Friday, June 26, 2015

Celebrate - See "Pride" (2014)

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL PEOPLE WHO WANT TO GET MARRIED. It's a great day for civil rights in the USA. I can honestly say I'm proud of my country.

If you can't make it to a Pride Parade this weekend, that's too bad—it's going to be fantastic—why not watch my new favorite feel-good movie of the century, Pride? Based on a true, better-than-fiction and little-known event, Pride is expertly written by Stephen Bereford and directed with much soul by Matthew Warchus. (Note: I watched with English subtitles to get all that accented British humor.) Its ensemble cast is just simply remarkable, including all manner of promising newcomers along with great performances by so many greats—Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, Dominic West.

I'm not a huge proponent of the "feel-good" film. I don't like being emotionally manipulated by the powerful medium of cinema. But this film earns its emotions, by giving us well-rounded characters (so difficult to pull off in a large ensemble story), with excellent acting and the perfect story-telling touches that are the essence of skill, effort and some collaborative magic. There's so much humor and humanity in this film. And it's just a great story.

It's 1984 in Margaret Thatcher's London. A small group of young activists decide at the behest of their impromptu leader, Mark, to collect funds for long-time striking miners in Northern England. The miners are running low on funds, food and hope. They're also getting arrested on a regular basis. Mark figures they're experiencing a lot of the same problems that he and his gay and lesbian friends have gone through in a conservative society. They form Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners—LGSM (although Steph, the lone woman, initially makes it The Lesbian and Gays who Support the Miners).

At first they can't even get the union to accept their money—do you see any parallels to our world today? So they call a random town in Wales and make some contact. This leads to further contact, and then full immersion in their respective worlds: gay/straight, small town/urban center, liberal/bigot, until the lines blur and, oh just see it! You'll feel good. You'll also feel sad. It's the cusp of the AIDS crisis. You're going to feel emotions—really feel them. That's worth experiencing.

Here's Mark, who walks tall and leads with his heart (played by Ben Schnetzer—an American, of all things), in his youthful abode with is life-sized cutout of Eartha Kitt and just barely noticeable Communist flag. Mark's political leaning is one of the true facts glossed over to appeal to a wider audience—a pity, since it explains Mark's initial supporting of the miners so well.

I think J.K. Rowling had Margaret Thatcher and her cronies in mind when she thought up Slytherin House.


Gay Pride, the film version.

It was not easy to be out in 1984. The film, a perfect period piece, reminds us without ever losing its sense of humor and honor along the way.

Paddy Considine, disappears (as usual), into his role as Dai, a miner. I would see pretty much anything that Paddy Considine works on—he's like a stamp of quality on a film project.

The LGSM, having lunch with their first miner.

Considine—an actor's actor.

Steph (Faye Marsay) is so 80s with her caustic wit, iconoclastic hair and smoker's stance.

The group shots not only support the theme of strength in unity—they're actually based on real video footage and photos of the time.

Gethin (Andrew Scott) washes his bookstore windows and his resolute body language tells us that he's done this perhaps many times before.

The fierce (and adorable) Jessica Gunning as Sian James—the Wales housewife who went on to big things in parliament.

The genuinely fabulous Dominic West as Jonathan, retired actor and disco appreciator.

Bill Nighy makes understatement a complete art form. Imelda Staunton continues to inspire by handling drama and comedy so deftly.

So many issues are beautifully covered in Pride. Beyond the historical record, there's the difficulties of coming out, finding a support network, fear of the unknown, knowledge and openness as a lifestyle, reaching out, making someone a pot of soup because that's the best course of action at the moment—so many important aspects of life. See it.

And Happy Pride. XO

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Every Tom Cruise Crotch Shot from Ridley Scott's "Legend" (1985)

Some people have big dream-goals in their life. Others aim low. I'm not the most ambitious person, but there is something I've been meaning to accomplish for years now. I talked myself out of it so many times. No, no, I said—it's too much—don't overreach, you're bound to fail! And besides, I like to think I hold myself to some standard of decency (in general). But decency be damned! I'm talking about, of course, posting every Tom Cruise crotch shot from the Ridley Scott's 1985 fantasy bomb, Legend.

I was going to go to my grave without ever stooping this low. But that was before I read Lawrence Wright's scathing exposé, "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief" (the HBO documentary is very much worth a view too—a brief summary of the most shocking facts is at Rolling Stone, here). Besides uncovering one of the most insidious cults of modern times, Wright points fingers at the people at the top of the Scientology pyramid who benefit the most from their draconian rule. One of those people is Tom Cruise—the seemingly benevolent, if manic, top-billed movie star and winner of Scientology's Freedom Medal of Valor. Cruise, from what I've read over the years, is a nice enough guy on set, but his Scientology ways are dark indeed. He's benefited from his pampered peak as Scientology ombudsman by decree of his buddy and pocket-edition tyrant, David Miscavige, Scientology's self-proclaimed leader.

According to Wright, accolades of the church's elite Sea Org order sign away their lives to billion-year contracts of service. The hapless worker-drones then give the church not only their worldly goods, but their precious time to appease the sailor-suit wearing Scientology top brass. Cruise has reportedly had Sea Org workers over at his manse on several occasions for renovations, luxury-vehicle provision and maintenance, and other manner of skilled labor, free of charge. The workers are said to be making somewhere in the realm of 40 cents an hour for this work, making Tom Cruise, essentially, their lord and master. And he's not just willfully exploitive of people who are threatened by their church with ostracization from family and friends, but he's seriously touched by upper-management madness as well.

