Pinewood Derby Cars

On the unexpected occasion of my 60th birthday, I thought I’d write up a few of my Stories, while I can still remember (or make up) a reasonable portion of them.

I joined the Indian Princesses with my daughters in 1996. Smartest thing my wife ever talked me into. I was reticent at first, but it turned out to be, most simply, a program that won’t let you get away with forgetting to Do Things with your young daughters.

One of those Things was the annual Pinecar Derby. The first year Geneva and I built a car (1998, not shown), I tried to make it fast, as you do, and failed miserably. (My excuse: I tuned the car to go fast and straight on a laid-down mirror closet door — a perfectly flat surface. When we got to the actual races, the track was old, crummy, and warped. On the first bump in the track, my rear-weighted car started oscillating back and forth all the way down, alternately scraping the track walls, and of course, losing speed.)

From then on I fell back on my strengths: design and workmanship. Each of these are completely original designs. The only hassle is that the rest of the guys expected me to outdo myself every year, and it got to be quite a burden…

1999: Mushu Firework Rocket – This is based, obviously, on the movie “Mulan” that had just come out. Because of the overall size, we threw away the block that came with the pinecar kit, and turned the whole thing on a lathe from a chunk of redwood 4×4. (We have pretty flexible rules in our Indian Princess group.)

I retained the original wheels, axles, screws and wheelbase dimensions, to be as fair as possible, even though we’re not really there to win the race.

The “flames” at the back are just a bundle of ribbons, which were removed before the race. The Mushu on top is a birthday cake decoration.

It was a great project, and gave me a chance to teach my daughter a little about using a lathe, along with the usual sanding (“always with the grain!”), spray painting, masking, etc.

2000: Podracer – Another movie-based design, built right after “Star Wars Episode 1” came out. Frankly, I was surprised that no one else thought of it.

The pod itself is made of “Sculpey”, which is like Play-Doh, but bakes up as hard as a rock. It’s also very heavy, so the car only needed a tiny bit of lead.

The “engines” are some 3/4″ dowel, with balsa wood fins, and a pink pipe cleaner for the electrical “zap” between them (we didn’t have any purple). The original pine block was cut down and painted black to pretend that it’s invisible. I put the baling wire front “bumper” on so that the car would sit against the starting block fairly.

2001: Matterhorn Bobsled – This is based on pictures of the old bobsled design from when I was a kid — the current one wasn’t as easy to mimic. We made two of these, one by and for each daughter.

This is the first design where it occurred to me to cut the pinecar block in half, and reassemble it with a piece of dowel. (The second was the Choo-choo.) You have to be really careful to get the two halves absolutely aligned, so the car will go straight. The horizontal drill press mode of my ShopSmith makes this reasonably feasible.

We found the little bears at a craft store. It was hard to cut their little legs off, what with them looking at me that way, but I had to get them into the holes. It’s cool that they’re articulated, so they can hold their hands up like real roller coaster riders do.

2002: Choo-Choo Train – This is Geneva’s pinecar. The original block that came with the kit was cut in two, and put back together with a piece of dowel. This is, of course, a risky procedure, because if it’s reassembled out-of-square, you’ll never get it to go straight. Of course, we’re not there to win the race, but we do want to make it to the bottom of the track.

The “coal” is some weird crystalline cat litter we had, glued to a piece of paper, and spray-painted black. It was just the right scale, but I guess rock salt or something would have worked.

The second set of wheels came from another kit, which is why they don’t quite match. Only the ones with the silver hubs actually touch the ground. The “tank” is a piece of closet pole dowel. We turned the smokestack, gold “bell” thingie and the small front wheels on the lathe. The headlight is the remains of a big “snap”.

It turned out to be too heavy, so the coal car is drilled almost to oblivion from the underside.

2002: Shoolbus – This is clearly the easiest design we’ve done, but it’s what Acacia asked for, and since we had to build two cars in a short time, I took the break. To get enough height, I had to cut the original block down to get rid of the “driver’s seat” indent that they cut into them, and glue the block from another kit onto it. The wheels from the second kit came in handy for the Choo-choo train.

One useful technique: the windows, bumpers and stripes are just electrician’s tape — it was easier than trying to paint them. The headlights are thumbtacks, and the taillights are red tape, cut out with a hole punch.

It was way overweight like the Choo-choo, so there are a lot of big drill holes in the bottom, where you can’t see ’em.

