We all have that certain special someone in our lives – that angry, disaffected, the world-is-going-to-hell and our President is really an enemy agent kind of friend or relative who needs to either be euthanized like a lame horse or trained to laugh…Arsenic is expensive and unless you live in Oregon, I suggest you give him or her a copy of T-Rex By The Tail or Bicentennial Rex for Christmas or Hanukkah. Hell, get them both books!
At a minimum, do your patriotic bit to stimulate the local economy and buy a copy from Elm Street Books or simply click on this web site’s masthead and help Jeff Bezos make an extra $10k to tip his pedicurist by using Amazon.com.
According to one angry T-Rex, “each dollar you spend helps prime the economy, keeping people employed and paying taxes – taxes that go to fund do-gooder give-aways, socialized medicine and stitch together a social safety net that is becoming a massive European style hammock….Grrrrrr!”
This review is from: T-Rex By The Tail (Paperback)
I knew it was going to be a good read, have known Mike for years. All I had to do was get past the first few pages , it was tough, and the rest was easy. I do remember being raised by a “dinosaur” and even see Woody in alot of the chapters. Mike has done a great job of allowing the younger generation to see what child rearing was, and maybe still should be, like . Congrats to a great author, and THANKS !!!!!
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Father’s Brady Bunch, July 29, 2013
This review is from: BiCentennial Rex (Tales of The T-Rex) (Volume 2) (Paperback)
This is a fun book. What self-loving Baby Boomer wouldn’t love to take a trip down a memory lane lined with humor and keen insight? And it’s a very fun and realistic trip at that. Turpin captures the charming idiocy of the adolescent male (I apologize for the multiple redundancies in this sentence) growing up in the 1970’s with wit, verve and understanding. The Patton family is much more realistic (and amusing) than that “other” southern California tribe, the Brady’s. Just as clearly, Central Casting could never have managed to find an appropriate Karl (“Rex”) . . . the Patton patriarch – a cross between an Old Testament prophet and a sleep deprived George Patton.
This is a great and funny read, full of smarts and happy memory ghosts. I highly recommend it.
Each year we swim like salmon against a current of temporal obligations and fight to return to the calm, sun sequined rivers of our west coast youth. We always arrive conflicted — barraged by the need to see family and old friends but at the same time — wanting to immerse our family in this massive, self-obsessed amusement park called California.
I am always nervous returning to Los Angeles as every email I receive from my father suggests that his once Golden State has declined into cesspool dystopia where rampant illegal immigration, corrupt public officials, profligate public spending and fewer public restrooms has made it unfit for working people, the elderly and those with prostate issues.
My west coast past and east coast present are two distinct worlds and I worry when they collide. The stories of my youthful mischief have been well hidden like state secrets that must incubate in silence for at least seventy-five years. There is always a risk of coming west that we will encounter a long-lost acquaintance who will proceed to tell one of my children, “your father, oh, he was a wild thing!” This opens a Pandora’s Box of interrogation that I increasingly find hard to navigate.
As my Digital Age children get older, the logistics of our time together are further complicated by their own predictable canyons of self-absorption and technology. They are like single bar cellular calls that often drop unbeknowst to the speaker. One can spend minutes talking unaware that the other party is no longer on the line.
“I’m sorry, Dad, I lost you after you said, ‘can you please’…” is followed by the always irritating”I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish” expression.
The family road trip has radically morphed since the days of “shut up or I’ll give you something to complain about” automobile travel. In the 1970’s, we were a predictable part of a summer land rush of urban and suburban families, enthusiastically driving to the same vacation destination and establishing ourselves for a week like hives of yellow jackets. We would normally infest some sad, rental beach house or motel and find things to do. “I’m bored” was always met with, “go outside and don’t come back until dinnertime.”
And we would find things to do – some legal and some illegal. But, we would invariably return to our home base for food, medical attention, zinc oxide or with the feral dog we had just found and wanted to keep.
