My Museum

On my most recent visit spring visit to Phoenix, Arizona to watch spring training baseball, I took a day off to visit the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) which had been recommended to me repeatedly by two of my best friends.

I am not a great museum visitor.  If it says to plan to stay for three hours, I’m pretty sure I will be done in one.  It’s one of the substantial differences between my wife and I when it comes to travel is that she will go through EVERY room, and read EVERY card for every part of the exhibits.  This is not a criticism.  She likes to soak in all of the details and moves through the museum at a most leisurely pace.

I sort of cruise through and skim a lot of what I see unless or until something really catches my attention, and then I’ll read up on it more thoroughly.  On this particular day, I found two rooms that were terrific.  One exhibit, called “Dragons and Vines” was dedicated to the art of how elements like pearl, abalone and other substances are inlaid into the fretboard and body of guitars.  The technology,craftsmanship, and flights of imagination were incredible.  The second room was dedicated to individual artists worldwide featuring pictures, videos, instruments, and outfits that they wore on stage.  I think I spent over an hour in these two rooms alone. I had to go back into both rooms twice, just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything.

I spent about 10 minutes in the entire rest of the museum which featured a vast array of musical instruments from all over the world.  It was overwhelming, and I really didn’t care about the how or why the noisemakers of Sri Lanka were different that those from Serbia.  If I had read any of the info cards on the second floor, I would have forgotten anything I learned by the time I got back to my car.  It’s why I don’t spend the time reading up on all of the historical stuff.  I just don’t retain it. I leave museums with a few highlights in my mind and a general sense of if it met or exceeded my expectations going in.  In this case, the MIM absolutely did.  I loved the two rooms that I loved.  That was plenty for me.

Museums are like our archives of our civilizations, right?  Besides teaching us about who we are, we are trying to hold on to the good stuff so we don’t forget about it.

I’ve been thinking about that as my wife and I have been going through a continual purging process around the house.   It started when we had to move virtually everything out while we were having our floors re-done.  We have thrown away and given away boxes and bags full of clothing, books, furniture, kitchen supplies, you name it.  Going through the process made us look at everything, contemplate how long it had been since we used or even touched the item (we have lived in the same house for 36 years) and soon we had cleared whole shelves and emptied multiple storage boxes.

We’ve been trying to narrow the archive, our personal museum, down to the really important stuff–to the things that will bring us joy to look at and that will enrich the lives of whomever we decide to leave these things to in the future.

I keep thinking about what I wanted to leave behind to the people I love to remember me by.  Didn’t it make sense to start giving some of this stuff away now?  I’d rather give them a keepsake of some real or sentimental value now, while I can cogently say to them, “Here’s the story behind this object and why it’s so important to me, and I want you to have it because I know you’ll love and value it just as much as I have.”

Like, I have this wine opener, a simple but elegant design, that my dad gave to me when I was 21. We met up after work on the day I turned 21, and he took me out for my first official drink.  But as we were drinking in this divey little bar, he told me what he had REALLY wanted to do for me on my birthday.  He had planned to take me to a strip club when I turned 21.  Apparently, his father had done this with him on his 21st as kind of a rite of passage thing, to expose him to the “world of men” and show him it was no big thing.  He wanted to continue that little tradition with his son, but my mom quashed his plan, so we had to settle for a drink together.  I kind of wish he had thrown caution to the wind and that we had had that moment together doing something a little salacious, just me and him.  Even though we didn’t, I appreciated that his heart was in the right place.

The fact that I have managed to hold on to this token for over 40 years makes it valuable along with the memories it holds.  My daughter Emily, who enjoys an occasional glass of wine recently celebrated her 30th birthday.  I gave her the opener with a letter explaining its history and significance to me.  I knew that she would like the thought that the gift was from both me and her Grandpa Jack.

So, as I go through every box and crate, I take a hard look at what is still stuck in our own personal museum and think about the people I love and wonder if they might like this object or that book, dedicated especially to them.  It’s easy to accumulate a lot over nearly 40 years and sometimes so much harder to begin to let it go.

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Road Trippin’

Every year since I retired in 2012, I have taken a road trip to Phoenix, AZ to watch spring training baseball, specifically to watch my San Diego Padres play meaningless exhibition games while sitting out in the desert sun.  I wrote about the experience of those games in a piece called The Hope That Only Comes in Spring. But, part of the fun every year is getting there–road trippin’.

Departure–8:30 AM

300 miles–no problem; I got this.  Car is loaded up with enough stuff for four people, 4 snacks, and two water bottles.  It takes me an extra 10 minutes to do all of the paranoid house checks I do–lock windows, check the doors, make sure the water is turned off.  Hit the road.

