for a boyfriend to get a few kisses and a little “petting,” as we called it then. After a little night driving practice and warnings about oncoming headlights, we found a likely spot for some action.  A few kisses later, we were in the sights of a large flashlight brandished by a policeman. It was just a warning that where we had parked was inappropriate (the grounds of an Episcopal seminary), but embarrassing nonetheless.

When the boyfriend took me home that night, he walked me to the door in his socks. The cops pulled up and, suspicious about the socks, questioned him, he told me later. When they got a close-up view and interviewed him, they realized he was quite reputable and not a potential burglar.

In college, one of my favorite memories was the white Corvette driven by the charming Army lieutenant who squired me about. He was stationed nearby and had more money to spend than the typical underclassman. Making out by a Virginia lake in spring, however, wasn’t a good choice. The next day I was taking semester exams and could barely restrain from scratching the hell out of the 40 mosquito bites on my legs. The car pictured here is similar to the lieutenant’s car, but he had the  US version with left-hand drive.

In my senior year I was trusted with my graduate student boyfriend’s MGB. He let me drive it by myself from time to time. I think he was serious about me, but I wasn’t ready to settle down, despite the nice car.

Years later, at the end of my marriage and the beginning of single life, my most vivid memories concern an aging Oldsmobile ’98, a Datsun, a near decrepit Ford LTD (retread tires and a trunk that didn’t open), a borrowed Porsche 944, a Yugo, a used BMW that was in great shape except for the broken AC,  and finally a brand new Mustang! Such is the brief version of my single life with cars.

I remember them all quite fondly, even when these cars were giving me grief. In Los Angeles, the best advice is to find a good and trustworthy mechanic.


Soon to be released on Amazon Kindle:

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

 An Army Brat in Libya

Tripoli in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

 

GHOSTS ARE EVERYWHERE!

I’m not a ghost expert, but I know people who have done some research on the subject and had some fascinating spooky experiences. Rob and his wife Anne had so much contact with the spirit world that they decided to write books about ghostly encounters. They published A Guide to the Haunted Queen Mary, Haunted Catalina and The Haunted Alamo, among others. I knew them both and did some proofreading for one of the books.

I interviewed them some years ago for my Daily News column and the story was too good not to share again. They are very convivial people, and we enjoyed many glasses of champagne and tasty Mexican meals together over the years. Perhaps some of their ghostly friends joined in the laughter without us knowing?!

“I was aware of the spirit realm as a young child,” Rob told me. “When I was 8 or 9, I had a weird experience at our house — a presence that emanated from the closet. It walked toward me and vanished. I knew it wasn’t my imagination.” Rob said the ghost, which was a benign presence, is probably still “residing” in that closet.

Anne told me she grew up hearing ghost stories, and her grandparents always claimed they had a ghost closet.

Rob and Anne shared a ghostly experience on an archeological dig in Oxnard, CA, some years ago. When a developer’s construction worker hit a skull with his backhoe, Rob was called in as an archeological expert to examine the remains. It turned out to be a 500 year-old Indian gravesite with 21 bodies, which were positioned in certain designated ways.  Chumash Indian officials were also contacted, and they decided to perform a ritual cleansing ceremony when  the bodies were once again buried.

Anne remembered the spooky aftermath and the chills she felt as she and Rob observed the ceremony. “Roosters were crowing, dogs from neighboring homes were howling, and a devil duster wind kicked up out of nowhere.”

There was another aftereffect from the incident, Rob related. The workers who had accidentally uncovered the grave all had a minor car accidents the week following.

The Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA

 

After taking a “ghost” tour of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, Anne was intrigued and went looking for a book in the gift shop about the various ghosts. The owner told her there was no book, but one was needed. The Queen Mary, a Cunard Line ship in service from 1936-1967 became a tourist attraction in Long Beach in 1971.  Shortly after, the couple set to work by calling the Queen Mary’s archivist to establish a correlation between actual deaths that had occurred on the ship and the ghosts haunting it.

They found plenty of ghost stories and several concerned the deaths of John Pedder and William Stark, for instance. Pedder, an 18 year-old crewman, was accidentally crushed to death by watertight door #13. Stark, a ship’s officer, died in his quarters when he accidentally drank poison thinking it was gin. Since their deaths there have been repeated sightings of ghosts believed to be Pedder and Stark. People have also reported seeing a woman in a 1930s style bathing suit. Apparently there was a woman murdered in the first class changing room and her spirit haunts the first class pool.