Comfortable mini-SUVs have replaced the Fleetwood wagon and its rigid Russian cattle car seating arrangements. A Grand Bazaar of roadside fast food chains has supplanted warm Shasta sodas and bleeding Wonder Bread PBJs that we greedily devoured at highway picnic areas. If we were to ever actually frequent a rest stop today, my kids would assume that we were merely stopping to dump a dead body.
“I want a Jamba Juice, Dad.”
“We’re in the middle of the California desert, buddy. There’s nothing here but sand and horizon line highway.”
“Well, actually, I just Yelped Jamba Juice and there is one in Victorville. It’s only five miles off the freeway on a frontage road and it’s near an In and Out Burger.” Cheers erupt from the trio of digital back seat ninja drivers. We are suddenly eating double-double cheese burgers under a neon high desert sign.
Everything has changed. In restaurants and fast food joints, the American meal has kept pace with our soaring national debt with portions eclipsing the size of Central American banana republics. To combat the disease of over-sized portions, we assign a “designated scavenger” at each meal. The scavenger does not order any food but can sample from any and all plates.
Since she is the smallest and least selfish, my spouse often assumes this role believing that food tastes better when it comes off other people’s plates. As a child of Brits who survived the London blitz, she is genetically predisposed to be a scavenger. We estimate ordering for four instead of five saves between 15-20% on meals, impedes inevitable holiday weight gain and modestly improves the mileage on our fossil fuel guzzling, Sherman Tank of an SUV.
The once almighty 20th century automobile pilgrimage replete with its sibling battles, rites of passage car sickness and endless boredom has been tenderized by satellite radio, personal entertainment systems, instant messaging and ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage. My children have been reduced to digital cocoons. No one listens or looks as my wife and I happily describe the rugged beauty and history of California’s eastern Sierra and Owens Valley.
While we might be together on vacation, it is a rare harmonic convergence when we are all emotionally present. The digital age has broken the nuclear family into pieces – we are isolated microbytes of data symbiotically sharing a common ecosystem called a house. Each day the modern family must compete with alternative communities — enemy cells of friends via Live Chat, a conveyor belt of Instagram photographs and a mindless, sewage pipe of text messages.
We arrive at our mountain destination and a late dinner at a crowded restaurant. The entire establishment is also suffering from digital-cocooning with three out of four patrons slumped at the altar of their glowing hand-held devices and smart phones. I assume everyone is texting or making power point presentations to one another. There is one loud table. It is a group of five men and women who are actually talking and joking. People leer at them with distain. It seems so rude that they should be making noise in this quiet car of digital dining. Sadly, the digital pollution drift has invaded the last place where table manners, grammar, syntax and personal mythology is passed on – the family dinner table.
I conjure up the countenance of my T-Rex father and growl at the children mandating that I am capable of extinguishing them if they do not extinguish their devices. You would have thought I had asked them to French kiss a cannibal. I suggest a trivia game where we might stimulate our minds. My son protests, “How can we play trivia if we can’t look up the answers on Google Chrome?”
“Name five famous people whose surnames are a color?”
Feeling clever, I eagerly await their answers. I could see the encouraging signs of nascent collaboration.
“Pink.” My daughter says shrugging. “Can we use our phones now?”
“No, damn it!” I hissed. ” I want four more”. You would think I had asked them to explain the Fibonacci Sequence.
“Who was the coach of the Boston Celtics? Who played football for Syracuse and the Browns? Who starred in Nacho Libre and School of Rock?”
“Okay, here’s a hint. What about the names with “Red”, “Brown”, or “Black”
“Oh I know.” yelled one of the boys. “Red Brown.”
“Who is that?” I queried.
“I don’t know, wasn’t he like a football coach? I should get two points for that!”
I shake my head and to my wife’s chagrin regress into off-color jokes and potty humor as a lowest common denominator way of keeping our conversation afloat.
It is indeed harder each year to be an analog parent in a digital world that so empowers the individual. The road trip holiday continues to meet stiffer headwinds as our young adults become addicted to the instant gratification and entertainment of digital media. The notion of down time is tantamount to prison time with the definition of “fun” having morphed into the need for 24/7 distraction.
