Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lasting Gratification

Ten years ago, I thought my life was pretty good. I moved to Truckee, California a year earlier to escape the madness (both internally and externally) of the San Francisco Bay Area. I managed to arrive in a situation where my income requirements were minimal and my aspirations were equally so. My plan, if it could be called a plan, was to live out my years in semi-retirement in this alpine paradise. My “backyard” was my playground and my boys would reap the benefits. At the age of 36, I had arrived.

My education to that point consisted of a high school diploma, a technical certification from a vocational institute and a number of attempts at other educational goals, each of which were abandoned in an effort to get to greener pastures as quickly as I could. My commitment to education and career was based in opportunity – that is to say that there was no commitment. I would jump ship as soon as the brass ring was within reach. It was all about comfort – my comfort. I could not see nor did I care about the greater good. My concern for humanity was limited to only those close to me, a world that gradually got smaller and smaller.

Although it is true that I worked to a level that could be best described as “good enough,” I paid my taxes and I would be sure to point out the injustices in the world to anyone who would listen, I had no intention of doing anything about anything as long as I had what I needed. Internal gratification was attained externally and if at all possible, instantly. The problem with instant gratification is that it only lasts for an instant; once it is gone the quest begins again – it is both never lasting and never ending. However, despite my lack of initiative and commitment, opportunity serendipitously landed at my feet and it gave me a sense of purpose, for about a year.

Through a series of unlikely events, I landed a job as a cell phone retailer in Truckee in the summer of 1999. I was to open a new store in a chain owned by a Reno entrepreneur who was a dealer for Pacific Bell/Nevada Bell Wireless (soon to become Cingular Wireless and later, AT&T Wireless). In the previous year, I worked in seasonal positions as a mechanic at a golf course in the summer and a ski area in the winter – using skills I had acquired years earlier as I sought fast and easy money (which never materialized because I never committed enough time to reach the expertise those who made “the big bucks” did). It was low-paying, rarely satisfying grunt work, but it paid the bills.

Due to my sporadic but considerable experience with computers (including another never completed foray into vocational education) combined with my experience as an early cellular user (my first phone was housed in a bag), the learning curve was short. I was able to take seemingly remotely related knowledge and combine it to discover capabilities this new (at the time) digital cellular technology had to offer. A convergence of new technology, much of it developed in Europe, enabled me to bring some tools to our group of stores that allowed us to do things that are common today, but unheard of then.

But business was initially very slow. Digital coverage in the Sierras was spotty and we were the upstarts – the analog competition in Truckee was well established. Although I was profoundly bored, I gained a great deal of satisfaction not in selling cellular service, but in providing service by educating my customers on the capabilities of our digital technology. I was also a liaison between the service provider and my customers, using my connections at Cingular to resolve my customers’ issues. After about six to eight months, business exploded and the money started rolling in. I had arrived, once again.

The satisfaction I experienced early on was lost in the aura of success. My emphasis was redirected as my income was directly influenced by my sales and my sales were twice what the owner projected. I was becoming, again, instantly gratified and my efforts again became only “good enough.” Although my run essentially ended with a violent automobile accident on October 17, 2000 – my “commitment” was already waning. I was no longer focused on what gave me job satisfaction; indeed, I never really recognized it when I had it. My mindset was still focused on my comfort and that comfort had a price tag.

Today, ten years after starting that job and nearly nine after my wreck, I have a profoundly different view on the world and my place in it. Comfort today is derived from far more than some physical reality – it comes from within. Throughout the intervening years I have experienced more discomfort (including, but not limited to a three month hospitalization) than I could ever imagine, but from it came a completely different perspective on life. That job as a cellular retailer, as did most every other opportunity that has been placed at my feet, gave me that sense of purpose I always sought. I just didn’t know it and passed right by it, again, for the kind of satisfaction that can be bought; the kind that can be lost just like it can be gained – in an instant.