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Victoria Giraud   

 Author of Kindle Books for sale in the near future:                      

 

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

Shores of Tripoli

Memories of Libya in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

CARS – THE JOY AND BANE OF OUR EXISTENCE

In Southern California it’s challenging when your car gets “sick,” like my Mustang this week. She’s coughing and the engine won’t start. At least we now have subways, which is a fairly new addition to the LA traffic scene. I’m lucky I do my creative work at home.

I recall the days I really had some car challenges back in the 1980s when I couldn’t afford an expensive car.  Remember Yugos, the cheap little car phenomenon from Serbia? It was an 80s hit with an initial price of $3990 and modeled after a Fiat. Almost 142,000 cars were sold between 1985 and 1991. Because of its unreliability, Car Talk named it the worst car of the millennium!

Tiny Yugo - Mine was Blue

Jason Vuic, a professor at Bridgewater College in Virginia has written a book about the Yugo craze and mentions a few hilarious jokes. “What’s included in every Yugo owner’s manual? A bus schedule.” And, “What do you call a Yugo with brakes? Customized.” Like my Datsun a few years before, Yugos were small enough to walk when needed!

In 1997, a Manhattan School of Visual Arts professor, Kevin O’Callaghan, put an ad in the paper asking for Yugos that were either dead or alive. He ended up buying 39 Yugos for $3,600 and had his students make functional art from them. The exhibit toured the country.

In an amusing synchronicity, my Aunt Rosie and cousin Ray Scott, got to experience riding in the Yugo. My kids and I drove to Ray Scott’s Navy training graduation in San Diego. To celebrate afterwards, I piled five people in that tiny car to drive to an oceanside restaurant. (Note: Ray Scott decided the Navy wasn’t for him and became a country western singer: look him up!).

Not long afterward, I had my Yugo’s oil changed before a long trip in afternoon traffic from the San Fernando Valley south to Orange County on the 405, one of the busiest freeways in So Cal. Within a week, little Yugo decided to give out at the top of a freeway off-ramp. I was thankful I was close to home, and it wasn’t on the freeway at rush hour. As I’d done before, I pushed her out of the way and called AAA.

Her prognosis was grim: there was no oil in the engine and it was entirely “kaput,” as they say in German. I couldn’t fathom what had happened but concluded a local quick lube place had had a malfunction in oil replacement. I went to small claims court and took along a friend of  my daughter Heidi’s, who had had his own gas station at one time. He made an excellent witness.

I won $1,000 but the lube place owner wasn’t happy with the decision and called me to say he wanted to appeal it. I didn’t have to pretend my anguish and told him right away that I was single and financially strapped. Graciously, he conceded and sent the check immediately.

Getting a new engine was not the ideal solution I had hoped for. My Yugo’s aging pains got worse and she had an early demise. Little did I know she might have ended up a piece of metal sculpture.  My luck was changing by that time. My brother had a used BMW (he had bought it new and she was well pampered) and he gave her to me when he got a new car. Nothing quite like German engineering. She lived with me until she’d clocked over 220,000 miles; she was still very driveable.

When I inherited some money, my fortunes turned very positive. I could actually buy a new car for the first time. I sold Ms BMW to my friend, Pat, who loves to provide good homes for used cars. My best car friend now is my Bondi Beach blue Mustang, and I bought her brand new. With low mileage for her age, she’s still running strong despite the scratches from parking (Heidi says she looks like she’s participated in a demolition derby). I continue to like the good old American Ford. I’m sure her current problems can be easily solved. Below: the reason I like Fords–my dad’s ’53 Ford in Tripoli.

My birthday falls in the Chinese Year of the Horse, and I felt a Mustang would bring me luck. She proved it when she was younger and parked on the street. A distracted fellow on his cell phone plowed into her rear end, and my wonderful blue steed was pretty squashed. Since she had very few miles on her, she got revamped completely and has run mostly without a hitch ever since. I wish I could say the same about myself!

 

 

Victoria Giraud   

 Author of Kindle Books for sale in the near future:                                                            

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

Shores of Tripoli

Memories of Libya in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

                                             

 

 

IN FURTHER REMEMBRANCE – 9/11

During the 9/11 disaster and afterward, Los Angeles residents wanted to feel connected to those suffering from the physical effects of losing loved ones. We talked about the horror, gave each other knowing looks. Signs appeared on neighborhood telephone poles to place lighted candles at certain locations by a specific time. Cars driving by these spots would honk in sympathy if drivers saw anyone on the sidewalk. American flags were being sold at gas stations on the major streets and boulevards all over LA. Drivers placed them on their cars to show their solidarity as patriotic Americans.