Our learned behavior of working as a team arose out of our Bataan Death March childhood vacations and our common circumstances — the tedium of long car rides, carsickness, the inconvenience of being torn from the moorings of friends and roadside Bates motels with creepy proprietors, toxic, chlorinated pools and no televisions.
Each summer, we were forced to hang out as a family and amuse one another. We were unplugged and managed by unfiltered, orthodox parents who reminded us that they brought us into the world and that they could take us out of it. They told us to eat all our food because children were starving in China. We now are concerned our kids are eating too much and that China is no longer starving.
For the twentieth century vacation, each kid saved money for the annual road trip to places like the Grand Canyon so we might buy a magical vial of Painted Desert sand or a sinister scorpion encased inside a paper weight. It now seems we are constantly looking for a store that sells iPhone power cords. Travel was about seeing new places and punching holes in the walls of our suburban cocoons. The new millennium road trip has evolved where each person is a self-contained cosset. As we move along the blue highways of our country, it seems we are not lost in America but lost in a conceited cyberspace.
“Are we there yet” has been replaced by “where the hell are we and will they have Wi-Fi?” We are becoming part of a new slang and don’t yet understand its meaning. We are middle-aged pragmatists who have seen too much lashed to the mast with young immortals who believe that bad things only happen to other people. We will forever disagree on whether tomorrow is guaranteed. We have evolved as a modern family unit and it will fall to sociologists and our descendents to determine whether we have regressed or progressed as responsible stewards of our tribes.
We now actively seek vacation destinations that lack cell service – remote locales and pristine back roads where our digital progeny are forced to notice the tumbling streams, alpine lakes and rock strewn paths lined with purple lupine and blood-red Indian paintbrush. On today’s hike, my daughter adroitly spots an almost invisible mother deer and her spotted fawn navigating a steep brown hillside of talus. At home, she can barely discern stop signs. We watch and stand quietly at a forty-five degree angle before the fauna melts into a stand of pines at the timber line.We stop for lunch and break out books or just meditate absorbing the grandeur of this glacial basin reflected in mirror of an emerald-green alpine lake.
I am convinced that our biology requires us to be upright and outdoors. We are not constructed to sit behind desks with compressed vertebrae and atrophied abdominal muscles. Evolution has not yet come to a firm conclusion but our activities would eventually turn us into human thumbs with massive derrieres and no peripheral vision. While it is has already happened to the stars of the reality show, “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo”, we must resist the sedentary siren’s call. Our hike will take all day, cover eight miles and two thousand feet of elevation gained and lost.
I help set up fishing rods and devour a half sandwich which after three hours in my pack appears to have been the seat cushion for a circus fat lady. I chase it down with water that I have just filtered from a stream.
“Hey, I got a fish!” my son yells. I rush over to extract the treble hook lure from the oversized mouth of a spotted golden and red bellied brook trout. At this altitude and in this harsh climate, the fish cannot get enough nourishment. Yet, they adapt and thrive because they are wild — often healthier than their corpulent brethren raised on Power Bait hand-outs in the captivity of a state run hatchery.
As the sun retreats below a 14,000 peak, we estimate that we have two hours of light left to navigate the four miles of switchbacks down to the parking area at the base of Bishop Creek where we initiated our day. We are unplugged – a simpler sweeter kind of music. These moments are gentle notes from a six string guitar. We joke and gently deride each other’s shortcomings – limitations magnified by proximity, the day’s physical challenges and the absence of creature comforts.
I begin to retell the stories of our mythology – tales of my family and these sacred places — times that shaped this part of America like the winds and glaciers that dominate the landscape. I am trailing the group and yelling ahead to them, talking to no one in particular. I am proud of my ability to wrench them out their routines and put them in touch with their more durable alter egos.
I notice someone has a single white strand of wire surreptitiously falling between his hair and his backward facing baseball cap. My son seems to be moving, but not to the rhythm of a story of how ignominious Convict Lake got its name. He is clearly advancing to the cadenced percussion of a band called Phoenix. More earplugs appear and my wife and I are once again alone – travelling with our digital cocoons. She smiles.