Although I have finally found what I believe to be my “purpose” in education both as a student as well as a teacher, I firmly believe purpose was present in each and every of the many vocations I have encountered thus far. It isn’t in what I do, but how I approach it. Whether I was wrenching on a golf cart or a snow cat, selling cellular service, working as a technician or in sales and marketing in Silicon Valley, as an educator or any of the various other hats I have worn, it all comes down to a participatory role in the human race. It is not, nor has it ever been, all about me and mine. Paradoxically, by focusing less on my own comfort and more on contributing to the world in general, my comfort, internally, is far greater and, more importantly, lasting.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Commuter's Notebook

It is no secret that I like to ride my motorcycle. This is not to say that I always want to ride. I put many more miles on my car in the last 12 months than I did on my bike (not quite twice as many – about 22,000 and 12,000, respectively). There are a number of situations when I prefer to drive. The obvious include inclement weather, storage or passenger capacity, but there are others. Although I don’t mind putting on all of my leather and other cold weather gear, when the temperature dips below about 50 degrees I prefer to drive. On the other end of the spectrum, when it gets very hot, a short ride can be enjoyable while a longer one might be intolerable. But there are other factors, too.

For the most part, I am not a motorcycle commuter. The vast majority of the miles I travel between my home in Fair Oaks, CA and California State University, Sacramento are logged in my car. There are number of advantages to riding to school/work, but the negatives usually outweigh the positives. I can strap my computer bag and all the associated books and binders stuffed in it to my bike, but it takes enough time that loading and unloading is noticeable. Although parking my bike on campus is painless as far as space availability and proximity are concerned, locking all the necessary locks and securing my permit to the bike are tasks that are replaced by simply closing the door and pushing a button with my car.

Those are, however, minor details that I would gladly undertake if the ride was worth it. Mine is not. Most of my commute takes place on US 50 – a multi-lane freeway that has little in the way of aesthetic value between Folsom and Sacramento. Add to the equation the number of cars, many with operators who are eating, adjusting their appearance, reading and/or talking on their cell phones, and the 15 to 20 minute commute becomes everything but relaxing. The wind in my face is littered with debris as the wall-to-wall cars pick it up with their tires and fling it into the air, too small to notice behind four doors and a windshield, but painfully apparent when it hits my face.

This might sound almost blasphemous to my hard-core brethren, but my bike, for me, is an escape. Riding on the freeway, especially during commute hours, requires such heightened awareness just to stay alive that the peace I find is relegated to the point of pointlessness. Give me a beautiful mountain road or an uncrowded stretch of highway and I’m all over it. Even the multi-lane highways can paradoxically lend the peace I seek when riding in a pack – a presence drivers cannot easily ignore. But to fight all those cars on my bike by myself just to commute? I’ll take the comfort and safety of my car and save my bike for more enjoyable rides.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Momentary Eternity

I can’t say I remember the first time I visited Lake Tahoe – I know I was very young. And I can’t recall with any separate specificity the thousands of times I have seen her since, but one underlying characteristic of each occurrence is her utter magnificence. It is breathtaking each and every time. Winter, summer, spring or fall… it does not matter, the majesty of the lake transcends all else. When I lived in the nearby town of Truckee for several years, I would often travel Highway 267 from Truckee to Tahoe’s north shore. Cresting Brockway Summit, the grandeur of this “Jewel of the Sierra” replaces all other realities, if only for an instant.

It has a meditative quality. The overwhelming beauty of this pristine lake can quiet one’s mind, almost as though her silent dominance supersedes whatever conflict or confusion might be going through my head. Gazing out over the lake’s south shore on this beautiful early summer morning, I am afforded the opportunity to escape the minutia and refocus on the big picture – both literally and figuratively. I am not speaking in terms of my own long-term goals, dreams and aspirations – the real big picture is much larger than that. But it eventually comes down to the few years I have to experience the world and what that means.

Lake Tahoe, or at least the area surrounding the lake, has changed dramatically in just less than 200 years. There used to be a lake, some Native Americans, forest and wild life. There were no houses or roads or “infrastructure.” No casinos. All of that is relatively recent, yet no one alive today was witness to those unspoiled times. But despite all of this “civilization,” the lake endures. She was here long before me and will be long after I am gone – perhaps long after humans are gone. Although concerns of sullying the lake’s legendary clarity are valid, the fact remains that we are of little significance to her… she can and will wait us out.

