Categories
Holidays Journal

Journal Entry – Halloween 2020

It is Friday morning the day before Halloween 2020. I always like to write a post before the holiday season begins as this is my favorite time of year and these final months always seem to fly by. I still try to summon that childhood holiday magic and writing a post helps me focus on that instead of everything else adults need to concern themselves with on a daily basis.

So here we are, the holiday season is upon us. They have come more quickly than usual since life has seemed a daze since the lockdowns started in March and we’ve mostly been confined to our house. I’d usually have a number of reference points throughout the year such as my own trip back to Ohio, the trip to Japan and various gatherings of friends. But instead those reference points are much fewer as well as dimmer since any interactions have been with only a few people or one family.

This year has also been rather sad for other reasons. We’ve lost no fewer than FIVE of our close, “inner-circle” Japanese family friends. I’ve learned that it is difficult to keep long term friendships with the Japanese here in the Bay Area since they are quite transient due to a number of factors. The first is that Japanese “Salarymen” are usually only sent to a specific location for three years and then are transferred elsewhere. This happened to two families that lived here in Pacifica. Another reason has been the affordability of living in the Bay Area. This is an issue for everyone, not just our Japanese friends and because of it some family friends have moved away. The third reason is that some Japanese wives over 50 simply decide that living in Japan is more important than keeping a husband so they decide to move back and the husband can do what he will.

Let this be a warning to all you young people who marry someone from another country. Every country is different but over the past century the trend has been to move to the USA and stay. With the election of Trump I think we’re seeing the beginnings of a reversal as far as the first world countries go. Trump is just the symptom, it is the eagerness of his supporters which really causes alarm. One of the major underlying themes that his supporters *mostly* do not want to emphasis is they prefer a white and Christian America. These are not smart people but they are numerous and Trump has shown he can really whip them up into a frenzy.

Aside from that Japan is a country where older Japanese women seem to want to return after passing 50 years old. This is in stark contrast to Japanese men who are usually quite content and happy to live elsewhere. Like one of my old bosses in a major Japanese company told me when I asked him if he was looking forward to returning to the office in Japan after 5 years in LA, “It is like going from heaven, to hell!”

Returning briefly to politics a few old friends support of Trump has seriously damaged if not all together ended friendships. It is not a huge trauma as they all live far away and I never see them but once every couple of years. Life goes on and people change. The difference here is they are on the wrong team having been completely brainwashed by Fox. It is really quite something when you take a step back and think about it. These people never gave a thought to politics before now it is all they want to talk *argue* about. The spell Trump, Fox and a decade of nasty talk radio have put on the nation is surreal and now we have a bunch of older, lightly educated, middle aged white men who feed off this poison put out by Fox and are in serious danger of being angry for the rest of their lives. The smart ones are liberal and the dumber ones are conservative, just look around it is quite obvious and normally I wouldn’t be so blunt but now hate groups have become a part of their Conservative team. There are places in the USA I’m no longer comfortable to go due to the racism. Furthermore, stupid Trump declined to give my state (California) aid for all the fires until he realized those areas most in need of help where Trump supporting areas!

So in short, if friends / family still support Trump then I no longer want them as friends or family. They themselves might not have anything against the Jews but they still support Hitler. They are on the wrong team and history will surely show it. It is all so highly disappointing to me as I had thought quite a few were so much smarter. Many have never been smart so that is no surprise.

It feels very strange to bluntly state all of that. Given times of great unrest most prefer to stay silent, just wait to it all blows over. I’m not one of those people and I have a very long memory. Even if my memory were to fail I still have this blog and can re-remember. “Remember the time you supported a lying, narcissistic con man who ruined America’s international reputation?” No? Well I do. Hey China Virus; Screw US states in a major disaster if they didn’t support (or didn’t realize they did); Hey Proud Boys stand by!; Hey handicapped people, how does this impression look?; Hey kids, get into these cages!

