Hiking: Eagle Rock

After many years of hearing about Eagle Rock, today we finally did the hike.

The trail starts at the Warner Springs Fire Station. Facing the station, just to the right, there is a gate. Parking is available along the street on the other side. The trail is about 3.3 miles each way. Since we were both under the weather and therefore a little slower, it took us about three hours round trip, plus some rest at the destination. Also, on this June late morning, the temperature was around 83 degrees and it felt very hot out there in the beating sun. I recommend you get an early start, or come during the October – April season. I recommend you bring plenty of water. I used a whole liter and had just a little spare.

The entire trail is along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and if you go in the spring, like now, you’re likely to run into a few PCT through hikers. You can always spot them, scrappy, with a full pack, and the pace and speed of a gazelle.

The first section of the trail goes through a few cattle gates. Be prepared to run into cattle. We heard them nearby but there were none on the trail when we passed.

The trail meanders along a live creek (at least it was live now after all the rains) and it provides an opportunity to wet a bandana and cool off. The trail is also covered by oak groves. Some of the oaks are huge and  look hundreds of years old.

The vistas are endless. Think Ponderosa.

Finally, we’re on the last quarter mile. The outcropping in the distance is the back of Eagle Rock. You can see some hikers on the trail. We must have seen at least 100 people going in and out this morning.

Finally we have arrived. Here we are posing in front of the famous Eagle Rock.

On the way back I kept on the lookout for some motifs for painting, as I always do. Here are some cactus blossoms that might make a great 36 x 36 floral arrangement for my collection.

Here is another one that Trisha spotted. It’s a different type of cactus.

Trisha made sure I took a picture with her in it of the same scene – so you have “Trisha for Scale.”

The Dismal State of American Airlines

I have been a decades long loyal American Airlines Flyer. I am approaching three (3) million miles on American Airlines alone! You can’t say I didn’t give them my best shot.

However, I am close to finding another airline for my business. Most recently, my experience was pretty dismal – as posted here. In fairness, the airline awarded each of us 10,000 bonus miles for the unplanned adventure.

Then I just came across this post for another traveler:

The Dismal State Of American Airlines Flagship First Class – Live and Let’s Fly (liveandletsfly.com)

It certainly looks like this flight attendant was not trained. If I were treated like that at the local Subway shop, I’d find another sandwich place. If I paid $2,000 or more for a first class seat, and I’d get this treatment, I’d find another airline.

I am not sure what’s going on with American, but things are not well.

Book Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany – by John Irving

After trying to read The Last Chairlift and getting through about half of the way, I remembered that I had read A Prayer for Owen Meany a long time ago, probably when it first came out in 1989. I remembered that I thought it was a remarkable book, I remembered it was about a boy, and that’s about it.

A Prayer for Owen Meany has a print length of 1,115 pages. This explains why I have seemingly not been reading lately, or at least publishing book reviews. The fact is, it takes forever to read Owen Meany.

The story is about two best childhood friends, and it starts in a small town in New Hampshire in 1953, when the boys are 11 years old. John Wheelwright is the narrator, but his best friend, Owen Meany, is the protagonist. Owen, in a stroke of terrible bad luck, hits a foul ball in a Little League game and kills John’s mother who is among the spectators. Owen does not think this was an accident. He thinks he is God’s instrument.

The story follows the two boys and their friends and family through their coming of age and into adulthood. It weaves a rich tapestry of characters, and when the book finally ends, you will miss them all and the world in which they have been living. After all, you’ll have been spending a lot of time with them.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is a treatise about religion in American society. But it is also about the Vietnam war and the plight that generation of young men went through to deal with the draft and what it did to their lives and American society.

Irving likes to portray unique characters, and there are some similarities across his books. For instance, the protagonist in The Last Chairlift was “very small” as was his mother. Irving has something about small people. Owen Meany is also very small, very light. As an adult, he is just under five feet tall. Also, due to some congenital defect in his larynx, he has a very gravelly, out of this world sounding voice. His voice is so unique, that throughout the entire book, all direct quotes spoken by Owen are done in capitals. “YOUR MOM HAS THE BEST BREASTS OF ALL THE MOMS,” Owen would say to his friend John when they were 11 years old and analyzing — well — what boys that age are interested in. You will get used to Owen’s capitalized voice quickly and it works well in this book.