“It was nice while it lasted.”
Like everything in nature, unplugged passages soon fade. They are momentary — a fish rising in the early morning light leaving only green sequined circles of water. They are a night canopy of stars, unpolluted by the distant light of cities and material obligations. The sky is an unexplained ocean where satellites move like distant cargo ships and meteors course past the corner of your eye with sudden streaks of light. Only the earth and sky are permanent. I recognize that my children’s cocoons are temporary. They exist for a short time in this insular chrysalis that forms and protects them until a butterfly can emerge and fly away. For a moment, I can see them through the gossamer threads – moving, jostling, evolving and changing.
A blue jay scolds me as I take one last look on the valley below. My legs hurt and my body is reminding me of my mortality. Yet, I have made it once again to this special place, the high palisades of my youth — mountains that required my full attention and commanded respect. They underscore my insignificance but reinforce the notion that I am part of something divine.
My son stops and takes a picture of the valley and the deeply shadowed, late afternoon peaks. He stops and peers at his photograph. He smiles. The memory memorialized, it will soon be distributed to five hundred followers who will participate on an endless digital social comment thread.
By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacation less class. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh
2009 has been coined the summer of the “stay-cation” – a socio-economic shift wherein families remove the pearls of multiple vacation destinations and string a more frugal necklace of “econo-tivities” and close to home travel. In these uncertain times, many will reacquaint themselves with the simpler things in life – a club that one has joined but never has actually visited, a body of water that rests patiently within miles of their home or perhaps a return to a childhood vacation community where one expended the last gasps of a memorable adolescent summer.
In lieu of ladling additional debt on top of a chiiped beef breakfast of broken balance sheets, fractured assets and wobbly economic prospects, many families are rediscovering the joy of road-side motels, derelict cabins and beach houses with porches packed with a generation of sunburned sardines in sleeping bags. The stay-cation is a blessing for a society of spend now, worry-later Americans. Summers have evolved into chaotic ballets of vacation trips, sleep away camps, and travel sports only interrupted by the occasional few days home where we shake our heads at the carefully planted vegetable garden now rotting from neglect.
We patronize these less elaborate holiday trips as a sort of temporary inconvenience to be endured during hard times. The American dream includes improving on every aspect of the generation that preceded it. Yet, I wonder if the high voltage, sugar rush uber holiday has ultimately less long term spiritual nutritional value than the simple staycation. The truth is the staycation is an echo of a simpler time when families scrimped, saved and ultimately crowned, what mother’s considered an interminable three month heat wave of thankless servitude with one grand, end of August two week hiatus to a body of fresh or salt water.
It was in the long shadows of these bronzed final days of freedom, that many of us found a first kiss, a first vice or heard our first adolescent urban legend. It was sitting next to an outdoor firepit with toes buried deep in cool sand that we discovered our parents were once children and that our sibling was actually, kind of funny. Like desert reptiles, sun engulfed us – burning, peeling and freckling our skin while emmersing us in a fortnight of sand granules that relentlessly found their way into every inconvenient orifice via one’s bed, ears, food and undershorts.
Those who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s know that summer is a narrow window to form even the tiniest callous on the hands of a soft suburban adolescent. Its ingredients included a seven hour family road trip in an overstuffed station wagon that looked like it was the get-away car from a convenience store robbery. It meant being wedged between packing cartons filled with an assortment of cardiovascular disease agents – white bread, Jif peanut butter, eggs, bacon, margarine, and Crisco vegetable shortening ( lard) to fry chicken. These vehicles were not travelling entertainment systems but lairs of carsickness, internecine warfare and misery. In these pits of dispair, one could just as easily get hit by the driver or a passenger seated next to you, as you could be slammed by another car.
The drive to reach your August destination was mere mood music for the main event – a broken down beach house with one toilet, an outside shower and futon beds for anyone under the age of 18. The vacation supplies included canvas blow up rafts that within the week would literally sandpaper the nipples right off your body. There were stiff fins meant for WWII Navy seals that would give you blisters across the tops of your toes after three strokes. There was a cooler – a monstrosity of a device weighing more than any family member except your father. Each year, it would be filled with ice and miraculously lugged two miles down to the beach like those large stone faced edifices on Easter Island. No one truly remembers how all the equipment was transported to the beach as the entire walk was a sort of Bataan Death march where only under hypnosis could one possibly reconstruct the actual events.
