California is screwy

I’ve had a dog my entire life, 2 different ones growing up and another two since my 3rd year in college.  I can’t say for sure that the two dogs we had growing up were “licensed”, but I know for a fact that I never licensed my dogs in Alabama, North Carolina or Kentucky while I lived in those states.  The other day when I got our dogs updated on their shots (rabies and bordetella), the girl at the kennel gave me a certificate and a phone number to have them licensed.  I didn’t question it at the time, but today when I called the number, the lady on the other end of the phone was very surprised that I’ve lived in California for over 2 years without licensing them.  I asked how much it would cost us to take care of this, and she said $105 each!!  ONE HUNDRED FIVE DOLLARS PER DOG!  I couldn’t believe it.  She informed me that this princely sum would include the license for last year, the license for this year and a penalty fee.  I asked several people at work if they’ve ever licensed their dogs and all said ‘no’.  What good does licensing my dog do for me?  If my dogs bit someone, I’d be sued whether I licensed them or not, and if they were outside without a leash by themselves (running at large), I’m sure I’d have to pay a fine to get them out of the pound.  So basically it is a state tax for owning a dog…  I have to pay for the privilege of owning dogs.  That is crazy!

Along the same lines, I’m now going to have to pay a fee to have the lien holder taken off my car’s title because I finally paid off my car this last month.  Well, they told me I’ll have to pay $17 to transfer the title from Kentucky to California even though I’ve already paid the California taxes and registration for this car since we’ve been here and I’ve paid for a California driver’s license (plus paid for a smog test).  I also have to pay $15 if I decide to add Jean as an owner, and one person I talked to said I’d have to pay an additional fee to update my address on the title!  More taxes and fees for the privilege to own my own car and be allowed to sell it when I decide to…

Oh yea, we got a letter from All State Insurance on Friday saying that their claims agent has made a determination, and they say Jean and the woman who lied about driving the truck they insure were both equally at fault.  The main problem here is that she is lying.  Actually, an unlicensed illegal alien was driving when their truck hit Jean, and this lady showed up on the scene 30 minutes later.  The California police wouldn’t show up to the scene of the wreck because “it was on private property”.  What?  So you can be here illegally, drive with a license or insurance, then commit insurance fraud and make out like a bandit.  So our premiums will go up that’s to these wonderful California laws/rules.  I almost forgot, our insurance premiums are already higher out here than they were in Kentucky because it is against the law for insurance companies to use credit information to determine premiums based on their liability risks.  From what I was told when I changed over to coverage for California, the law was created because there are powerful lobbyists in California that protect illegal immigrants, and since these illegals wouldn’t have credit scores because they wouldn’t have social security numbers, they were having problems getting insurance at all.  Much easier to raise premiums for everyone and not require a social security number or credit score to get insurance.

California has so much good and so much bad.  This place is full of superlatives, representing both extremes of the pendulum:

  – great weather, lots of things to do and see (beaches, mountains, National Parks, Hollywood, etc) and diversity you can’t even imagine

  – expensive for anyone in the middle class because of all the taxes needed to support all the social programs (education and health care for illegals), tons of crime and terrible traffic

Well, I’m off to hang out with Jean, Charlie and Tank.

Signing off from Sunny SoCal,

Matt

An Amazing Sunday

Last night was awesome for one reason – The Amazing Race.  The 13th season started last night and they took off from LA and went to Brazil.  I had picked the old hippies to be one of my top 5 favorite teams, but they were knocked out.  I also like the frat boys, the mother/son team, the black couple, and the girls from South Carolina.  It was cool seeing some some places we’ve been in LA, like the Griffith Observatory.  Also, Brazil looked pretty interesting.  I haven’t ever had any desire to go to Brazil because everything you read is about how much crime there is, particularly in Rio and Sao Paolo.  Jean doesn’t care for Latin-American countries, in Central America or South America, but I think she’d enjoy them if I could talk her into going.  She loved Peru after going, but she wasn’t looking forward to the trip at all just before it.  Back to my point, the Brazil in Amazing Race didn’t look like the picture that is normally painted in news articles or movies: squalid favelas infested with muggers and beggars.

The Amazing Race went to Salvador, Brazil.  I don’t really know anything about this place, but plan on reading up on it tonight.

I picked up Charlie and Tank from the kennel today, and boy were they happy to come home!  They were supposed to get baths this evening, but when Jean took them to Petsmart they refused to do it because the dogs had gotten their rabies shots today when I picked them up from the kennel.  Oh well, two stinky dogs until Thursday.  Charlie also is now in heat, so she’ll be miserable for a few weeks.

Jean’s making spaghetti right now while I’m watching the Lima episode of Locked Up Abroad.  Unlike Brazil, I have been to Lima.  The Miraflores area was really nice, but the streets near the airport were dumpy.  I sat in a minivan in some alley with a Peruvian guy, drinking beer and waiting for my dad’s flight to come in one night while I was down there, but it didn’t feel that safe.  I was in that same van like 10 days later, backing up quickly down a street while a wall of angry protestors were advancing towards us.  I definately wouldn’t want to be ‘locked up’ in Lima.

