I love to tell stories about things that happened to me or that interested me. I’m a birdwatcher and photographer but we find ourselves unable to do that right now. So, I’ve dug up a few more little stories. But this time, I’ve also included a few of my many bucket list items, something nearly everybody has. I’ll start with a few stories that I recently remembered…….
The Kindergarten Kids. This is actually one of my favorite stories. We hadn’t lived in San Diego very long. I still had my old 1966 VW bus that I had brought down from San Jose. I loved driving that thing. I felt like a hippie. We only lived 10 miles from where I worked so sometimes I drove home for lunch. Instead of going on the main road to our house, I went through the neighborhood so I could look at houses, yards, etc. I was on the suburban road for a little while when I noticed a large truck ahead of me. All of a sudden, the truck stopped in the middle of the road. I was a little too close to him but I didn’t expect to see his backup lights come on. As I frantically fumbled with the floor stick shift trying to get into reverse, the truck backed up quite fast and bashed into the front of my bus. Remember the old VW buses? They had a big, nearly flat front end. His truck pushed the entire one-piece front of the car back two feet. Freaked me out!
We got out of our vehicles. I said “What the hell, mister?” He said “I didn’t see you back there!” We talked back and forth. He was delivering a set of mattresses to a house that he had just passed, then stopped and backed up quickly. He said “Hey, I’m sorry, it was my fault, I just didn’t look.” We exchanged information and since our cars still worked (pretty much), we went our separate ways. He disappeared. As I was talking to him in the middle of the street however, I had noticed several kindergarten kids walking home from school on the sidewalk. I started to drive home when I had a thought. About a block later, I drove to the curb and rolled down my window as two boys were walking along. How do I play this, I wondered? I asked them “Did you see what just happened back there?” One kid said “Yeah, that guy backed up right into your car.” Bless his heart…….maybe I had a witness. Casually, I said “You guys just saw an accident. Would you tell somebody what you saw, if I needed you guys as witnesses?” I still recall both the boys taking a step back, undoubtedly remembering all the warnings their parents gave them. Then one boy stepped forward and said “Yeah, I’ll do it.” Again, very carefully, I said “Could you give me your mom’s phone number so I could explain to her what happened? I probably won’t need you guys at all but just in case.” After a pause, one boy gave me his home number. Amazing, actually. I thanked them and again said that I hoped I wouldn’t need them to talk to anybody. I drove home.
Amazing again, I called the truck driver that evening and asked if he had contacted his insurance and so forth. He said “I’m going to say that you drove into me. There’s no way to tell.” Yeah, maybe so, I said, but I have witnesses. He said “What, what witnesses?” I asked him, remember all the kids walking home from school as we were standing there? After a pause, he said “Yeah, I guess so.” Well, I said, I talked to two of them and they’re my witnesses. I have their phone number, I talked to their moms and they’re willing to describe exactly what happened. A long pause…..and he said “OK, OK, I’ll tell my insurance company what happened.” He did, my VW was repaired and I never had to call the kids or their moms. Amazing.
The Jet Crash. Arlyne and I both worked in the San Diego area for some time. She was working for a small firm in Sorrento Valley. She came home one day with an incredible story. Sitting at her desk on the second floor of her building, part of a complex of small buildings in an office park, she heard a really loud thump above her. Wondering what it was, she looked out the window and saw a Navy pilot coming down on his parachute and landing on the street. Arlyne was shocked and didn’t know what the hell had just happened. Some of the people in her building told everybody to get out and she did. The thump was the canopy of his jet hitting the roof of her building. He had ejected not long after takeoff from Miramar Naval Air Station. The flight path leaving Miramar went almost over the office park. One of his engines caught fire right after takeoff. As the story emerged, it seems he guided his falling F8 Crusader reconnaissance aircraft the best he could, as long as he could, trying to avoid a populated area. He saw an opening between two buildings where there was a parking lot and he somehow guided the plane there.
NOTE: Just a few minutes before the crash, the lunch truck had been parked there, with two dozen guys around it but the truck left and they had all gone inside. The plane crashed right in that parking lot! Eighteen cars were destroyed or damaged.
The crash investigation found that if he had ejected half a second later he would never have gotten out. He was called a hero, and rightfully so, because of how long he stayed with the plane, guiding it to a “safe” spot. A Navy spokesman said the pilot, Cmdr. David Strong, stayed with the plane longer than he should have. The pilot, as Arlyne witnessed it, quickly got out of his parachute and harness, grabbed a fire hose and helped firefighters put out the fire. I could have lost her right there, but only one person on the ground was slightly burned. Amazing!
I still have the 30 year old San Diego newspaper with all the details.
