Living in California

OVENS CAN BE CARBON DIOXIDE DEADLY

After several weeks of very hot weather – several days over 103 degrees, it had finally gotten to be fall in Los Angeles. I was thoroughly sick of hearing the air conditioner and ready for much colder nights and wintry clothes for a change.

SoCal Winter Outfit

I had even called the gas company to come turn on the pilot light of the wall heater so I could turn on the heat. I resigned myself to not having heat right away, but perhaps I’d be lucky. When I checked their web site, there was a number to call to schedule an appointment. The process to sign up was fairly fast, but everyone around must have decided it was time for gas heat, and there were no appointments for almost two weeks.

I seldom use the wall heater but it’s cozy for the few hours in the morning if it’s needed. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d bent over to open the little metal door that revealed the heat dial. The appointment was no time soon, but what could I do?

Today required more than boots and a sweatshirt. I had noticed there was an option for emergency gas service if there was a smell indicating a gas leak, but I’m not a good liar. I could manage the wait, I imagined, if I wore extra clothes and made sure to keep the windows closed. The first appointment time was a conflict, but I had a friendly neighbor who could help me out by letting the technician in.

This morning I had dressed more warmly, and even used my lap blanket, but I was still very chilly. I’d already decided I could solve that problem with my stove. Why not turn my gas oven on—it seldom got used anyway. I set it to 400 degrees, opened the oven door, and went to my recliner to watch THE VIEW, my favorite morning TV show.

The recliner in my spacious apartment living room was about 25 feet from the kitchen. It got warmer fairly fast, and I felt clever that I had solved my heat problem. About an hour later I felt a little woozy and sensed there was a faint smell in the air. I started to wonder if I really did have a gas leak. I also wondered if I was mistaken and hadn’t slept soundly the night before or had eaten something bad.

I got up and went to the kitchen to turn off the oven and close its door. Might as well be cautious. I debated about calling the gas company – maybe I could exaggerate and tell them I thought the gas heater might be leaking. I decided to give it a try, tell them about my oven, and then casually mention I had felt a little dizzy and could sense a smell in the air. After hearing my story, right away they scheduled an emergency appointment, even though I still thought there was nothing really wrong.

The gas tech got there within the hour and even found a handy parking space. I told him about my oven and the smell and he didn’t treat it lightly. But he didn’t want to alarm me either. He pointed out that gas ovens create carbon monoxide, which is a poison gas if you breathe in enough of it. I now wonder if I had ever considered that – probably not since I don’t use the oven often and I never leave the oven door open.

My living room and kitchen were completely closed up and the bedroom window was too far away to bring in much air. If it had gotten worse, I did have a carbon monoxide alarm device, but I may have been sick and passed out by then – who knows!

Turns out my gas heater needed a new gas connector and he fixed it quickly after he gave me my carbon monoxide warnings! I’ve got a working gas heater now and more valuable—a lesson about what not to do with a gas oven.

What an unusual blessing for the day – I will be warm tomorrow when I need the heater and I will respect my oven’s ability to possibly kill me!

FIRES – A CALIFORNIA SCOURGE

Add fires to U.S. disasters! What a year 2017 has been for disasters in the US–hurricanes, floods and now fires. Climate change has not been holding back. In California we were grateful for our excessive rain this past winter, but we’re paying a price for more greenery with extreme fires in both Northern and Southern California. Every September and October, we have months of hot dry winds called Santa Ana’s that encourage fires.

Because I now live in residential area a few miles from our mountains, I am essentially safe from wildfires. Not from earthquakes, but that’s another subject. I’ve experienced many massive wildfires during over 50 years in SoCal. I remember several  fire disasters while living in the Conejo Valley area, northwest Los Angeles County.  The Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains are considered prime fire territory. I learned a great deal about fires from direct experience and from being the Editor of the local Acorn newspaper in Agoura Hills.

A fire is an exciting topic when you write the news. Since I knew people all around the area, I could get a variety of personal stories when the October 1982 fire roared into town. Costs were estimated at $5 million then—probably a pittance compared to current fires. This fire started close to Bell Canyon, an exclusive area of homes to the east of Agoura, on a Saturday and burned 54,000 acres and 65 homes before it ended in Malibu on a Sunday. It followed a typical pattern: racing from one set of mountains and a valley before leaping the 101 Freeway, then burning through the Santa Monica Mountains before reaching the beach. Fires in the last few years in Southern California have been even more extensive and damaging.

