Water Signs

La Jolla Sunset

Sunset over Pacific Beach, La Jolla CA

I spent part of this week on a business trip to the southern end of our great state, training staff down in San Diego.  The ocean’s moderating influence on air temperature makes the California coast particularly appealing for inlanders like myself this time of year.  So I was surprised to learn, while watching live video feeds of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, that San Diego was under an “extreme heat advisory.”  The temperature?  85°F.  What I thought to be pleasant is apparently dangerously hot by San Diego standards.  I suppose it’s all a matter of what one is used to.

Meanwhile, back home in Sacramento, we continue to experience day after scorching day of 100° plus temperatures, as one of the hottest summers on record marches on into September.  Driving north from San Diego, we stopped for lunch in Santa Clarita before chugging over the Grapevine into the Central Valley.  The thermometer in our car displayed an outdoor temperature of 112°F.  It felt like a flashback to our three years of living out in the Mojave Desert.  Our holiday weekend promises more of the same, with the Saturday temperature forecast to hit 111° here in California’s capital.  We hide out in our tiny house and blast the A/C.  150 miles to our south, my octogenarian parents (who rarely turn on the central air in their large home) have been paying $400 per month in electricity bills just to keep the house cool enough to avoid heat stroke.

During the monotonous 1,000 mile plus round trip to and from San Diego, it was hard not to notice the roadside signs and billboards up and down the Central Valley along Interstate 5 and Highway 99.  I am a bit too young to remember the whimsical Burma Shave signs of yesteryear, but old enough to recall the goofy South of the Border signs that dot Interstate 95 through North Carolina as one approaches that tourist trap in Dillon, S.C.  Anyone remember the upside down sign emblazoned with the legend “Pedro Feex Later?”  It sounds more than a bit racist now, but as a child in the 1970s, I didn’t know any better and thought it was hilarious.  This from a New York Jewish white boy who had never met a Mexican-American and didn’t know what a tortilla is until the age of 35.

Here in California, the signs planted in the fields along the vast empty expanse of freeway cutting through Fresno, Kings and Kern Counties shy away from cheesy advertising in favor of pleas for water.  Yes, water.  You have to live here to appreciate the never-ending political and financial battles over obtaining more water for agricultural purposes.  Now, I don’t pretend to know a thing about California water politics, but I am aware of the constant shrieking and hand-wringing over the relative merits of building tunnels in the Bay Area and high-speed rail service between San Francisco and Los Angeles as opposed to making greater efforts to satisfy the seemingly insatiable thirst of our farmers.  I also hear a lot about diversion of Sierra Nevada snow melt runoff away from the Central Valley to satisfy the water needs of southern California cities.  Amidst allegations of the south stealing the north’s water, I am reminded of the nation’s bitter division during the Civil War.  Indeed, there are perennial proposals for everything from California’s secession from the Union to dividing our sprawling state into two, four, six or eight states of more manageable size with greater local control.  If you don’t believe me, check out hashtag #calexit on Twitter or this recent article from the Sacramento Bee or this one from the Los Angeles Times.  In California, land of the ballot proposition, anything (no matter how outrageous) can be put to a vote.

With water being the essence of life, it is difficult for anyone to argue against it.  However, the signs along the freeway have a tendency to pander to base instincts at the expense of rational thought.  One is led to believe that providing more water to California’s agricultural interests is a “no brainer.”  But is it, really?  And so, without further ado, I present for your entertainment two of my favorite roadside signs that I have seen in multiple locations with a number of minor variations.

“Is growing food wasting water?”  The most recent version of this sign features a photo of a young boy with a puzzled expression scratching his head.  Um, well, for starters, define your terms, please.  What exactly do you mean by “growing food?”  Perhaps you are referring to California’s famous fields of lettuce, onions and tomatoes, our orange groves and almond orchards, our world-renowned vineyards.  Or perhaps what you really mean are the vast hay and alfalfa fields that suck up water to feed, not our people, but the animals that power the state’s beef cattle, dairy and poultry industries.  This type of “growing food” leaves us with a legacy of methane gas that contributes mightily to global warming (I told you it was hot) and waterways polluted with millions of tons of animal feces.  If you should happen to think I’m being overly dramatic, by all means take a ride down I-5 past Coalinga and catch a whiff as you whizz by Harris Ranch.  The hubris of that operation in posting billboards advertising its restaurant boggles my mind.  How would you like your shit today, sir?  Rare, medium or well done?