And so on and so on. Trump supporters are mostly Christian and how amazing it is to see how quickly they are to support someone who embodies everything they are supposed to be against (abortion aside). That is also so very disappointing, you would think a Christian would usually choose the side of good. Nah, too much effort to actually think. Just go to church a bunch and give some money. It just takes money to resolve everything in America, even buys out hypocrisy.

Well, I really got into it there. But it does have a purpose and it perfectly illustrates my mindset during life under Trump. It is a disease eating up my thoughts and energy. I want to be free of it but it is all around us and there is no escape. Should Biden win the hate will continue and I imagine we’ll finally get to a civil war at some point. This state of things is 100% the Republican hate machine’s fault.

I’ve written quite a few paragraphs and notice I haven’t even mentioned COVID? COVID has changed the world but for me and my family we are content to stay at home. We have a nice house, live in a nice town and thanks to the internet have abundant entertainment options. Imagine if a pandemic lock-down had happened in the 1980s! I think we would have all gone crazy! Thank goodness for the internet.

But regardless of the internet the pandemic is/will destroy many families. Pre-pandemic the familial contract was that only a limited amount of time spent together was required. Now that we all have to be together all of the time I think many families are realizing they really don’t like each other. There is something called the coronavirus divorce but since we all are very hesitant to make big moves I think the magnanimity of this isn’t yet realized. As for me and my family we all enjoy each others company so all is well.

OK, returning to the holidays, I now have my pre-holiday post written and as you can see 2020 has greatly changed the contents when compared to the same post I’ve written in previous years. But before I go, let me relate some holiday plans.

For trick or treat we are going to a friends house and their court will be quarantined so the little ones can still do some trick-or-treating with limited exposure. It will be nice to see our friends again too, they are the only Japanese family (wife) that still remain here in Pacifica!

Halloween is also the time I remember to look at Christmas gifts and get ordering before the major toys sell out. What I learned is that there is only one gift out of the popular toys that I think my kids would like and that is Baby Yoda. I ordered two, because as I know my youngest will love it, I don’t want my oldest to feel left out. Fourth grade is a time when you’re spending most of your free time with older kids entertainment such as video games but the pull of some toys can still remain although it gets weaker with every passing day. My oldest is Fortnite all the time and I’m hoping he will burn out on it sooner or later.

Ok, I better get back to work.

Categories
Travel

Las Vegas and Death Valley

We took a trip to Las Vegas and Death Valley during Indigenous Day weekend. School has those days off but not work so I took two days of PTO on Friday and Monday. The question was where to go? We can fly for free but it is on standby so it had to be somewhere with plenty of flights out of the Bay. We settled on Las Vegas due to the number of flights but also because the hotels have large swimming pools. In addition we thought a day trip would be nice and settled on Death Valley since it would be cool for not only the kids but also the adults to say we’ve been there.

The adventure started on Friday morning and I had been stressing a lot over the availability of stand-by seats. What I learned is that Las Vegas seat availability is very hard to predict since there can be many empty seats even a few days before but then fill up quickly as people decide they want to get out of town. There were 20 open seats when I looked the week before and when it came down to it there was only one unsold seat. Fortunately there was a glimmer of hope as some of these last minute travelers might not even show up. This is strange to me because if I buy a ticket I’m going to take the trip but apparently this isn’t the case for everyone, especially to Las Vegas.

When everyone had boarded and it was crunch time I was told that only three of us could go so of course I chose my family and I would figure something out. I’ll always remember my youngest getting on the jet-way saying “bye bye Papa!” Not once but a few times. Once they boarded I quickly listed myself for the next flight but didn’t hold out much hope as all the standby passengers who couldn’t get on that flight would probably go to the next and any empty seats fill up. I had no other option so started to run to that gate which was on the other side of the airport. I was almost there when I heard my name called saying “RUN back to the gate!” I took off like a shot with my carry-on luggage in tow. I heard my name called again and was so nervous they would give up on me. Luckily I made it and would be in Las Vegas in 90 minutes along with my family instead of the 10+ hour trip it would have taken to drive there. When you non-rev there are risks you must live with any you have to be flexible. So although I was overjoyed I could get on the flight I was mentally prepared to enjoy a long drive all by myself.