My family home was spared; we lived in Hillrise, a housing development north of the freeway surrounded mostly by wild grass and some oak trees. Grass burns rapidly if the fire is close enough but it’s easier to control; the fire doesn’t stick around to really take hold, unlike the highly combustible chaparral in the mountainous areas (referred to as a bush fire). I climbed the hill behind my house to watch in horror and fascination as the smoke, propelled by strong winds, climbed into the skies and the fire got closer. How people fared depended on where they lived and if they’d cleared the brush around their property.

The photo below is the smoky view from my backyard hill.

 In Old Agoura, a nearby neighborhood north of the 101 Freeway full of small ranches and various animals, friend Rita was terrified in her home, still under construction. “We lost wood, paint, and the hen coop,” she said. “But the chickens lived. I don’t think they will ever lay again!”

Toni, who lived south of the freeway in the vegetation-rich mountains, struggled to keep control of her horses while she hosed down the hill behind her home. Just as the fire seemed to get out of control, a fire engine arrived. The noise spooked a horse, which lost its footing and rolled on top of Toni’s sister. Paramedics took the slightly injured sister to a nearby hospital, and she was fine.

“The wind strength was unreal and the smoke so dense you couldn’t see the flames,” said Fran Pavley, who also lived south of the freeway.  Pavley, who has been politically active for years and served many years in the California legislature, still lives in the area.

When fires consume the vegetation in the canyons prevalent throughout Southern California, there can be hell to pay for residents of these bucolic areas, and to those who fight the fires. A fire chief told me that one of the fires that had burned through steep and scenic Malibu Canyon was left to burn itself out. The energy generated was more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in WWII.

Nature always regenerates. After a fire, spring brings flowers that hadn’t been seen since the last fire, perhaps many years before.

 

Fire in Malibu in 2007

 

 

 

 

SYNCHRONICITY & CHRISTMAS FILMS

I’ve always noticed the synchronicity in life. Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer. But I believe if you observe and have a good memory, you’ll notice how lives and incidents connect, especially because of the Internet. Isn’t that really what Life is all about?

I enjoy several sitcoms on TV, especially a fairly new one — “Fresh Off the Boat” about a Taiwanese family that relocates from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. to Orlando, FLA. in the mid 1990s.  A very recent episode was about the Huang family being excited about going to the Christmas movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger — JINGLE ALL THE WAY. It brought back memories of being behind the scenes while that movie was being filmed.

At that time I was writing a weekly column for the Los Angeles Daily News called “People and Places,” and I’d been asked to the 20th Century Fox set to interview Jake Lloyd, the then seven-year-old actor who was playing Schwarzenegger’s son in the movie.  Schwarzenegger was still an actor but was soon to become Governor of California. I was not introduced to Schwarzenegger but got to watch him filming the first scene of the movie. Ironically, that scene was filmed last.

Original movie poster

Jake Lloyd’s story is a mystical one of premonitions. He knew he wanted to make a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was two years old and living in Colorado. Here’s what the precocious youngster told me about seeing a drive-in movie: “When I was two my parents went to see Terminator. I was asleep in the back seat so they decided to stay for Terminator II. All of a sudden they looked back, and my eyes were an inch wide.”

From then on, his mother Lisa related, Jake was entranced with Schwarzenegger. Although he couldn’t properly pronounce the superstar’s formidable surname, Jake would walk around their Colorado home declaring he would be in a movie with his hero. He would make up stories and try to imitate Schwarzenegger.

When the Lloyds planned to move to California so that Lisa could finish her college education, Jake asked his mother, “Isn’t Hollywood in California?”

Despite their skepticism, the Lloyds decided to give in to young Jake’s ambitions regarding moviemaking. They had photos taken and sent them to agents. An agent with her own talent agency near the Lloyd’s new home liked what she saw and took Jake on. In no time she’d booked him for three commercials.

