October 2012

The Case of the Excited Colonoscopist

You know how hard it is to get a surgeon to laugh.  See, at some point during their medical training, most likely in their specialized study after they’ve got their MD, they undergo a brief procedure in which the sense of humor is excised.  I’ve been trying for decades with minimal success to break through the shell and get my surgeons to laugh.

Our parents taught us to try, try again, and my internist’s discovery last summer of some Suspicious Stuff has given me the opportunity to see more medical professionals, thus improving my odds of finding one who can show some joy.

The good news regarding my stuff is that it has turned out to be only moderately suspicious, and treatment of it can be postponed.  Alas, the examination of the first stuff turned up other stuff, and i was told i needed a colonoscopy.  But wait.  I just had one a couple of years ago.

So what i needed, i decided, was a new colonoscopist, never having felt much of a rapport with the previous one anyhow.  And then i got a lead.  I discovered that the husband of my semi-divine retinologist is a colorectal surgeon.

My retinologist is an amazing woman.  In the first place, she’s a brilliant physician, having got back for me much of the vision i’d lost.  She’s also a gifted photographer, spectacularly beautiful, and above all, nice.  Warm and loving and kind.  She would have been beset by suitors and would have had her pick, so anyone she chose would naturally be brilliant and nice at very least.  So i got a referral and made an appointment with her husband.

The first thing i noticed was that everybody at the front desk was relaxed and nice and wonderfully tolerant over my having forgot my insurance card and other gaffes.  Always a good sign.

And then i’m taken off to the examination room and in comes Dr. Jeffrey Sternberg with a smile. He was patient and kind and caring, and after a brief consultation reassured me that i was in no immediate danger and that we should postpone the colonoscopy until he can get a full report from my examination next January by the doctor who’s tracking my original stuff.

And then i mentioned that i was a patient of his wife’s and knew that he liked this, holding out a jar of my CPK (Cherry Jam flavored with Patak’s Hot Lime Relish). He took the jar, looked at the label, and exclaimed in delight: “You’re the one!”

See, the first time i gave his wife a jar of this stuff, she’d opened it as a condiment for some pork chops, and both of them had loved it so much that she called me up at home the next day to exclaim over it.  I just love it when i can make people happy.

Meanwhile, most folks in San Francisco now have mail slots in their doors, but a few are more traditional.

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The Pat Tillman Bridge

One of the mixed joys of motor travel in less populated areas is trying to find something listenable on the car radio, but sometimes there are miracles. This morning as i headed west on I-40, i tuned in a Flagstaff FM station and caught one of the more exciting performances in recent memory. It was Avi Avital playing Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord, Strings, and Continuo No.1 in D minor, BWV 1052, adapted for mandolin and orchestra by the performer.

I have loved this concerto for fifty years, and don’t recall ever having been more excited by a performance of it. Sorry about that, Trevor Pinnock, but yours comes in second. I’m think i’m gonna buy Mr. Avital’s recording. And click on the clip in that link, folks, to hear tantalizing passages of the BWV 1052 in the background.

And before we get to the bridge, here’s a landscape shot i took yesterday in northeastern Arizona headed toward the Grand Canyon.

Arizona landscape

And OK, it’s not all gorgeous rocks:

Standard Oil

And now, the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tilman Memorial Bridge . I’ve been fascinated by this bridge since i read about it during its construction. And then when they named it after Pat Tillman, that upped the ante considerably, since i’d followed the Tillman family’s exposure of the Army’s cover-up of the actual circumstances of Tillman’s death so they could use him as a propaganda pawn. Jon Krakauer, whose Into the Wild i greatly admired, published a book about the whole sordid affair, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, which i’ve put on my list to read.

But yes, the bridge. Turns out you can’t miss it if you’re headed north by northwest toward Las Vegas on US 93 from Kingman because the old route over Hoover Dam has been closed and all traffic has been routed over the new bridge. You get a glimpse of the bridge as you approach it, but i saw no place to pull over and take a photograph.

And then once you’re on the bridge you can’t see anything because there are such high walls lining the roadway that only sky is visible on both sides. Yes, i understand that the walls were installed to prevent drivers from diverting their attention to the scenery rather than the vehicles ahead of them, but still. I mean, after all, we let drivers cross the Golden Gate Bridge without barriers to prevent them from glancing to the side.