The Camping Incident. Several years ago, Arlyne and I were camping with some dear friends at an RV park in Ramona, CA. We had a motorhome and they had a 5th wheel trailer. We’ve known this couple for a long time and we all love camping. It was a warm evening and we settled down outside with some chairs and a barbeque, near a tree. Our friend Jerry poured some red wine for everybody. Karol, who is very spiritual, put some little candles around us and a few in the tree. We put on some folk music and just sat around in a circle, chatting and having wine. Not a problem in the world, right?
After a couple of hours, we were still hanging out when a sheriff’s car slowly came along the camping road and stopped at our site. The deputy got out of his car, in full uniform and utility belt, looked around, hitched up his pants and came over to us. “Is this site 32”, he asked. Well, that’s right, we told him. He looked at us and started to laugh. We had no idea what was going on. Between laughs, he said there had been a report of people at site 32 drinking blood and having some kind of weird rituals. After a beat, Karol said “But we’re all grandparents!! We’re just having some wine.” The guy laughed again, shook hands with us and said that it had to be someone in a nearby site that couldn’t tell what we were doing and imagined horrible things. He got back in his car, chucking, and drove off. We laughed about the whole thing for a long time and we still laugh about it now.
First New Zealand Trip. I understand that not many people get to visit New Zealand. Arlyne and I were very lucky and tried to make the most of our opportunity to live there for a time. However, this little story has to do with my very first trip to NZ. I was by myself and needed to go to an important meeting in Auckland regarding a large new project with the Australian government. It turned out to be a great thing that the meeting was set for 1:30 pm.
Because my trip was not decided upon until quite late, there weren’t enough seats and I “had” to go 1st class. Not bad. We left at 9:30 pm. After a nice meal, everyone went to “bed”. My seat folded down completely flat, I was given a glass of wine, a chocolate and a blanket. Believe me, I went right to sleep.
That was fabulous but wasn’t the best part. We woke up as we were nearing NZ, had breakfast and landed as it was just getting light. I went through all the customs procedures, got my bags, rented a car and (carefully, because of driving on the left) managed to find my hotel in downtown Auckland. Lo and behold, because of the very recent America’s Cup yacht races, the hotel was fully booked and my room wasn’t going to be ready until noon. “What should I do in the meantime?” I asked the desk clerk. You could hang out in the bar, he said. I thought for a while and asked him “Where’s the nearest golf course?” So…..I left my bags at the hotel, took a cab to the municipal golf course, walked up to the golf shop and asked about a tee time. The kid said “I can put you with three other guys in about 15 minutes.”
The NZ exchange rate was quite favorable for Americans. Get this: I paid my green fees, rented some clubs, rented a pull cart, bought some balls, bought some tees, bought a glove, bought a hat……all for $35. Now that’s amazing. I played a complete round with some friendly and helpful golfers, enjoyed myself immensely, took a cab back to the hotel, took a shower and easily made the meeting. Nice.
Arlyne at Ampex. Arlyne has some stories as well. Not too long after we were married, Arlyne went to work at Ampex International in Redwood City, CA. Ampex today isn’t the major player and innovator that it was in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Ampex developed many innovative products in video technology and their techniques are still in use today. Arlyne initially worked in the Latin America division for several years where, among other things, they sold audio cassettes to developing Latin American countries. She was in her element at Ampex, helping to translate, organizing international shipping and travel documents and teaching American marketing guys how to survive in South America. She left Ampex for a year because of breast cancer. The best part is: Ampex called her back to work for the founder of the company (back in 1944). The name AMPEX is an acronym, created by the founder, which stands for Alexander M. Poniatoff Excellence. Then in his eighties, Mr. Poniatoff loved to come to work nearly every day. Arlyne’s job was to keep him company, have lunch with him, listen to his stories, get his mail, etc. She loved the man, who was (and still should be) an industry icon. She “worked” for Poniatoff for a few years, a memorable time.
BUCKET LIST AND REVERSE LIST————————————
(Part of) My Bucket List and Reverse Bucket List. Most everybody has a bucket list, even if they don’t call it that. I had never heard of such a thing until I reached middle age. As a result, I really should have two lists (at least) because I had visions of doing or seeing things when I was young and my list is naturally different now that I’m older. Now, however, there is a trend to have a reverse bucket list. These are things that you’ve actually done, seen or accomplished that are worthy of a bucket list. I change my list(s) all the time as it suits me. Here’s a list of my mix of bucket list and reverse bucket list items. To account for some items for which I can only claim partial credit, I have officially invented the term half-reverse bucket list.
Go to Machu Piccu. I must have been about 12 years old when I read about Machu Piccu, the famous lost city of the Incas in Peru. I was fascinated by pictures of the place, which was distant and hugely exotic. I never imagined a farm boy like me would get there but the seed was planted (no pun intended). It wasn’t until I was in my 60’s that an opportunity presented itself. I had some frequent flyer miles and Arlyne’s niece, who was living in Uruguay, had a business conference in Lima. She persuaded us and her parents to meet her there and see Machu Piccu on the same trip. It was the trip of a lifeline (of course) and we saw a bunch of new birds as well. I think I’ll describe that trip in an upcoming blog.