It didn’t take long to acquire experience. Jake appeared in a Ford and a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial and starred in Unhook The Stars, a movie with Marisa Tomei and Gena Rowlands; he also got a reoccurring role in TV’s E.R.

Jake Lloyd grown up

Jake’s dream became a reality in 1996 when he auditioned and won the part of Schwarzenegger’s son. Jake said that he was speechless when he first met his hero. He remembered Schwarzenegger asking, “How you doing, Jake?” After working with the star for three months, Jake said, “Now we’re really good friends.”

It’s been years since I did that interview but little Jake was hard to forget. He was an unspoiled kid interested in everything about the movie business. While I was there, he took me into the living room set and up some stairs to the catwalk to look down on the set. It was the last day of filming. Since movies are seldom put together sequentially, they were just then filming the very first scene.

After his first film, Jake went on to play the role of Anakin Skywalker in George Lucas’ famous film, The Phantom Menace. Apparently, Jake became discouraged with his film career (he’s now twenty-seven), and he’s since moved to the Midwest. I wonder if he had any visions about what career he would pursue when he got older. I followed up on his current career and found conflicting reports: he’d had trouble with drugs, and even one that claimed he’d died. He was a delightful little boy with great parents — that’s what I’ll always remember.

A HOLLYWOOD JOB

Back in the 1960s, my first job in LA was as a typist in the secretarial pool for the Los Angeles Times. When it failed to lead to something more demanding and interesting, I began looking for another job. I didn’t get a college degree to go nowhere in the working world. I was hired as a service representative for AT&T, known then as “Ma Bell.” Life goes in circles. AT&T was a very powerful company in the 1950s and 60s: it was THE phone company. To insure it wouldn’t become a monopoly with too much power, it was split up. Didn’t take many years before the company regained its strength. It’s probably stronger than ever now with the word monopoly being used again.

Service Reps, as we were called, were always female then because of the nature of the job. Women are still known as the gender more talented at multi-tasking, although the current reps are also men. It was fast-paced telephone work—taking orders for new telephones, transferring service, handling complaints about bills, and collecting bills. As we reps prepared for our Denial Prevention Calls, the DPC, we joked that we would inform the delinquent customer: “This is the last voice you will hear on your telephone.”

Capitol Records building on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1960s

Being located on Gower Street between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards in Hollywood was one of the best parts of the job. It was a different world, especially to me, the newbie. Although the area was primarily residential with small Spanish style homes and a few apartment buildings, the famous Studio Club, essentially a dormitory where aspiring actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, and Sharon Tate had stayed while looking for movie work, was a couple of blocks away. Up the street was Columbia Studios with its giant warehouse-size buildings. Most of us spotted various stars from time to time. I saw Dean Martin ride coolly down Gower on a motorcycle, and on another day I caught sight of the Monkees singing group coming out of an exclusive boutique.

Hollywood Studio Club for Women

When we weren’t brown-bagging it, we “girls” went to lunch at places where a star might eat. I liked French food and a few friends introduced me to Le Petit Café on Vine Street. It was a tiny hideaway run by a charming, handsome Frenchman, and the food was scrumptious. One day, Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show), who was seated with his friend Carol Burnett, treated everyone in the restaurant to a few operatic bars of a song. He had a beautiful operatic voice. Years later, I was introduced to him at the Beverly Hills Country Club where I was the editor of their magazine. Nabors, a very congenial Southerner who’d suffered a bout of poor health at that time, was wearing a bright lemon-colored sports coat. I think I told him about my first personal “concert.”

At Knight’s, a local coffee shop on Vine Street, I spotted the handsome Latin actor, Fernando Lamas, husband of Esther Williams, surrounded by his entourage. Feeling flush financially, a few of us had lunch once at the famous Brown Derby Hollywood (not the LA original in the shape of a derby hat). We were seated in a booth next to Cornel Wilde and the effervescent Mitzi Gaynor.

The phone company business office was on the second floor of a large two-story building–I believe it’s now a film company. We serviced most of the residential and business phone service in Hollywood, including the Sunset Strip, homes in the Hollywood Hills, and renowned restaurants on La Cienega’s Restaurant Row. We also took care of Fairfax Avenue, home to lots of retired folks pinching their pennies. They had a reputation for calling to quibble over a few cents for the “message units” charged on their bills. We often heard, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle.” Most of the time, we just adjusted the bill, and the adjustment could be less than ten cents. We never knew who’d be on the phone when we picked up: the son of Peter Lorre (“The Maltese Falcon”) who sounded like his father, or Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., the dapper detective on TV’s “77 Sunset Strip.”