Buckman Springs Rest Stop–9:05 AM

First available rest stop.  Necessary because sometimes my bladder is the size of a teacup.  Hoping this gets me through to Yuma.  Ironically, I pack plenty of water and then force myself into a state of dehydration so I don’t have to stop to go pee.

Soundtrack

John Lennon (Imagine) and then Jackson Browne (Running on Empty) get me through to Yuma.  Imagine is OK because I haven’t heard it in a while, but Running on Empty is one of my standard traveling discs, just full of great road songs.  I let it run all the way to Yuma.

Yuma–11:00 AM

Making good time when I stop at the Arco on 16th St. and discover that gas is 78 cents cheaper here than in San Diego.  78 cents a gallon cheaper.  Of course, you have to live in Yuma to enjoy those prices. I find that I’ve gone through all my snacks already.  Do you know that there is virtually nothing edible at gas station mini-marts if you care at all about your health?  I mean, I have plenty of bad habits, but I can’t eat any of that crap.  The bathrooms are nice though.

On the road again–11:15/Soundtrack

I’m halfway there, but there is road construction everywhere slowing things down from Yuma to Gila Bend.  I pull out Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Yell Fire CD which seems much more relevant now than it did a few years ago.  I haven’t listened to him for a long time, and I just let it run all the way to Gila.

Gila Bend–1:00 PM

Time for lunch at my all time favorite greasy spoon, The Space Age Restaurant.  It is part of a motel there and has a mock-up of a space ship sitting on top of the restaurant.  It has been there for over 50 years, and I can remember stopping there when I was a kid and we were on a family vacation to Oklahoma City (relatives) and to see the Carlsbad Caverns.  I stop here every year for lunch on the way in and breakfast on the way home.  Gila Bend–population 1,917 souls.

On the road again–2:00 PM/Soundtrack

Neil Young.  Neil Young the rest of the way.  The more desolate the desert, the better his reedy voice sounds.  I play Only Love Can Break Your Heart over and over and over again.

Phoenix–3:00 PM

The upgrade to a Cabana suite that they tempted me with in an email I got yesterday (depending on availability) is not available.  Fuck!  I was imagining having my own sitting room with a fold-out couch and separate bedroom with a king bed AND promised access to the Sun Deck, and I don’t even know what the Sun Deck is, but I decided that for only $20 more a night, I wanted it.  Forget that I didn’t actually need any of those amenities.  They had dangled a sparkly thing in front of me, and I wanted it.

I get into my standard room, which now seems shabby to me, and discover that the cabinet that houses the fridge is minus one fridge.  I am told that the fridges are for customers “as available.”  I point out to the young lady that my reservation says that I get a fridge, and if I’m not getting the goddam Sun Deck, then I’d better be getting my own goddam fridge.  I don’t actually say any of that out loud.  She says she’ll work on it, and I get my fridge within 30 minutes.

Nap–3:30-5:30

One of the top ten best naps ever.  Just time enough to get showered and ready for the game.

Game–7:10-10:00  Peoria Sports Complex

It’s a balmy evening–shorts and t-shirt weather. I allow myself not just one, but two hot dogs during the course of the game.  Padres give up 2 in the first and then tie it in the eighth on a home run, win it in the 9th on another homer leading off the inning. I discover that despite the hotdogs, the victory has made me ravenous, so I stop at the Safeway on the way back to my hotel and buy a salad, some yogurt, and a fruit bowl which I eat when I get back.

Hotel–11:00 PM-2:00 AM

I’m out on the warm deserted patio writing because at the time I was involved in a 30 day writing challenge and I had to get my piece written for that day.  While on-line, I discover that there are other writers still up and active and we begin chatting through comments and FB Messenger. Since I never quite know how to go to bed on my first night of travel by myself, I linger on the patio long after I should. It’s a pleasant and unexpected way to spend the night.

Jazz Hater

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I suspect that I would be infinitely cooler as an individual, if I could say that I knew jazz, that I got jazz, that I loved jazz—but in truth, I just don’t. I really wish that I did. I’m sure I’d be considered more suave, more debonair if I could talk jazz instead of baseball.

I don’t think I could even name 5 jazz artists depending on how you define jazz. Let’s see, there’s John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and……er, ….. yeah, not even five. So there’s the problem. There is a big gap in my musical education.