Over the bridge and into Nevada, you get a chance to turn onto the old highway that is now the dam access road, and the narrow road with its steep grades and tight turns reminded me of just how necessary it had become to reroute through traffic over a new bridge.

And then i got to the Homeland Security roadblock and inspection zone. I guess i didn’t look suspicious enough, as i was waved through before i’d come to a complete stop. Yes, i recognize that the dam is one of America’s most iconic structures, which would naturally make it a target for terrorists, but then i wonder whether it could be destroyed by a car bomb. And then i realize that like much of our security, the security inspection here is set up mainly because it’s feasible. After all, the Golden Gate Bridge is, if anything, more iconic, but it’s just not practical to force traffic over it into a single file and stop every vehicle. So it gets no visible security.

So what the security check at Hoover Dam really is, is Heimat Sicherheit propaganda where they show what good care they’re taking of us. Terrorist threat level Magenta, folks, so line up for another loyalty test.

And then there’s the parking lot for pedestrian access to the bridge, and i pull into that. I look at the hillside at the edge of the lot and see inclined ramps switchbacking up the hill and am about to pull the Segway out of the car when i notice the stairs. Oh damn. It’s clearly a combination of stairs and ramps, which makes it impossible for me.

Crushed, i drive across the dam to a parking lot on the far side, where i can stop and take this shot of the bridge, the best angle i could find.

P1010043

Of course i should have taken the Segway out, ridden back onto top of the dam, and photographed the bridge against the sky from there, but i was so discouraged over not being able to ride the Segway onto the bridge that it didn’t even occur to me that i could at least ride it onto the dam. So i just got back in the car and drove back across the dam, taking this shot out the window as i wound up the hill on the Nevada side:

And then realized that what i really wanted to do after all that disappointment was strike out for home on the quickest route rather than spending the night somewhere in the desert east of the Sierra Nevada and then crossing it at the first open pass tomorrow. So i took I-15 down to Barstow, US-58 over to Bakersfield, up US-99 to Maneca, and CA 120 over to I-580 and home.

And along about Fresno the rain hit and i realized that it would be turning to snow in the Sierra, where it would have seriously complicated my attempt to get home tomorrow with no chains, so it’s a good thing i bailed.

I think next trip i’ll actually do some prior planning and research.

Late Note: When i got home and was searching around for links to put into this account, i read that access to the pedestrian walkway across the bridge is provided for the handicapped, so those stairs and ramps i saw on the hillside must be part of separate access systems. Sigh. Definitely need to do some preliminary research for the trip north i’m thinking of taking next summer.

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Williams, Arizona

Saw the Grand Canyon and didn’t fall in. Actually, the first viewpoint was insufficiently scary owing to sturdy guardrails, well anchored into the ground and set back several feet from the precipice.

So was the second although it was enlivened by a couple of young men who’d somehow clambered onto an outcropping. Gasp.

South Rim, Grand Canyon

The third, however, had no guardrails of any sort to block the view into the chasm. Better yet, the approach to the unguarded edge was a wide plane of loose gravel sloping gently toward the brink, and as you crunched closer to the precipice you realized that if you stumbled or worse yet, tripped, you’d slide. And if you didn’t make it all the way over, you’d be lying there dead of fright with your feet extended over thin air.

Grand Canyon

Surely you didn’t think i was gonna get close enough to that edge to take a shot looking straight down.

To complete the day, i drove on down south to Williams, Arizona, where i picked up an Arizona map and some useful commentary on the new bridge over the canyon below Hoover Dam. If the ones at the Williams office are any indicator, Arizona chooses delightful men for their tourist bureaus. The young woman at my motel enthusiastically recommended a “down home” place for dinner. It was packed with locals, the staff were all nice and very helpful, and the servings were enormous. If only the food had been good.

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Dolores, Colorado

Aspens are lovely even after the leaves have dropped.

P1000995-001

I set out westward this morning determined to pay more attention to the map and avoid navigation errors, and all went well as i wandered westward on US 50.  I caught the critical turns south at Montrose and on CO 62 west at Ridgway but discovered a flaw in the map at Placerville, where the map clearly shows CO 62 t-boning into CO 145.

It doesn’t.