G’nite,

Matt

Stranded in Glitter Gulch

On Friday I left work early to run several errands.  I had to go to both of our banks, then I ran the dogs to the kennel.  After the dogs were taken care of I waited at home for about 45 minutes for Stanley Steemer to show up and clean our carpet.  Last weekend we decided it needed to be cleaned, so we planned on taking off for Vegas to let the carpets dry after being cleaned, and my landlord agreed to pay half of the cleaning fee.

Stanley Steemer cleaned both bedrooms, the stairway and our den downstairs in about an hour.  The carpet looks great now, almost like new, and it just feels better being in the house now.  I wish we’d have gotten them cleaned a year ago!  The only thing I didn’t like was the hard sell from the knuckleheads that came out here to do the cleaning.  It was a two guy team: an older latino guy who couldn’t speak much English but worked his ass off, and a young latino guy who was a salesman.

The older guy was really friendly (smiley) and did all the work, plus he probably lost 10 pounds in sweat while he was here.  The young guy told me 4 times that I should get the deoderizer done because of all the health risks involved if I didn’t…  Ahh, I live in the most notorious area of our country for crappy air quality, I work in heavy industry, I have two dogs (that shed), and we live just above one of the filthiest countries I’ve ever been to.  This ain’t exactly an Intel clean room in the Swiss Alps.  I finally was pretty stern and told the kid ‘NO, I DO NOT WANT THE DEODERIZER!”, and then he started in on “well, you really should get your carpet cleaned at least once a year”, to which I snapped and said “look, spare me the expletive lecture and just clean the carpet.”  The old guy was already finished with the first bedroom by that point, so I just sat down and waited for him to finish.  When they were done I paid and gave them a $20 and told them lunch was on me.  I really only wanted to pay for the old man’s because he did all the work, but I figured the young guy probably gets grief from people like me all the time after his hard sell tactics fail.

I laid down on the couch for about 2 hours after those guys left, until Jean and my dad got home, then we loaded up my dad’s car and took off for Vegas.  Unfortunately it was around 4:30pm by the time we finally left town.  I drove the 4.5 hours to Vegas, while my dad and Jean took mini-naps.  We did all listen to the 90 minute presidential debate together.  Barack just isn’t the polished career politician that McCain is…  Barack kept saying “John was correct when he said…”, while McCain would start every sentence with “What Senator Obama just doesn’t get is…”.  I hate politicians and want to leave this country.  America needs a revolution, but I’ll go into that in another blog.

We got to our hotel, Four Queens, around 9pm.  I was surprised how far away from the strip downtown is.  We parked on the top floor of the parking garage and headed into the lobby.  There was no line at the check-in, which was nice, but the lady couldn’t find our reservations and said they had the same problem all day long for everyone with Travelocity reservations.  We waited while she called Travelocity and then waited some more while they faxed confirmations over.  Finally we got our rooms and headed up to the 18th floor.  We dropped all our stuff and went down into the casino to find dinner.  First we headed to the Chicago Brewing Company, but after sticking our heads in and seeing that the entire restaurant had only 5 tables, we decided to go to Magnolia’s Veranda because they were right next door and had a prime rib special, for $7.95.  Nobody working there smiled, we couldn’t understand a word the drink lady said, the guy that took our order spoke fast enough to lead an auction, and the food would get about a 2 on a 1-10 scale with 10 being excellent.  The only good thing I can say about that place was that their horseradish was really hot.

After dinner we went back to our rooms.  My dad was exhausted, so he hit the sack.  Jean and I went back downstairs so she could play the slots (they had her favorite, The Sopranos).  The Four Queens is one of about 6-7 hotel/casinos on Fremont Street, and Fremont Street has a gigantic canopy that runs about a half mile long and is really a huge tv.  They call this thing the Fremont Street Experience, and I’ve been wanting to see it for over 2 years.  Each night they put on a show every hour on the hour.  Jean and I went outside and watched the 11pm show.  There were probably 10-20,000 people crowded around the street, looking up at this enormous tv about 50 feet over their heads.  The music was blasting and it was pretty cool.  They played some good songs, like Tutti Frutti a American Pie.  Jean sang and danced around to Tutti Frutti, but I just marveled at the screen.

We finally went upstairs and to bed.  The next morning I pressed everyone to get up early (7am), so we could drive over to the Monte Carlo and I could collect my winnings from our previous trip and then place some bets.  The sports book at Four Queens was ridiculous, 3 televisions, 4 tall tables with stools, and their boards were all hand-written.  I looked like something you’d see in the back of someone’s house, not in a Vegas casino.  We left the hotel around 8am and I needed to get my bets in by 9am because some games started at 9am (PST) and I didn’t want them to be locked before I had made my picks.  I filled out several tickets and collected my $200 from my earlier winnings, then we went to the breakfast buffet at the Monte Carlo.  My dad described the Monte Carlo’s buffet as “fast and varied” and said it was a fantastic meal.  The price was right, around $12 a person, and they have all kinds of stuff.  We both got made-to-order omelettes, hash browns and sausages.  Jean got croissants and bagels with cream cheese.  I continued filling out tickets for college games while my dad hit the buffet another 2 times.