I can actually name only one jazz classic, Brubeck’s Take Five which is a perfect example of why I hate jazz.   It opens with a tight, memorable melody and then wanders away into a confusing maze of solo performances that don’t sound anything like the opening, that don’t complement the opening, that sound as if the musicians have forgotten what song they are playing, until they swing back into that great, memorable melody to end the song. By the time they get there I’m likely to have missed it because I’ve dozed off.

I had two recent experiences that reinforced this antipathy. The first was on my annual pilgrimage to see the Dave Matthews Band at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. I had read that they were going to feature Herbie Hancock (OK, there’s my fifth) and I was kind of excited to see how they were going to integrate him with the band. Dave opened his song Mercy at the keyboards and then gave way to Hancock who proceeded to go into his own riffs. Within seconds, he had lost me. Even though the band bobbed their heads, and tapped their toes, and just looked delighted with Hancock’s contribution, he was playing something that didn’t sound anything like the song that Dave had started.

It’s my problem with solos in general. They just seem so fucking self-indulgent. The artist is allow to just wander off into a musical Neverland, playing whatever the hell he wants regardless of the structure or integrity of the actual song he’s supposed to be playing. Hancock basically hijacked the show for about half an hour. Whoever thought that was going to be a good fit had badly miscalculated. It was like trying to integrate Riverdancers with a ballet company.

The second and more miserable of the two experiences was when Mary and I visited a jazz club in Montreal, one that had been recommended to us by a local, a local who clearly hated American tourists. Ever since then the words “jazz club” have become synonymous in my mind with “dentist office” in terms how I feel about the possibility of having to go to one.

It was a cute space and I always like live music—honestly. I was predisposed to give the music a chance especially given the local endorsement of the place. The group consisted of a man who played trumpet and a woman who played bass. Once they began to play, I realized that once again, I had entered jazz hell. Occasionally it seemed as though they were playing the same song, but mostly it felt like they teamed up just to get in some practice playing whatever melody (and I use that term loosely) came to mind. I could not distinguish one song from the next. It pained me to watch some of the patrons nodding their heads, sometimes with their eyes closed, clearly grooving and getting something that I simply could not hear. I started to hate them unreasonably. The saving grace was that the bar served a strong, American IPA that I liked and the musicians eventually took a nice, long break that I enjoyed much more than I had their musical performance.

I should probably take a “History of Jazz” or “Jazz Appreciation” class at our local community college and see if I can expand my musical knowledge. Hopefully, it will contain lessons on how to properly nod my head in time to the music.

 

The Hope That Only Comes In Spring

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On March 21 I’ll pack up the car and make the 5½ hour drive from my home in the San Diego area to Phoenix, AZ where I will spend the next three days jetting around this sprawling metropolis to watch entirely meaningless baseball games.

I will follow my San Diego Padres around to Peoria, Glendale, Scottsdale, Goodyear or wherever they might be playing on a given day and find a place in the shade to sit and watch. Like a baseball scout, I’m curious about the team they have put together, and the only way to evaluate is to be there and watch maybe twenty players and 5 or 6 pitchers rotate through the game as I play along with the coaches and trying to figure out which players will bust out as stars and which players will simply be busts.

I will probably even go three hours early to one of the games to do nothing other than stand with other fans and watch both the major and minor leaguers go through drills and batting practice. It is boring and repetitive stuff, but you get to be so close to the players, watch them trip up, listen them razz each other.

And then as the players rotate to different fields, they will stand near a fence or cordoned-off area and the gracious ones will sign autographs, chat with fans, and allow them to take pictures. Others will load their hands up with gear and trot quickly on to the next field ignoring the fans or promising to sign, “as soon as I get done.” They never do.

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I watched former Padre stars Huston Street and Jake Peavy go out of their way to sign every item thrust at them and lean in for every selfie requested. I watched former skipper Bruce Bochy sign a ball for my daughter and kid around with her about a question she asked him about an impending trade.

I caught the great Tony Gwynn a couple of times back when the Padres trained in Yuma, once as he took the long way around the fields trying to sneak in the clubhouse away from the throngs of fans who adored him. I spent two or three wonderful minutes chatting with Jerry Coleman, the voice of the Padres for so many years, asking him about his days with the Yankees before he got dragged away by someone more important. I stood in line to get an autograph from the forgettable pitcher Eric Show, passing on a chance to ink a promising young second baseman, Roberto Alomar. After all, he was just a minor leaguer—a minor leaguer who would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame.

Two years ago I contacted Corey Brock who covers the Padres for the MLB.com. He writes articles almost daily as the season begins and is a frequent contributor on sports talk radio and does TV interviews as a “Padre insider.” I emailed him about my interest in sports writing, we exchanged phone numbers, and eventually arranged a time where he came out of the Padre offices and sat with me for about ½ hour just talking baseball and the business of sports writing before he got called away to cover a press conference.