2003: Caterpillar – When I asked Acacia what she wanted the car to be this year, she just said, “A caterpillar!” I don’t know where she comes up with this stuff.

Anyway, I thought up a lot of different plans to accomplish a caterpillar, and finally decided that gluing balls together was the only way it would look right. I was about to try to turn the balls myself on the lathe, when it hit me that I might be able to buy them. We went to the craft store, and bought 7 maple “doll heads”. They even already had one flat side. I flattened another side on 5 of ’em and thought I was home free.

Unfortunately, maple is *way* heavier than pine, so it was *way* over weight. I had to break the balls apart again, and try to hollow them out with a drill. I did the best I could, but we ended up having to run the race with the final ball removed.

We painted him all yellow, and sponge-painted the green. The nose is a little pom-pom, and the antennas are sparkly pipe-cleaners.

I hadn’t really thought about the “platform” he was gonna stand on until the end, but the caterpillar turned out so cute that it seemed a shame to make him stand on a black square like the pod racer. I suddenly hit on the idea of giving him some leaves to crawl on, which wasn’t as easy to do as it sounded — but it was worth it. It’s carved from the original pine block so I wouldn’t have to worry about the wheelbase or axle alignment.

2004: Flying Whale – Another movie reference, though obscure. This is from the “Pines of Rome” sequence in “Fantasia 2000”.

Acacia had the original request for just “a whale” — I came up with the idea of making him fly up out of clouds. Originally the base would have just been “water”, but everybody knows that the big whales can’t jump entirely up out of the water.

The whale itself is hand carved from balsa, based on pictures downloaded from the web. We started out by cutting the basic profile and top view into the balsa with a coping saw, and finished rounding the body with a potato peeler. (This allowed 8-year-old Acacia to do the work without any danger to herself, or risk of large unfixable mistakes.) The fins and tail are from some 1/8″ mahogany doorskin plywood scraps I had laying around.

After some Elmer’s-and-water sanding sealer and spray painting the whole thing in white, we overpainted the whale with a little sponge, dabbing the paint on to produce the texture.

The base with the axles and wheels is the only part left of the original pine block. Since the whale is balsa, it’s incredibly light, so I had to put a lot of lead on the bottom. Surprisingly, we did rather well in the race (possibly because all the weight was below the axle line?), until one of the lead pieces fell off, unnoticed until I got the car home. Ripped off!

2005: Trojan Unicorn — Acacia, like many little girls, was into unicorns big-time, and had a huge collection. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I asked her what she wanted to build.

I first looked at rocking horses, but they’re all in an odd (for a car) splayed-legs pose, and I was afraid to attempt a fully-carved, “realistic” horse. I also looked at carousel horses, which have better legs, but are still fully-carved. Trying to think of a way to “get away” with a more primitive (so easier-to-make) horse, I thought of the Trojan Horse. That reminded me of the two-story-tall Trojan Horse “toy” that makes the entrance of the F.A.O. Schwarz toy store in the Caesar’s Mall in Las Vegas.

I found pictures of the original design for it, but since it was, again, fully-carved, I had to simplify it.

I based my proportions on the F.A.O. horse, but made the head bigger, ‘cuz that makes it cuter. The hardest part was the neck-to-body joint, and then the neck-to-head joint. I just faked those until they worked.

The only problem with the F.A.O. design is that it’s standing stock-still — all four feet planted on the ground. I thought it need to look a little more “alive”, since it’s supposed to be moving, and I thought of Leonardo’s planned (and recently (finally) built) Equestrian statue. I took the lifted front leg from him, but didn’t think it would be strong enough if I lifted the back leg, too.

To build the parts, we glued the paper plan onto the balsa wood, and my daughter cut (way) outside the lines with a coping saw. Then we brought it to the line on the disk sander, which is a little scary for her, but not very dangerous at slow speeds. That way she got to do a lot of the work.

We left our version “wood colored” (clear lacquer) to help get the Trojan Horse idea across. The “dirt” is actually crushed walnut shells for use in terrariums. The unicorn is just screwed down to the base from the underside, so after the race it can join the rest of her collection.

2006: Yellow Submarine – When Acacia was in Middle School, she was the Beatles’ biggest fan. She did her dress-up oral biography on Paul McCartney, dressed in my old Sergeant Pepper jacket. So naturally, she wanted a Yellow Submarine pinecar. (I was a big fan back in my day, and had a hand-made Submarine on my bedroom wall, so I jumped at the chance to build a “real” one.)