We finally took off and headed back downtown around 11am.  We walked up and down Freemont Street, checking out the little kiosks and peeking into some of the other casinos, like Binions and the Golden Nugget.  That got boring so dad and I went upstairs to his room and started watching football while Jean played the slots.  After a while we moved rooms because the shower head in our room was missing.  We moved to the 8th floor, in two rooms that had a door between them.  We got back to watching football and Jean continued trying to make us a fortune down in the casino.

I won’t get into all the details, but I picked a bunch of games and only 2 messed me up – I picked Tennessee over Auburn and UCLA over Fresno State.  I was 5 points away from a $750 win (I picked 5 of 6 games on that ticket).  In all, I spent $90 on college games.  The best part of the weekend game during the first half of the Alabama-Georgia game, when the Tide DESTROYED UGA!!  Alabama was leading 31-0 at the half.  The second half was terrible for Bama, but they held off the Dawgs for the win.  By the time I got home today the new AP polls had been released and Bama moved up from #8 in the nation to #2! ROLL TIDE!!

After the Bama game, we headed downstairs and watched a Freemont Street Experience show since my dad hadn’t seen it the day before.  Jean stayed upstairs and watched a dvd she bought recently, The Eye.  For the next few hours, we watched Freemont Street Experience shows on the hour (3 shows in total), listened to a live band playing on a stage next to the 4 Queens, drank beer, played some roulette and basically just rocked out.  We all had a blast.  I got a good picture of Jean with this dude in a wheelchair who was dressed up like a pimped out Uncle Sam, and I won $180 playing roulette.  By 11:30pm my dad was exhausted, so I went up to the rooms with him and then hit the sack.  Jean stayed downstairs playing the slots with some of my roulette winnings, but she came upstairs to bed by 1:30am.  My dad also went back out for a while, but I stayed put – no wandering for me…

This morning we got up around 7am, got ready and took off.  We stopped for breakfast at Stateline (Primm), and about 10 miles down the road Jeannie got sick.  I felt so bad for her, but she was a tropper.  Luckily we had bags from Carl’s Jr or my dad’s car would have suffered because there weren’t any shoulders on the road when her sickness hit.  It always seems like the drive home takes much longer than the drive to Vegas, but eventually we got home to our spotless carpet.

Here are some pictures from the trip:





Another depression?

President Bush is on tv right now, addressing the nation for the first time in a year.  He’s telling Jean and I how he wants to take 700 BILLION taxpayer dollars to buy the mortgage backed securities that banks on the brink of failure can’t unload on any other suckers.  He claims that if we don’t “bail out” these financial companies, they’ll fail.

If they fail, investors will lose confidence in the US financial markets and the stock market will take a dramatic dive, so Americans will lose their retirements (401k).

If they fail, the “credit crunch” will tighten even more and people won’t be able to borrow money at all because the banks that don’t fail will be too nervous to loan money.  Farmers won’t be able to get loans for new tractors, you and I won’t get a loan for a new car, businesses won’t get loans for expansion, etc etc.

If they fail, foreign investors will be scared off from investing in the US and our currency will sink even lower than it already is (good for exports but not good at all in general – oil skyrockets).

I hope they’ll let the companies that were greedy and gave loans to people who shouldn’t have had them go under.  I hope the people that couldn’t afford expensive homes lose them.  Jean and I would have loved to have bought a $650,000 home in Rancho Cucamonga, but we knew we couldn’t pay for it.  We would have loved to have bought two 700 class BMWs, but we knew we couldn’t pay for it.  Our government is now proposing to send our country into unprecedented debt that will ultimately be paid off by higher taxes, so while we were financially responsible, we’ll have to pay more of our hard-earned money to “bail out” bankers and regular Joe Idiots who took chances and let their greed lead them into poor decisions.

I think you should immediately move anything in your 401k portfolio that’s invested in stocks over to money markets or government bonds.  I did mine about a year and a half ago, and even though the stock market is down and conventional wisdom says to stick in there and it’ll go back up, I think we have a lot lower to go.  I hope this doesn’t turn in to a depression, with unemployment at 30% and the US dollar basically worthless.  I wish I would have bought about $5000 worth of gold 3 years ago, or $10,000 worth of foreign currency (British pounds, or Euro).

We’ll see what happens, but these are definitely trying times.  Jean and I need to come up with an action plan in case something bad happens, like we get laid off or the US dollar collapses.

One year down, many more to go

Jean and I have now been married for a year.  A couple bad times, but tons of good times.  I am so happy to be married to her and look forward to another year of having fun together and growing more as a couple – a couple of knuckleheads.  My biggest hope for our second year is that we’ll have a baby.  I’m ready to start a family and so is Jean.

Today after work we went to one of Jean’s favorite restaurants, Red Lobster.  It was good.  Afterwards we went to Circuit City and picked up some gifts for each other.  Three DVDs, some headphones for Jean’s laptop, and a memory stick.  We’re just about to watch The Kite Runner, which was my pick.

I forgot to say Happy Birthday to my cousin, Josh Hughes.  I hope you’re doing well down on The Plains!