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There is an intimacy in spring training that you just don’t get anywhere else. The ballparks are small, and players will frequently sign autographs and hang out with fans before and after the games. While I don’t certainly don’t venerate any of these guys, I get a kick out of watching them up close before they get to the real season, playing real games in their cavernous stadiums. That being said, I will undoubtedly become a drooling, idiot fan if I stumble upon Trevor Hoffman this spring and happen to have a fresh baseball and Sharpie in my hand.

If you hate baseball, you probably did not read past the first line of this one. If you are not a San Diego fan, almost none of the names I mentioned will mean anything. It’s OK, I get it. But for three glorious days, I will be toasting in the warm Arizona sun, drinking beer, and rooting for Tyson Ross to find his rhythm, and for Andrew Cashner to get his head screwed on straight. I’ll be cheering if there is any sign that Matt Kemp might find his swing before July this year, and that Wil Myers will get through the season without having his wrist fall apart.

Any baseball fan knows that spring training is the season of hope—the hope that this is the year when the gods of baseball will choose to smile on their team.

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No Love for the Tour Guide

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As much as I like to travel, I have to admit that I’m not a confident traveler. I don’t like driving in unfamiliar cities because I may be the only sighted person who needs a seeing eye dog to avoid getting lost. With the amount of traveling I’ve done over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten better, and smartphones are my new best friend when I am on the road. I have learned to research my destination, prepare a list of activities, and determine if I can rely on public transportation or if I have to deal with a car rental agency.

I’ve always held a bias against taking a guided tour. It has always felt like a form of cheating. I imagined being trapped on a double-decker bus, forced to socialize with octogenarians, while the guide peppered us with a constant stream of trivia most of which was eminently forgettable.

However, when I was preparing for a trip to the Bay Area to see Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds perform at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, I had an extra day that I was having trouble figuring out what to do with. A friend sent me a link to a tour company that for $100 would fill up my day by taking me for “spectacular” views of the Golden Gate Bridge (are there any other kinds?), a walk in the Muir Woods, followed by wine tasting and lunch in scenic Sonoma. For the price, this seemed like an easy way to see some sights that I knew I’d enjoy and beat the heck out of wandering aimlessly around the City.

When I arrived at the pick-up location in downtown San Francisco, I was happy to see that the majority of people waiting for a tour were not using walkers, but were in fact, young international travelers. It appeared as though I was going to be the aged geezer of the bunch. When my mini-bus pulled up, it turned out that I was one of only two tourists, the other being a young man from Singapore in San Francisco on business.

Our annoyingly upbeat tour guide assured us that the trip would go on even if it were just the two of us. Originally, I thought of the trip as being a bargain. Now I felt I was being gouged if the tour could turn a profit on only two customers.

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I had to grudgingly but happily admit that I could not have had a more pleasant traveling companion. We chatted easily as we got across the Golden Gate, and strolled through the Muir woods trail enjoying a peaceful walk and taking pictures for each other. We sampled wines together discussing the pros and cons of each at a rustic winery outside of Sonoma and then were whisked away in time to catch lunch at a sports bar where I got to watch Seattle come from behind and destroy Green Bay in the NFC playoffs. My new friend and I dozed most of the way back to the City stopping once to get one more lovely view of the Golden Gate Bridge being swallowed up by the incoming fog at sunset.

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If it weren’t for the tour guide I would have given the experience a solid “A” grade. I suspect many a tour guide is actually a failed stand-up comedian who feels compelled to fill every moment with a stream of amusing anecdotes and historical minutia that, for me, evaporates the moment it hits my ears. As we started off down the city streets headed for the bridge, all I really wanted was some quiet and a second cup of coffee. Even worse, since he had only two riders, he wanted his shtick to be interactive. “Hey, how many stories do you think that building…?” “In what year would you guess this bridge…?” “Hey, I bet you didn’t know that…?” Please, shoot me now. My mind feels like it is about to explode. I begin wondering if Singapore brought any heroin with him.

With only two of us on the bus, even I couldn’t summon enough rudeness to put on headphones and tune out this endless stream of information. Because, see, what I forget sometimes is that these guys really, really want you to like them and have a GOOD TIME, a memorable trip. They want this for you because they are hoping that as you leave you will be slipping them a memorable tip. My Singaporean friend did not know or did not care about the tipping protocol and, even though the guide was nice enough to drop him back at his hotel, he skipped out with nary a word. Since the guide took me directly to a nearby BART station, I tried to be generous and gave him twenty bucks, hoping it made up a little for my friend’s oversight.