Getting into Las Vegas we went to the National Rental Counter. I find it odd that I worked for a competitor for over six years but now find myself a National fan. The reason is because my employer has a corporate agreement with them and we also got status to boot! So I can choose a nice car from the Executive Aisle at an incredible rate and I love the app checkout feature.

What I didn’t realize is that the car had no license plates and I didn’t realize this until we got to Paris. Doing a quick internet search I learned that the reason is the car is brand new! The downside is you could get pulled over but the upside is the car is as new as can be.

Las Vegas was a surprise in how much was open and how much partying was going on. Most everyone wore their masks and there were no shows but for the most part it was open for fun. After we checked in we went out to eat and ended up at Nacho Daddy. This ended up being the best dining experience because the food being very good it is hugely popular and they also have a nice app where you can check in whenever/wherever and know your place in line.

After our meal it was off to Bellagio to catch the water show. The kids really enjoyed it and were recording it on their phones. I later learned that unfortunately the video didn’t save due to a setting in both phones. No matter, we went back the next night and got it with the appropriate Pavarotti song and not Cheryl Crow like the first night.

Bellagio

On Saturday we had a light breakfast and then it was straight to the pool. Due to social distancing requirements they only let half the usual number of people in at a time. We arrived 30 minutes early so were first in line. Both by boys really enjoyed it and I was glad to hear how much when my youngest said “This pool is epic!!!”

Paris Las Vegas

The pool was fantastic but had no food service so we thought we should get some lunch around 1:00. We settled on Katana-ya because my son loves ramen and this restaurant is very good in San Francisco. Unfortunately the ramen is not so good in Las Vegas.

After lunch we caught an Uber to Circus Circus to play games and my youngest ended up having the biggest victory of all! He won the horse racing game where you roll a ball to fall into a number of different colored holes over and over. I couldn’t believe he actually won and since I had bought three entries he got to choose one of the medium sized prizes. He chose the dog and has had it with him every since.

After Circus Circus we went to the Hershey store then walked back to the hotel for a break. It was then I had to plan our return and saw that there was no way we could hop on a plane Monday as all flights were full. I saw there were plenty of seats out of Burbank however, so thought we could just skip the last night in Paris and continue on to California after Death Valley. I paid for three nights in the Vegas hotel but at a deeply discounted T-Mobile rate so I wasn’t going to get any money back. That is OK because again, when you do standby you need to be flexible.

After our break we went for dinner and learned you must have reservations on a Saturday night! We wanted to eat at Battista’s Hole in the Wall but couldn’t without a reservation. So we went to Buca di Beppo’s and they told us they *may* be able to squeeze us in. They did but it wasn’t much of a squeeze as most tables were completely empty even after we finished. I had never been to Buca but had heard of it as it was a big deal in Columbus when they opened a location there. Yes, the food was bottomless but very mediocre. The quality is what you’d find at Costco, and I like Costco’s pasta but I expect a bit more if I’m going to be charged more than the Costco price for mediocre pasta.

After dinner we returned to the Bellagio water show so my boys could record it. This time we got our recordings. After that I met up with a childhood friend and his girlfriend for drinks off the strip and ended up getting home at midnight.

The next morning we were up early and on the road. Our first stop was to fill up for gas so we wouldn’t have to in Death Valley. It wasn’t hard to choose which gas station as there aren’t very many and there was only one Area 51 gift shop! When I saw that I knew we had to go in. As expected it was a little podunk place where tourists take pictures next to cheap, plastic aliens and buy overpriced Area 51 junk. But since nobody can actually go into Area 51 being an active Air Force base everyone has to settle for cheap gift shops. Even though it is overpriced it is cool to be able to say you’ve been close to Area 51 and have something to prove it.

After that we went to the ghost town of Rhyolite. It was a bit out of the way but my boys wanted to see an actual ghost town and this place has an outdoor museum with art that looks like actual ghosts!