I setup for a company to come over to the condo on Friday and steam clean our carpets, so this place will be nice and clean when we get home from Vegas on Sunday.  Besides calling about the carpet, I called our car insurance company and they confirmed our fears: the Mexican guy that ran into Jean has lied and they’re claiming the woman who showed up 30 minutes after the wreck to translate for him was the actual driver.  Jean called the mall where this schmuck hit her and they said they do have cameras filming the parking lots and the head of security is checking the videos to see what they have from that Sunday.  I hope that once these jerks are exposed for commiting insurance fraud their insurer will press criminal charges.  The illegal alien driving without a driver’s license lies to their insurance company so the woman driving with a license and full coverage gets screwed and has to pay a $500 deductible for his poor driving, and the police wouldn’t come to the scene!  California isn’t all good weather and sushi…

I’m off to watch my movie now.

Sleeping away my Sunday

I stayed up too late last night.  Jean got home around 10:30pm and I stayed up until around 11:30pm.  Jean and my dad didn’t go to bed until around 3:30am!  They stayed up watching tv, talking and Jean was looking for homes online.  Yesterday was awesome because the Tide won big, Auburn got beaten (woohoo!), and so did Tennessee!  You can’t ask for more, and it confirms my belief that God must love the Crimson Tide.  Just like my high school bible teach, Woody Barnes, used to say, “I miss God’s country.”  He was talking about Alabama, and he had even gone to Bama’s law school back in the day.  I miss Mr. Barnes!

This next weekend will be the biggest game Bama has played in a number of years, when #8 Alabama plays #3 Georgia.  Besides Bama, the only other SEC school that I really like is UGA.  I have a bunch of friends that went there, and my older sister did too.  Unfortunately when they play the Tide, I hate ’em!  I’ve watched a few Georgia games this year and until last night they haven’t looked very good, especially when they barely squeezed by South Carolina.  I think Alabama is going to win this one, and then they should move to #2, just behind USC!  I’ll be in Vegas for the game, so you better believe the Tide will be picked on several of my tickets.

Today I haven’t done squat.  I drove to Stater Bros with Jean to pick up something to drink, then we picked up breakfast, but basically I’ve been in bed for the rest of the day.  I think Tank and Charlie have appreciated my laziness because they were able to flop around in the bed next to me, instead of going in and out of their cage all day.  I think I may take Jean to see a movie tonight if she feels like it, otherwise I’ll probably just do some reading and go to bed early.  I have a busy week ahead of me, trying to get things done at work and also taking care of things at home.  The rest of the year is going to be pretty busy…  We’re going to Vegas, then my mom is coming out to visit, then Jean and I will be going to NYC, then we’ll be going to Alabama – all within the next 3 months.

Tomorrow should be fun too because it’s our 1 year anniversary.  Jean has put up with my for an entire year!  Maybe we’ll celebrate by taking out a book from the Montclair library!  Actually, we’ll probably just go out to dinner and maybe bowling or something.

The Tide is Rolling!

I’m sitting here with my dad watching the Alabama Crimson Tide ROLL over Arkansas!!  The Tide is killing ’em!  42-7 at the beginning of the 3rd quarter.  I can’t wait until next weekend when Alabam plays UGA, who were the pre-season favorite to win the SEC and the National Championship.  Roll Tide!  Now, if only LSU could destroy Auburn tonight, it would be a fantastic day.

I got up pretty late because I went to sleep pretty late, like midnight.  I stayed up and watched most of Giant.  My dad spent this morning cleaning up our bathroom and Jean cooked breakfast and did a little cleaning too.  I think they’re trying to show me up since I mopped all the tile in the condo on Thursday night.

The main thing I’ve done this morning, besides watch tv and take a shower, which is actually a monumental accomplishment for a Saturday, is to make reservations at a hotel in Vegas for next weekend.  We’ve decided to head back to Vegas…  We decided to get our carpets cleaned, so in an effort to keep from walking on wet carpets after they’ve been cleaned, we said we could just head up to Vegas for the weekend.  I need to check with the landlord to see if she’ll pay to have the carpets steam cleaned since we’re signing our third year lease this weekend.  Shouldn’t the landlord spring for that once every three years or so?  Maybe she will, maybe she won’t since the rent hasn’t gone up in three years.  Anyhow, we’re going to try something different on this next trip to LV by staying at a hotel in “Downtown” near the Fremont Street Experience instead of on the Strip.

I’m looking forward to cashing in my winning $200 ticket from the last trip and also getting another chance to win big.  Who knows, maybe Jean will hit a jackpot on the Sopranos slot machine or my dad will pick 5 underdogs on a moneyline ticket…

Unwinding after a busy work week

We didn’t do a whole lot of extracurricular activities this week, but we were really busy at work. I got lots done on all my projects and Jean made a good amount of sales. Today a guy from Virginia was rude to her on the phone, but she wouldn’t give me his number so I could call him and straighten him out.

After work today I met Jean at our favorite restaurant, Robin’s Dono.  I love sushi.  After that she raced home.  She’s been trying to beat me home each day and I’m starting to understand why she’s been involved in two wrecks in the past couple of months!  She must drive like a crazy woman.  Just kidding, I always get stuck in traffic and neither of her wrecks were her fault.  She hit some junk in the freeway and an uninsured/unlicensed illegal immigrant backed into her in a parking lot.