It was built essentially the same way as the whale from two years prior, carved out of a block of balsa. Acacia was less afraid of the sander, so she was able to get a lot closer to the finished shape before shifting to hand finishing.

I printed out the flower-like main window (?) and the little portholes with the Beatles in them on CD sticker paper from a picture I found. We used a new painting technique where you cover the regular paint with a spray-on clear coat, which also sealed the stickers down. I made the railing around the top out of some thick solder I had. And the red stripe is some pinstripe tape that I inexplicably had out in the garage.

I found an image of the “Sea of Holes”, and expanded it to be big enough to cover the base. One hole is green — the way out to the “Sea of Green”. A short piece of a mini-blind closing wand made a good transparent support pylon.

Apparently Acacia was pretty proud of the result — after the race, she took the base off and hung the submarine from the ceiling fan in the middle of her room.

Every year at the race, some of the dads would complain (either aloud or with sidelong glances) that my daughters’ cars were not strictly “child-built”. I never really got a chance to rebut that complaint by pointing out that the program was about “Father-Daughter” activities, and having your daughter build the kit while you watch the football game was even less in line with the spirit of the thing.

My take on it was that the race itself was a two hour event at the end of a three week idea, design, and build phase. That was where the real father-daughter interaction took place, even if it was just the dad doing the building while the daughter watched. Nobody’s born knowing how to work a saw, an Xacto knife, power tools, or even sandpaper, so I took these opportunities to teach my daughters about designing for build-ability, and working with the tools and techniques needed. And with each car, they absolutely did as much as they were safely able to do, at whatever age they’d reached at the time. And the parts they couldn’t do, they watched and learned about so maybe they could do those parts next year.

Did I step in to make sure that their experience was good, and that their projects turned out well? Sure. That’s what dads do.


K&W at Ocean Brewery — Wednesday, 15Oct2014

Local impresario Tony came by The Corner on Saturday and invited Warren and I to come play at his every-Wednesday Local Talent night at the Ocean Brewery. It’s a fairly famous local bar that features live music a lot, so we jumped at the chance.

This event apparently showcases local talent in the form of a local painter, working right there where you can watch, some videos made by a local skimboard champion, and local music: this time, us.

Unfortunately, Tony didn’t tell us much about it, so when we got there a little after 6:00, the waitress told us to came back at 7 or 7:30 — presumably because she knew there wouldn’t be many people there until then (if ever). And she was right. After a bit of technical difficulty caused by problems with the house equipment we were obliged to use (horrible ground-fault buzzing from Warren’s guitar), we started a little before 8, even though there were only 8 or 10 people there.

And the videos were projected on a wall (theoretically) above the band’s heads, but for me, the projector was shining right in my eyes. I put my hat back on, so it could do what hats are meant to do: keep bright lights out of your eyes, but eventually the restaurant guy had me move forward enough to get the light out of my eyes (or get my hat out of the movie).

And, while we were setting up, a guy came in and told us that he was the 9:00 band, which is how we found out that (A) there was more than one band, and (B) what time we had to stop.

0a535-ocean-brewery-15oct2014-2So, given about an hour and fifteen, I just played all my greatest hits — and got a pretty nice reaction. One guy came over to drape a five dollar bill over my music stand. There was a lady out on the patio that was clearly enjoying the music (and came over afterwards to tell us so), and Cowboy Hat Lady (who I’m pretty sure has come by The Corner more than once) was really into it. Or her beer. Whichever.

So I quit at 9:00, and the other guy set up and discovered the same ground-fault problem that Warren had fought with, proving it wasn’t any of Warren’s doing. When he finally got going, he was an enthusiastic but medium-level player, overshadowed by his lead guitarist who was out-there amazing. But the second song, “Little Pink Houses” without any rhythm, sent me home.

Bottom line: I feel a bit used. Tony clearly needed to fill in the early shift and found us willing. But he didn’t even show up until we were done and tearing down. And when I talked to him afterwards and said that I’d rather do the late shift next time, he just grunted something non-committal. If he asks again, I’ll probably do it – once more – to see if it might be any better attended, but I think I could have played to as many people, and easily made as much in tips, just standing on The Corner, even on an October Wednesday.

On the other hand, I got to play indoors!

