Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from Home!

Deee-lighted to be here. A fine, noble 2009 to all! Abba thinks so, too.

New Years Eve in Redding

Such a possibility awaited us until a few minutes ago. But first yesterday's driving update: loaded up the car at my sister's place out in the Washington countryside. My windshield was glazed with ice. That meant Monday's rain-soaked roads were also icy. Heading out on two-lane blacktop past alpaca farms, Douglas Firs, and coated horses grazing in early morning fields, we kept the speed down to 30 mph. Even that caused the car to swerve on slick blacktop. A half-hour of tense driving got us on the interstate and a deep sigh of relief. 

Regular motoring down into Oregon, through now-cleared Portland and across the flats to Eugene. Past Eugene, the terrain rose toward Grant's Pass. MDW was driving when a high-pitched squeal sounded under the hood. She pulled over and I checked - nothing. I took over driving as the squeal came and went, usually above 2300 RPMS/63 mph. 

We passed through Medford and Ashland, climbing into the southern Cascades into California. Dusk arrived and the squealing worsened. I began paying attention to exit sign numbers and hoping the engine held up to Redding. We entered a prehistoric lava field, encircled by cone-shaped, extinct volcanoes, snowy slopes aglow in the fading light. Overhead, a crescent moon gleamed above a landscape that seemed as bleak and lifeless as an asteroid. Oh, God, not here, I thought. And we squealed on past.

Finally made it to Redding. This morning the garage checked it out and said a part holding on my fan belt assembly was expiring. They found an after-market item over in Andersen and managed to install it, ensuring New Year's Eve might indeed be spent in the bosom of our condo.  

Ah, but another full day of driving stands between us and home. Adventures abound on the western roads. Let us see what transpires. 

Monday, December 29, 2008

Moist Washington Notes

Down at my sister's house near Fort Lewis. We had a large family gathering last night, with the kids screaming and running around because we're out in the country and who is gonna hear? Today my sister and I drove to Tacoma to see a museum containing nifty glass artwork, but it was closed, so we discussed family business, stopped at a used book store with a cat curled up on the counter, then out for pizza. 

During last week's storm in Portland, cars were following snow plows on the freeway, driving at low speeds. Many ran out of gas as the off-ramps were unplowed and impassable. I passed several such vehicles last Wednesday, sealed in snow by subsequent plowings. Even if cars had managed to exit, fuel trucks couldn't reach many filling stations along the interstate. 

The Washington sky is in constant flux, as if under contract to display as many looks as possible: overcast, sunshine with light shafts so brilliant they make you squint, back to partially cloudy, dark and broiling, but always with rain, or rain mixed with snow. 

Tomorrow, MDW and I begin our thousand-mile drive back to Los Angeles. Lots of rain in the outlook, but hopefully very little snow. This has been a wonderful trip seeing family and the best, most adventurous, Christmas I've had in awhile. 

Friday, December 26, 2008

Red Right Return and Other Nautical Terms

Eleven McCanns took the ferry across Puget Sound to Bremerton on the Kittsap peninsula. My cousin Jim, an old Navy officer, pointed out red marker buoys that vessels entering port must keep to their right. Helmsmen are taught to remember that by this post's title. Land blocking the wind is known as a wind shadow. And green buoys direct returning helmsman to stay to their left, or port side. As a young man in officer training forty-four years ago this day, Jim married his wife Linda. To stay married that long requires some pretty nifty navigation of its own.

We wandered around the slushy Bremerton wharf, ate Belgian French Fries, then sailed back to Seattle for dinner at an Italian restaurant. At least I didn't have to drive today - car or boat.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Icy Road Trip and U R A BUS

Tuesday morning, after a tense drive in cold, mist and ice, I crossed the mountains into Oregon. Spent that night on my cousin's farm near Corvallis; quiet with rain falling on snow; rolling hills bristling with Douglas Firs rising out of the mist; Hereford cows, rich in placid bovine calm, munching behind wire cattle fences. On Christmas Eve, prior to driving up to Tacoma on Family Fest '08, I checked the interstate on the web. Smacked by two snow storms with another on the way, the I-5 around Portland appeared to be a mess of spun-out wrecks, ice sheets, and hour-long waits.

Sure enough, all the above lurked beyond Salem. As I learned, the cameras didn't really show ice composition: brown in scattered fields like very large charcoal briquettes. Driving across it was like traversing an extremely slick, treacherous washboard. On the roadside, cars were spun out into snow banks, some buried by subsequent plowings. Reaching the hour-long backup, I sat behind a Subaru long enough to realize the vehicle name was an anagram for the title of this post.