The beach abode that looked so charming in the Polaroids turned out to be the unholy offspring of a Richard Scarry bunny house and Fawlty Towers. You would innocently open a door and be met by screams and curse words from an octagenarian who had been left behind by the family that occupied the hose before you. The dresser drawers of ancient flea market furniture, were lined with curled floral paper that clung to the wood only at the location of a dark undiscernable stain. The tap water tasted as if it had been distilled through an old sock. Rarely was laundry placed neatly in a drawer. It was recklessly and delightfully thrown into a corner where it grew and growled over the course of a two week stay until it would be domesticated in a large canvas bag. Laundry Day was the equivalent to the Allstar break in baseball, a sort of hygenic timeout and initial light at the end of the tunnel for my mother. On this day, we would haul dirty clothes to a local laundromat where we would spend an exhilarating morning washing, drying, and folding while spying on damaged bachelors, aging debuttantes and lonely hearts as they showcased their unfulfilled lives and their undergarments on adjacent tables.
These 70’s trips were vacation for everyone except mothers. Moms were still trapped in that seam between female liberation and indentured servitude. There were rumors of vacations at hotels with maid service and spacious condominiums where children were sequestered in separate rooms like typhoid patients. However, most figured these were just exaggerations started by other female prisoners of domesticity to keep up morale. It would take my mother weeks to recover from these trips. Whether it was the toilet that had not been flushed since the Eisenhower administration, an indelible marker slash that looked as if it had been left by Zorro or the blood trail across the living room floor, this was not going to be the year that we would honor any of her house rules or get our security deposit refunded.
Yet, it was on these summer journeys that we learned how to crew our family ship. We awoke to days of bright, blinding blue skies and the anxious riffle of curtains as they would gust in the breezes of a new morning. We fell asleep to a sensation of constant motion having spent an entire day in the water – our dreams bracketed by the relentless pounding of midnight waves rising and falling below a gently sloped dune. We did not see these trips as a step down from anything. The vacations primary purpose was not to entertain us – – but to keep us together as a unit, expanding our understanding of one another – exchanging insights and mythology that only surfaced from that strange sodium pentathol brew of salt water, fresh air, adventure and fatigue.
It was not quite a complete summer trip unless we rediscovered the utter chaos of an Emergency Room trying to negotiate with a hospital administrator whom my father suggested had “the world’s smallest brain”, My mother quickly understood they also possessed a black belt in the nuances of the word “no”.
“Will my son’s broken wrist be covered by my policy?”
“No ma’am. We need your credit card”.
“Do you accept insurance?”
“Well then can you at least talk to someone from my husband’s human resources department about how his insurance pays direct reimbursement?”.
“Maam, I am not authorized to accept insurance. Our insurance person is at lunch. I have been told not to talk to other people.”
“I’m a person.”
“You are a payer.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Maam, I can only answer questions about this hospital’s policy as it relates to the costs of your son’s broken wrist.”
“What if I plunge this pencil into your eye socket? Do you think you can see me better – you know, as a person? “
While to some coddled kiddies and cocooned communities, this primitive form of holiday is a sign of the impending apocalypse, for a generation who grew up without seat belts, stuck in a purgatory of long, air conditionless station wagon road trips, it’s a return to the halcyon days of youth. It remains to be seen whether the staycation is merely a solid patch on an otherwise slippery, material slope or whether it is the first sign of spring in society’s discontented winter search for liberation from its never ending need for affluent diversion.
In the end, perhaps it is a second chance to discover that less is more – – and that the best things in life still remain free.
The car as we know it is on the way out. To a large extent, I deplore its passing, for as a basically old-fashioned machine, it enshrines a basically old-fashioned idea: freedom. In terms of pollution, noise and human life, the price of that freedom may be high, but perhaps the car, by the very muddle and confusion it causes, may be holding back the remorseless spread of the regimented, electronic society. ~ J. G. Ballard, “The Car, The Future”, Drive, 1971.