Me and My Girls in Japan

When I worked for Toshiba I started going over to Japan for a week every eight weeks or so to help design the notebook computers. I really liked being in Japan (especially on the company’s dime), and on my 30 or so trips, I learned how to comfortably navigate the train and subway systems, read the money, find edible food, etc.

So, on one of my trips, I took a vacation week for the week after the meetings, and Daleen flew over to meet me. She wanted to see all the cultural stuff, so we went to the National Museums and temples, and took a side trip up the mountain to Nikko, where there are trees, waterfalls, more ancient temples, and the original “Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” monkey carvings.

That far away from Tokyo, it was still pretty rustic, hardly any English spoken or signage, and the modern nutrition improvements hadn’t brought up the average height like down in the city. When we got off the train, a couple of businessmen mimed their request to take a picture back to back with “gigantic” Daleen, towering over them at five foot eight. Oddly, at six inches taller than that, I, a man, was uninteresting.

Ten years later in 2003, when Geneva was eleven (old enough, I figured, to remember it, but young enough to be caught dead hanging out with her dad), even though I was no longer working for Toshiba, I booked a father-daughter trip with only kid (and kid-like dad) friendly destinations.

We had such a great time (and since it was only fair), I took Acacia on a virtually identical trip three years later, when she turned 11. And then it was Daleen’s turn, four years later as our 30th anniversary trip.

The trip always includes an initial day of jetlag adjustment with the kids’ “Japanese Godmother” Takano, at Japanese gardens and historical (but fun) museums. The rest of the weeks’ required destinations are Tokyo Disney Sea, the Ghibli Museum, shopping days at “Japan’s Rodeo Drive” and “funky town” areas, and a day or two shopping and visiting the technology museums in “Future City” Odaiba.

Tokyo Disneyland is essentially a clone of Magic Kingdom at Disney World (except that nobody in Florida shows up wearing a business suit), so there’s not much point to going there. But next door is “Disney Sea”.

In the 90’s, when Disneyland was considering a “second gate” and was playing Long Beach and Anaheim against each other for concessions, they had an idea for an ocean-based park in Long Beach. When that fell through, the idea and designs went to Japan, and became Tokyo Disneyland’s “second gate”.

It’s a parallel universe Disneyland, built around seven “ports of call” instead of “lands”. With terrific rides, and incredible attention to detail, it’s my favorite place on Earth. For a kid who grew up on Disneyland, it’s an amazing opportunity to experience a “Disneyland” for the first time, as an adult. I don’t know how to describe how cool that was.

The showcase ride is “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, inside the volcano Mount Prometheus in the Jules Verne-based Mysterious Island area. Across the caldera lagoon, where the Nautilus is casually docked, is the “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” bathyscaph ride, way more fun than our dumb submarines.

Just outside the volcano is an Enlightenment-era castle and galleon with cool historical “science equipment” for kids to explore and climb around on. Perfect for 11-year-olds.

My favorite detail is the big metal fences to keep any stray lava from landing on the pedestrians. The lava blobs fused to the metal screen are a nice touch.

To the east is Mermaid Lagoon, the for-kids equivalent of “Toon Town”, except the entire “land” is inside Triton’s castle, so it can appear to be underwater. They have kiddie rides and an amazing trapeze and puppetry “Little Mermaid” show, all in Japanese — except the songs still in English.

To the west of the volcano is Port Discovery, a Tomorrowland on the ocean. There’s also the entrance area, themed as Venice, gondolas and all, instead of Main Street USA; American Waterfront (New York, 1920’s, with a “Broadway Theater”); Lost River Delta (think Indiana Jones); and Arabian Coast with its Aladdin theme and the Sindbad ride, halfway between “Pirates” and “Small World”.

Disney Sea is also famous for the Giant Gyoza — you can’t go there and not have one. It’s like a hot dog at a baseball game, traditional and required. They’re not available anywhere else, and people stand in line for hours for them. Pretty yummy, too.

Acacia got some “Marie” (from “The Aristocats”, inexplicably huge in Japan) hair-clip ears, and she wore them the whole rest of the week.

Including the second-coolest place in Japan, the Ghibli Museum. Ghibli Studios was founded by an animator named Miyazaki, whose movies I’d brought home from Japan and my kids grew up on. Our favorites were “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, and “Laputa, City in the Sky”.

The museum features twisty, fun-to-explore architecture, props from the movies (including the life-size Laputa robot on the roof), and a 20-minute short movie, available nowhere else.

