Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad

There was always a nice smell on birthdays. The smell of birthday cake baking. A wonderful surprise of how it would be decorated by my mom.
Themes of outer space for my brother, trains and trucks for me, and the great outdoors for my dad. Tomorrow, July 1, is my dad's birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Friday, June 29, 2012

First Jump From the High Dive

I began to climb. I could not believe I was attempting this madness. The high dive.
Up three, four, five steps. What was I thinking? Kids were climbing the bottom rungs beneath me. There was no turning back. I filled with terror.
I stepped out onto the board. I did not want to look down. I did not want to know how far I could fall.
I reached into my heart and into my gut and ran for the end of the board. I leaped.
"Splash.". I had survived the high dive.

The Empty Lot-A Child's World

I stood on Glide Drive looking west. As a child, this was my kingdom. The cornstalks of the garden were my skyscrapers. The empty lot was my world.
A running hose made mud. Mud was the fuel of my creativity. With it I shaped buildings and built dams to trap running water. I was in my element in a race against the setting sun and the call, "Andy, time to come inside."

Grandpa's Orchard

My grandpa had a small orchard in his backyard. Perhaps ten to twelve trees. He had planted one of each kind of his favorite fruits. As each bloomed and came into season, his yard smelled rich and sweet.
On early summer evenings, his house smelled fragrant of each next tree coming into its own. First cherries, then peaches. As kids, we climbed ladders and picked the fresh fruit and fought the hungry birds. Truly a joy of the season.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Memories of the Bronco 2

It is strange to see old cars and think of them when they were state of the art. In the parking lot, I see a Bronco II with a sad, weathered for sale sign hanging on its back window. I remember when I was about ten, and this smaller brother to the Bronco was released, oddly about the same size as the original 1960s Bronco. It was a little easier to handle and more fuel efficient, a step away from its bigger sibling. Now it sits in the parking lot collecting rust with my memories.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Running Through the Sprinklers

I loved running around in the sprinklers as a kid. On hundred degree days, it simply was no fun to play outside, yet before too long, my brother and I were bouncing off of the furniture. Our mom would shout, "I'm turning on the sprinklers!"
"Yeah!". Relief from the Davis afternoon.

Hot Dogs and Summer-A Great Food and a Great Season

There was always something about hot dogs as a kid. I loved them barbecued, and at a place called the Nut Tree. Hot Dogs always seemed like fun. A food you were meant to eat with your hands.
Hot Dogs spelled summer. Hot dog season meant being outside. It meant running around while waiting for lunch. What a great food and a great season.

Otter Pops and the Davis Afternoon

There was always a fondness for Otter Pops at my house as a kid. Summer Days got over a hundred often in Davis, and we would run inside beat red. Otter Pops were the best way to eat the heat, it seemed. My favorite was Louie Blue Raspberrie. Two or three and I was good to go back into the Davis afternoon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

McDonalds-My Think Tank

I Have always enjoyed sitting at a McDonalds. It is a place for me to collect my thoughts. There is just the right amount of crowd, and I can refill my Diet Coke when I want to for free.
A lot of my drawing ideas are born out of sitting at McDonalds. A lot of my frustrations are worked out. A lot of grand answers come to me just sitting, sipping Diet Coke, staring out the window with just the right balance of silence and distraction.

Hot Air Balloons Against The Vaca Mountains

From Davis, we saw the hot air balloons rise against the Vaca Mountains into the sky. As a kid, they seemed like magic. "Look Andy, the balloons," my grandma would say, as I came running out of the house. I jumped for joy as I saw the bright colors in the clear blue sky.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Home of Cheerwine- Salisbury, NC

I love painted buildings, and I love Cheerwine.  While attending Great Southeastern Rail Days in Spencer at the North Carolina Transportation Museum, I stopped to watch trains at the Amtrak depot in Salisbury.  Across the street stands the Carolina Beverage Corporation's original building where Cheerwine was created.  Truly a find for a Cheerwine and painted building lover!

Watching Trains

I loved watching trains as a kid and still do.  There is something about the sound of a train as it rolls on down the track.  The logos on the box cars all tell stories of distant corners of America.  Great Northern, Southern Serves the South, Illinois Central.  As each car passes, I imagine where it is heading to and where it has come from.
My mind sees a story in the train.  It sill does.  Each train tells a story.  From the wave to the engineer to the last glance at the FRED.  Each squeal of the beveled wheels as it rolls past acknowledges the life of the train, signals that the train has somewhere to go before tomorrow comes.

Nabisco Sign in Downtown Roanoke

Downtown Roanoke is full of history. Each block tells a story. Whether wandering into the public market or the many museums, you can sense that this town is in touch with its roots in Southwest Virginia. The people all stop and say,"Hello," and welcome you to their town, letting you know a good place to eat or a forgotten vantage. Upon first arriving, I saw this Nabisco sign. It is one of the many painted buildings here in Roanoke.