All of us.

And maybe it is, in part, that enduring power that I am tapping into. It is humbling. While quietly contemplating, my phone rang with an email alert. Although the trappings of the modern world invaded my solitude, I was not compelled to immediately break my connection with nature. When I finally did read the alert, it eerily dovetailed into my thoughts. Farrah Fawcett lost her battle with cancer; she is dead. Yesterday, Ed McMahon died. (Newsbreak: Michael Jackson – also dead). Someday, we all will die. And though I don’t often dwell on mortality, from time to time it tends to put some things into perspective. I last wrote about moments – how the hustle and bustle of everyday life can sometimes overshadow what is really important.

The funny thing about time is that there is really only one time – now. It is at once fleeting, permanent and continuous; both limited and endless. The question is what we do with our time while we’re here. As morbid as this might sound, it is not about dying, but rather about living. Although I have often felt as though I have “wasted” my time, I am not at all sure this perspective is the truth and it certainly doesn’t serve me. My experience has made me who I am and none of it – even those moments of solitude – exist in isolation. Every second of every minute for every one of my 46 plus years have occurred in the vast matrix of human experience.

Although there are a few (very few) who have left a lasting legacy, most of us will eventually fade from memory. Most of those we have touched and will touch will pass from memory as well. And it is probably safe to say that many (myself included) rarely give it any thought. Even this grand lake will eventually succumb to the forces of nature – as will the planet, the solar system and, eons from now, the Universe. I don’t know what lies beyond and despite their sincerest beliefs, no one else does either. Regardless, that time has not yet come – it is not now. It is important to remember how our lives affect others not tomorrow or years from now or after we’re gone, but now – right now.

Even this eternally majestic lake exists only a moment at a time... and that moment is now.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Some time ago, a friend was recounting some of her life’s experience and an epiphany that arose from them. It must have been at least two or three years ago… I didn’t forget about it, but I haven’t thought about it since, until yesterday. Although it made sense to me at the time and I could easily relate to her premise, it was not as profound to me as it obviously was to her. She was speaking about “moments;” those often brief but indelible times in one’s life that can be missed when one becomes too busy… with anything. I got it then, but yesterday her message gained new prominence – it is now just as profound for me.

Call it an alignment of the planets, Universal harmony or simply coincidence, but yesterday when certain seemingly unrelated and widely separated factors converged in one place and time, I realized the magnitude of what she tried to share with me (and others). It seems like a small thing, but in the course of my life, it cannot be underestimated, the power of this particular “moment.” Yesterday was Father’s Day; I have been a father for a long time and a son even longer. This past Father’s Day, however, I was also a grandfather. Although this is a big deal in and of itself, it is not where the power of the moment came from.

Yesterday morning I called my eldest son not to solicit Father’s Day greetings, but to give them - for the very first time. It was powerful – in the moment, but it was not until later in the day that it struck me just how profound the moment was... when I remembered the thoughts my friend shared so long ago. And it is not as though I might have truly “missed” the moment, but more that I might have allowed it to pass without realizing just how important it was. Life is often busy and these seemingly little things can slip by almost automatically. On Father’s Day we honor our fathers. It is expected and it, like other similar occasions, is a ritual I do not hesitate to contribute towards. But it can feel somewhat perfunctory even when the underlying motives are genuine.

It was almost that when I wished my son a “Happy Father’s Day.” I meant it and the fact that this was new territory was not lost on me. But it was not until I ran into the same friend last night that it jogged my memory and the message she was sharing took on new and deeper meaning. And I was present for the moment, albeit several hours removed. True, I had participated earlier and I realized the significance in real time, but the connection I later made went well beyond this one discrete instance. Life if full of these little moments, they pass with varying degrees of attention in our busy day-to-day lives. This time, it was not just recognized for what it was, it was also viewed by the beacon that shown its way back to me from years earlier.

And I didn’t miss it.