You have to take a 90 degree left turn off 62 to go southeast toward Telluride on 145.  And if you do that, you’ll pass through Placerville about a mile down the road.  If you keep going straight on 62 expecting to run into Placerville, you’ll be on 145 heading northwest toward Norwood, which i did.  And then after fifteen miles turned around and ran past the sign to Telluride again, going the other direction.  Well, see, there was major road construction with traffic taking turns on the one open lane, and the sign faded into the background noise.  When i finally got onto 145 toward Telluride, i discovered that all the motels in Placerville were closed, and i got all the way to Dolores before i found one open a few minutes after dark.   The Outpost Motel and RV Park.

P1000997Here it is the next morning.

On this trip i’ve been stopping fairly often for coffee and bathroom breaks as well as for meals.  So of course i’ve been passing in front of many television screens.  Colorado is a swing state, so every time i glanced at a screen, somebody was explaining how either Obama or Romney was the spawn of Satan.  We’ve been missing a lot in California.

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North of Salida

San Isabel B&BThis morning i had a great visit with Becky and Charlotte in southeastern Denver and took them to lunch.  Couldn’t resist showing them the accumulated gasoline consumption from Rock Springs, Wyoming and over the continental divide to their house:  51.8 MPG for nearly 450 miles.  Nempimaniac, moi?  They planned a route toward the Grand Canyon for me that angled down to the southwest corner of the state without touching an interstate.  A lovely drive.  Alas, i didn’t find Buena Vista since i failed to notice that it is located about a millimeter to the right of the junction where i’d turned left, but luckily out in the middle of nowhere headed toward Salida i spotted a sign advertising the San Isabel Bed and Breakfast, so i turned off the highway and ended up at a delightful place.

Nice folks, but i didn’t know how i was supposed to act at a B&B so felt a little strange and just ran off and hid in my room.  Then it had struck me that i’d eaten nothing since a little lunch snack and had no food in my car.  Luckily, the hosts had put out a delicious carrot cake, and i grabbed a couple of pieces of that for my supper.  Besides, the most casual glance at me reveals that it sure won’t hurt me to miss a meal.

I considered relaxing in their hot tub until the awful thought struck me:  What if someone sees me?  Oh please. Only my doctors!

Other guests were around for the excellent breakfast, though, so i just patterned my behavior on them and all was well.  This was my first B&B experience, but i have a feeling that it’s way above average.  Just saying.

Oh, and while we’re out here in the wilderness i have to comment on something i haven’t been seeing in the city:  stars.  Well, see, even when the sky seems clear, we always have some degree of maritime haze, and then there’s the ambient light of San Francisco and all the neighboring cities.  So as a result, when i stand on my little balconette in the evenings the most common points of light i see in the sky are airplanes leaving or approaching the Oakland or San Francisco airports.  Besides the moon, the other two or three lighted objects up there are probably Jupiter, Venus, and satellites.  So i forget just how damn many stars are in the diamond-studded night sky that rural Americans probably take for granted.  Well, no, i recall being fascinated by the night sky as a kid.

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Just West of Denver

Today i backtracked about ten miles on I-80 so i could drive south down through the Flaming Gorge and across the gorge atop the dam on the Green River.

Flaming Gorge bridgeHere’s a pic of the bridge over a side canyon of the gorge just a mile or so west of the dam. This is the only pic from the first half of the trip that i managed to post before i dropped the damn laptop and lost all the other pics.

Went on south and east until i hit I-70 at Rifle, Colorado, and took that over the continental divide and down into western Denver where i spent the night.

You know how sometimes a Great Insight comes to you upon reflection and you realize that your interpretation of events has been wrong, all wrong. Well, i got to thinking about my encounter with the Angel Moroni as i was standing there in front of that water fountain beside the Mormon Tabernacle, and i realized: it was the water.

Of course. If the Mormons could pull off the Mountain Meadows Massacre and a century and a half of diligent coverup, they would certainly be capable of slipping a little something into the water supply for that fountain so that visiting gentiles, already softened up by the grandeur of the tabernacle, could be made even more susceptible to hallucinations that might trigger a conversion like the one i experienced. Of course.