Is growing food wasting water, you ask?  I’m surprised that the state’s agricultural industry has the nerve to bring this up.  It sure is wasting water when used to sustain hungry and thirsty livestock just long enough to kill the poor beasts and turn them into hamburgers, steaks and Chicken McNuggets.  If raising animals for meat and dairy were banned from the state, we’d have more than enough water to grow the plants needed to feed our own people and export to neighboring states and to the world.  But agricultural interests don’t want you to know that.  They must think we’re ignorant, stupid or both.

“No water for valley farms = No jobs!”  Oh, goodness, you’ve got to love this one.  Again, define your terms, please.  No jobs doing what??  No jobs picking grapes, strawberries and citrus?  Check out this article in today’s paper, suggesting that a significant reduction in the number of undocumented Mexicans crossing into the United States to perform backbreaking labor in the fields at low wages has resulted in increased automation and fewer jobs.  This has nothing to do with water.

Then, of course, one must consider the folly of the paradigm that is California’s agriculture industry.  The PR people will tell you that we are “the nation’s salad bowl” and that we feed the world.  Excuse me, but why?  Anyone who thinks about our climate for even a minute would have to at least ask.  The climate of California’s Central Valley is Mediterranean, just one tick shy of desert.  We are a very dry place.  It doesn’t rain at all here for most of the year.  Our water supply depends largely on how much snow the state’s northern and eastern mountains get in the wintertime.  The phrase “seven years of drought” is bandied about regularly.  Yes, we have year-round sunshine and suitable land, but who in their right mind would plan extensive agriculture in a desert climate with little water?  All of us need a steady, reliable water supply for our homes and families.  I say people before agriculture.

Our state’s agricultural industry is largely dependent on irrigation.  That means bringing in water from elsewhere because we don’t have much here naturally.  Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to concentrate our nation’s plant-growing operations in areas that God has blessed with plenty of water instead of in the desert?  The Pacific Northwest and New England come to mind.  Why deprive the people of our cities of their water supply in order to run the Rain Birds and sprinklers that prop up the state’s agriculture?

When the sign says that no water means no jobs, what it really means is that no water means no agricultural jobs.  The state’s big agricultural interests would have us believe that we’ll all be out of work unless we kowtow to their demands to commandeer our scarce water supplies so they can keep making money.  This is a lie, pure and simple.

I have to laugh when I hear the wry suggestion that the entire valley be paved over to bring all the call centers here from India and the Philippines.  I do get it, though.  We have evolved into a post-agricultural, post-industrial economy that focuses on the information industry.  Concentrating our state’s economic efforts in that direction instead of wasting them on irrigation not only fits with the realities of climate change but would also create plenty of jobs and bring renewed prosperity to California.

 

Uncle Guac’s Stupid Sign of the Day

(Hand-written on green construction paper and taped to a telephone pole.  I wish I could have taken a photo of it, but I was driving.)

I will buy your house for ca$h!  Call Larry.

Oooh, Larry, now aren’t you a stud?  Put that dollar bill away, you big spender, you.  Actually, I’m not looking for ca$h.  I was kind of hoping you would pay me in chicken eggs.  Bawk!

Almost Home

He had plastic bags wrapped around his shoes
He was covered with the evening news
Had a pair of old wool socks on his hands
The bank sign was flashing “5 below”
It was freezing rain and spittin’ snow
He was curled up behind some garbage cans
I was afraid that he was dead
I gave him a gentle shake
When he opened up his eyes I said “Old man, are you okay?”

— Craig Morgan, “Almost Home”

For obvious reasons, homelessness is particularly jarring to the eye in the wintertime.  The cold, wet and windy weather we have been experiencing in northern California for the past month or so leaves me running from house to car and from car to office as quickly as possible.  I try to avoid spending more than a minute or two outdoors at all costs.  And I find myself saying a silent prayer for those who lack a roof over their heads.

Tuesday of this past week was particularly bad.  We had to drive well over 100 miles to visit a client’s location to deliver a staff training program.  About five minutes into the trip, the heavens opened up and it proceeded to pour down rain, causing cars to creep along the freeway in an effort to see what was right in front of them and avoid hydroplaning or spinning out.  But first, I had to get from my office to the car, a distance of perhaps 100 feet or so.  The wind was gusting so hard that I had to walk backward through the puddles, as facing the wind would have left me unable to breathe.  My wonderful wife had come to pick me up and, seeing me struggle, braved the elements herself to relieve me of my bag so that I might have some chance of actually making it to the car.