Besides his highly unusual voice, and his extreme smallness, Owen is brilliant. He gains the respect of the adults around him through his actions and statements, and he tends to command the attention wherever he is present. Needless to say, he is the valedictorian in his class, and eventually joins the U.S. Army through the ROTC program.

Owen, who thinks he is an instrument of God, believes he has a mission in Vietnam, and all his actions and decisions throughout his life seem to point to a single day in Vietnam – where his purpose lies.

Visiting Hemingway’s House in Key West

Last week we visited Key West, Florida, for a few days. There are two very famous Key West citizens whose presence is felt all over the island. One is Jimmy Buffett, the American singer and songwriter, author, actor and businessman, who is best known for his music, which often portrays an “island escapism” lifestyle. He started his career partly in Key West, and “Buffett-stuff” is all over the island. The other famous Key West citizen is Ernest Hemingway, who lived there in the 1930ies.

We visited Hemingway’s house, which is now a well-preserved museum dedicated to his life and legacy. Here is a view of the house.

I found it riveting to be walking through the rooms where he lived, including his bedroom and the master bathroom, the sleeping quarters for the nanny, and the room where his kids slept.

But most inspiring was seeing his writing studio. Here I am at the foot of the stairs. The studio door is at the top of the stairs above my head:

Here is another view of the building from the other side:

I was able to enter the studio. I was alone while there, behind a fence to keep out tourists, of course. I had plenty of time to just reflect.

This room, museum staff told us, is largely untouched as it was when Hemingway wrote there in the 1930ies. This is his actual chair and table. You can see one of the 54 cats on the property under the chair on the left. It is said that all the cats are descendants of Hemingway’s cats. He went up into that studio before breakfast every day to write at least 700 words. 70 percent of Hemingway’s work was written in this room, including the following novels:

  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Death in the Afternoon
  • Green Hills of Africa
  • To Have and Have Not
  • The Fifth Column
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Snows of Kilimanjaro

It turns out, I have only read one Hemingway book: The Old Man and the Sea, and I have read that several times. I have no review of it published here, since the readings were all before 2007 when I started this blog.  I once tried to read The Sun Also Rises, but could not finish it. Here is my short review.

Being in that studio inspired me, and I decided to give it another shot and read some Hemingway.

After the visit to the Hemingway house, we went across the street to climb the historic lighthouse:

Here is a look back to Hemingway’s property from the top of the lighthouse:

If you find yourself visiting Key West, I strongly recommend you visit this museum. The entry fee is $18 per person – cash only – yes, but it’s well worth it.

The Special Hell of Flying American Airlines

My wife and I attended a wedding in Key West, Florida, this past weekend. We flew from San Diego to Miami on a non-stop red-eye flight on Wednesday night and arrived there first thing Thursday morning. Then we rented a car and drove down all the way along the Florida Keys, since we had never done that before and wanted to see what that was like. No regrets.

Our return trip was also a non-stop, leaving at 9:20pm Sunday night, scheduled to arrive just before midnight in San Diego. Enough time to go home, get a good (short) night’s sleep to be ready for work on Monday morning.

At about 5:00pm when we got to the airport, the airline alerted us that the flight was delayed to leave at 11:11pm. Ok, not too bad. We checked our luggage and went to the Admirals Club to relax while we waited. When we showed up at the gate at about 10:30, the airline posted that the flight would now depart at 12:18am. The incoming flight was late due to mechanical problems. Then the flight was delayed again to 2:30am, because one of the pilots had timed out of his 12-hour window and they had to find a new reserve pilot. They soon told us they had found one, but it would take time for him to dress, drive to the airport, park, take the shuttle and get to the gate. At 2:30, they finally boarded us, even though there was no captain or pilot on board yet. When we were ready at about 3:00am, I saw a pilot, but no captain. They then told us that we would have to get off the plane, and we would leave at 6:30am, but this time “for real.”