On the first floor was the public office, and the reps who worked downstairs always had amusing tales. People came in for phone service or to pay delinquent bills dressed in all sorts of outrageous outfits: men or women in trench coats, naked underneath; or women dressed in tight one-piece outfits that laced up the side, revealing bare skin from armpit to ankle. One of my friends came back from lunch one day to report she had seen an entire family (parents and two kids) walking down Hollywood Boulevard totally naked!

Hollywood (about 20 minutes from where I currently live) is still a zany town but more beautiful and expensive. Jimmy Kimmel does his night show on Hollywood Boulevard, not far from Capitol Records.

THE GREAT WALL OF LOS ANGELES

McCarthyism and the Red Scare

McCarthyism and the Red Scare

Since we’re on the verge of making political history on Tuesday as we vote to complete this year’s very divisive political process, I decided to write about how we remember some local and national history in Southern California. Less than a mile from my San Fernando Valley apartment is a unique historical mural along the southeastern border of Valley College. Not long ago, the paint was refreshed by the school. I drive by the mural fairly often and took the time not too long ago to walk slowly and admire its details.

Valley College students (about 400 artists over the years) in the 1970s began creating a dramatic and colorful half-mile long mural depicting California history. They had the perfect surface—one side of the concrete Tujunga Wash that borders the college along Coldwater Canyon Avenue. Sections of it depict the Spanish history of California, the Japanese internment, civil rights actions, the Red Scare and McCarthyism, the movie industry, the Olympics, Jewish refugees during World War II, etc. It’s been called the Great Wall of LA.

I’m in a Sherman Oaks neighborhood that’s a mixture of businesses and residential housing from the swanky to apartment buildings. Coldwater Canyon, my street, winds through the hills of Beverly in the west down to Sherman Oaks and all across the Valley. The Little Brown Church, on Coldwater, is about a mile south of me and has the distinction of being the location of future President Ronald Reagan’s marriage to Nancy.  My street is a main artery that runs perpendicular to the 101 Freeway. Depending on the traffic, I could drive from my apartment to the freeway entrance in five minutes and either head north and west to Ventura and Santa Barbara or south and east to downtown Los Angeles or Pasadena (the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade). Since I’m in a huge valley, I can see mountains, both near and far, surrounding me, depending on the weather. I can even watch a “river” flow, especially if it’s rained in the winter. The river or channel,  called the Tujunga Wash, is encased in concrete: no more floods like the early 1900s.

We Southern Californians live in a desert, but you’d never know it from the millions of trees and blooming plants, courtesy of imported water. Someday soon we’ll most likely get on the “green” bandwagon of desert plants only. We’ve already got recycled sewage water for irrigation and have experienced a drought in the past few years.

My neighborhood is handy for day-to-day life. Grocery stores, a Whole Foods two blocks away and a Ralphs, a five-minute walk, are close. I could buy a car or have my car serviced a half-block up the street. The young man of Armenian culture who owns that business is not only congenial, but quite handsome.

Across the street from the car place is a tiny shopping mall chock full of conveniences: a donut shop, a beauty salon, a dry cleaners, and several restaurants: Chinese, Mexican, Italian pizza, and yogurt. Judo lessons are available and even a manicure/pedicure business. We’ve got a Walgreens on one corner along with one of those fake trees that are disguised cell phone towers. A chiropractor operates from a small office building a few steps from the Walgreens, and in the Ralphs center across the street there’s a recycling business and a gas station where we can agonize over gas prices, always more expensive in California because of gas taxes.

Public transportation has made great strides: there’s a bus line a half block from me and a Valley-wide bus line a little more than a block up the street, which will connect commuters to our subway system, which wasn’t here when I arrived in LA. Now Hollywood and downtown are easily accessible.

I don’t want to forget education facilities. Besides an elementary school and middle school within walking distance, there’s the junior college with the colorful mural. Los Angeles Valley College with its a large campus and an extensive adult education program, is a few blocks north.