* Image used acquired from the public domain

Monday, June 15, 2009


For reasons I will not go into here, today has been a trying day. The circumstances were such that I had little patience, little initiative and I could not concentrate on anything. That is not to say I didn’t get anything done today. Although it was not my most productive day, it certainly wasn’t a total waste either. But the tasks I walked through today seemed more about escape than purpose; it was self-imposed busy work – worthwhile, but not exactly urgent. And it only helped until it was done – then it was just my “issue” and me, all by ourselves. There was nothing I could do to change what was gnawing at me – I was just going to suck it up and let it pass, however long it took.

The other approach would be to adopt a different perspective, one that paints the situation in a more tolerable light. Although there are a number of ways of doing this, I didn’t seem to have the willingness to put forth the minimal effort required. It was as though I actually wanted to be pissed off. It should be noted that I have gone to great lengths to avoid such turmoil… not by acquiescence, but rather by acceptance. Things happen, people do things and the vast majority of what goes on outside my head is well beyond my control. Acceptance does not mean I have to like it, but that I can leave it and move on. Today, I was having a great deal of difficulty leaving it behind.

And what had taken up residency in my head was not worth spending any mental energy on at all – it really was a petty issue. It was not exactly silly, but it certainly wasn't cataclysmic. Life as we know it would continue, and my life would not, indeed could not be adversely affected by it. I tried to quiet myself and seek some clarity and it worked for a minute. Then the minute was over. Just as I was about to extract some more mileage out of this injustice, a dear friend called for reasons I don’t even remember. We talked. We ate some dinner. We went out and got some coffee and talked some more. And it was exactly the right person to vent to – the pressure was released and my perspective had normalized.

I could have called her any time during the day, but I didn’t. I have a number of other friends who would have been there as well, but I didn’t call them either. It just didn’t seem like a big deal – even to me - but it was, and I guess I don’t need to know why. The fact is that I have more than a few very good friends and it is important to remember that we are there in the good times as well as the not so good. It was made very clear to me tonight that my issues, no matter how petty I might think they are, are not a burden to my friends. And I do know it – I would have said the same thing if our roles were reversed. But humility is not always voluntary… thankfully so.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


When it comes to new stuff, particularly technological stuff, I typically like to stay on top of it. I have been a tech “geek” for some time (my first computer was a Commodore 64) and although my interest has morphed away from an internal, “hands on” perspective, I still have a keen interest in cutting edge technology. The same cannot be said for new interfaces, however. When I was a Windows aficionado, I resisted Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0, 2000, finally ending my Windows experience with XP. Likewise, my transition to Apple and Mac OS X was also met with initial resistance, but the Mac's benefits were soon realized.

It is not my intent to write a polemic against the Windows OS or to champion the Macintosh, but rather to examine this odd inconsistency I have with embracing new and faster hardware while resisting the software interfaces that maximize it. Obviously there is comfort in familiarity and there is always a learning curve involved when new conventions are developed and deployed, but my resistance, I think, has less to do with the learning curve than it does with jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, it might be true that if I was a beta tester for these new interfaces – if I had access to them right from the beginning, I might have a much different perspective.

There is some evidence to support this notion. First, some hardware necessarily requires learning new software. Although numerous examples exist, one of the most recent would be my conversion to the iPhone. No, I was not one of the first to have one – I waited until Apple drastically reduce the initial price, but I did acquire one relatively early on and went about the task of figuring it out with great enthusiasm. The learning curve was not a hindrance and although the accolades of the iPhone were abundant, it usage had not yet reached critical mass. I was not just another Blackberry user anymore.

There are other instances of new hardware driving new software interfaces - and I did not resist. But what about when the hardware is established and new software is developed? History would tell me that I am not anxious to follow the masses… that combined with a comfort level and, perhaps, a satisfaction with proven performance, I am not willing to venture away. It is certainly the case with the many “social networking” platforms (which I’ll address shortly) currently available. But when it comes to getting a hold of a brand new operating system not yet released, it would appear that I am somewhat more compliant. In fact, I have been running successive beta versions of iPhone OS 3.x for several weeks now.