Woodland, California- Through a Child's Eyes

Getting to go to Woodland was always an adventure as a kid. It felt like we were going to "The city" in my child's mind. I lacked the grasp of San Francisco's size and importance, even that of nearby Sacramento. Woodland to me measured up because it had Foys Toys and TG&Y,the kind of things that defined a city to me. The adults went there on errands, and it seemed like the place where Uncle Homer went to in his truck in Charolette's Web. Truly a city in my kids world.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Evel Knievel Bikes for Christmas

My coolest wheels in life came at the age of four.  My brother and I hungered for the open road in the fading rays of Christmas afternoon on our Evel Knievel trikes.  Unfortunately jumping even the curb was a bit of a challenge.  For me, I just preferred to ride off into the sunset.

Feeling "Sea Fever"

In the fourth grade, for Friday speeches we were given poems to memorize. I was given "Sea Fever" by John Masefield. I didn't like having to memorize it, but there was something about that poem that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It moved something deep within me.
"I must go down to the sea again to the lonely seas and sky". When I read the poem, I felt the feeling of standing at Fisherman's Wharf. There was a sound, smell and feel. I felt it in Mrs. Keller's classroom. I felt a love for the sea. A love of roaming and wandering.
"When are we going to go to San Francisco again?" I asked my mom that afternoon.

Watermelon-A Taste of Summer in Bluefield, WV

Summertime brings the taste of watermelon.  I enjoyed the first watermelon of summer as a kid, and, so when I saw this great watermelon stand in Bluefield, West Virginia, I just had to stop.
A great big watermelon spells summer.  Its sweetness is just right.  Its taste takes you back.  Wherever you are, when summer comes, you can count on the first watermelon.  Truly a great treat.  A great summer taste and a great memory.

Disneyland as a Kid

When a trip to Disneyland was announced, I shouted with glee.  The characters in my favorite movies walked Main Street and met us in person.  Anything became possible in Disneyland.
My imagination ran wild in the real world, but everyone expects you to imagine a little when you are in Disneyland.  The past comes alive.  Everybody is in a bit of a trance.  The impossible awaits around every corner.
Disneyland brought out the kid in me, even then.  It brought out my deeper imagination.  The part of me that knew anything was possible.
When it was time to go home, I didn't want to go.  Who wants to leave a place that makes you feel five years younger, even when you are seven?

Meeting Captain Mitch

Captain Mitch was a hero to my brother and me.  Our cartoons would not start in the morning without Captain Mitch.
Captain Mitch hosted the local network's commercial breakaways during Scooby-Doo and Bugs Bunny.  Captain Mitch inspired our first coloring contests.  He gave us our first news as kids.  Captain Mitch was our who, what, when, where and why.
My brother and I truly went ballistic when our mom said, "Captain Mitch is going to be at the mall by Toys R Us.  How would you like to meet him?"
There was nothing like meeting our TV hero.

Contemplation at the Yolo County Fair

The county fair always carried a bit of excitement perched on the edge of contemplation. As we boarded the Ferris wheel, I anticipated the view of Yolo County. It made me feel larger than life to climb to the height of the Adams Grain Elevator blocks away. 
But the view uncovered above ground pools in the burned out yards of double-wides on the east edge of town. I wondered what it would be like to ride one of the rusty tricycles in that back yard."Step this way," the carny said, leading my father, my brother and me off of the wheel. My grandma had told me that when the carnivals moved, men like him traveled with it. That filled my mind with wonder. I thought to myself, "Where does he sleep?" 
"Let's get some cotton candy," my dad said. My kid's mind still could not figure out the greater workings of the carnival.

North to Alaska

Johnny Horton songs always inspired us when we were little kids. My dad often played songs like, "North to Alaska," and "The Battle of New Orleans," on our living room record player.Old Sacramento was full of gold rush history. This helped me imagine a far off place where bold men dug in rivers for gold and power. I did not quite grasp where Alaska was, but folklore helped make it part of my world.

The Old Green Truck

The Old Green Truck got us everywhere when I was a kid.  It took us to the lumberyard, to the toy store and on camping trips.  It was always fun when my dad would say, "Do you guys want to go somewhere in 'The Old Green Truck.'"
The Old Green Truck was a 1969 Chevy pick-up, and whenever I saw the Zimmer camper shell that said, "Elmira, New York," that seemed like a far off place.  It just seemed like another world to me.  My world existed of Grandma Fletcher's house and Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, but where was this place called New York.
I asked my dad.  When he pointed on a map, I thought that the United States was the whole world.  My dad and mom had not only been to this place, but they had lived there.  "You mean the road in front of our house takes you all of the way to New York?" I asked.
"And everywhere in between," my dad said.  At three years old, the world just seemed so big.