In 1960’s Southern California, rapid transit was considered ill conceived, inefficient and in many places, nonexistent. Public transportation was considered by many Los Angelinos to be a painful, high risk last resort – – the bone marrow transplant of travel. Unlike the great train and subway societies of the east coast, the new cities of the West had less infrastructure and little inspiration to replicate their past lives. Voters shuddered at the thought of being one of many “trapped in the belly of a great iron beast” commuter train. Private transportation meant independence. Self reliance was a value coveted by those who had emigrated west in search of escape from what Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation”.
The American West was now a more mature version its former self. In the 1860’s, the horse was a prized possession. In the latter part of the 20th century, it was the automobile that defined the individual. The car not only afforded us freedom but it transformed society. With the advent of the freeway, suburban flight accelerated. The person who once lived, worked and served as a strong thread in the fabric of an urban area would now labor all day in a metropolis and conveniently flee the chaos and social obligation for the bucolic white fences of a distant commuter town. Suburbia thrived and urban America began its decline.
Los Angeles was hardly a destination, it had no real center. It was a sprawling, ever-expanding ocean of houses, apartments and condominiums. As residential prices soared, people would increasingly travel great distances to find affordable housing, choosing to comute vast distances to jobs in the aerospace and entertainment industries. Years later, Southern California would spawn a new term, “super commuter” to describe the poor pilgrim who travelled at least two hours each way to work. This led to millions leading double lives – – content in the bosom of their family each weekend and then reluctantly returning to the clutches of their automobiles each work week.
In age of Aquarius, affluence was a luxury automobile. One could airbrush their circumstances with the purchase of a Cadillac or full sized sedan. Fathers drove the “nice” car and would occasionally allow their spouses to drive their vehicle but only under strict supervision. The matriarch got stuck with a rolling landfill, “ the second car” that often looked and smelled like a refugee camp. Like so many of his generation, my father adored his car and maintained it with a pathological zeal. He scrupulously recorded his mileage and changed the oil more often then he changed his children’s diapers. He required his sons to clean his rolling palace once a week with a special chamois, “shammy”, cloth made from animal skin no larger than a handkerchief. Washing the car with the shammy was the equivalent to cleaning the Meadowlands with a toothbrush. He countered that the factory paint job was rubbish and only the soft shammy could preserve the color. Nothing was too good for his four wheeled girlfriend.
Dad preached that how one maintained their car spoke volumes about their self discipline, respect and personal hygiene. An unattended dent or scratch was a sign of moral and financial decline. We did not realize it but we were at the tail end of a golden age of transportation where cheap gasoline and an endless horizon line of superhighways, freeways and expressways beckoned Americans to drive everywhere. We were a society of open spaces and vast distances. The long scenic stretches of American interstate such as Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway symbolized the unrealized potential of a nation still growing into itself. To a Southern Californian there was nothing more satisfying than driving one’s car – – to the store, to work or just down the driveway to get the mail. Everything was accomplished with one’s motor vehicle.
Our passion for automobiles may have been brought on by excessive exposure to the sun, lack of rain or attending one too many Burt Reynolds’ Smokey and The Bandit movies. Our need to drive everywhere and often by ourselves, was seen as a birthright and a necessity given the vast distances one needed to travel between planned communities and urban centers. My theory on our obsession was simple – – half of us may well have been conceived in the back seat of a ‘59 Dodge Lancer. Whatever the impetus for our relentless preoccupation, we were initiated at an early age to believe that four wheels trumped two legs. At birth, we were handed a pacifier and a Match Box or Hot Wheels racing car. Those infants that did not choke on the toys, graduated to watching Speed Racer cartoons and riding go-carts. We had more bootleg copies of Motor Trend than Playboy and spent hours debating the superiority of Mustangs over Cameros. Yet, our amorous obsession eventually became an unhealthy addiction.