So rather than telling us at 5:00 that there’d be trouble, giving us a chance to rebook another way home, they kept stringing all 200 of us in the gate area along one hour at a time.

If I had known that the plane would not leave until 6:30am, I would have found a nearby hotel and got a good night’s sleep and showed up at 6:30 for the flight. Did they know? I cannot tell. It’s now 4:04am in the Miami airport as I am typing this and I really don’t know if we’re really leaving at 6:30.

This kind of stuff happens too often these days. Weather, mechanical issues, labor regulations, and sheer apparent planning incompetence get in the way, and air travel is no longer reliable.

If this country had a decent high-speed rail system, I would have booked a ticket for the 12-hour ride from Miami to San Diego, I would have slept the night, and arrived on time without stress.

Instead, we are literally trying to sleep on the hard carpet at gate D16 in the Miami airport.

And this is the special hell of flying American Airlines today.

Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

For the over 45 years that I have visited Los Angeles, I have told myself that one day I’ll be hiking up to the Hollywood sign. It was one of those things that just never happened, because it requires planning, preparation and then following through.

Well, yesterday was finally the day. A great help was that an associate from work I recently got to know lives in the neighborhood right below the sign, and he was gracious enough to give us the guided tour.

The photo below shows the sign from a neighborhood street were we walked up.

The entire hike round trip was about 4.5 miles with an elevation change of 900 feet. It’s all paved road, so no hiking poles are needed, and a quart of water should be plenty. It took us about an hour going up, and as much coming down.

About halfway up there is a good spot for a picture. Just above the W you can see a ridge and you can make out people on top of it. That’s where the next few shots are made from.

Finally at the top, the sign is all fenced in to protect it from vandalism, which was rampant in the early years. The sign was first put up in 1923 by a real estate company by the name of Hollywoodland. It was lit up at night and must have been a gaudy site. The intent was to keep it there for only a couple of years, but it “grew roots” and it’s become an iconic landmark recognized around the world, of course.

In the picture above you see the letters from behind. This is how close you can get. There are actually police up there that prevent any trespassing. Each letter is 46 feet tall. From right to left you see “LYWOOD.”

Looking down into the valley, the entire Los Angeles basin was shrouded in smog. On a clear day, one could see all the way to the ocean, and the entire panorama would stretch from downtown Los Angeles in on the left side to Hollywood and Century City on the right, with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Yesterday, all we could see was murky skylines that didn’t even show up in these photos.

Our friend took a panoramic of us at the top with all the letters visible.

On the way back, I looked up to the ridge from where we took the panoramic shot just a few minutes before. You get a sense of how many tourists there are. We must have walked past hundreds on our way up and down. It’s a very popular destination, of course, with the mountain being in the middle of the Los Angeles sprawl with more than 10 million population within a couple of hours of driving.

We finally hiked the Hollywood sign. Check!

Regensburg was one of the Largest Cities in Europe in 1050

Largest Cities in 1050 in Europe and North Africa – Click for Credit in Reddit

I found this map in a Reddit post. Please note that the post itself has way more information in the comments than I could possibly provide here.

What struck me about this is that Regensburg was the largest city in Germany, and one of the nine largest cities in Europe altogether. I grew up in Regensburg, and I know the city well. I always knew it was one of the oldest cities in Germany. Incidentally, it was also one of the few that did not get bombed out in WW II, so many of the old churches and buildings are still intact. I remember clearly as a boy walking the city and never being much impressed with the “Altstadt” – the old town, but that’s what I had grown up with, so I knew of no other reality.

I have a few photographs I took during a visit in March of 2014 . Here is the center of the city with the famous cathedral. The towers are 100 meters high.

Regensburg City Center seen from the Danube

The very oldest settlements of the city can be dated back to 5,000 years BC.  Regenburg was a Roman fort with the name of Castra Regina 2,000 years ago. There are still remnants of the old city wall in downtown, right there for anyone to view – and touch. As a child, I was not impressed much, but as an adult, and particularly an American, going back and  walking the old city streets, I always have a sense of awe.