Rhyolite Outdoor Museum

There were a few abandoned buildings that were interesting but I also inadvertently stumbled upon something even more interesting. There was a small plaque in the ground which didn’t quite make sense. I saw a website so thought I’d take a picture and figure it out later.

Kcymaerxthaere

I had stumbled upon a worldwide art project that has placed over a hundred of these plaques in countries everywhere. In short, they describe some event which happened at the same spot but in a parallel universe. It took me a minute to try to get the idea and I still really don’t see the appeal. However, I do enjoy stumbling on something esoteric, something hidden. The website is here: https://kcymaerxthaere.com

The next stop was the Death Valley welcome center. We were lucky because my son being in the fourth grade can receive a free pass through a National Park/school program. The museum was closed so we just got our parking pass and were on our way.

My wife has mapped out the route which I was thankful for because being in charge of the overall itinerary and flights is stressful enough. Our first stop was at the southern end of the valley in Badwater. The thing to see there is the salt flats. In order to get a really good picture you need to talk out on them for about 10 minutes and it can be very hot. My youngest didn’t like it so much and said “I don’t like Death Valley and I need to take a shower!” The rest of the trip was short jaunts out of the air conditioned car so not too bad.

After Badwater it was off to the Natural Bridge and then the Devil’s Golf Course. For me, the Devil’s Golf course is the best place to take a Death Valley picture. I had never seen the ground look like that before and it was fascinating.

Next it was to Artist’s Palate and then the long trek to Dante’s Peak. It took about 50 minutes to get there as we had to drive out of the valley, then all the way to the southern end and finally up to the top of the ridge. We did get a great overview of the entire valley and it was beautiful. However, there was a bit of haze and the sunset wasn’t too spectacular because it is still high up in the sky and just dips behind mountains so there isn’t any changing of colors. However, after dipping behind the mountains the sun’s rays no longer hit those dust particles in the air offering a clearer view.

Dante’s Peak

The final stop was to see the Milky Way. We were now at the southern end of the valley and had to backtrack to the northern part. It may have been better to catch the sunset at Zabriskie Point instead of going all the way to Dante’s Peak but this was our first time. If we had gone to Zabriskie instead we might have had some light for the Mesquite Sand Dunes where we planned to stargaze. But we didn’t and so it was completely dark by the time we arrived. Now that I think about it perhaps it was better because instead of watching the Milky Way appear gradually we could only look directly up when we got out of the car in the complete dark and it was amazing! We stayed there for about half an hour just looking up. I had never seen the Milky Way in my entire life and am so glad for that experience. I do want to note that it wasn’t as incredible as those beautiful pictures taken on expensive cameras but those are enhanced by light capturing camera capabilities. Instead what I saw was a long splash of white and more stars than I’d ever seen in my entire life. It was so easy to spot satellites and although I was hoping for a shooting star I didn’t see any. I did have my contacts in which I haven’t worn for a year so I could better see the stars as well as drive through a pitch black desert at night.

After that we got on the road for a two hour drive to Ridgecrest where we stayed at a Super 8. It was somewhat interesting to stay in a small desert town in the middle of nowhere but I do have to say I’m glad I live somewhere where there is more to do. The main employer there is the Air Force otherwise there wouldn’t be a reason for that town to exist.

We woke up at 3:30 AM so we could make the early Burbank flight. For the most part it was uneventful and I’d say my only surprise was how many cars are driving into LA even at 4:00 AM.

Categories
Bay Area California Journal

COVID, Fires, Smoke, Heatwaves and Power Outages

2020 has been a terrible year. I wrote a few posts in the beginning of the year wondering if “anything else could go wrong,” and I really shouldn’t have said that. Things can always get worse and they certainly have, so much so, I’m afraid to say that phrase anymore.

Yesterday was a first in my life in that the sun was completely blotted out by smoke and fog. There is always sun here in California unless there is fog but even then it is still bright out. I remember terrible thunderstorms in Ohio and not seeing the sun for quite some time but those are natural events. Yesterday was unnatural in that it was day, yet very dark with nothing but an eerie, ominous orange glow.