So it came as a great relief to understand that Mormonism is still a monstrous cult after all and that i don’t need to change my will and Becky won’t need to hunt around for some colorless, odorless, and tasteless seasoning for a dinner for me. I’ll tell her in the morning that i’ve reconverted back to atheism, but as a cautionary measure will just take her to lunch rather than staying for dinner.

And regarding the Mountain Meadows Massacre, don’t worry. Justice was served. John D. Lee – the man who singlehandedly ambushed and surrounded the Fancher wagon train, starved them out, and then slaughtered in cold blood a hundred and twenty men, women, and children – was finally tracked down twenty years later, tried in a Mormon court, convicted as the sole miscreant, and executed. Case closed. Church blameless.

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Somewhere in Wyoming

Actually, Rock Springs.

I sure have plenty to write about today, so much so that i’ll have to just hit the high points, which started when i was pulling the Segway out of the back of the Prius in a Salt Lake City parking garage and somehow managed to put an inch and a quarter long gash deep into my left index finger and got blood all over my clothes etc before i could wrap it tightly in my snotty handkerchief and continue the expedition to the grand center of the Mormon church that i’ve come to despise so completely as a reaction to their persecution.

So yes, i infiltrated the grounds on the Segway.

But that wasn’t the news.  Oh no.  That started when i was sipping from a drinking fountain outside the temple and was struck by how utterly delicious the water was, right up there with the acclaimed Hetch Hetchy product we enjoy in San Francisco.  It was actually crossing my mind that the Mormons were unaccountably blessed by having such fine water when i was interrupted by an increasingly loud WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP noise that sounded like a descending helicopter.

But then WHAM, i was knocked to the ground and pinned helplessly beneath what felt like a giant wing.  And yes, i know my readers are thinking, there he goes, hallucinating again.  But no, this was no hallucination.

For it immediately became clear that not only was i pinned down beneath a giant wing, but also that it was a highly muscular giant wing that had recently been involved in great athletic exertion.  It smelled like i was trapped beneath a huge, sweaty turkey that had not showered in some time.

Then i realized it was the Angel Moroni, and that all those awful things i’d written about the Mormons might have come to his attention.  At this point he shifted his wing slightly so that my face was free, and gasping gratefully, i suggested that we negotiate.

I had never heard an angel snort.

The upshot was that he helped me conclude that all that stuff i’d previously thought about the Mormons was just errors of my youth and that i was now ready to become a member of the church.  And as a signal of my sincerity, i agreed that as soon as i got back to San Francisco,  I’d replace my sister with the Mormon Church as beneficiary of the trust in which all my assets are kept.

I told Becky about this with some trepidation, fearing she might be upset, but she reassured me that there were no hard feelings, and as a token of this, she’d cook a special dinner for me if i’d stop by to see her on my way back home.

Somewhere in ColoradoSomehow i sense that the remainder of my adventures on this trip will be anticlimactic, but who knows.  At any rate, here’s another southwestern Colorado shot:

Took me a little while to realize that that yellow stripe across the mountain is made by deciduous trees planted alongside a road.

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Elko

That’s Elko, Nevada.  I guess i shoulda stopped in some of the little ghost towns for some photo ops, as i took only one pic all day long.  I missed a spectacular shot by seconds but then was unwilling to drive the extra fifty miles it would have taken to loop back for it.  Now i’m wishing i had.  I was kinda thinking i’d stop for the day just before sunset and take advantage of the light angle for some shots, but Nevada doesn’t offer a lot of towns with motels, and it was a little too early when i passed Battle Mountain, and then the onset of darkness was enhanced by blowing dust as i approached Elko.  Damn.  Reminds me of Odessa.  Way too much like Odessa.

I’ll try for some local color shots in the morning before pressing on to Salt Lake City and poking around downtown and taking a look at that big Mormon temple.  It’ll be a strange sensation to be standing there surrounded by raving lunatic, foam-spewing Mormons.  A cult based on Christianity but with an extra layer of lunacy on top.  After all, not all that high a percentage of Christians still believe that the earth is 6000 years old at the center of the universe with everything revolving around it, including the sun.  The Mormons, though, believe all that plus an extra helping of craziness in the Book of Mormon since Joseph Smith could not have guessed when he was writing it in the early part of the nineteenth century that advances in anthropology, linguistics, and genetics would make utterly hilarious his claim that the American Indians were descendants of Hebrews who sailed across the Atlantic about three thousand years ago.  As if the idea of Hebrews trekking across Africa, building ocean-going ships, and sailing across the Atlantic 3000 years ago were not ludicrous enough in itself without claiming that they populated the Americas and had wars with horse-drawn chariots, no evidence of either of which has ever been found.