Driving across the Columbia River into Washington found me motoring through rain, snow rain and snow, and moisture in general. But it sure beat icy old Portland.

Christmas today was spent pleasantly at the home of cousins, surrounded by other cousins of many ages. Alas my sister had to work, a niece couldn't come out, and MDW was bushwhacked by the airlines' incompetence, missed her flight, got shuffled to Phoenix, and spat out finally in Seattle at 8:00 PM. But we're winding down now, on a busy Christmas night.

Merry Christmas to all.

Merry Christmas!

Interesting travel updates to follow.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

U.N. Manny

Paul suggested this episode as a tribute to when the Animaniacs writers were in New York and took a U.N. tour. Mr. Lighter-Than-Air is Marc Drotman, another member of our old Acme Comedy Theatre improv group and the voice of Fatman from Freakazoid.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dateline: Redding, CA

After many hours of driving, racing ahead and through rain storms, I reached Redding. Check into my room at Motel 6, then hit Denny's for dinner. Three waitresses are seated at the counter in a mostly empty restaurant. They look at me as I enter and one remarks, "Let's fight over him." I throw my arms wide and answer, "A dream come true." They laugh and suddenly the place fills up behind me with three family groups with kids and old people, but no dogs.

I stop in a Shell station convenience store for the next day's road snacks. The woman behind the counter notices I'm carrying a book. In under three minutes I learn:

She had just finished a book by Dean Koontz.

Used to live in Newport Beach, CA - the same town Koontz lives in - and greeted the author as he was driving around town with his golden Labradors.

Has ADD and hasn't seen a movie in years because she can't settle down long enough to focus.

Used to work in Alaska running a tour group.

Has a sister who is super smart and encourages people to read.

Finally I got away after saying I suffer from 24-hour leprosy.

And the night is still young here at the feet of the Cascades.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Dark Smurfs courtesy of Tom Ruegger.

SUNDAY UPDATE: Phoenix marathon team ran 20 yesterday. Several runners bonked from injuries and ended up stopping or heading to the pool. Former coaches Jimmy and Kate stopped by to teach a form clinic to the spring team. Jimmy recapped his outstanding finish at the Rio Del Lago Ultra Marathon back in September. (1st in age group; 3rd overall on a blistering hot day.) Mostly drove around with Coach Karla and checked on people.

Some sort of bug laid me low today. I feel better now. Off to the north tomorrow. Weather is rough with storms in Portland and throughout Washington. But I'll make it, for its Christmas and I said I would.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Up the Coast and On the Couch

After years of traveling east to Phoenix, the axis of family Christmas has shifted to the Pacific Northwest. Some family members are returning to old haunts, others have always lived there, while a few are newly landed. Whatever the case, it will be a Christmas with the most McCanns around in, oh, say 37 years. I'll drive up on Sunday, visit cousins in Oregon, then on to Washington, moving from near Olympia to outside Tacoma to Seattle. A few thousand miles there and back again.

No running for another month. This self-imposed ban will be an attempt to jump start my knee past the "almost healed" state its been in since mid-October. Lots of pool running, I'm thinking, but not with much enthusiasm.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Scooter and Jersey

More from Tom Ruegger: Young Scooter and Jersey, his fantastically old, heroic dog who once saved President Taft.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Return of Manny

Fans of One Saturday Morning may recall the energetic Manny the Uncanny. Paul Rugg's creation is now up at YouTube with more episodes on the way.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Honolulu Marathon News

Text messages keep pinging in from the marathon. Teammate Liz, who'd gone out for a vacation, decided to run and has just finished. Larry, a man who fought through many injuries, is past mile 22 and doing strong. Ah, the 21st century.

UPDATE: Larry finished in 7:34. Another heavily injured runner, Dolly, finished in 7:53. A long time on a hot course, but they overcame obstacles and did it. Team!

UPDATE: Jon finished in 8:59, while wife Maureen slogged in at 9:47. A rainy, wet run with rain at the start and more rain in the middle. A friend of Ernesto's finished today and reported blisters on her arch from wet socks. In any case, congratulations to the runners and well-done to Coach Dave who put in a full day on the course.