September 9th, 2020

The picture doesn’t do it justice. The camera automatically tries to brighten the image and even if I manually reduce the brightness it still doesn’t show how dark it really was. As I write this at 6:55 AM on September 10th, I can see the fog and smoke but the day still slowly brightens unlike yesterday. The air quality has shifted from yellow to orange and back to the yellow zone again and I’m hoping that an onshore wind will kick up.

It is very odd to experience the weather here in Pacifica these past few weeks. This is normally a cold, decently windy place. Yet recently, it has been hot, there is little wind and thus the smoke fills the air and doesn’t move. It is as though we’re experiencing some divine retribution because at minimum we would have a slight breeze if not a full on wind. Not these days, the wind is absent.

As for COVID those first few months were like a novelty. Everyone went on walks, we got projects done and caught up with long lost friends through Zoom meetings. As we enter the 7th month of the pandemic it is no longer a novelty. There is more activity in getting out of the house, no more complete lockdown, but it remains low except on hot days. On the hot days Highway 1 becomes jammed as it usually does with everyone seeking relief from the heat on the beaches. Pacifica closed the beaches this past Labor Day but Half Moon Bay did not so everyone went there clogging our portion of Highway 1. Due to that the COVID cases will now spike.

So here I am, sitting in my living room on September 10th, 2020. Our inner circle of friends continues to shrink, the pandemic persists, and now we’re surrounded by fire and smoke. My mood is melancholy and I need to make a mental effort to get out of the slump. It will be another weekend at home where I may not even be able to workout due to the air quality. I do have a computer project but sometimes the air quality gets so bad that we all need to retreat to the family room and stay by the air filter. If the Pacifica onshore wind would just return then we would be fine but again, there is no wind. Weekends in 2020 are nothing to look forward to.

San Francisco on September 9th. – It was dark and the phone camera couldn’t capture it properly.

I forgot to mention that through all of this PG&E has threatened power outages from the grid being overtaxed due to everyone using their air conditioners as well as major wind events blowing over power lines. I’m waiting for this wind event and hopefully it blows the right way. But God forbid a pandemic, heatwave, poor air and then a power outage? We cannot go outside, cannot open our windows and then just sit inside and roast? Luckily we are in Pacifica so it is not as hot as in other parts of the Bay.

I should mention that I’ve learned something with my air purifier and air quality sensor. Closing windows to avoid dirty outdoor air does absolutely nothing. The dirty air will still sleep in. The only thing closing windows does is give the person inside a false peace of mind. The air quality sensor shows it makes no difference as indoor air will be as polluted as outdoor air regardless if windows are closed or not.

Secondly those $200 air purifier models everyone buys do work but are only good for cleaning one medium sized room. Furthermore the windows and doors must be shut for it to make progress. We use it in our family room and there is a big entry way with no door coming from the living room. In order for the air purifier to actually purify the air I need to put up a sheet to cover that big entryway gap. If I do not, even though I run the air purifier at full speed it will only reduce the pollution but does not have enough power to clean the air completely. That is to say pollution levels will be better than outdoors but never reach the healthy, “green zone” levels. We will get slightly cleaner air but also a huge electricity bill.

Categories
Journal

Covid 19 – 10th Update

It is Friday September 4th, 2020. I sit here in my shed breathing in moderately polluted air from the fires that burn the state of California. My mood is on the melancholy side lifted only slightly by thoughts of a three day holiday weekend.

It is difficult to be happy these days for a number of reasons which I’ll explain in no particular order.