Once we got home I laid down in the bed for about an hour, until she took off for work (her second job), and then I came downstairs and have been sitting here watching Man vs Wild ever since.  Tonight Bear Grylls headed down into Baja, then a swamp in Louisiana/Mississippi, and now he’s in South Dakota’s Badlands.  I loved this guy when the show first came out, but then I saw Survivorman…  Survivorman’s Les Stroud is older and not in half as good of shape as Bear, but he’s 10 times the badass.  Bear Grylls was exposed last year to be a bit of a sham, actually filming survival scenes and then retreating to a hotel with his crew, but Les is in the middle of the wilderness by himself on every episode.  I read an article once that said something like, “When Bear Grylls escapes to his hotel at night to avoid the rain, he watchs Survivorman.”

My dad watched tv with me for a while, but now he’s gone to bed.  Jean doesn’t get off until around 11pm, so I’m gonna watch a little more Man vs Wild and then maybe part of a movie.  Speaking of movies, Jean and I watched the first Back to the Future last night, and just like we were told, the Gamble House was in it!  We also watched What Happens In Vegas (my second time in 2 weeks), and Jean is starting to ask when we’ll be going back about every other day…  I’d like to get my $200 from my winning sports book ticket, but I’m not looking forward to that 3 hour drive any time soon.

Tomorrow I’ll be watching football with my dad all day because Jean has to work again.  My buddy from work, Tony, will be going down to the 19th Annual Stater Bros Route 66 Rendezvous, which is a massive classic car show (hot rods too).  The classic cars all cruise up and down Route 66 (Foothill Blvd) for 3 days.  Tony’s sister is showing a 1970 Chevy Nova, and his family is going down there to enjoy the festivities all day, but he won’t be there until around noon.  I told him I’d head down there (San Bernardino) if he planned on getting there earlier, but I’ll be well into several football games by noon.  I may still go down there at 8am-11am just to get some pictures.

Has anyone seen the new Domino’s commercial with the rapping/dancing piece of pasta?  I LOVE this commercial.  It makes me laugh every time it’s on…  “Pasta dude, Pasta dude!”  I thought he was a churro at first, then I thought he was a piece of celery and advertising chicken wings for football season, but he’s a piece of pasta.

I’m not sure what we’ll be doing Sunday, but I’m also thinking about going down into Riverside and checking some of the sites out.  I also checked out some websites recently to find out the beaches that’ll allow dogs.  Not many exist.  When Jean and I took Charlie and Tank to a beach in OC (near Laguna Beach), we got in trouble for walking with them on the beach.  I feel badly that they spend their entire lives indoors and I know they’d love running around on the beach.

Before I save this blog, is there anyone out there that reads this blog besides my family?  I activated comments after like 2 years without them and only 1 guy besides my mom and sister has posted a comment.  I haven’t been posting much about travel because I live a pretty normal and mundane life and that’s what I write about most of the time.  I have a statistics thing that says I usually have 170-250 unique visitors each month, with about 50 from other countries.  Supposedly this month I have had people visiting from Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Great Britain, Singapore, the Russian Federation, Switzerland and Colombia.  Are people really reading this blog, or are these “bots” from different search engines like Google and Yahoo just searching websites?  Maybe I’ll never know…

More drama with the neighbors

My dad almost ran the neighbor’s dog over tonight, and then was rude to the lady when she told him he was speeding.  My dad and Jean aren’t making it easy to live here.  Jean has gotten into it with another neighbor about his bulldog being off a leash, which is a problem, but she won’t let it go.  I spent months calling and visiting apartments and rental homes and only found 1 (ONE!) that would allow two dogs.  I don’t appreciate them making it hard for me to deal with the landlord or neighbors and hope they’ll both make an effort to stop being so difficult.  I don’t love the situation either, and I’m plenty annoyed by a lot of things about this place, but this is the best I can do right now.  I know my dad and Jean mean well and I should probably support them unconditionally, but it is frustrating to me sometimes and I can’t risk getting tossed out of this place and having to try and find somewhere else.

Besides the issues here, everything else is kosher.  Work went well today and I made more strides in the projects I’m working on.  I also took a couple breaks to talk to friends, and that was fun.  I got home and took Jean out to Olive Garden, and even though our section was full of inconsiderate loudmouths all cursing, the food was good.

I got a movie and book as a birthday gift from my dad today; a Lonely Planet on Malta and Giant.  I spent about an hour reading about Malta.  I didn’t know that the Apostle Paul from the Bible was shipwrecked on Malta on his way to Rome, and you can supposedly take a look at his wrist bone and the column on which he was beheaded in Valetta.  I’m a little skeptical about Biblical relics since loads of time has passed and the historical records don’t always make sense.  Another example of a Biblical relic that I think has dubious merit would be The Ark of the Covenant, supposedly held at a church in Axum, Ethiopia.  I believe that there was probably a box that held stone tablets with important religious doctrine at some point, but I’m not so sure about it being hidden in a little church in Ethiopia (possibly called “Sheba” and/or “Cush” in the Bible).

I’m kinda jumping all over the place here, so why stray from that theme?  I haven’t decided what to do this weekend, other than watch football on Saturday, when there will be some great SEC games on.  Tomorrow evening I may take Jean to see Burn After Reading, which looks awesome.  On Sunday I may go hiking, to see a mission towards LA, or to a beach that’ll allow the dogs on it.

A quiet beginning to the week

Nothing much happened today. We all went to work. Jean’s gone right now to the grocery store to pick up stuff for the week, and my dad just got back from Target where he picked up an ironing board for his room.