No bandwagons here, and there are significant improvements and additions to the previous OS. Soon, however (less than a week, tentatively), the rest of the world will have it as well. At the same time, the new and improved iPhone 3G [S] will be released. Yes, of course I will get one as soon as possible – it is hardware after all. But all of this preceding “insight” is a long way around to getting to what I set out to do… namely, crystallizing my thoughts on social networking. As is often the case, I am not sure what will come out until I write it, but I have some thoughts that have been spawned by the latest “craze,” Twitter.

As I resisted new operating systems, and other software that “replaces” software that I have grown accustomed to, so too, I have resisted certain platforms that ostensibly facilitate social interaction. Not all, I was an early AOL subscriber and although the “chat room” was a novelty that proved to be entertaining, it was fleeting; it got old fast, as did AOL. It could have been due to the extreme anonymity (nobody was who they said they were) or simply the superficiality of it all, but whatever the reason, “chat” (whether in a dedicated room or on a one-to-one basis), for me, remains relegated to necessity or opportunity rather than a regular channel of communication.

When blogging became all the rage, I resisted. When I finally jumped on the bandwagon, I found it to be communication on a much deeper level. True, there are blogs that are little more than cyber vomit, but many are produced by those who have something intelligent to say – and many of those are well-written to boot (though intelligence and good writing do not necessarily require one another. Likewise, there is plenty of well-written spew, but I digress). The point is that most of the blogosphere contains more than just a “status update.”

Which leads me to the next evolutionary step in social networking, Myspace. Again, I resisted for a very long time. I had a number of preconceptions, many of which were valid, but when I finally acquiesced, I found it to be a very good tool to stay in touch with a large number of my “friends” with minimal effort. Of course, there is a downside in that the “work” involved in maintaining a relationship is greatly reduced, but in my case I still used the tried and tested means of personal interaction, in person, with my real “friends.” Facebook does what Myspace does, but better and with it I found a number – a large number – of old friends and acquaintances that I likely never would have otherwise. It is a feet that Classmates claims to do (for a price), but fails miserably.

Now there’s Twitter, and I am resisting. I know “everybody’s doing it” and I know that it has attained a great deal of media favoritism, but I cannot see how mass-texting across the Internet will enhance an already robust social network. Furthermore, it is beyond me why anyone really cares if or when I am taking out the garbage or going to the store or any of the other minutia in my daily life. And I’m sorry, I don’t care about the minutia of yours either. Granted, without any direct experience with Twitter, I am likely missing everything it offers, some of which I might actually find valuable. But I will wait this one out. I have heard it is here to stay, much like that upstart technology, email. We’ll see – in the meantime, I’ll stick with what I know.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Waiting Patiently

We have been sitting here since about 9:30 a.m. – about two and a half hours. Actually, that’s not entirely true; we went to get some food and purchase a catalog and course schedule at the campus bookstore, but for the most part we have been waiting, patiently. It is important and the circumstances are tolerable. I am with my middle son as he makes his way through the enrollment process at American River College. Yes, the same school that was the beginning of my current (and most productive) foray into the world of higher education.

Timmy recently graduated from a well-known automotive technology trade school that made many promises but fulfilled few. Although the tour we took was impressive and by all outward appearances it looked like a state-of-the-art facility, the education he received was less than exceptional. More importantly, the job placement he was “promised” (they are very careful to disclaim any guarantee) never amounted to anything. True, the economy has much to do with finding a job of any sort, but this school’s reputation turned out to be more self-created than factual.

I have experienced not one, but two of these vocation training “institutes” and, combined with my son’s recent experience, have formed some very negative opinions regarding the lot of them. But I should qualify them by saying that when the economy supports a demand for the skills they teach, they can be very effective in opening doors where further and much more relevant “on the job training” builds upon the bare essentials these schools supply. But only when there is a demand… I have witnessed more than a few of these specialized schools fold when the technology they taught was know longer needed.

While it is true that automotive technology will likely never fall into obsolescence, it is also true that right now my son is competing with laid-off mechanics from closed auto dealerships who have years of experience - and many are willing to work for far less than they are accustomed to. If the economy was booming, as it was not too long ago, his technical training would have opened those now closed doors. But it is not, so now what?