UPDATE: Props to Aaron who finished a team-first 4:54. Not bad for an initial marathon.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dog Gone

Some of Tom's different dogs. For reasons known only to Blogspot, it decided to alter the colors. Everyone's a critic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Aloha, Winter Team

Dinner last night at Marston's in Pasadena as we feted our teammates heading off to run this Sunday's Honolulu Marathon. Rain is forecast for Oahu with temperatures in the low 80s. High humidity; a 5:00 AM start time which means a 3:00 AM wake-up. For some reason, the Honolulu Marathon is like Mardi Gras for Japan. The Japanese flock to this race dressed in odd, strange outfits such as papier mache giraffe heads, massive disco wigs, Elvis costumes, wooden clogs, space aliens, and anime characters such as Sailor Moon. When fatigue sets in, peek around at the Japanese runners. They're like a visual energy drink.

Illinois: Land of Cash

Having grown up in Illinois, I've followed the Governor Blagojevich corruption scandal with a sense of nostalgia. My senior year in high school, Paul Powell, the Democratic Secretary of State, died of a heart attack. Under investigation for corruption, a maid found over 800k in cash stuffed in shoe boxes, briefcases and strongboxes in his Springfield hotel room. Powell walked liked he talked: "There's only one thing worse than a defeated politician, and that's a broke one."

Powell's saying should replace "Land of Lincoln," though you'd need a smaller font or bigger license plates.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Phoenix 18

That's how far our marathoners traveled at practice. Saturday was the USC-UCLA football game and the Rose Bowl was jammed early. We ran through the smell of cooking meat at 9:00 AM, a smoky meat haze lingering in the arroyo. Old injuries flared up and some runners had to cut it short, but no one was left face down on the course.

Afterwards, the team presented me with a birthday cake and a card. My birthday was Friday, Dec. 5, a day I share with America's obscure 8th president Martin Van Buren and Gen. George Armstrong Custer of Little Bighorn fame. Let us hope that one day I am not obscurely massacred.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Time and Mrs. Murphy

Back in the early '80s, when I lived in Hollywood, my elderly landlady, Mrs. Murphy, told me she'd been present in Honolulu during the Pearl Harbor attack. (A great danger came from falling shrapnel from exploding U.S. anti-aircraft shells.) Evacuated from Oahu to California with many civilians, Mrs. Murphy bid farewell to her husband, Bill, a Marine major. Bill was gone for years, fighting in the Pacific. He once wrote Mrs. Murphy from the island of Eniwetok that "nothing smells worse than a dead Jap." Bill survived, but, like the stench of enemy corpses, the horror of that island always lingered. Mrs. Murphy eventually became a manager at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. (She was present that day in 1968 when Robert Kennedy was assassinated.) Mrs. Murphy was like a history sponge, just trying to live a normal life while soaking up events spilling around her.

In time, Eniwetok vaporized from hydrogen bomb tests, the Ambassador Hotel was torn down, Bill died, and Mrs. Murphy ended up a landlady, drinking double bourbons in the afternoon and sharing her memories with an unemployed comedy writer. She always regretted never moving back to Hawaii after the war. A few years later, Mrs. Murphy passed away. She is forever tied in my mind to December 7th. I wish her a good afterlife and hope it contains palm trees rustling in the warm trade winds.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Paul Rugg Records Tom Ruegger Characters

Thanks to said garage band, Paul Rugg and I recorded voices to different characters that Tom Ruegger had drawn, with Tom serving as engineer. Great fun all around and a nostalgic reminder of times past. Tom will animate a few and put 'em on the web. More than likely, some will find their way here in the next few months.

Troy, Freakazoid DVD director, has his own blog. Visit and learn about fine cultural happenings.

I have gas today.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Surly Bird and The Worm

More artwork from Tom Ruegger - dawn confrontation between elusive worm and Surly Bird.

Surly Bird tries a more passive approach with a spot of worm-fishing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Time on My Feet

Ran 50 minutes yesterday, the most since early Sept. Some knee soreness but not much, and no pain this morning. I've been using the dirt horse trails at Griffith Park, the dust tamped down from last week's rains, locomoting at a modest 1:2 run/walk ratio. I'm happy to be able to do any sustained exercise.

Writing daily. I'm stalled again on my projects three, but I'll untrack and finish them. Today, I loath their every clause, comma and contraction. But that will change, I'm thinking, once they're completed.

And now I've completed my post.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Dead Race and Ruegger Art

Running on empty might describe the late Pasadena Marathon. Cancelled due to poor air quality, the race recently sent out an email asking for donations so as to hold the race in March. A tough tumble, considering all the work undergone to get it ready in the first place. Not to mention bummed out runners who peaked without a payoff.

Tom Ruegger recently drew many pages of fine characters. (Like the confused fellow above.) Paul Rugg and I will attempt to attach voices to him and others this week. As Hollywood is mostly closed until late January, its our way of generating work.

Until then, we'll live on left-over turkey.