If you like reading travel blogs as much as I do, here’s one to try: Expedition 360.  This guy, Jason Lewis, went around the world using only “human power” (no motors or sails).  I mentioned this guy in a previous blog, but I didn’t know his name or his website.  I had seen him in that movie called A Long Way Down, where Ewan McGregor and his friend Charlie Boorman rode motorcycles down through Africa.  They were in the middle of Sudan when some guy comes pedaling by on a bicycle.  The guy was Jason Lewis.  I haven’t read any of the blog yet, but if it’s half as good as For Mom, Love Steve it’ll be awesome.

My sister made a good point in a comment to a previous blog: the cost of a plane ticket is worth getting to deliver a turtle to my nephew, Riley.  Does anyone in Birmingham know where I could buy a turtle in December?  I remember there was a pretty cool pet store off of 65 somewhere.  They had a huge turtle that just walked around on the floor in the store.  I’m thinking a little box turtle will do.

I’m not going to comment on the state of the US economy other than to say greed brought all this on, and even though I’m terribly sorry for all the families that’ll suffer from losing their jobs with Lehman Brothers or AIG, this could have all been avoided if people hadn’t borrowed more than they could afford to pay back or if lenders hadn’t given money to people without any concern for how they’d pay it back.  I think this correction is needed, and even though it’ll be painful, lending practices will straighten up, people will be forced into living within their means, and hopefully Jean and I will get a good deal on a nice house in Socal with a great interest rate!  I think Gandhi had it right when he said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

The little old lady from Ontario

Jean wishes she was the Little Old Lady From Pasadena.  I’ve said in the past that I’d love to live in Pasadena, and I think Jean not only got on-board with that today but she may have taken over that vessel.  She said no less than 4 times that we need to live in Pasadena once we buy a house; unfortunately the average price of a house there is probably like $950,000.  Pasadena is the rich man’s Redlands.  It is the type of small town you see in movies, with the kid on the paper route and tree-lined streets with craftsman style homes that have great big wrap-around porches.  I love the place, and it wouldn’t be too bad of a commute to my job even though it would add about 30 miles to the trip because I would be going the opposite direction of traffic (out of LA in the morning and towards LA in the evenings).  Pipe dream, but it is a nice place.

After I got out of the shower, Jean got up and got ready, then my dad did the same.  We drove up the street and got breakfast, then came home and swapped cars (Jean’s for mine).  We left here around 10am and got to the Rose Bowl around 10:35am.  We parked (for free) in the grassy area outside the stadium and then paid our $8 and made our ways into the flea market.  The first thing we did is my favorite part of going to the flea market, we went straight into the stadium.  The vendors are all setup around the outside of the stadium, but they leave the main entrance into the actual bleachers open so you can check it out.  We took a few pictures, admired The Grandaddy Of Them All, and headed back out to the market.

We did a lap around the stadium checking out all the best stuff.  The vendors pay their rent based on how close they are to the stadium, so the nice stuff is next to the stadium and nothing but junk once you’re on the outer edges of the market.  Jean bought another little cactus, called a split rock.  Jean also bought what has become her favorite treat, a churro.  She’d never had one until we moved out here, now she’s had them at Disneyland, Angels games, the Rose Bowl and anywhere else she can find them.  My only purchases were a fountain drink and a frozen lemonade.  I did spend about 5 minutes oogling the restored radios…  I love those things and if I ever have a house in Pasadena and an extra $1200, I’m buying one.

We didn’t see Alice Cooper or any other stars this time, but we enjoyed it.  My dad was upset he didn’t bring much cash because he said he saw all sorts of stuff he wanted to buy.  The line for the ATMs was like 65 people deep.

We were getting a little hot by 1pm, so we decided to head to the car and move on.  We programmed the GPS and drove basically around the corner to the Gamble House.  This is THE American craftsman-style house.  Everything is custom made, EVERYTHING.  The house was shown in Back to the Future as Doc Brown’s house when Marty went back in time.  The wood work was amazing.  Everything had soft rounded edges.  The tour cost $10 each, but it came with a 1-hour docent led tour, and our tour guide was good.  The only time he had to yell at anyone was when my dad leaned against the 100 year old detailed woodwork.  I got some pretty good pictures of the outside, but unfortunately you weren’t allowed to take any photos inside.

The Gamble House was designed by the Greene brothers and built within 10 months back in 1908 for one half of the wealthy Cincinnati-based Proctor & Gamble.  The Gambles used this place as a winter vacation home.  All the furniture in the house was also custom made at the same time the house was being built.  The house was an oddity because it had 15-watt lightbulbs throughout, instead of candles or gas lamps like all the other homes in the US at the time.  The tour guide said it cost $80,000 to build at the time, but the average worker in the area made $300 a year and 3 bedroom home in Pasadena at that time went for about $1200.  I was really impressed with the entire place and blown away by how much care and craftsmanship went into everything.  Oh yea, this custom built house full of custom furniture is around 8,000 square feet in size, according to the tour guide, so not exactly small.

After the Gamble House, we headed home for a while.  Jean and my dad took naps on the couches until I woke them up at 4:45pm so we could go out for a late birthday dinner.  We went to Viva Madrid in Claremont.  We had some tapas, a few liters of sangria, and I had the mixed paella (it was excellent).