School is a good place to weather a recession. Yes, I know, he was in “school” and it didn’t work out so well – and it is true for those graduating from real colleges with legitimate degrees as well. Bad is bad and it is hard for anyone to find work, but school is not a “do it and your done” proposition. One can always go back and there are a multitude of choices. Community colleges, in addition to offering the general education courses one needs to complete the first two years of college, also offer a number of vocational programs that are administered under the same authority that “real” schools operate under. One of the vocational programs I entered into was at such a school and the education I received was far superior to what I received at the specialized schools – both of which no longer exist.

So why didn’t he come here in the first place? Expediency. In just nine months, he would, in theory, complete what it might take two years or more going through the auto tech program at ARC. He was never one much for school (he is, after all, my son) and he was anxious to get into the work force. We didn’t know at the time how deep this recession would be, but he might have taken the gamble anyway. Now with an expensive automotive technology “degree,” he is still anxious to get into the work force, but also interested in doing something until that time comes and school is a good place to do it.

Although ARC has a robust automotive program, Tim is looking at broadening his skills by getting certified in welding. There are a few different certificates – enough to keep him busy for quite some time. Although he is not currently interested in obtaining an AS degree (a legitimate degree from an accredited institution), he might change his mind – and it is an option that not only exists, but also can lead to higher levels of education. Nothing is wasted; these courses are transferable if he so chooses.

And who knows? When I entered this very same institution in 2003, I had no aspirations to go beyond obtaining an AA degree – and journalism/political science/communication studies was not my major. But exposure to a collegiate experience – one that cannot be found in a purely vocational institute – lit a fire. I didn’t know I would like it – rather, I figured I would not. Why would I want to waste my time learning about stuff that I would never need? Turns out that need had nothing to do with it – I wanted to. And perhaps he will, too.

Or not. The point is (and experience tells me) that this taxpayer-supported institution will provide a superior education without the empty promises. It operates under a different auspices… it’s not all about “get ‘em in, get ‘em out and get paid;” it answers to a higher authority. It’s about not only learning, but also the learning environment. Although he wants to work, his experience coupled with the money it cost him has left him a bit more patient and a lot more eager to attempt a traditional scholastic setting again. And who knows where it may lead – after all, he is my kid.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


There are times when I wonder what it’s all about. All this – the world, the universe, where it came from, what was here before, extra dimensions, time… are we the only sentient beings – anywhere? Ever? What could possibly be the point of intelligent life and does anything really exist if there is no intelligent being that “knows” about it? Science is answering so many questions, yet what we know still pales in comparison to what we don’t and those eternal questions still remain – are we alone? It is likely I will never know in my lifetime, nor will anyone alive today, but as a species we accumulate knowledge for future generations to build upon. Why?

All humans are mortal – we will all die. According to the CDC, life expectancy in the U.S. averaged 77.7 years in 2006 – higher than it has ever been and the trend is toward longer life. But it is such a tiny slice of time when placed against scales used to measure geology, evolution and cosmology that it makes me wonder – why do we do it? Comfort? Curiosity? A need to know? No other known life forms have such inquisitiveness, although many do appear to care about the well being of their descendants. Only one animal, however, appears to care what happens beyond its own death – humans. Could it be because we are the only animals that know that death awaits us all?

Maybe, but I have to believe there is more to it than that. The inescapable fact that my time is limited does not occupy my every waking moment. I am about as comfortable as I can be. It is probably safe to say that I do not need to know anything more and I know that, though the breadth of my knowledge will increase, it will never reach anything close to answering those eternal questions we have been pondering since we came out of the trees. Curious? Yes, but those ultimate questions will never be answered in my lifetime, although it is quite possible that in several generations, many will be. Yet I willingly - even enthusiastically - contribute to the human legacy…

In the last 100 years – just more than one average human lifetime - we have experienced an explosion of knowledge that has transformed our world for the better - and perhaps, the worse. We have made possible what was not even dreamed of when this country was created. And yet in many parts of the world there is still needless suffering. The brutality of war, fanaticism and the killing in the name of some god continues. Power still corrupts, and absolute power? Absolutely. Greed and doing unto to others still grabs the headlines. We have not yet figured out how to peacefully coexist with each other, let alone our planet. For all the progress we have made, a more highly developed being would likely see us as savages.