Trump is still the President and there seems to be no limit to the depths in which he and his supporters can go. There is a danger of him losing the election so they try to limit the vote by stifling the post office with the mail in votes, they encourage their supporters to vote twice which is illegal and there is a possibility that Trump will declare victory even before all votes are counted! America is in its very first kleptocracy and it remains to be seen if it can pull itself out of it. One would never have imagined that so many, otherwise very rational people, would fall for such a conman. They are seduced by the propaganda from the right wing and their anger grows daily. Even my own friends and some family have fallen for it. If Trump wins again then we’ll continue on a very dark path to very bad ends. Democracy is already under threat through the President’s actions meddling with the votes. There could be a devastating war although America has always been very good at starting wars for the past 70 years so not much difference there. My thought is that Trump could start a devastating war where nukes could be employed. Americans know nothing of suffering having never been invaded and so many enthusiastically support war even though they could not even describe the adversary involved let alone the neighboring state. But even if there was a devestating war and many Americans died, they would just be losers right Trump? Sadly, nothing will shock his base. These are dark times for America.

Another reason for the melancholy is that we remain in a pandemic and the state of California is on fire. We are not too threatened by the fires but we sure have to deal with toxic smoke. Iv’e never run my air purifier so hard and I’ll have the energy bill to prove it. There have been times where I had to gather everyone in one room and block off the entry way with a sheet as the pollution had spiked up near 200 AQI levels and the purifier just couldn’t keep up. The fires continue and most times we cannot even go outside due to the smoke. We are lucky that we live near the ocean because we just need the wind to blow a certain way for pristine air. Others in the state are not so lucky and have smoke coming at them from multiple directions. The world changes and I find it strange that I now it is only the quality of the water I must pay attention to but the air as well. I remember when bottled water and water filters came on the market. Suddenly our water wasn’t safe and we needed products to purify them. I asked myself, what is next the air? Yes, yes it is! Smoke from fires aside the air pre-Covid was mostly yellow in all the places I frequented which are The Bay, Columbus, Ohio and Japan. All yellow all the time. Now I must spend money to ensure the air we breathe is not shortening our lives.

I’m also down because I was just served a summons for jury duty. I’ve never had to do jury duty and I’m not enthusiastic for the first experience. I’ve been more on the liberal side ever since studying abroad but all I had to do to convince myself to limit government involvement was think about my distaste when I have to deal with the government myself. I do not like taxes, immigration, the DMV and now jury duty. With all the talk of socialism being bad coming from the right, isn’t jury duty a bit socialist? Why, in a capitalist country can I not just pay someone to go do it for me? America is all about money, power and the individual best exemplified by our President isn’t it? Well, if I were to follow that example, why do I need to participate in this social ritual and be threatened with jail if I do not? If I were to follow the American example of individualism, I do not care about the person on trial right? Work it out themselves through money, prison or execution, why do I have to get involved? Because it is our system and how our system of justice works??? Excuse me, have you been paying any attention to our current President? He’s got the entire Department of Justice under his thumb.

Wait, my apologies, we only “say” nobody is above the law, but any person with a modicum of intelligence knows this is a silly phrase.

Finally, my spirits are down because we are about to lose more family friends. Our tight circle of Japanese friends all seem to be finding their way back to Japan over the past couple of years. This weekend is a farewell party for yet another family in our inner circle. When before, our circle of close friends was abundant, it has now become sparse.

Time goes on, everything changes. Before long, the world we know is nothing more than old memories preserved in photographs.

Categories
Quotes

The School Where I Studied

I passed by the school where I studied as a boy
and said in my heart: here I learned certain things
and didn’t learn others. All my life I have loved in vain
the things I didn’t learn. I am filled with knowledge,
I know all about the flowering of the tree of knowledge,
the shape of its leaves, the function of its root system, its pests and
parasites.
I’m an expert on the botany of good and evil,
I’m still studying it, I’ll go on studying till the day I die.
I stood near the school building and looked in. This is the room
where we sat and learned. The windows of a classroom always open
to the future, but in our innocence we thought it was only landscape
we were seeing from the window.
The schoolyard was narrow, paved with large stones.
I remember the brief tumult of the two of us
Near the rickety steps, the tumult
that was the beginning of a first great love.
Now it outlives us, as if in a museum,
Like everything else in Jerusalem

By Yehuda Amichai