And, through all of this, we have neighbors huddled up in sleeping bags or blankets, some curled up in corners under awnings, others sleeping right out in the open on the sidewalk downtown.

We live near a tiny stream known as Dry Creek, an irony not lost on any of us here in recent days.  Playing the mouse that roared, the little trickle became a raging river that rapidly overflowed its banks, leaving some of the streets in this area under enough feet of water that only the tops of Stop signs stuck out to remind us that a road is there.  The larger rivers in this area, such as the American and the Cosumnes, have been running so high, it’s scary.  On the news every night are stories about saving levees by opening floodgates that have been closed for years.  Out west of town, in the Davis and Dixon area, the fields have been inundated by brown water that goes on for miles.

About the only thing we haven’t had here is snow, which is somewhat surprising considering that the temperature has dipped well below freezing on several nights.  Having spent the first 35 years of my life in New York, I never imagined that such weather would be in store for me in California.  What happened to the land of perpetual sunshine, Hollywood and Mickey Mouse?  It’s not LA or San Diego up here, folks.

Years ago, an acquaintance told me that if she were ever homeless, she would simply move to Florida, even if she had to walk to get there.  I am certain that quite a few of our neighbors who sleep outdoors would be more than happy to move to Florida or to San Diego, if only their physical and mental disabilities would allow them to walk there.  Meanwhile, San Diego has enough problems of its own with people arriving from other parts of the country in the belief that, even if they hit rock bottom, they can always survive in the sunshine on the beach.  Each year, charitable agencies down there end up purchasing a lot of bus fares and plane tickets home for those who are sadly disillusioned after ending up broke, arrested and, often, victims of crime and abuse.

Which still leaves us with thousands of people who have no family or friends to take them in, no hometown to which they can return.  All they have is the here and now, fighting the wind and rain and the biting cold as they struggle to make it through another day, exposed to the elements.

Homelessness tends to make the news a lot more often in the winter than it does during the rest of the year.  We hear about warming centers being opened temporarily to prevent hypothermia among at least some of our local people who are living on the street or in cars.  We hear about the insufficient number of shelter beds, the poor conditions in shelters that leave people preferring to take their chances outdoors rather than become victims of crime indoors, and those to whom shelters do not apply because they cannot or will not adhere to the rules.

The rules.  Basic things like no drinking, no drugging, no fighting, no yelling, no exposing yourself, no relieving yourself outside of the bathroom.  The kinds of things that most of us take for granted.

Some would be thrown out of a shelter in a hot minute due to inability to adhere to these rules.  Others stay away due to addictions that make it near to impossible for them to comply with such rules.  And then there are those who are simply freedom lovers, who don’t like to be told what to do and believe that rules do not apply to them.  Is that really a serious enough offense to warrant a death sentence?

There is not a lot of sympathy out there for those who fall into this last category.  Many of us don’t care what happens to them, justifying their position with the belief that whatever disaster befalls them is of their own doing.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?”  “I don’t know,” he replied.  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Genesis 4:9 (NIV)

A California December

electric blanket

It has gotten really cold here.

I know.  It’s December.  It’s supposed to be cold.

Not here.  I mean what the heck?  This is California, for crying out loud!  When I lived in New York and New England all those years, everyone spent the winter whining about the snow and cold, wishing they could live in a warm place such as Florida or California.

California, in particular, was mythic.  The home of Schwarzenegger and Mickey Mouse.  Everyone there was either a movie star or a surfer dude, and we’d all seen the romantic photos of couples walking along the beach and enjoying the ocean at any time of year.

Joe Dee Messina sang “Heads Carolina, tails California, somewhere greener, somewhere warmer.”

The Mamas and The Papas were busy California dreamin’.  “I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.”

Even in L.A., the weather people are calling for 41°F tonight.  But here, two-thirds of the way up from Mexico to Oregon, we’re going to have a hard freeze tonight, 23°F.

Just for kicks, I checked the forecast for some of my old haunts back east.  They may hit the low forties tonight.

Somehow, being in a place that is significantly colder than New York seems to defeat the purpose of living in California.

I am reminded that we don’t have blizzards here.  Sure, how often did that happen back in NYC?  Once per winter, maybe?  I remember my last winter on the east coast very clearly.  We barely had two flakes of snow to rub together the entire winter.

Be that as it may, this type of weather does not bode well for the homeless in our area, particularly those unable to reach a shelter or unwilling to stay there.  I am told that our homeless friend is still sleeping in his sister’s car, inside a fleece-lined sleeping bag, wearing a coat and covered by blankets.