I’m heading to bed now…  Oh yea, we saw the ESPN College Gameday bus heading down the 10 on our way home from Pasadena.  Corso, Herbstreet and Fowler were all out here for the USC – Ohio State game yesterday, and I’m guessing the bus was headed to Auburn for the biggest game of next weekend, #9 Auburn – #6 LSU.

Here’s some pictures from today:



The day after…

I’m up kinda early for a Sunday – 6:30am.  Yesterday was fun, except I wish USC wasn’t so good.  The Tide rolled over lowly Western Kentucky though, so it was a good day.  Jean picked me up sushi from our favorite spot, Robin’s Dono, for lunch, and my dad ordered me a dvd and a book online for gifts.

Jean didn’t get to bed until about 2:30am this morning, so I’m betting she won’t be excited about getting up soon to go poke around at a flea market in Pasadena.  Maybe my dad will be up to it though.  Otherwise we’ll probably skip the flea market again and just go to the Gamble House.  Who knows…  I’m about to hit the shower and start thinking about what to do with my hair.  I need a haircut, but usually I just shave it all off myself, but I’m really considering a normal haircut this time or just continuing to ignore it and let it flow.  Flow may not be the right word because it is more like poking out in different directions, so maybe I’ll let it continue to be unruly and poke out.

I looked into buying tickets for Jean and I to fly back to the South around Christmas, but couldn’t find anything for under $620 each, even out of LAX instead of Ontario.  $1300 to fly back for a week seems kinda high since we could fly to Costa Rica for the same amount.  I’m going to keep monitoring the flights and hopefully they’ll go down.  I also thought about 1-way flights from Atlanta back to Socal, and just driving a rental car across the country for 2 days straight, but with gas at $3-5 a gallon, it won’t save us a dime and it’ll burn up two or maybe even three of our vacation days.  Maybe I’ll just buy Jean a ticket and she can go visit her family and I’ll stay here with the dogs.

Enough blogging for today, I’m off to the shower and then Pasadena (if I can get everyone else up).

I made it!

I’m 31.  Not exactly 16 or 21, but I’m glad I’m on this side of the dirt.  Thank you to everyone that has wished me a happy birthday!  I was going to post a link to the Tim McGraw song, My Next 30 Years, but I can’t find the MP3 on this new laptop.  I can already feel changes that I’ve undergone from my 20’s to my 30’s.  My interests have changed and so have my priorities.  I suppose it is just part of the maturation process.

Last night I tossed around the idea of going up to Stateline so I could put some money on a few games, and my dad even volunteered to drive me there as a birthday gift, but this morning I don’t feel like it.  I’d rather stay at home and just watch the games.  Jean went to bed really late (1:30am) so she’s still in the sack, but my dad is bumping around in his room doing something.

There was a major accident out here yesterday on one of the commuter trains, the Metrolink.  So far 17 people are dead and another 135 are injured, some critically.  I feel really badly for their families who were waiting for them to come home yesterday and now they’ll never see them again.  I’m happy my dad didn’t listen to me when I suggested that he take the Metrolink to work to shave off some commuting time.

Also, Hurricane Ike slammed into Texas over night and supposedly gas is going to skyrocket from $3.61 a gallon to $7-$10 because of all the refineries that were most likely damaged.  My mom told me this morning that gas stations in Birmingham, AL were already out of gas and the price is climbing there, plus there are reports out of Tennessee that gas is already past $7.

I’m heading out for breakfast and to top off my gas tank right now, but thank you mom and dad for having me 31 years ago!

The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.  I shall use my time.  — Jack London

Gifts for myself

I had planned on having sushi for dinner and then going to a movie, but instead I’m at home alone.  My dad hasn’t gotten home from work and Jean came home for about 15 minutes before taking off to go shopping alone and then to her second job.

At least my plans for tomorrow only involve myself – watching college football.  A couple of quick picks: Purdue over Oregon (PAC-10 sucks), UCLA over BYU (PAC-10 sucks still, but BYU barely won 2 so far), UGA to hand Spurrier a second straight loss, Oklahoma to stomp Washington (PAC-10 again), Frenso State to upset Wisconsin, Ohio State over USC only if Beanie Wells plays, and obviously the Tide will roll over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

On Sunday I plan on going to the Rose Bowl flea market and then the Gamble House, or maybe to the LA County Fair instead.  We missed the OC Fair this year and we’ve never been to the LA Fair, but on the other hand we saw Alice Cooper at the flea market the last time we went there…  Another plus about Pasadena would be to try out Pie ‘n Burger, which my buddy Jim says is awesome.

Today I skipped the walk again so I could start knocking out some work, but I also left work early so I could get to the bank at noon and cash a birthday check.  Thanks mom for the money, and I love the bookmarker too!  I went straight to two of my top 5 favorite stores, Barnes and Noble and then Borders.  I bought a Lonely Planet about Ethiopia and Children of a Lesser God on dvd for only $7.99.  I love this movie, and why isn’t William Hurt in many movies anymore?  I also bought the second OCMS album, but they have another one coming out in two weeks.  Next I stopped at Target to look into getting Zelda for the Wii, but the game and a controller would have set my back about $80, so I settled for the What Happens in Vegas dvd instead.