The Donut Shop As a Kid

I always enjoyed the donut shop as a kid. There was something about the men sitting at the counter talking about the president and the world, handing each other parts of the newspaper and cigarettes that seemed like where you went when you became an old man. My grandma and grandpa drank their coffee black and so did these guys. I heard them talk about wars and the depression like grandma and grandpa, and just knew that they were seasoned. I didn't feel tough like them, but I just liked sitting near them, hearing "God, this coffee sure is waking me up this morning. Nothing better than a good cup of coffee an the paper to start the day."

The Therapy of Wheatback Pennies

Wheatback pennies fascinated me as a kid. My mom saw this, and on days when I had a test, sometimes I would find five dollars in penny rolls to go through to vent my nervous energy when I got home. "Look, I found one," I would shout. The strain of math gone in the milling through dates and counting and checking. Better than having me bouncing around the house anxiously asking, "Did I do okay on my math test?" My mom has always been a pretty good therapist.

The Sunset Over Davis

As a child, The sunset over Davis always made me imagine how big things could be. How bright and intense everything could become in one moment.
I anticipated this moment with a little sorrow, as it meant the time to go inside. That sorrow, however, was shadowed by the brilliant dance across the sky. My mind entered evening left with a fresh memory of how great the day could be.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Rare Glimpse of Santa Fe as a Kid

The last few miles to Grandma Fletcher's house always excited me.  The Benecia Bridge carried us into Martinez.  Upon both sides of Suisun Bay stand oil refineries.  Tank cars always stood upon the tracks, peeking my interest.  
Every now and then, we would see a train.  On the Benecia Side, just the old Southern Pacific trains like in Davis.  However, if we continued to Uncle Paul's in Concord, the excitement grew even more. Just before the Port Chicago Highway, sometimes, rarely, I saw a Santa Fe train.  Wow, that was exciting.  My neck always craned and my eyes always opened wide as we passed under those tracks.  A rare glimpse of the blue and gold.

Shopping at the Whistle Stop Train Store as a Kid

I loved going to The Whistle Stop Train Store as a kid.  Wandering the isles looking for blue-box box cars always made my imagination go wild.  I opened one box after another.  If I had seen the box car in real life, the model always seemed a bit more special.
A daring part of me would build up and, every ten minutes or so, wander over to the next isle- powered engines.  I hardly dared open those boxes.  It was not worth falling in love with the shiny, new locomotives.  My heart would just have to have one.
But powered engines, come on.  That took a lot of guts to ask mom if I could get a powered engine.  Maybe a box car or two.  But powered engines only came with report cards or violin recitals, they didn't come because I just wanted one.  Best not fall in love with a powered engine.  At least not today.

Dollar Stores- Still a Kid, I Guess.

I often find myself going to Dollar Tree and other dollar stores.  There is nothing like wandering the isles on an evening after dinner.  Do I want a bag of Cracker Jack tonight?  I don't know. 
The love of dollar stores dates back to when I was four years old, and, on Thursday Nights, my dad would take my brother and myself to Long John Silvers for dinner and then give us each a dollar to take to TG&Y.  Being given a dollar to browse a larger than life store opened up wonder and imagination in my kid's mind.  Even if that wonder only spawned the purchase of a squirt gun.  Somehow, the thrill of the hunt is still alive in me at thirty-seven when I wander the isles.  Still a kid, I guess.

A Grain Train at South Yard, Roanoke, on Norfolk Southern

South Yard in Roanoke is always an enjoyable place to stop and see a train.  On these tracks, today's Norfolk Southern takes advantage of the fantastic engineering of its predecessor, the Virginian, across the Appalachians.  On the way home from breakfast, I take a look to see if a coal or grain train is in the cue.  Often the road's largest power, including, at times, Heritage Locomotives, frequent these yards on these heavy assignments.

Westbound Norfolk Southern Freight Headed to Shaffers Crossing

A general merchandise train headed west through Roanoke this evening.  I arrived at the tracks just as the locomotives passed and waved at the conductor.  Beveled wheels of box cars squealed through the crossovers.  Cement and grain hoppers thundered by, heavy with cargo.  Some proudly wore the Norfolk Southern logo, some dressed only with recording marks.
Shaffers Crossing Yard, the train's destination, sits but a mile up the tracks.  Past the Sunbeam bakery and the hump, around the bend in the tracks.  On cooler evenings, sometimes I make my down there. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Trains' Story

Trains take us home.  Trains carry the goods that we need.  Trains tell stories as they roll down the track.  Trains' lonely whistles remind us of places that we have been and fill our wanderlust with places we dream to go.