We also always explore Odaiba, a newly developed area on a landfill island in Tokyo Bay. It was designed to showcase “futuristic living”, and features some fun shopping malls (one, “Venus Fort”, was designed strictly for women (but aren’t they all?)). There’s also “Joypolis” a huge Sega-built video game arcade. And we love Miraikan, Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. They have cool hands-on exhibits of nanotech, space, computing, and robotics. Acacia fell in love with the baby harp seal, designed to comfort bedridden sick people, even though she knew it was a robot.

The Toyota showcase and museum is way more fun than it sounds. When Acacia got on the Hybrid-demo go-cart in her skirt, a guy ran over with a blanket to throw over her lap. So polite.

And of course we have to ride the 377-foot tall Ferris wheel, once the world’s tallest.

We always spend a day in ritzy Ginza, exploring Hakuhinkan, the 7-story toy store and Itoya, 5-story stationery store. When Daleen was there, she found some terrific sheet music at the Yamaha store, and I got to play a “Silent Guitar”.

Side story: Once in a work trip, I was wandering down the main street of Ginza being white, and a pack of Japanese high school girls came running up. Amidst much giggling and shyness, the bravest one finally got out “Can we ask you a question?” “Well, sure.” “What do you think of [garbled]?” “Excuse me?” “What do you think of [garbled]?” “Sorry, what’s that last word?” “Booooying!” “Booying???” “No, boooyooying!” “Not getting it. One more time?”

Side note: I’m fully aware of the Japanese difficulty with pronouncing some of our phonemes, because they don’t exist in the Japanese language. Just like we can’t say some of those nasal-y French sounds, ‘cuz we’ve never had to. And after working with Japanese people for so long, I’d actually become quite adept at deciphering what they’re trying to say. Indeed, I’d spent, as the only uni-lingual guy in the room, a whole meeting in Germany, “translating” the Euro guys’ accented English questions into “US” English, and then “translating” the Japanese guys’ responses so the Euros could understand them.

“Booyiying! Booyiying!” Ping! “Bullying? You mean bullying?” “Yes! Yes, booyiying!”

Side note: Bullying is a big Social Issue in Japanese schools. Each class bullies (and badly) the one after it, and each one feels entitled to bully the next, ‘cuz it happened to them, so the cycle is hard to break. But, you know, it’s not really *my* problem, but still…

“Well, I guess I’m against it.” “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” And off they scampered, “foreigner” opinion secured for their class project. I hope it helped. (End Side Story)

We also always spend some time in “Funky Town” Harajuku where Japanese kids come to buy and wear their invented fashions, and also Shinjuku, the loudest, cluttered-est, craziest district in Tokyo, just window shopping and crazy-sights seeing.

Of course, we always come home with lots of cool Japanese stuff that you can’t get around here. Oddly, they have almost nothing at Disney Sea that says “Disney Sea” on it. No T-shirts, or any of the other million things you can get that say “Disneyland” on them here. All I could find was this little drawstring bag, with the names of the seven “lands” and their associated characters.

Anyway, all three trips were some of the best vacations I’ve ever had. It may seem odd to do the same vacation over and over, but I guess it’s my slightly more exotic version of the Disney World vacation that other families take, year after year.

Keith in Laguna Beach — Sunday, 12Oct2014

I was hoping it would be half as good as Saturday night had been, but no such luck. When I got there, the two guys I least expected to see were occupying the bench, Shirtless Josh (who was supposed to be in jail) and Robo Mike, who I had dropped off at his mom’s house a week before, and I’d hoped would stay there (apparently, he sat in the backyard all night, sobered up, and changed his mind about staying there). Across from them on the side bench was Hawaiian Buddha Mark, pulling his “Me Crazy Wildman!” routine, to gales of laughter from the guys. Little Mexican Lady was there, and introduced herself as “Giselle”, with the “it’s German” ‘G’ pronounced like the ‘ch’ in ‘Bach’. (Maybe she’s actually “Little *German* Lady”?) And then up came Disabled Vet, who launched into a tirade at Josh about his girlfriend.

With this cast of characters installed, this was obviously a lost cause, so I rolled over to the Fingerhut side.