Regensburg is located at the northernmost tip of the Danube. It is navigable there, but only for a few miles upstream before it gets too rough. Two smaller rivers, the Regen and the Naab, join the Danube at Regensburg from the north. Due to this important strategic location, on the trade routes between Paris, Kiev and south to Venice, the city was an important crossroads and a center of trade for millennia. With a population of over 40,000, the wealthy city was larger than Rome, Paris and Cologne at that time.

It’s astonishing that Rome didn’t even make this list. Rome had a population of about 30,000 then, down from more than a million in the heyday of the Roman empire. Baghdad was the largest city of all on this map.

In 1135, a stone bridge was erected there called die Steinerne Brücke, which is still standing to this day. When I was a boy, there was still two-way automobile traffic allowed across the bridge, but it was closed decades ago and only left open to foot traffic. I walk over the bridge wrapped in nostalgia every time I visit Regensburg nowadays. Here is a photo I took in 2014, walking on the bridge:

Regensburg from the Old Stone Bridge

At the northern end of the stone bridge is the old historic sausage kitchen, called die Historische Wurstküchl. At an age of 500 years it is one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in Europe. They make their bratwurst the same way now they did 500 years ago, and I recommend a visit to any tourist. One notable fact is that the restaurant gets flooded every few decades, with the water of the Danube reaching halfway up the first story of the building. When you look carefully on their website, you will see some signs in the restaurant, showing how high the water was:

In the above picture, you can see my red arrow pointing on a plaque in the wall: Wasserhöhe means water level. The date of March 27, 1988 shows when the water was up to that point. But this has been going on for centuries as the Danube floods from time to time, and they just clean up and continue with business.

Here is one more view of the city from the bridge:


And that’s what went through my mind when I stumbled across that Reddit post.

Movie Review – Air (2023)

It’s 1984. Shoe salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is scouting for basketball talent at high school games. His company, Nike, is the clear leader in running shoes, but not even considered in other sports, let alone basketball. Sonny has a total budget of $250,000 a year he can spend on athletes marketing the shoe, which is nowhere near enough to attract any first-rate talent.

But Sonny sees Michael Jordan, who then was just a kid getting started. This story is about how the underdog Nike, led by Sonny’s indomitable will, is successful in recruiting Michael Jordan. He does the unthinkable and completely unacceptable: He shows up unannounced at the house of Michael Jordan’s parents in rural North Carolina. The picture above shows him talking to Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis) trying to convince her to come visit Nike for a pitch.

This movie is directed by Ben Affleck, who also stars as the iconic Nike founder and CEO, Phil Knight. Phil started the company in 1964 when he was a track team member in college, along with his coach as co-founder. In the first few years, Phil sold running shoes at track meets out of the trunk of his Plymouth.

I have heard people say this is a movie about Michael Jordan, but it’s actually not. It’s a movie about Nike and how a team of dedicated people succeeded in attracting Michael Jordan in a sponsorship deal which would change how shoes are sold worldwide.  Michael Jordan isn’t even seen in this movie. He is usually outside of the frame. Only a few times he is seen at all, but partially obscured and only from the back. The only views of Michael are in archival footage that supports the story.

I could not watch Air and not think of the book Shoe Dog which I read and reviewed here five years ago. It tells the story of a startup, Blue Ribbon Sports, Inc, which later became Nike, from a one-man show to a global giant, making Phil Knight one of the richest people in the country. Nike was even included in the Dow in 2013, replacing Alcoa. I always thought it to be an incredible rags to riches story. If you haven’t read Shoe Dog, go and do it now.

And if you haven’t seen Air, go ahead. I predict there will be Oscars won by this movie.


Painting: Button Tree – by My Wife

Trisha’s mom was a seamstress. She made many of her daughters’ clothes when they were little as long as the girls cooperated. Obviously high schoolers don’t want homemade clothes anymore. As seamstresses are wont to do, she collected buttons. You never know what you might need that button for. When she passed away too soon about 15 years ago, Trisha inherited the button collection. She sorted them into bins of colors and shapes, and decided to create button art.