Me, i’ll just keep on sailing east before i turn right, go south, and head west for the Grand Canyon.  And i might as well confess it now, but shortly after my return to San Francisco i dropped my laptop and now cannot access any of the pics i downloaded out of the camera onto it.

southwestern ColoradoSo what we’d settle for as today’s pic is a shot i took in southwestern Colorado:

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On the Road

In the morning i’ll be setting out on an adventure.  I’d been planning to take advantage of the favorable weather in August and drive up into the Pacific Northwest, but then i broke my damn leg.  Now that it’s healed well enough to gimp around on, i was gonna set out northwards but wisely looked at weather forecasts and discovered that the winter rains up there have started in earnest.  Couldn’t find a single day at any of my destinations when it was not scheduled to rain, so i’ll go somewhere else.  Stay tuned.

And just so there’ll be a little color on the page, here’s what i’m leaving:

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Dump Citizens United

Ahhh, fame. Finally, finally, at long last it has arrived. I shall wear it lightly and do my best to remember all you little people. Well, most of you.

I’ve had my final visit to the orthodoc last Monday and he cleared me to take off The Boot except, for the time being, when i’m riding the Segway. Oh and by the way, the bone that was broken was my left fibula, just above the ankle, and if i’d known that in the beginning, i’d have been saying that my leg was broken rather than my ankle because it sounds so much worse.

I took my leg out for its first unsplinted walk last Tuesday by going out to the car and picking Jeff up and driving down to Mayes on Polk Street for dinner. Yes, Mayes. It’s now a pitiful shadow of its former glory, a quarter of its former size with a very short menu, but i was lucky enough to get to San Francisco while it was still at its peak, one of the grand old seafood palaces like Spenger’s in Berkeley with two foot square menus jammed with a huge variety of dishes, all done capably. I guess we don’t eat like that anymore, and that killed off Mayes back in the eighties. Best things Jeff and i had were the steak sandwich and the french fries. Enough said. Well, except that by walking like an old man i managed to get a half block from the car to the restaurant and back. Yes, i am one, but i sure hate looking like it.

I strapped The Boot back on last Thursday and Segwayed down to the Bartlett Street Farmers’ Market, which has been renamed Mission Community Market but is still on Bartlett Street between 21st and 22nd. I like going to it because it’s new and is struggling to add vendors, and i feel like i’m boosting a worthwhile cause. Besides, they’re gradually getting a good collection of vendors. Like Yerena, Twin Girls, Arata, and Dirty Girl…and others i’m blanking on. I hit Yerena for a flat of raspberries so i could make my first jelly to celebrate my recovery.

This morning i booted up, threw the Segway into the back of the Prius, drove down to near Sybil’s building on Mission, and Segwayed the remainder of the way to the Ferry Building, where i met Sybil and her daughter Sunny for some marketing. Since i’m going away for a week i didn’t get anything but a celeriac from Tierra Vegetables, but it was great fun to market with Sybil while i pitched an adventure.

What we could do, i proposed, is walk back to my car and drive out to Ocean Beach, where i would drop them, find a parking place in the park, and return on the Segway so that all three of us could take part in the Dump Citizens United demonstration. They had other plans, so i drove out and parked near the buffalo enclosure and Segwayed to the beach, where i joined my fellow demonstrators on what turned out to be a gorgeous day with a light offshore wind, which brings higher air temperatures and waves more readily surfable.

There were lots of surfers, but we barely had enough people to fatten the letters up properly, so i was much disappointed in the turnout. I was also disappointed in the Segway’s performance, or lack thereof, in deep soft sand. I’d thought it would do better but ended up having to tow it in places where the beach wasn’t sloping gently downwards. Still, i made it.

Click Dump Citizens United to see me. I’m the one in the red shirt in the bottom bar of the last “E”.

I just love collective action, especially the nonviolent kind. And late note, here’s another link to the event.

stacking stonesAnd speaking of collective action, i spotted this on the way to the drawbridges the other day. Of course i added one.

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