Which wasn’t half bad, for a while. I had several vacationing families come by, so I played “Twinkle Twinkle” and the “Frozen” songs. A guy and his wife came by, and he noticed and was completely fascinated by (and had to take pictures of) my phone being attached to the head of my guitar so I can take pictures while I’m playing. Dude, it’s just an iPhone and some rubber bands — I’m no Jony Ive, here…

After an hour, Josh and Mike left, so I rolled over to the ice cream side, where only Disabled Vet was left. He (proudly?) explained that he was “messed up” and “getting myself in trouble with what I’m saying to these girls”. Which was entirely too accurate — he was being incredibly rude and disgusting, which surprised me, ‘cuz he’s usually a really nice guy. Must have been the girlfriend trouble…

So I played two or three songs and gave up, at only 8:15. I was glad I hadn’t called Warren to waste his time on this fiasco. I just hope this isn’t a preview of what The Corner will be like going forward — it’s been so nice down there without these guys.

K&W in Laguna Beach — Saturday, 11Oct2014

Another terrific night! Lots of friendly people all night long, listening and requesting songs. It’s great to be able to get The Corner even starting at 7:00, ‘cuz my stuff works better after dark, and my batteries last late into the night. There was a lull around 10:00, but then we had another surge (with backup singers on “Hallelujah”, and a great little dance party) and ended up going at it until 12:30 when my batteries died.

We hung around talking with Greeter Mikey for another hour, and he knew why it’s been so pleasantly young homeless guy free lately. Turns out that Shirtless Josh was, in fact, the local dealer, and once he got busted and hauled away, the rest of the guys have had no reason to hang around there/him. Thanks, LBPD! But what took you so long?

It’s pretty clear that the “normal people” (tourists and locals) feel more comfortable when those guys aren’t there, which makes collecting a self-sustaining critical mass of audience much easier for us.

So our only distraction was a brief session with Little Mexican Lady, who managed to keep her pants on this week, but was doing her odd dancing right in the middle of the corner, scaring people away. Warren asked her to do it over at the side, which she did, but then got disinterested and left.

Anyway, it was nice that there were no other players around, so I was able to leave the amp cranked up pretty loud. I don’t really need to blow the audience away, but it really helps me to have the monitor speaker up loud so I can hear myself, and I can’t control them separately. It was a bit disconcerting to see people three stores away down the street, dancing to my songs, but the cops drove by several times, but never stopped to hassle me.

A guy came by and listened for just one song, but left a tip and his card in the jar, saying that he owns a (tiny) gallery “down the street” (a mile), and we should call him and come play there sometime. It’s too far away from downtown to get much traffic for Artwalk, but maybe if he’s doing some kind of event or something?

Also, a guy that Warren knows came by to invite us to come play at his Wednesday night gallery art-thing, which features local artists and bands. Sounds like fun — I’ll give it a try.

Around midnight, an apparently homeless guy I’ve never seen before came by. He was nice enough, and sat on the bench and listened politely for a while. Then he got up and put his “lucky pink dollar” in the jar, explaining that it was all he had. I feel kinda bad about that, but I didn’t really get what he was saying until I was counting the jar and, sure enough, found a pink dollar. Considering his condition, I not entirely sure how “lucky” it’s actually been for him, but I’ll keep it in my pocket and give it back to him if he shows up again.

I had an idea earlier in the day, that when/if somebody wanted an autograph with their CD (case), I could draw my cartoon self-portrait, too. People seldom ask for an autograph, but if I offer, they always take me up on it. So I offered 4 or 5 times last night (out of nine CDs sold — I’m a little shy about it) and people were always pleasantly surprised when I handed them back the signed and cartooned CD.

K&W in Laguna Beach — Saturday, 04Oct2014

Really great night! We had friendly happy people making requests and hanging around to listen all night long. I chose the first three songs and didn’t have to choose another one all night long (unless/until I wanted to).

We started around 7:30, and there were only two young homeless guys there. Warren asked them if they’d move over to the side bench, and they just did. Had a bit of trouble from a slightly drunk little middle-aged homeless lady, but not too bad. But more on her later.

We had lots of audience interaction, which makes it so much more fun. I think it was because the environment started off friendly, and stayed that way. Three ladies came by and the college-age daughter asked for “Kiss the Girl”. Another lady asked for “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, and they danced to it. Never thought of that as a dance tune…

An Asian lady and her boyfriend came by and listened for a while. Another guy came up and said that he’d been looking for me at Spectrum. I told him that I wouldn’t be playing Spectrum anymore because they changed the way it’s booked. The Asian lady said, “You should play Spectrum.” I said that I’d love to, but they won’t let me. She repeated, “You should play Spectrum”, said that she “lived there” (presumably in the apartments across the street) and then insisted that I *would* play Spectrum, as if she had any say in it. I told her to take my card and give me a call if/when she got me booked.