Here is the first one: The Button Tree!

This is a 24 x 24 inch work, on a piece of plywood, with the buttons glued on it. I love how it came out. You can click on the image and zoom in for some amazing detail.

There are many, many, many more buttons. I am waiting for more button art!

Movie Review: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

As the first world war unfolded, which was then known as the great war, since they didn’t know there’d be a second, Germany’s propaganda machine recruited its young men as soldiers. A group of teenagers enlist voluntarily in the army, their faces full of fervor and optimism. But those preconceptions about the honor of war crumble very quickly as they see their first conflict and they realize they put themselves into a situation where it does not appear there is a way out. The hopelessness, the utter despair, the terrifying fear consume the boys as they are falling, one by one. In the end, when an armistice is negotiated by the brass, riding in luxury train cars and sipping wine, the boys are sent out one more time in the last 20 minutes before cease fire.

This movie has been made twice before. The other two are Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), and the lesser-known version by Delbert Mann, All Quiet on the Western Front (1979). This current rendition is supposedly the most expensive German film in the history of Netflix. My wife loaded it up and we found it is a German film, dubbed in English. Which, of course, was better for her, but I would have liked to watch it in its original language. Yet I don’t think I can do it again, it took too much out of me.

The uselessness and injustice of war depressed me, as many war movies will do. Every leader who is in a position of sending other people’s children into harm’s way should be required to watch All Quiet on the Western Front. This happened in 1917, and a hundred years later we still haven’t learned these basic lessons.

Of course, the irony is that the French won that war and forced the Germans into reluctant submission. They ended up signing an agreement they knew they ultimately could not accept. We all know that a young soldier named Adolf Hitler was also a grunt in that war and experienced the humiliation of Germany first-hand. It lit up a fire in the chest of that young man, and we all know where it ended.


Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)


This is my whole review:

Why did this movie get made in the first place?

Why did it win any Oscars, let alone seven of them?

Best Original Screenplay
Daniel Kwan
Daniel Scheinert
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Daniel Kwan (producer)
Daniel Scheinert (producer)
Jonathan Wang (producer)
Best Achievement in Directing
Daniel Kwan
Daniel Scheinert
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Michelle Yeoh
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Jamie Lee Curtis
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Ke Huy Quan
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Paul Rogers

What the heck is wrong with the Oscars?

This movie has no story or plot of any interest, no redeeming value of any kind, terrible acting, no moral that I could detect, no beauty, no scenery, no score. It is utterly boring and difficult to sit through. I knew after 10 minutes that I really wanted to walk out, but – well – it won seven Oscars so there must be something to it.

Trust me, there is not. It just drags on for two hours and 19 minutes. Half the movie at least are pointless and violent fake fight scenes. After the first few I was jaded and then I faded out.

There was no acting worth mentioning.

And the fact that it got Best Motion Picture of the Year is an insult to any movie made last year, any other movie!

This is the worst movie I can remember ever watching.

Do not bother to see Everything Everywhere All At Once.

It is a complete waste of time.


And that means ZERO stars.

Book Review: The Last Chairlift – by John Irving

I tried. I tried really hard to read and finish this book. But by the time I got to 50%, I could not take it anymore. The problem is that the book has 908 pages in print format, so reading 50% of that is more than any normal novel already. I made a huge investment of time in The Last Chairlift.

John Irving is an icon. I read The World According to Garp when I was just 22 years old when it first came out. I remember it being controversial, I remember liking it, but I remember nothing about it after that.

I think I picked up Cider House Rules, but I don’t think I finished reading that either.

I know I read A Prayer for Owen Meany, I remember I thought it was a great book, but I remember nothing more about it now either.

Maybe if John Irving’s books were not so long, I’d read more of them.

In The Last Chairlift, the protagonist Adam Brewster tells his life story. His mother, Ray Brewster, is a competitive skier but she is very short and “little.” Being little is a big deal in this book. During a competition in Aspen when she was still a teenager, she gets herself pregnant. Adam is the result. Much of his story is trying to find out who his father is, as little Ray never reveals the secret, at least not in the first half of the book.