If I’m not in the mood to drive to any of our many art galleries, I just have a short walk to gaze at lively historic interpretations done with passion and enthusiasm.

California History on the Great Wall Mural

California History on the Great Wall Mural. Water is flowing in the Tujunga Wash.

50+ YEARS IN LA

Me & the Mustang in North Hollywood

Me & the Mustang in North Hollywood – 1965

I arrived in Los Angeles in May 1965. I was newly married and my husband and I had driven across country from New York City in our brand new Mustang. We found an apartment in North Hollywood, just a few miles from where I now live! The landlord told us we were neighbors of Bob Hope, just a few miles away in swanky Toluca Lake!

What a difference the last 50 years have made in my chosen hometown. More freeways, more people, more museums, more traffic. Disneyland is bigger, movie and television studios are larger and are located almost everywhere. Warner Bros Studios was only a couple of miles from where this photo was taken. I haven’t missed much adventure in all those years and still find the life here exciting.

In the mid 60s, there weren’t a wide variety of interesting and well-paid jobs for women, even if you did have a college degree. My bachelor’s degree was in English and I loved writing. I didn’t want to be a teacher but I could type. Secretarial jobs, though not always interesting, could lead up the corporate ladder to something better.

I was hired by the Los Angeles Times shortly after moving here. My husband, who was a civil engineer, worked for the LA County Sanitation Department. It was convenient for me to work at the Times. It was only two blocks from my husband’s job; we could ride to work together and save money by not needing a second car. We didn’t even consider public transportation. Southern California was the land of cars, lots of freeways, and an inefficient bus system. Now we’ve got subways!!

Though I’d been a reporter and editorial assistant for my college newspaper, that didn’t qualify me for the same job, even at entry level, for the LA Times. Educated women could aspire to a career as a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. A popular joke related that women went to college to get their Mrs. degree. I was hired for the secretarial pool to type envelopes or letters from the Dictaphone machine. We were also used as substitute receptionists or secretaries.

Los Angeles wasn’t the city of high-rise buildings it is now. City Hall, at 32 stories, was the tallest building in town. The impressive Music Center was under construction until 1967 and the fabulously modern Disney Hall designed by Frank Gehry wasn’t even a dream in those days. My desk in the secretarial office was on the fifth floor of the LA Times building. I worked there less than six months, but 1965 was a memorable summer.

From the many windows, we could see the smoke and fires from Watts, a few miles south of us, now infamous as the Watts Riots. It was a frightening situation, especially to relatives of mine who lived in the East and just assumed everything was close-by in Los Angeles.

Several reporters for the LA Times were honored with a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the bloody and destructive Watts Riots and its aftermath. One positive highlight of my short stay there was the week I worked as a receptionist in the LA Times executive offices, occupied by the Chandlers, Norman and Buffy, the owners of the newspaper. Dorothy “Buffy” Chandler was enjoying her success as the primary fundraiser for the new Music Center that was being built nearby. A photo of part of the Music Center is below.

Their spacious offices, which included a bathroom and shower, were paneled in oak and the windows overlooked downtown Los Angeles. Although impressive to work there, it was very boring–not many visitors or many phone calls. To look busy, I read all the material on the wealthy and enterprising Chandler family and on all their business ventures. I used the typewriter for personal letters and even had the time to type all the addresses in my new address book. I once noticed the handsome silver-haired Norman Chandler, who was very conscious of his weight, downing the diet drink of the day—Metrecal—for lunch. Dorothy Chandler was in and out of the office. Since she had issued an edict that female employees of the Times must not wear sleeveless clothing and definitely not utter the word “OK” while on the premises, I avoided her.

Funny how the 1960s were both rebellious and repressive at the same time. Life is always full of contradictions.

I still drive a Mustang, but a bit newer (1998) with a hardtop. It’s still my favorite car.

 

 

SO CAL GHOSTS

Paraphrasing Shakespeare–Hamlet said to Horatio: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I have always been interested in the supernatural; I’ve had some experiences and know many friends who have had them as well. It’s a great topic for articles and stories. I’ve written a short book on Amazon about a true fascinating positive encounter—Angels in Uniform—and I interviewed a man who was living in a haunted house. The interview, upon which I based this blog, was published in the Daily News newspaper of Los Angeles when I had a column.