The Internet was filled with patriotic messages and inspirational poems. I decided to send a brief and loving message to connect with everyone on my Email list and had a wonderful response. All of us wanted to get in touch and keep in touch, as we called family and friends. All around LA there were prayer vigils and religious services scheduled.

One of the Memorial Fountains

 

I was fortunate I lost no one I knew in the tragedy. When the California victims of the disaster were announced, I took particular note of the death of the Emmy award-winning producer of TV’s “Frasier,” one of my favorite shows. He and his wife were on one of the planes and had been heading home to LA. Particularly poignant was their last name—Angell. Although I wasn’t positive of its pronunciation, I decided it must be angel.

One friend shared the experience of her son, a singer in a rock band who had been in New York City for the MTV awards. The group was in their hotel room a mile from the World Trade Center and heard each of the planes flying low toward their targets and then the terrific explosions when they hit the towers. Another friend, whose son was living in Brooklyn, told me how devastated he felt as he watched the constant paper debris from the World Trade Center buildings blowing over the river and all over Brooklyn. It was difficult for all of us to comprehend, much less deal with the emotional weight of what had happened.

I noted in my diary that there was already talk of war, and I hoped it would be a small one. I wrote, “Now we will suffer losses of much of our freedom when it comes to travel. There will be heightened security measures – no accompanying passengers to boarding areas, no private cars, no curbside check-in, lots of baggage search, long lines, hours to spend at the airport – all to guarantee safety, or so they hope.”

One of the highlights of those days was a telethon broadcast on September 21 featuring Neil Young singing John Lennon’s very moving “Imagine,”  Celine Dion belting out “God Bless America,” and Paul Simon performing his “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Even Willie Nelson participated with all the verses from “America the Beautiful.”

A year after the disaster, Una, a friend from Northern California, visited Manhattan and walked down to the site. “I was overwhelmed with grief at seeing the gaping hole, this open wound on the heart of America, still raw, so vulnerable.  Walking by the small church next door, posters and photos of missing loved ones were still attached to the fence.  It was a heart-wrenching sight to read each plea for help in finding a loved one.  The wind whipped up, creating a dusty whirlwind of the ashes and dust in the hole.  I wondered whose ashes were being resifted.”

It took ten years but the resulting memorial is worth the wait.

 

Victoria Giraud   

 Author of Kindle Books for sale in the near future:                                                            

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

Shores of Tripoli

Memories of Libya in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

                                             

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                      

THE DAY THE TOWERS COLLAPSED

September 11, 2001, as other world-shaking events, seems like only yesterday. Perhaps because the media makes sure we don’t forget our 21st century Pearl Harbor. Being suddenly attacked, as an individual or as a country, is a difficult trauma to face and overcome in life, and some never do adjust. “Where were you on 9/11?” is a more current version of, “Where were you when JFK was shot?” We all share the tragedy, whether it’s one person or nearly 3,000.

My daughter, Heidi, and I were sharing an apartment in Sherman Oaks, California, that September Tuesday morning, which began in a typical fashion. Heidi was out for an invigorating walk before going to work for a downtown Los Angeles attorney service. At 7:30 a.m., I had spread my exercise mat in front of the TV and turned it on to watch Good Morning America before I had breakfast and started work editing a book. I was sitting on the floor when I saw the footage on the planes striking both the north and south tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. It was so shocking I couldn’t absorb it; I was impatient to share the news with Heidi before I broke down completely. Human instinct propels us to turn to others.

World Trade Center before the disaster

A couple of days later, I wrote in my diary, “It was unfathomable to most of us—resembling an especially bad special effect from an action movie, but played hundreds of times over and over.”

That morning I was mesmerized and horrified as I listened and watched the news, which eventually grew to include the Pentagon disaster and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. Heidi returned from her walk totally ignorant; it was still early and many neighbors were getting ready for work and school.  As I filled her in, we watched the continuous replays and news. A good friend of hers soon called and advised her to stay home from work. At that time one of the hijacked planes was supposedly headed for LA—the one that landed in the field in Shanksville, thanks to passengers who fought back.

