Friday, July 03, 2009

Days 9-10 – Down by the Riverside, Calif.

Today is a day of doing nothing for me. My sister, Vicki, her daughter, Alissa, and Jodie have headed westward to the Pacific Ocean for some beach time (Laguna Beach like the old Beach Boys, “Surfin’ USA”). I have chosen to remain behind, away from that warm California sun (I’ve got a thousand song lyrics applicable to all that is happening around me).

After nine days on driving and sight-seeing, it’s just good to do nothing for a few hours. Adjusting to the constant change of altitudes and changing of attitudes (and latitudes) can be taxing upon one’s body and soul. My eating habits, in terms of time and substance, have long since gone by the wayside. I’ve tried hard to stick to the diet (no pasta, no starches, no rice, no potatoes) but on the West Coast, that is difficult. Almost everything involves French fried potatoes (In-and-Out makes the best, cut from fresh spuds), or pasta (it seems as if breakfast cereal has pasta in it in the Golden State). And people here order everything imaginable on a pizza, from sushi to salad. I don’t get it, I don’t order it … but to each his own.

Riverside is a very pleasant community, in the High Desert region of California, about an hour or so east of Los Angeles. In fact, it is as close to San Diego as it is to L.A. and if I had my druthers, I’d go to San Diego all the time – one of America’s hidden gems.

The downtown area centers around an old mission and the restored Mission Inn (where we will have dinner tonight). Workers continue to convert many of the streets into a walking plaza between quaint shops with names like Mrs. TiddyWinkles or a sandwich shop called Simple Simon. As you stroll past the shops, you need to watch out for falling fruit from the many orange trees populating the community. My sister has lemon and apricot trees in her yard, which is wonderfully convenient for canning preserves or just plain snacking. The neighborhoods appear to be clean and green.

The city also houses a state university (UC-Riverside) and a handful of private schools, a state citrus park and great scenery (mountains, a river and bright stars at night). A philharmonic orchestra performs on a regular basis and among the festivals held here one those featuring jazz and the works of Charles Dickens. Heck, the mail service is actually door-to-door instead of street side mailboxes.

Of course, this IS California – not the land of kooks and weirdoes but the state of faltering economy and massive debt in the state budget. Things have gotten so dire, so divided, that IOUs have now been issued to debtors in lieu or payment and state employees are being forced to take unpaid furloughs, running into weeks instead of a handful of days.

The voters can change the party affiliation of the lawmakers in Sacramento all they want but the situation runs deeper than campaign promises. It’s fine and dandy to make pronouncements in speech after speech, but when push comes to shove, reality speaks a cruel truth – whether it applies to California or Texas or the city of Dallas or Washington, D.C.

The real problem lies in the fact that people want the other guy to do the sacrificing in terms of jobs, services, taxes and entitlements. We want our complete freedom to act as we wish yet pay as little as possible for that privilege. And when the waiter delivers the bill, we look around for someone – anyone – to take care of it. Nowadays, there is no one else to flash an American Express card; it is now our debt and our responsibility.

California isn’t alone – most major cities and states face similar fiscal time bombs. California, because of its size (stand alone, it is the seventh largest economy in the world), is just the biggest problem outside of the federal deficit.

Texas talks and walks big about its surplus (which is true), but it comes at the expense of being last in terms of health care provided to its children, near the bottom in percentage of population below the poverty level and almost last in every other social service. Texas’ funding of public education remains a joke and the funding of highway repair and future construction (on a course for all new roads to be tolled) causes every Texan to be upset.

It’s become a time of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” in our country. No choice is wrong and no choice is right. All we can do is pray and hope it all works out in the end.

Until then??????? Let’s PLAY BALL!


Last night was spent in the confines of the Epicenter (cute nickname for a minor league ballpark) in Rancho Cucamonga to see the hometown Quakes fall to the High Desert Mavericks in a California League clash.

The scenery with beautiful, with the mountains majestic over the left field wall, and the weather was absolutely perfect – cool breeze, temperature in the low 80s and a few fluffy clouds against a blue sky giving way to an orange sunset.

At this level, you see future MLB stars (perhaps 3-4 years away from the Show) and a majority of young men unsuccessfully attempting to live out their major league dreams. Some plays ranked at the big league level and some mistakes were as high school as it got.

It was a good night’s entertainment for the family at a nice affordable price (our seats behind the plate cost just $10 apiece). There were silly games between innings and the usual minor league presentation, which means light-hearted and family-friendly.

At each minor league stadium, there is a mascot; in Frisco, it is Deuce the Prairie Dog and in Rancho Cucamonga, it (he/she???) is a dinosaur named Tremor. The job of a good, quality mascot is to entertain and make people laugh, while getting them to root, root, root for the home team.

When they are among the best – the Phillie Fanatic or the San Diego Chicken – they are as much part of the game presentation attraction as the players themselves. The Chicken (Ted Giannoulus) should be up for Hall of Fame consideration; he has been THAT critical to baseball (along with the legendary Max Pipkin). The Cooperstown people should seriously ponder adding a mascot wing to the Hall and add one mascot per year in the same manner as the HOF does for sportswriters and broadcasters.

Meteor, however, won’t be there for some time. It needs to work on its game a tad. Among the rules of mascoting include making between-inning schtick be funny when involving umpires and children and (most important) when you “air-gun” souvenir T-shirts to the crowd, they actually REACH the crowd. Poor Tremor fired its first T-shirt over the stadium wall, into the parking lot, and couldn’t clear the home plate screen on its second effort.

But as the game proceeded, Tremor showed its true form through dancing on the dugout. This was the first mascot I’ve seen that danced to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (Harry Carey would roll over in his grave if he knew).

And here is another rule that parents need to follow: Mascots do NOT (and should NOT) sign autographs. Kids should not seek it because that “X” won’t be remembered years later and since when do dinosaurs carry Sharpies?

Please, be realistic. Crayons at best.

The final two games of the vacation will happen in San Bernardino (for the 4th of July) and Lake Elsinore. After that, it will be museums, canyons, shows, dinners and national parks. The trip meter, which cannot move about 999.9 miles has flown past 2,400 miles – and today, I am trying to recharge my batteries after seeing every ONE of them.

Until then … when we celebrate America’s birthday in the proper manner (baseball, fireworks, overcooked hot dogs and tennis from England) … Shalom!

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