Glen Peterson had bought a dilapidated “castle” in the Santa Monica Mountains and began restoring it years ago. Resembling a German castle on a hill with its bell tower, gables, decorative wood beams, courtyard and guest house, the home was built in 1939 by Theodore Spurkuhl, a Paramount Studios director of photography known for his pioneering use of spotlights. Spurkuhl worked with many of the film greats: Ronald Coleman, James Cagney and Fred MacMurray, for instance, and was noted for his work on “Beau Geste” starring Gary Cooper.

SparkuhlHome

Sparkuhl Home

Spurkuhl put a great deal of energy into building the home. Since it was wartime, he even added a secret room in case the Japanese invaded or the Germans won the war. His descendants, who visited the site while Glen was restoring it, thought the cinematographer might have put too much intensity into the building project since he died in 1940.

Before Glen bought it, the home was owned by actor Nick Nolte, who purchased it in 1975 during the filming of the TV miniseries, “Rich Man, Poor Man.” The other primary actor in the series, Peter Strauss, had also bought property nearby. Coincidentally, Strauss’ property was later sold by Glen, who had been a real estate agent, to the National Park Service. This 1970s miniseries was featured on a PBS documentary “Pioneers of Television” not long ago.

The 70s were wild and crazy for Nolte. I remember seeing his old yellow Cadillac broken down by the side of a mountain road one day. Nolte and his friends partied quite a bit and the house suffered a good deal of damage. It was finally abandoned to birds of all types, squirrels and various other animals. It was a mess of animal droppings and the like when Glen began his restoration.

One evening after the house was beautifully finished, Glen was home alone enjoying a quiet evening. While listening to a new Terence Trent Darby recording and near the end of the song, Glen heard a loud knocking on the back door. He checked both inside and out and found no one. Back inside he restarted the song. The knocking began again at the exact same place.

This time he checked the windows, “I had repaired the windows just that morning,” Glen recalled, specifically to keep them from opening due to strong winds. They were all still closed, and he began the recording once more.

Glen played the song eight times, and he told me, “the pounding kept happening at the same time each time.” Every time it happened, he checked for a reason for the knocking, but found none. On the ninth try, the record played through to the end, and there were no further knocking sounds.

The mysterious last two lines of the song that finally played were: “No grave can hold my body down; this land is still my home.”

CHRISTO’S UMBRELLAS IN SO CAL

Umbrellas, like giant poppies, dot the California landscape

Huge Umbrellas, like giant poppies, dot the California landscape in the Tehachapi Mountains

Giant yellow umbrellas whimsically dotted the hillsides, the dips in the rolling landscape, appeared near trees, a billboard and a gas station and decorated a few ponds on various sections of the 270,000 acres of the private Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains of Southern California. It was October 1991 and my girlfriend Sally and I were inspired to take the hour-long drive up the Grapevine on Interstate 5 to see this much-touted artistic statement by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who died in 2009) were known for designing and installing temporary but overwhelming environmental works of art. Before the umbrellas they did several projects—wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris with material, for instance. In February 2005 they erected gates hung with yellow nylon material in Central Park. Christo is still at work creating ideas for installation. His latest creation is creating the painting of a lake on top of a lake–Floating Piers–in Northern Italy. He’ll soon be 80 but hasn’t lost his need to create, and he believes the spirit of his deceased wife still inspires him. For more on his story, see Smithsonian Magazine, June 2016.

The imposing yellow umbrellas we saw were part of a project Christo and his wife installed in both Japan and California. The umbrellas were formidable: about 20 feet high with a diameter of about 28 feet. They each weighed 448 pounds, without the base, which in most cases was steel and anchored to the ground. Not a small project by any means: 1,760 were installed!

Sally and I had both driven the so-called Grapevine before: it led from the San Fernando Valley through the Tehachapi mountains and down into another valley that led north to Bakersfield. At this time of year, before the California rainy season, which usually doesn’t get underway until November, the hills were brown, or golden, depending upon your outlook. The yellow umbrellas added a unique touch to the fairly barren area.