And still there is decency in the world. Love still exists. Evil must always protect itself against good; good eventually and always dominates. True, at times it seems as though we are taking three steps forward and two steps back, but the net result is still positive. The principles that are held as virtuous are common to all cultures and all times. Living up to them, however, has proven to be far more difficult than articulating them. Are all these abstractions, these ideals and principles uniquely and exclusively human? I guess until we all live up to them, it doesn’t really matter.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Concrete Jungle

Not long ago, I wrote about my trip to Oklahoma to see my youngest son graduate from boot camp. I heard plenty about the state from others who had experience sufficient that I considered their accounts credible. Within the context of that experience, I found that Oklahoma is, in fact, rather dreary in its aesthetic appeal. I didn’t have to live there, however, and due to the nature of my visit and the hospitality I received from the people of Lawton (the city adjacent to the Army base, Fort Sill), I came away with warm memories and an appreciation for a state that perhaps does not get its fair share.

I am currently on a similar excursion. This time, however, I have more than ample experience with the area I am visiting, though I have never lived here. And it still remains a “nice” place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. And it is not anything that has to do with the geography or the people who live here generally; it is a question of magnitude. Los Angeles County and Orange County in Southern California are simply too much. Too many freeways, too many cars and, of course, too many people - who make all those cars and freeways necessary. There is also too much concrete, too much asphalt and too much smog. Too much, too much.

From the bottom of the Grapevine to almost all the way to the San Diego County line, it is impossible to identify where one municipality ends and the next begins. The same can be said of the sprawl west to east. It is all one (very) big city and it can be stifling. But this comes as no surprise and in all honesty, it is not that much different from the Bay Area (where I did live for a very long time) or the greater Sacramento metropolitan area (where I live now). They are just not as massive, but they have strikingly similar characteristics – just in miniature. But this visit is not a sightseeing trip and it is not an attempt to try to discover Southern California’s beauty through the sprawl – I’ve seen it as well, it does exist.

This is visit is for something brand new – a brand new baby. Not just any baby, but my first grandchild. He was born a few weeks premature on Easter Sunday, but was otherwise very healthy. After about three weeks in the hospital, my grandson was able to come home with my son and his lady to a quiet suburb in Orange County. No, he has not escaped the sprawl – it is everywhere, but it is a nice apartment in a nice neighborhood in a relatively quiet part of the county. The peace I feel, however, has nothing to do with those external factors. I got to hold my tiny first grandson for the first time today. And my middle son, who accompanied me on the seven-hour drive, got to hold his nephew for the first time. These are, in every conceivable way, very big firsts and I am very proud of my son and his new family.

In a way, this is likely to replace any negative perspective I hold about this part of the state (at least until I have to fight the traffic while making my escape tomorrow). But seriously, and from a more global perspective, only a few of the many places I have traveled hold any significance based on the locale alone. What usually makes for cherished memories are the people involved. It could be strangers, friends or family… or even a meditative experience involving only myself, but it seems that the physical stuff around me holds little meaning in isolation. And I should really clarify that my memories of the LA basin are full of rich experiences with others – that the negativity is really only a matter of comfort, not substance. Unfortunately, this is an exceedingly short visit, there are many other people I would like to see while I am here, but there simply isn’t time. The round trip drive alone will account for almost a third of a trip that started this morning and will conclude tomorrow.

So I am a 46 year-old grandfather. I don’t feel old (nor do I look it) and I don’t feel as though life is passing me by. It is the exact opposite. Life, in its infinite variety, is presenting me with profound changes – not necessarily “life-altering,” my day-to-day life has not changed because I am now a grandfather (though it does regularly for other reasons). It is just another threshold that I can step over with enthusiasm or dread, but step over it I will – there is no other choice. And all this excitement happened in the concrete jungles of Southern California. This is not such a bad place, really.