The energy crises of the 1970’s shocked us and confirmed our deep dependence on our cars and the dark, narcotic sold by exotic sheiks that fueled them. We drove, drove and drove more. We jammed our roads so much that we created pollution called “smog“( smoke and fog) which when inhaled made you feel like you had smoked five packs of filterless Camel cigarettes. We had “smog alerts” at school and were told to stay indoors because of poor air quality. We determined that we must wean ourselves from our transportation habit. We promised to abandon this destructive affair with cars for the honor of energy conservation and the environment. We grudgingly got rid of our two ton concubines and launched a generation of economy cars that consumed less gasoline. We watched as HOV lanes condemned the solo driver to sluggish traffic. Secretly, we despised these changes longed for our beloved Rubenesque, full figured vehicles who were now transforming into waif-like, Twiggy compacts. We loathed taking Amtrak and Greyhound. We convulsed under automotive abstinence. We walked, took the train and carpooled. It was a dark time in the Force for the motor headed Jedi.
In the 90s and into the new millennium, we quietly rekindled our affair of consumption. As with all serial recidivists, we could not stay away. We did not want to think about the consequences of fossil fuels. We ignored the signs of global warming. We rejected the Kyoto treaty. We tolerated what we felt were egregious pump prices of $ 1.75. We denied that we were actually undermining ourselves. We went back to purchasing massive gas guzzlers and rationalized that tougher emission standards and engineering advances had again made the affair possible.
But suddenly, the jig was up. The world went sideways and we were caught en flagrante dilecto with big cars and no protection. Most of us can no longer even fill our car at the gas station as the pump is programmed to cap out at $75. There’s no avoiding the truth. We are going to have to leave her for good this time and return to tin cans and public transportation. We may even lose GM and a few other enablers along the way. For this reformed Californian, it’s still all a little inconvenient. Yet, I know it’s only a matter of time before there is standing room only on every train and I am cramming my oversized body into an undersized Mini, Prius or hybrid.
It’s finally over but we had some good times, didn’t we? It was an affair to remember…..
For I am a Pirate King! And it is, it is a glorious thing to be a Pirate King!
The Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert & Sullivan
After 25 years of laboring on the great, sweaty iron dreadnoughts of insurance and healthcare, I recently decided to jump ship. My plan was several months in the making and every step had to be meticulously detailed. Yet, even with maps, charts, compass and provisions, it would require a leap of faith to relinquish my role as first mate in a for profit navy to become an adventurer. Like most fair weather sailors, I was unnerved by sailing solo and tended to lose my emotional nerve when the economic seas got too rough or my ship drifted too far from the shore. Yet, the lure of new ports of call and the thrill of no longer being under the yoke of a distant monarchy compelled me to resign my station. I would leave my decks in good order to embark on a summer as a ronin privateer. For three months, I would be beholding to no master. I would wait until the Fall when the days shortened and the winds shifted to seek out a new fleet.
I made a log of everything I wanted to accomplish in ninety days. Upon further review, I realized I was being a bit delusional in thinking that in a mere three months I could explore the vast open ocean of my life’s unfulfilled ambitions. My first mate/chief petty officer gently suggested a course correction. It was clear she did not want me rooting around the galley every day disrupting the routines of the other sailors. She had enlisted with me for breakfast and dinner, not for lunch. “Why don’t you just spend the time fishing, hiking, writing, golfing and spending time with the troops.” She was on to something. Why could I not reinvent myself from ship’s captain to pirate king.