Although it was reported that almost 3 million visitors since October 9 had driven through the area, we easily negotiated the Interstate and were able to get off at the various viewing sites when we chose. I loved the bravado, the sheer uniqueness of the idea to take so much trouble to dot the landscape with huge unwieldy umbrellas. The day was overcast and the yellow stood out even more: almost like seeing an enormous garden full of massive yellow poppies.

The visitors we saw were enthusiastic and smiling at the incongruity of it all. There were a couple of places to stop and buy sweatshirts—“I saw the Umbrellas,” and similar sayings—and other memorabilia.

After meandering the 18-mile long area, taking photos and finding some refreshment, we headed home, satisfied we’d seen and participated in an event worth remembering.

Sally appreciating Christo's umbrellas

Sally appreciating Christo’s umbrellas

That day, October 27, turned out to be the last day of the art project. We heard on the news that a young woman visitor had been killed by an umbrella just after Sally and I left. In a fluke of circumstance, an immensely strong wind had caused one of the umbrellas to come loose, and it had flown through the air and impaled her against a boulder. At 448 pounds, it was easy to understand why she had no chance. Apparently, she and her husband were there just to view the artwork.

Ironically, I heard in a later news report that the woman was suffering from a probable fatal disease. Perhaps, instead of suffering, she decided to leave the planet in a particularly dramatic way.

A TRIP TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM

I feel my life is an adventure and choose to see the brighter side of life, even when it’s difficult and very challenging. My optimism perks me up, most of the time. And it’s been a bumpy road so far this year. I didn’t plan it that way (of course!), but we all hit the snags which make us stronger and more resilient. I would get a new hip in January and be striding forward easily in  at least 6 weeks–I thought. Nasty complications delayed that process. I was finally beginning to earnestly pursue my mobility, Last Thursday, however, I was starting to see flashing lights and feeling unsteady and dizzy. No pain and even though I had had similar symptoms in the past, this time I was more worried. I might have let the matter rest since I knew it would probably disappear, but I had a house guest (Marla, an old friend from Wheelus High in Tripoli in ’58). Since I was also having trouble forming words or even getting them vocal, she was worried and wanted to call my daughter Heidi to step in, especially since Marla was leaving that morning.

Heidi and I arrived at the Emergency Center at Kaiser Panorama City before 9 a.m. to be checked in, weighed, BP taken, etc. Since I wasn’t exhibiting any dire symptoms, I wasn’t rushed anywhere. Not long after I was wheeled into one of the small rooms off the corridors of the Emergency area. The hallways were cluttered, depending on the action, with portable computers on wheels and all the other machines needed to diagnose and treat incoming cases. Each room also had a small TV on an wall extension and a single window that brought in natural light. I got on the wheeled gurney in the room and was told I could keep on my long pants and shoes on but needed to replace shirt and bra with a back-tied hospital gown. Then I was set up with a blood pressure cuff on left arm and a connection to a stunt to monitor my blood on the right. At least I could lower and raise the gurney when I wanted a change of position. I couldn’t see the monitor behind me on the left very well but it occasionally beeped its presence. It was comfortable and the temperature was cold enough for Heidi’s taste. I needed three extra blankets!

We did a lot of talking in the next 8 hours in-between being wheeled to a CAT Scan, and later in the afternoon, for definitive proof of the admitting doctor and neurologist that it hadn’t been a stroke, provided by an MRI and its jackhammer sounds! We thought we were being released right before noon and planned a nice lunch. We were stuck since MRI machines aren’t ready at short notice. Hunger set in and since lunch was over, they scrounged me a tuna sandwich (as far from gourmet as you can get!) with apple juice, and Heidi found a machine with something better.

What relieved the boredom were the Emergency staff and some of the drama surrounding me. The nurses, male and female were friendly and entertaining and I reached out to them with humorous comments and compliments. Our first encounter was a Latin nurse with a big mustache and bald head. He proudly boasted of his Mexican heritage and when he discovered my birthday was January 1 couldn’t wait to tell me all about his grandmother who had the same birthday and died not long ago at age 105. During the time of Pancho Villa, his mother and her family dug holes to hide from Pancho Villa’s attempts to take over Mexico and even the US. She went on to have nine children.