Irving employs a very unique writing style. One of the characters, Ray’s roommate and lover, as we find out, operates a machine that grooms the slopes at night. Her name is Molly. However, Adam, the narrator, refers to her as the trail groomer, the snowcat operator, the night groomer, and some variations on the theme. Another character is Elliot Barlow, Adam’s stepfather, who is even smaller than Ray at under 5 feet. Adam calls him the snowshoer, because that’s what Elliot was doing when he first saw him. But he also calls him the little English teacher and other variations.

For example: “…we know, Ray,” the night groomer was consoling her, when the snowshoer just showed up….

This style is entertaining and unique, and you get to love and enjoy the characters. Irving deals with transsexual issues, as Elliot eventually transitions to become a woman. Adam then refers to the little English teacher interchangeably as he or she in the same paragraph. He deals with sexual misconduct, homophobia, bigotry, and all the ailments in our divided society. He deals with art and literature, as Adam is a novelist. The whole story is framed in the world of competitive skiing – as the title of the book might indicate. And, as seems to be a staple in every Irving book, there is much wrestling going on.

I didn’t give anything away here. The Last Chairlift is a very entertaining book, often humorous, sometimes to the point of laughing out loud. But it’s too long, way too long, and by the time I was half-way through I found myself just turning pages to get on with it. Adam chronicles his entire life and family and extended family, but nothing really ever happens. There is no suspense. There is just more, endless hilariousness, and it got boring.

If you are a diehard fan of John Irving, this is your book. Otherwise, you can pass.

As always when I don’t finish reading a book, I refrain from rating it. However, I did just buy Owen Meany again on Kindle to give it another read.

On a Flight with Paul Gosar

On a recent trip to Washington, DC this week, as I boarded my American Airlines flight and walked back to my coach seat, I saw a face looking up at me that I recognized. He looked up, we locked eyes for a fraction of a second, and both abandoned it.

I sat down in the row behind him. It was the controversial Republican Congressman from Arizona, Paul Gosar.

I pulled up his Wikipedia page and remained entertained for about half an hour. Needless to say, I am not very aligned with his views. Remember, this is the guy whose own brothers and sisters endorsed his opponent in his re-election run, because they thought he was too much of a crackpot.

He spent the entire four hours of flying time hunched over his phone reading things, but also with some interludes paying Solitaire.

I always sit in the exit rows and the seat next to me was empty. I guess he could easily have ended up sitting next to me.

I have to admit, I do not know whether I would have had any conversation with him in that case. I normally do not engage with fellow travelers at all. Yes, I am that guy. But I don’t know if I could have held myself back.

I don’t think anyone else around us recognized him, and at the end, I walked off the plane in DC right behind him. He met somebody there, and I walked on. We never talked.

Time for a Rock Climbing Break

Let’s set the stage: Magnus Midtbø is a professional climber and YouTuber who is now retired from competitive climbing. He is referred to as the best climber in Norway.

Alex Honnold is known as the undisputed best climber in the world. His specialty is free soloing, which is climbing without any ropes and protection. Search for his name on my blog and you can find a few posts.

Here he invites his friend Magnus on a free solo trip outside Las Vegas.

Watching the 30 minute video wore me out. My hands and feet were wet with sweat. I did a little bit of climbing when I was a young man, and so I appreciate what is going on here. Being hundreds of meters up on a vertical wall with no way down is, per Magnus, an “insane experience.”

Magnus’ mental fortitude is awe-inspiring. You can tell he is scared. The constant coaching from Alex helps keep Magnus calm and safe. Alex is standing on the wall seemingly defying gravity, holding on with one hand while taking video with the other. At one point he says that most of his friends have either died or retired.

You should watch this terrifying and inspiring video as an example of two men who are the very best in their field, showing how preparation, nerve and will can conquer what seems impossible for the rest of us.

At the end, Magnus admits that he will never do this again.

I invite you to watch the video and get some sweaty hands yourself – but don’t try this at home.