I have jumped on several tours since and for me, the jury is still out. I think the whale tours on Maui may have the best formula: out on the water with free food, free beer, and guides who say things like “whale on the port side.” Perfect!

 

Montreal Afternoon

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On a recent trip that included a visit to Montreal, my wife and I stood outside the Basilica de Notre Dame trying to decide if it was worth 5 bucks each to go inside and look at a church. As we rested, standing together near a fountain in the church square across the street enjoying the shade on the warm and humid day, I started to notice a street musician with his electric guitar hooked up to a practice amp. He had just begun singing a song that I recognized, but did not know the title or the original artist.

The song (I later found out) was Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, and as the tune echoed out over the square it began to lift me as I took in the milling crowd, the façade of the church, the feeling of my wife’s hand in mine. It was as if I had entered a movie where time had slowed and everyone around me was moving at half-speed. The warm breeze was a caress as the tune soared and echoed and leaves from the trees fluttered down over us. My wife didn’t understand when I refused to move until he had finished the song because, of course, this my moment. The song had made that fleeting moment perfect for me and there were no words that were adequate to explain.

I felt a longing for the song to go on, for the moment to continue, but of course, it did not and life sped up again and the momentary magic disappeared. When he finished I went over to drop a couple of bucks in his guitar case and tell him that I had enjoyed the song, but it was an inadequate tribute.

If I had heard the same song on Wednesday night instead of that Tuesday afternoon, or if I had been walking through a subway tunnel instead of in front of the church, it might have been distracting or annoying. If it had come on the radio, I might have changed the station.

But sometimes music has the power to simply stop me in a moment, to define that moment and freeze it in my memory. For me, a Montreal afternoon will always belong to a mournful song and a solitary singer.

Life After Work

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First official morning of retirement

Make no mistake about it. When the time came, I was ready to retire. On my final day, as retirees were asked to address the staff at a little farewell party, I got up to face my colleagues for the last time, some of whom I had worked with for all 36 years of my career, all at the same school. I was surprised to see all the emotion and the tears, maybe just as someone who prefers to keep emotions locked up as tightly as possible because I find emotions to be unpredictable and unruly things.

But in this case, I was feeling nothing but joy. I had had a great time as a teacher. I loved the work and I loved my kids. I had a shelf full enough of recognitions that I knew that students, parents, and my colleagues had noticed and appreciated my contributions. But I had been in school continuously for 54 years without a break! I had gone straight from high school, to college, and then into my career. I was anxious to live an unscheduled life for the first time since before kindergarten.

There had been signs that it was time to go. At some point students would see me coming and stop to open the door for me, as if maybe I was wearing a handicapped placard around my neck. Increasing numbers of kids began referring to me as “sir” instead of “Hey Waldron!” It even began to affect new staff members who could not break the habit of calling me “Mr. Waldron” instead of by my first name as any colleague normally would.

And I was tired. I was weary at the end of every day and often retreated home and napped for what was left of the afternoon. I was like a veteran pitcher who could still gut his way through every outing, relying on guile and experience, knowing that the fastball was gone, that the slider wasn’t sliding, and the curveball just wasn’t breaking the way it used to anymore.

So, even after nearly three years, I’m still flummoxed by people asking me if I’m enjoying retirement or if I miss teaching. The answer to the latter is a firm “no!” As much as I loved my kids and the experience of the classroom, teaching is a brain and soul-sucking experience that can be all consuming. My stock answer about the former is to say, “Yes, I’ve discovered that not working is much better than working.”

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I now have a vegetable garden going year round and have qualified as a master composter (I don’t actually brag about that much). I have taken yoga, guitar, and hiking classes. I have been able visit my sister in Maui four times, and jet to Chicago twice primarily to sit at the baseball shrine that is Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs play. I have flown to Lake Tahoe for one night to see the Dave Matthews Band perform. I drove one thousand miles to visit two friends I hadn’t seen in years and learned the finer points of fly casting on a Colorado lake.  I finally took time to visit Washington, DC. I traveled to Oakland for one concert and to Phoenix for another. I spend a week in Phoenix every spring driving all over town daily to watch my Padres play their spring training games. I walk. I write.

I guess I’m just lucky that the transition has been relatively easy for me. Any time I feel like it’s been a slow day, that I’m feeling a little bored, I just remember the stacks of ungraded papers that used to fill every waking moment of my day from September to June.

I feel sorry for people who are still working and when I ask about their own retirement, they shrug and say, “I just don’t know what I would do.”

Believe me. There is life after work.