I think what I’m supposed to do is smile and be glad it’s the holiday season.  It’s the eighth and final night of Hanukkah, and Christmas is just around the corner.  Cold weather is supposed to be a part of the whole ambience.  Mittens, scarves, hot chocolate and all that.  We wouldn’t want Frosty the Snowman to melt, now would we?  And perhaps, as we see our frozen breath while running about shopping, a taste of the North Pole will encourage empathy for the hardships endured by Santa and his elves.

I suppose that’s all well and good for the children and the Christmas carolers.

As for me, I stand with my bloggy friend, Vagina.

I want my electric blankie.

 

On the Road: TPMS, a Wet Carpet and a Fake Tornado

Northern California to Southern California.  Wobbling down the I-5.

A three-day turnaround and we’re back at the motel in Buttonwillow again.  When the servers at a Denny’s 300 miles from home recognize you, you know you’ve done this trip a few too many times.  My horse ought to know the way home by now.

Unfortunately, the ol’ pony developed a little blacksmithing problem the second day down the trail.  Now, it isn’t as if we don’t take care of our trusty steed.  With the amount of driving we’ve been doing, we take it in to the local dealer for maintenance nearly every month.  The last time around, we were assured that the tires still have a good five thousand miles on them.

Perhaps the traction control system indicator light should have been a clue.  You know, the one that looks like little skid marks.  Finding nothing wrong, our local Ford dealer reset the indicator lamp.  Then it came on again and was reset again.  But like the cat who came back the very next day or some sort of electronic jack-in-the-box, it’s just a matter of time before the light comes on again.  As maddeningly frustrating as this situation is, we’ve learned to live with it.  But when, while whizzing down the back side of the Grapevine at 70 mph, the TPMS light came on to join its comrade in arms, we knew we were in trouble.

“What the heck is TPMS?” my wife asked, “tire pressure means shit?”  Pretty much, my dear, pretty much.

In the name of full disclosure, let me say that I know exactly zero about cars or their internal workings.  I drive it, I take it in for maintenance, and when it breaks down, I get it repaired.  And I pay for it every month.  That’s about it.  I wouldn’t know the difference between the guts of a car and the guts of a pig.  You get the picture.  As far as I’m concerned, TP is toilet paper and MS is either a manuscript or multiple sclerosis. Our owner’s manual, however, insists that these initials stand for something called a “tire pressure management system.” Whatever that is.

We took the next exit and pulled into a service station/espresso shop in Castaic.  My wife aired up the tires (the guy at the station was a good egg who turned on the air pump without making us deposit endless quarters) and we prepared to hit the road.  As we were about to pull out of the lot, she asked me to get out and check the front passenger side tire.

“Ssssssssss!”  Uh-oh.  That is not a good sound, not at all.  Not only did the tire appear as low as it was before it was aired up, the telltale noise indicated that it had sprung a leak, and not a slow one either.  Time to pull into a spot out of the way and call Triple A.

The idea was that we’d use our AAA roadside service and someone would come out to loosen the lugs, remove the tire and put on the spare.  I provided the exact address and cross streets of our location; the helpful call center lady informed me that someone would be along within the next 40 minutes.  Should we keep you updated by text or by phone?  Text, please.

Outdoor temperature:  109 degrees.  We had plenty of gas, so we kept the engine running and blasted the A/C.  We hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch and we were getting hungry.  10 minutes.  20 minutes.  Half an hour.  Do they have to use up the entire forty minutes?  After waiting 38 minutes, I receive a call (not a text).  The tire guy is just a mile away giving someone a jump.  He should be there within ten minutes.  We rolled our eyes.  Ten minutes later:  No tire guy.  15 minutes.  20 minutes.  Oh, here he comes.

“Do we have a regular sized spare or just one of those little donuts?”  I asked my wife.  “The donut,” she reassured me.  Unless we’re talking about maple bars and Boston crème, I knew we were in trouble.  Tire Guy confirmed my worst fears.

“Where you headed?” he asked.  “Indio.”

“Well, this tire will take you about 100 to 200 miles, but you can’t do more than 50 to 55 miles per hour.”

At that rate, it would take us more than four hours to get to our hotel.  Oh well, we can get the tire replaced in the morning.  Our priority:  Food. 

As we lunched in Santa Clarita, we realized that this was not going to work.  Hobbling along in the slow lane while tractor trailers whizz past us doing seventy?  We knew we’d have to get the tire replaced right where we were.  Anyone around who would like to sell and install a tire on a Sunday afternoon?  A few calls and we found a local Firestone dealer who could do it if we got over there in the next hour.