Across the hall from me another drama unfolded as nurses and staff rolled in a enormously  heavy older woman in a wheelchair who was moaning and screaming in pain. They tried for a long time to lift her onto a gurney but couldn’t. They finally rolled her into the hall and assembled 8 men to transfer her. Then they tried to find the proper pain medication for her many complications (heart disease and diabetes) while she didn’t hesitate making any pain sounds she could. I tend to be a silent sufferer but admired her ability to help herself any way she could. She had family support–husband and grandchildren–at least. I could see a great deal of the drama since my sliding glass door was open and the curtain back. The sound echoed so nothing was completely private.

It was an interesting day, to say the least, but I was delighted that I was healthy and was sent home with advice to take one baby aspirin a day.

Heidi took a selfie of the two of us in the Emergency Room. She has a wry look on her face as she waits patiently.

Version 2

LA – LOTS OF FILM LOCATIONS

Old Army truck from MASH

Old Army truck souvenir from MASH TV series in Santa Monica Mountains – Malibu Creek State Park
In Southern California, the entertainment capital of the world, it’s not unusual to see large white trucks parked on local streets—film crews have come for a day or two of filming. It could be for a commercial, a TV show or perhaps even a glamorous exciting movie! On my way to Trader Joe’s to get groceries recently, I saw them lined up about a block long on the street bordering a local park. I get a kick out of seeing the long trucks full of dressing rooms and imagining who will use them. When the rooms are small, it’s not going to be anyone famous.

Not long ago, one of the local car washes looked like it was open for business, but they were using it for some kind of film shoot. Since the car wash didn’t want to lose its regular clientele (it was on the weekend), a man and woman were sitting near the entrance handing out free washes because of the inconvenience. Recently, an Italian restaurant had cameras outside for some kind of production. It’s an older restaurant that was remodeled not long ago, and that factor may have made it more appealing for filming.

The Los Angeles Times prints a map and a list of “permitted shoots” for the week in the Business section. Not long ago NBC was filming in Studio City, and a couple of other productions were being shot in other parts of the San Fernando Valley. And then there are the commercials, like Purina One being made in Encino, and Mazda whose shoot was in Griffith Park.

One of the best, almost perpetual film sets is a natural one: Malibu Creek State Park, 7,000 acres located off Malibu Canyon Road in the Conejo Valley. I was living with my family in that general area when it opened to the public in 1976, and we were eager to hike through it. The State of California combined the old 20th Century Fox movie ranch, extensive property owned by Bob Hope and 250 acres belonging to Ronald Reagan from 1951-1967. The valley and surrounding Santa Monica Mountains were once the territory of the Chumash Indians and later to Spanish settlers.

On one of our first family hikes, there were still some movie sets around—the dome-shaped homes of the apes in “Planet of the Apes,” which starred Charlton Heston, for instance. What looked like a shallow concrete pool was the miniature set for “Tora, Tora, Tora,” a movie about World War II. The lovely home used for Cary Grant’s film, “Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House” is still there and used for an administrative office for California State Parks.

Some of the many movies made in that scenic area included: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The park was supposed to be South America and one of the characters actors in it, Strother Martin, lived nearby in Malibu Lake. Elvis Presley made “Love Me Tender” there, and in the classic 1941 film, “How Green Was My Valley,” the area posed as Wales.

A more recent film made by Mel Brooks: “Robin Hood, Men in Tights” was filmed there. I met Mel Brooks shortly after his film came out. I was doing an interview in Santa Monica at the Pritikin Institute. He and his wife, Anne Bancroft, were having dinner in the Pritikin banquet hall and I introduced myself. I couldn’t resist telling Mel how much I liked his funny movies, particularly the Robin Hood movie. He had one particular joke in the film that applied to the area’s history: the actors used a real fox as a messenger and as it ran away, the line was, if I remember correctly: “There goes the 20th Century Fox!”

One of the most popular shows on television, “MASH” was filmed in Malibu Creek State Park. The area must have resembled Korea. I missed the opportunity to ask my dad, who had fought in the Korean War, if he had ever watched “MASH.” The TV set is now long gone, but they left behind an old Army truck, which stands as a souvenir in the area that was once the set.

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