I didn’t wish away any of my time this past week, but it still felt like it flew by.  I tried to spend a little more time playing with the dogs, and I made a few more calls to family and friends than usual.  Speaking of which, thank you Elnora for my birthday card!  Also, thanks to everyone else who called or sent me a card.

I’m off to watch the Fighting Manginos.

Looking back, and then forward

Seven years ago I woke up in my duplex rental on 13th Street in Tuscaloosa to Jean saying something happened in New York.  I woke up my roommate, Kenny (aka “Bubby”), and we headed out to the den to watch the news.  While we were watching the report on the plane that hit the World Trade Center, another plane crashed into the second tower.  We couldn’t believe it…  Jean left to go to work and Kenny and I decided to skip class and see what was going on.  It was confusing – you could tell the reporters had no idea what was going on, and then a third and fourth plane crashed into the Pentagon and a field Pennsylvania.  Kenny and I sat there in silence and watched.  We thought the country was under attack.  We watched as the twin towers collapsed and covered Manhattan in dust.  I just remember sitting there in my recliner and Bubby in his, watching tv.  Every single channel was showing the same thing.

The U.S. changed a lot after that day…  You can’t go sit at the gate with someone before they leave town on a flight.  You have the government spying on citizens and it’s OK because of the Patriot Act.  You have it in the back of your mind that Arabs hate us and want to harm us, so can any of them really be trusted?  I feel terrible for the 3000+ people that lost their lives and the thousands of family and friends their deaths affected.  I also hate that our country changed for the worse after that, and all because of some crazy religion.  Don’t get me wrong, religious fanatics of all stripes are crazy: Muslims, Christians, Hindus, or anybody who thinks someone else should be forced to believe what they believe or who thinks you should harm another person because they disagree with you.  I’m not a pacifist in the least; I think blowing up parts of the Middle East needed to be done to let them know their actions won’t be without consequence.

I’ve been to Manhattan and “Ground Zero” since 9/11, and I’ll be headed back there with my wife in a few months.  I’m looking forward to the massive memorial they plan on putting up…  Moving on from this retrospective, I hope the US will move into a protectionist mode.  Capitalism and Democracy aren’t for everyone.  We tried to shove it down the throats of the Koreans and Veitnamese, and look what happened there.  We thought we could force Nicaragua and El Salvador into our mold of how the world should be, and we failed again.  Here we are trying to fight a group of people that have been fighting for thousands of years and think dying for their cause and becomming a martyr is the greatest thing that could happen to them, instead of valuing life.  Iraq needed Saddam, and I think the US did too because he kept Iran in check.  We won’t solve the Israeli-Palastinian conflict, it has been going on forever.  We won’t convince China that Taiwan and Tibet are sovereign countries, nor will we convince Russia to leave Georgia or Ukraine alone.  And I don’t think we should.

We need to stop policing the world and spend that money at home instead – build our infrastructure and make medical and technological advances that other countries won’t have for another 100 years.  We need to stop giving aid to everyone, especially Israel – they aren’t our friends – they spy on us and draw us into conflict.  We need to stop trading with China and making them rich beyond belief unless they honor their fair trade agreements and let the yuan move against the US dollar (not just by the paltry amount they’ve allowed only recently).  We need to make incentives for companies (specifically manufacturing) to keep jobs in the US instead of outsourcing.  I’m tired of “helping” everyone else and watching our country fall apart.  We need to develop alternative energy sources and stop sending billions to countries that hate us, like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.  Basically we need to make our country great again like it was for the decade after WWII, or else we’ll end up like the failed powers of past centuries, like France, Greece and Italy.  Thinking we’re important when we’re really only marginally relevant.  We need to act now while we’re still the most powerful country in the world, economically and militarily, not after we’ve built China up by purchasing cheap goods or the Middle East by consuming record amounts of $200 barrels of oil.

Anyhow, I’ll hop off my stump now.  September 11th brings out powerful emotions in most Americans, and I’m just sad to see this great country declining before my eyes.

Today was a busy day at work.  I skipped walking to get to the office by 5:10am and stayed until about 4pm.  I got a lot done today thanks to Monster and Nitro2Go.  After work I picked up dinner for Jean and I and made my way home.  We ate dinner and she took off to look for my birthday gift.  I’m sitting at home alone right now at 7:20pm, waiting for my dad and Jean to make their ways back here…

My college roommate, Phil, finally made up his mind to travel.  He cashed in some frequent flyer miles and will be on his way to do a little training in Thailand in a couple of months.  Also, I’d like to thank my mom and sister again for using the blog comments, and a special thanks to Michael Harrington.  Michael posted a couple of comments and included a link to his website, sambuhause.blogspot.com.  Michael isn’t someone I’ve ever talked to before, so I was happy to see that he read the blog.  I spent a while reading his tonight and really enjoyed it.  If you read my post about The Art of Travel and the Darien Gap, you may remember that I said the Darien is the most dangerous section of jungle in the world.  As best as I can tell, Michael lives there!  He’s an American ex-pat living in Panama and he runs an eco-lodge and does tours into the Darien.  Michael, I enjoyed the story on your blog and the pictures were great.

G’nite,

Matt