The tire shop recommended replacing all four tires.  We were planning on doing this a few thousand miles down the road anyway, so we asked the young man to write us a quote.  We gulped when we saw the numbers.  They had the right model tires on hand, but with installation and alignment, the total was just shy of a thousand dollars.  Can you say “unanticipated, unavoidable expense?”

After an hour and a half of sitting in the waiting room watching the Back to the Future movies, we were finally on our way.  Now, we typically stay at the cheapest motel available in a convenient location.  But this time, we decided to treat ourselves to one night in a suite at a more upscale hotel that we had visited on business several years ago.  We had planned to arrive well before dinner so that we could enjoy the facilities for several hours.  Instead, we hit town at 10 pm and went to sleep immediately.

Well, not exactly immediately.  The living room and the kitchen of the suite were lovely, but for some odd reason, the carpet in the bedroom was damp.  And what was that trickling of water that kept waking us up?  It seemed to emanate from the air conditioning unit.  Condensation maybe?  Next thing we knew, the carpet was positively sopping, and it stank.  But still we couldn’t see any water, only hear it.  We called the front desk and they offered to have us change rooms.  By now it was midnight, we had already unpacked, and I had to work in the morning.  So we politely declined.

After my wife dropped me off at work, she returned to the hotel and had a little chat with the manager.  We ought to have at least a few dollars taken off of our bill, she suggested.  To our pleasant surprise, the hotel completely comped the room.  Now that’s what I call class.  You know we’ll be back.

A day of work out of town was followed by the last leg of our trip, the drive across the desert.  As I hit the freeway, the gathering clouds began to look positively menacing.  Half an hour down the road, the billowing fluffies turned black and the first spattering of drops began.  What scared the heck out of me was that, not too far in the distance, the dark clouds seemed to be pulled straight down to the earth in the shape of the infamous funnel.  By now, it was pouring and I had the wipers working overtime.  Thirty more miles to go.  Could I outrun a tornado?  Not a chance.  Dear Lord, please grant us traveling mercies and get me the hell out of here before our SUV gets blown into a cactus.

Donna pointed out that I was overreacting.  The cloud wasn’t moving, so it couldn’t be a twister.

I am happy to say that we arrived home in one piece, if a bit lighter in the wallet.  Even better, we don’t have to make this trip again for another three weeks.  By then, I know, I’ll be itching to hit the road again.

 

Water and Ice

140

It’s hot.

There’s not much more to say about it.  Friday afternoon, when we took off for a weekend in Nevada, the mercury here in the desert mocked us at 122 degrees.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, on both Saturday and Sunday, when we walked out to the car, the digital thermometer read… well, see photo above.

So we live in a blast furnace.  On Friday, my nephew emailed me to remind us to keep hydrated. 

As if I needed a reminder.

Water has become my best friend.  And I don’t even like water.  It makes my belly ache.

Living in Hell, however, has significantly changed my outlook on H2O.  If you don’t believe me, I will tell you that the big truck with the long hose that the guy drags in through our back door paid us a visit on Thursday and filled our tank with 91 gallons of drinking water.

I intend to drink all of it.

Some of it may find its way into our iced tea pitchers (we bought two more in Nevada) and some of it may become pink lemonade.  Jugs, glasses, cups, pitchers — they all become convenient way stations for the pouring of water into the temporary home that is our bodies.

I say temporary, because it goes in one end and out the other.  I am wearing out the path from the kitchen to the bathroom.

My wife loves ice and has to have it in every drink.  If we are staying in a hotel, the bucket must be carried to the ice machine and back at least once per day.  At home, we have the purple bowl of ice in the little freezer and the ten pound bags of ice in the big freezer.  When we start to run low, a visit to Smart ‘n Final is in order.  If they are closed, Burger King is open 24/7 and they sell big bags of ice out of the drive-thru window.

As for me, well, ice is not my thing.  I am more than happy to open a bottle or can right from the pantry or to tap the water tank as is.  If I’m out in the heat, sure, a cold drink is welcomed.  But sitting at home or at work in the air conditioning while the sun sizzles outside, room temperature liquids suit me just fine.  I think ice is overrated.

I don’t drink alcohol, but I can understand why beer is often served “warm” in England.  In fact, I am told that in the U.K., ice is not an expectation and drinks, hard or soft, are generally served without it.

I must have been a Brit in another life.