Because of all the uncertainties, downtown Los Angeles was literally shut down. The terrorists had hijacked planes flying to LA because they would have the highest amount of volatile jet fuel to act as a bomb. Airports around the country were soon shut down because of potential danger.

Suzi, a friend of Heidi’s who worked in the travel industry, had driven to work in Culver City and wondered why the freeway was so empty until she heard the news on her car radio.

It was a strange quiet day of little traffic and no sounds of planes (we were not far from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank). Many of us felt lost, at loose ends. It was a time of getting in touch with friends and family and watching TV for more news and the scenes of horror over and over again. Shopping centers and businesses closed down all over LA. The scene, the mood, resembled a California earthquake disaster without the physical damage. In this case the damage was emotional.

In our immediate neighborhood of single-family homes, apartment buildings, a strip mall and a supermarket, most of the businesses stayed open. It was comforting for Heidi and I to walk the short distance to the little pizza parlor in the strip mall. People shared stories and observations with each other as we ordered Italian food and watched the small TV, playing nothing but World Trade Center news. It was a day full of tears and tissues.

Soon-to-open 9/11 Memorial

To be continued on Sunday, 9/ll.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Giraud

Author – Melaynie’s Masquerade

listed on Amazon books

 

Editor – 85 books in all genres

Blogger – Words on My Mind

Publishing soon –  Mama Loved Army Men,

                                     A Tale of Two Fathers

Southern California Pioneer Walt Penland

Los Angeles just turned the ripe old age of 230! I imagine that fact will be a surprise to many who thought the film industry created everything. After all, being the entertainment, or should I say fantasy, capital means we can make ourselves what we fancy—from cowboys and aliens to sex symbol divas and millionaire studs, and everything in between.

I was fortunate to live in old ranch country (think late 19th to middle 20th century) before it became fully developed with one huge residential development after another. When I was running the Acorn, a local weekly newspaper in the Conejo Valley, I interviewed Walt Penland, who was born in Calabasas in 1905, attended the one-room schoolhouse there and lived the rest of his life in the same general area. For his 75th birthday, he was being honored as a community activist for his work in helping establish the local chamber of commerce, the water district and the school district. By the time Walt died not long after, the area was full of freeways, various school districts, with shopping centers almost everywhere.

When Walt was growing up, his parents, who had also been born in California, raised horses and farmed wheat and barley on over 1,200 acres of leased land, now the site for the exclusive Morrison Ranch Estates in Agoura Hills. The owner of the land was a fellow named Plummer who also owned the land that became the site for the famous Hollywood Bowl. Below is Walt Penland leaning on an old ranch building now long gone .

Walt was retired from the LA County Sheriff’s Department and was a fascinating storyteller; after all he’d seen lots of change. He married Dot, a local girl, when she was 16 and he was only 19. Dot’s father helped build the Malibu Lake Clubhouse in the Santa Monica Mountains and later became a caretaker of the grounds. Malibu Lake was surrounded by small vacation homes owned by such stars as Clark Gable, who would come to enjoy the fishing and hunting. More recently Malibu Lake has been a movie site for such films as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “Must Love Dogs.”

Before his 32-year career as a deputy sheriff, Walt had done some farming, construction work and been a school bus driver. He had a Model T Ford touring car and drove Agoura’s few students (most of them ranch kids) over the steep Calabasas grade into the San Fernando Valley to attend Owensmouth High School (now Canoga Park High).

In their early married life, Walt and wife Dot rented little homes in the area for $5 to $15 a month. Nowadays, much of this same area is full of homes nearer the million dollar and up price tag.

Walt joined the Sheriff Department in 1930 and was assigned to the new station in Malibu in 1935. No longer part of law enforcement, that brick building still stands on Pacific Coast Highway and faces the Pacific Ocean. Getting to work was a challenge since the Santa Monica Mountains had to be traversed through one windy canyon road or another. During winter rains, Walt would have to drive miles out of his way. In extreme cases, he said, he’d have to leave his car at the Bel Air Country Club and walk the six miles down the coast to the station.

Radio cars were new in the early 1930s and transmission was a one-way affair. Deputies would frequently have to find the highest spot around (fairly easy in the mountains) to receive their messages.

The Agoura-Las Virgenes Chamber of Commerce gives a yearly recognition award to a deserving person in the community. It’s called the Walt and Dot Penland Award.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Giraud

 

Author of Melaynie’s Masquerade

historical fiction – Amazon books

 

Editor — 85 books in all genres

 

Blogger — Words on My Mind

 

 

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