The little drunk Mexican lady was being a bit distracting, but not nearly as bad as I’ve had to endure from some of the drunk guys. At one point, she disappeared across the street, and I was hoping she was gone, but she reappeared, walking across the crosswalk and through the crowd, swinging some piece of cloth from her upraised wrist. It was quite a hazard, and as she walked through the crowd, people had to move aside to not get hit. She went over to the ice cream shop, then came back and sat down in an empty spot at the end of the bench.

Pretty quick a cop showed up, beckoned her by name and asked her to follow him across the street, which she obediently did. I was thinking, “Wow! Thanks for removing this drunk distraction, but where are you when it’s really bad?” Then three more cop cars pulled up, flashing their lights like it was a cartel bust. One of the cops came over and was asking people if they had been sitting there long, presumably to then ask if they’d seen whatever the issue was. When my song was over he asked me if I’d seen any naked ladies, and I was pretty sure that I’d remember something like that…

Turns out that what the drunk lady was swinging over her head was her shorts, so she was wandering around bottomless. Now, she’s quite short, and her T-shirt was long, so, I guess from my high vantage point, she looked perfectly normal. But apparently from the vantage point of the people on the bench, not so much (and one of the ladies called the cops).

The cops left the red and blue flashers going on their cars, which was pretty distracting and made it hard to read the music, but I tried to pretend it was “stage lighting”. After a while, they had gotten some jeans and handcuffs on her, and took her (and the distraction) away. Apparently it only takes 4 cop cars and half-a-dozen cops to subdue a 5′-3″ Mexican lady.

And it’s good to know that even in Laguna Beach, there are some lines you can’t cross…

I had forgotten my iPad which serves as my music book, but fortunately, the paper copy lives in the van, so I used that. It has all the songs on the Request List, but it meant that I couldn’t do any new songs. Except — all week I’d been working on “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”, and I guess I’d gone through it so many times that I’d memorized it, ‘cuz I fired it up for fun, and went all the way through it, surprising myself.

My previous Bluetooth camera shutter remote has quit working, so I got a new, smaller, cheaper one, and this was its first test outing. I rigged up a way that I can step on it with my right foot (as my left handles the harmony box), instead of mounting it on the guitar neck like before. That took too much coordination to try to press the button with my thumb and still squeeze the chords with my fingers. And I couldn’t reach it at all if the song happened to be capoed up, which about half of them are. Hopefully I’ll get some useful, if muddy in the dim light, shots.

Draft Dodger

On the unexpected occasion of my 60th birthday, I thought I’d write up a few of my Stories, while I can still remember (or make up) a reasonable portion of them, complete with entirely bogus, Photoshopped, or made up, images. None of the following may be terribly true or accurate, but it’s how I remember it.

I started my Freshman year at UC Irvine on my eighteenth birthday. This made me all at once an official College Student, an “Adult”, able to vote, and liable to be drafted and go to Vietnam. My birth year was the last one that was eligible to be drafted, before they instituted the Volunteer Army.

The draft had become a lottery, and they had one of those ping pong ball machines and everything. There were 365 balls in it, one for every birthday, and the lottery randomized who’d get called up. When they needed more guys, they’d call up all the guys with birthday number 1, then number 2, etc. My October 1st birthday was number 32 — not as close to 365 as one could wish for…

There were no Student Deferments anymore, but UCI did have a Draft Office. Not really sure why. I guess they were passing out maps to Canada.

Oh, I should mention that in those days, I was skinny. *Really* skinny. You could literally watch my heart beat between my ribs.

So, before I found any Fateful Letters in the mailbox, I went to the Draft Office and asked the lady, “Just how skinny would a guy have to be to not get drafted?” She pulled out a reference chart and asked, “How tall are you?” “Six foot, two.” She consulted her chart and said, “132 pounds”.

I weighed 128 at the time. I really didn’t think I was cut out for guns and jungles and Agent Orange and all (and I’m famously disrespectful of Authority), so I was prepared to go on a crash diet. But I didn’t have to. I wouldn’t be needing that map to Canada after all.

Fortunately for my fellow eighteen year olds, they were actually starting to pull out of Vietnam that year anyway, so they didn’t call anybody up. But especially not *this* skinny kid.