Climb Mt. Whitney. This wasn’t high on my list (damn, another pun) but it kept climbing up there (another pun) until Arlyne’s niece (again) convinced me to go with her. I had been running and exercising and the climb seemed tough at first but went pretty well finally. To top it all off (another pun?), Sean and Diane Dyer and some other Cubic colleagues convinc ed me several years later to climb Whitney again. This time, I had not been running and it was monumentally difficult. The goal was to do the 24 hour version, up and down in a day. The hike is about 13 miles up and 13 miles down. I did break what I call the 20 hour barrier but I was the last one to get to the top and the last one to finish back at the trailhead. An IV would have helped at that point. It’s a wonderful hike and I recommend it to everybody. Just take two days if you can.
Parachute jump. Even though I don’t do well with heights, I figured being up so high in an airplane would be abstract enough that I could overcome that. I was in college. One day I heard on the radio that a small troupe of young guys was coming to town with an airplane. For $30, they would give you an hour of instructions, take you up a few thousand feet and push you out of the plane, on a static line. I told my roommates I was going to do it on Saturday. As “luck” would have it, however, I was again listening to the radio and heard that a young man had been taken up for his jump a few hours previously and had been killed. His main parachute didn’t open. He was found with his hand grasping the handle of the reserve chute. No one knows why he didn’t pull it. I cancelled this from my bucket list and won’t ever be doing it. I also decided that I would rather have more mature people running such an operation. That’s why I haven’t ever done a bungee jump. These “operations” are usually run by guys in their late teens or early twenties. No thanks.
Go on a Pelagic Bird Trip. A trip to see birds out on the ocean and coastal islands can be very rewarding for birders like Arlyne and me. As we became serious birders, our goal was
to go out on a boat to see birds. Our first actual trip was on a converted fishing boat in the Hauraki Gulf outside Auckland, New Zealand. It seems local fishermen found they can make a lot more money, with less risk, taking birders out. The Captain of our boat spent a few months learning the rest of the birds, because he already knew many of them. What a great trip. We saw albatrosses, cape pigeons, sooty shearwaters, Southern giant petrels, little blue penguins, flesh-footed shearwaters (lots of them), Buller’s shearwaters, white-faced storm petrels and others. Sitting on land, you won’t see any of these birds. Another pelagic trip was out of San Diego to the Coronado Islands in Mexican waters. I went with my birding friend, Richard Griebe. At first, it was just gulls, then we saw blue-footed boobies and black-vented shearwaters. So even though we’ve done this, we want to do it again, so it’s still (always) on our bucket list.
Play guitar (acoustic). Growing up in the rock and folk era, I thought guitar music was the best. I didn’t own a guitar until college and just picked away at it a little. I moved to Los Angeles and a girl-friend engaged me in the folk scene. I saw several legendary folk singers (Lightning Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson and others) and decided to take lessons. I walked one Saturday into the Troubadour in LA for a lesson and was given a choice: flatpicking or fingerpicking. I chose door no. 2 – fingerpicking. A guy named Taj Mahal was teaching flatpicking. Today, he has become nearly a legend in blues and folk music. But I figured with fingerpicking, I wouldn’t need a backup bass player, drummer, etc. I could practice and play by myself. It took forever to learn how to play the bass beat with my thumb and the melody on the other strings but it finally clicked in. I took lessons again in my 40’s and I still play today, still playing for myself and still not that good. In my head it sounds OK.
Shoot a hole-in-one (and/or play with a golf professional). My two brothers and I took golf “lessons” from our dad as we were growing up. He was a good golfer (a lot of rounds in the 70’s) and two holes-in-one. Of course, I had the ability to hit the ball a long way but
I sprayed it all over the place. Nevertheless, I knew that one day I would have a hole-in-one. Hasn’t happened. Probably won’t. I’ve been 2-inches, 3-inches and 9 inches but never in the jar. It’s on my list. Help me out, dad. I still play but have never quite made it to my dad’s level. I did play golf with a true legend a few times – Lee Elder, the first black golfer to play in the Masters. He was 68 then and still an incredible talent. Lee rented a home just down the street from us for a few years. Lee is a really nice guy and told me a few stories. I went down to his place a couple of times to watch the Masters and he made us both some sandwiches. Elder won 61 tournaments around the world and has 6 holes-in-one, so far. Good on ‘ya, Lee.
Thanks for listening to some of my favorite stories……
More bird pictures soon, I hope,
Bob and Arlyne Draper