“NOW his future lay plain before him, and glowing with unimaginable splendor. …How gloriously he would go plowing the dancing seas, in his long, low, black-hulled racer, the Spirit of the Storm, with his grisly flag flying at the fore! And at the zenith of his fame, how he would suddenly appear at the old village and stalk into church, brown and weather-beaten, in his black velvet doublet and trunks, his great jack-boots, his crimson sash, his belt bristling with horse-pistols, his crime-rusted at his side, his slouch hat with waving plumes, his black flag unfurled, with the skull and crossbones on it, and hear with swelling ecstasy the whisperings, “It’s Tom Sawyer the Pirate!—the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main!” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
My first official week of being a pirate king was a blend of seasickness and excitement. I was still gaining my sea legs learning the first mate’s regimen of feeding the crew, cleaning the main sails and delighting in the endless archipelago of activities that a pirate king could explore. I watched as the shoreline disappeared and was amazed at how quickly the breach that I had left in my old ship’s lines had closed. I felt guilty for leaving my station but knew this was a rare opportunity to be in the company of adventurers. It was summer with long lingering twilights and warm sunny days. I had to adjust my senses from constant battle and hand to hand fighting to once again being in touch with the subtle indulgences of life – the distant slap of a fish as it rose in the afternoon shallows, the youthful ambition to explore a deserted island or the patience to rest quietly in a hammock buffeted by an early morning breeze. My time was limited. I knew September was out there, hunting me like an English Man of War. My first mate wisely suggested that I needed a star to steer by. She suggested a special “ Pirate King and Me“ trip that might forge a lifetime memory and conveniently get me out of the way.
Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late, Jimmy Buffet, A Pirate Looks at Forty
My youngest son was the first beneficiary of Operation Pirate King. I suggested that we drive up to the White Mountains in Northern New Hampshire to attempt to climb Mt. Washington. Over the course of four days, we would become Long John Silver and Captain Kidd, modern day buccaneers – – pillaging pop tarts, tossing back pints of Sprite grog, raiding room service, playing poker, and recklessly racing past our bedtime like hobos easily eluding a one legged rail yard policeman. The spontaneity of the adventure took us both by surprise as we suddenly graduated from maps and graphs to sailing up Highway 93 past signs alerting us to watch for moose, bear and deer. The Presidential Range loomed above us atop a great sea of pine trees. We anchored in the harbor of the Mountain View Grand, a 19th century hotel gilded with a rich history of generational reunions, presidential visits and simpler times. On our first full day, we attacked the “Tuck” trail, a 2200 foot vertical ascent to Tuckerman’s ravine, the most vertical route up Mt Washington. At the base camp, a 700 foot headwall climbed above the timber line to a serpentine spine of rock trail that gained another 1000 feet to the summit. To these two free-booting pirates, the gray gathering rain clouds and the fact that we had consumed our last Pop Tart an hour earlier proved too daunting. The tallest peak in New England would not hoist our flag today but we would be return to take the granite citadel.
Over the next three days, we competed as only plunderers can, fighting for bragging rights in fishing, swimming, billiards, gin rummy, poker, golf, and ping pong. The hotel staff negotiated a détente with us, giving us free reign in the restaurant and assigning us stature by allowing us the same table each evening where we inventoried our spoils and mapped out our plans to loot the following day for all that it was worth. Our expedition was quickly coming to an end. While bike riding on a trail in Franconia Notch State Park, we saw a large black dog running toward us, presumably off leash with no owner in sight. My fellow buccaneer excitedly turned to me, “Dad, I think that is a bear”. Lacking a spyglass and unencumbered by our matriarchal risk manager, we inched closer, watching the bear cub as he ambled towards us and then disappeared into the wild north woods. It was a classic moment — wild kindred spirits coursing past one another in a great ocean of forest and woods, hurdling toward some unknown fate. That last evening, we sat in the dark talking, in glorious violation of our bedtime curfew sharing tales of treasure, murder and betrayal. He asked me to once again tell him the story of black hearted pirates. When we got to the part about the blood thirsty Blackbeard, my son became very still. I presumed that he was contemplating a misshapen, seven foot, hulking sociopath who robbed, pillaged and killed his confederates for the slightest infraction. As with all scary summertime stories, the conclusion brought a long pregnant pause and the timeless question:
“Dad, where did Blackbeard live?”
“I think……right….. around……. HERE!”
“Sure” he laughed with the bravado of the unconvinced. He laid motionless, a still, frozen shadow on an adjacent bunk.
“Don’t worry pal. The pirate king won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
He relaxed. “ ‘Night dad. I had a fun day”…As my sailor slipped off into the land of nigh, I smiled. It was a wonderful thing to be a pirate king….