So what of Legend? Ridley Scott is one of cinema's most accomplished and prolific producer/directors. He's celebrated as the visionary behind Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, and that 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial where a stylish lady in red running shorts hurls a mallet through a propagandist's vision, saving us all from a dystopian future of wearing gray pajamas while suffering massive hair loss. In any case, Legend is not one of his greater works.

Set in a claustrophobic forest (an obvious set) with enough sparkly glitter to supply a legion of preschool art projects, Legend could have been a miniaturized children's fable. But someone got some producers to throw a lot of money at it and then cast a bunch of people who were more creepy than fanciful (and not creepy in the good movie-type way). And then that person decided Tom Cruise's crotch was going to be a major player in almost every scene. This person would be Ridley Scott. Perhaps he had a crush on young Cruise and wanted to show the world his new-found love interest. Or perhaps he had it in for Cruise and decided to damn him to a role known for its crotch shots for all time. We'll probably never know Scott's thinking process.

All I know, is that when I saw this movie in 1985, I was gravely disappointed in all but the last twenty minutes when Tim Curry finally shows up as Darkness, the best personification of the Devil in film history. Curry's makeup by Rob Bottin, according to Wikipedia, was so heavy and claustrophobic that at one point he tried to rip it off without properly soaking the spirit gum applications first, thus taking off some of his own skin in the process. That's some dark movie lore right there.

My only other takeaway from Legend was this: WHY SO MANY CROTCH SHOTS? It was not a subtle director's choice. And I vowed, thirty years ago, even though the Internet did not exist, that I would one day write of these crotch shots and so here we are.

And now—until Tom Cruise comes clean about the evils of Scientology—the crotch shots of Legend.

For my important research here, I was only able to get a Netflix DVD of the extended director's cut of Legend. Let me say this: twenty-five extra minutes of Legend is definitely twenty-five too many. The slug-like pace, inane dialogue (the goblin Blix talks in bad helium-voiced rhyme) and murky inaction will inspire you to multitask like never before. I got a lot of social-media posting done during the first 40 minutes or so. But I always kept my eyes open for the all-important crotch-shots, and I didn't have to wait long.

Here's our introduction to Tom Cruise's Jack—a "child of the forest," who apparently never learned how to sit on his bottom, performing in this squatting crouch in nearly all his scenes. Was Scott channeling monkeys or possums or some other squatty creature when he directed Cruise? The issue is not so much the squatting (although it looks painful and I'm sure Cruise's thighs were sore after each shooting day wrapped), but why did Scott choose to place the camera directly in line with his crotch over and over again?

Introducing Tom Cruise's crotch, in Legend

With his luxurious hair and jagged-toothed smile (I like Cruise's pre-fixed teeth better, just an aside), Cruise looks the part of would-be fantasy hero. But he has that doubtful look in his eye—the look of: "Is this going to ruin my career before it barely got started?" Such a mind-state is deadly to fantasy, which requires complete earnestness while giving up all logic and reason. Still, he's game to try, however miscast.

Crouching Heart-throb, Hidden Crotch

Better hair than his leading lady—always a bad sign

Mia Sara, in her first role as Princess Lili, whose kingdom is apparently somewhere else off-screen, is mainly required to look nice while running through the forest in flowing garments, her arms placed at her sides, just so. Like many of the cast, she ends up uncomfortably underdressed. There's a lot of skin for such a would-be children's fable.


The flimsy plot of Legend is a sorry thing. Some latex-faced squeeky-voiced goblins are sent by the lord of Darkness to kill two unicorns (wearing plunger-like horns that wobble when they run), to rid the world of light. Lili touches a unicorn, which is forbidden. Some fairies, led by the underdressed David Bennent as Gump, wearing huge pointy ears, surround Jack in the now-dark and snowy (and glittery) forest and make him answer a riddle and then promise to save a unicorn whose horn got cut off and bring sunlight back to the world. Darkness tries to make Lili his (underdressed Goth) bride and so on and so forth.

Anyway, here's a crotch shot.

Ridley Scott to Tom Cruise: "Can you crouch even lower, Tom? The camera's on the small tripod, you know!" Tom to Ridley: "Uh, sure!" (thinking: jeez, any lower and my balls'll freeze off)

One note: Gump is played by the fellow from The Tin Drum, and he's okay and everything, kind of resembling a Caravaggio Bacchus, but his voice was overdubbed by Alice Playten, who also played the goblin, Blix. Her hissy, whispery, very obviously womanly voice is so perplexing coming from of a male-child wearing a loin cloth in the snow.

Also, wherever Gump goes, a fairy light named Oona follows him (along with a couple of apparent leprechauns on a bender), and she somehow emits these soap bubbles (and face glitter) with her very presence. That's right—BUBBLES. Ridley Scott signed off on some bubble wrangler for this film and we just don't know why. My guess is, his heart wasn't really in this. His heart was too distracted by Tom Cruise's crotch.

Gump—with bubbles

Annabelle Lanyon as Oona, demanding a kiss from Jack, with bubbles
And lest you have any doubts, here's an elf played by Billy Barty, kissing Tom Cruise's leg, which even in a fantasy kingdom, is pretty weird.


More crotches.

Action crotch

Ridley to Tom: "Please hold the sword at CROTCH-level!"

Tom: "Uh, okay..."

Here's Tom's crotch, comin' atcha.

And here's his crotch in jail. I wonder if this is anything like the brig David Miscavige throws rebellious Sea Org members into, never to be heard from again.

And because I want to be thorough (this is for posterity after all), here's some really under-lit crotches.

Close-up—no other leading man has ever crouched this much in a major motion picture!

Close-up, in case you missed it. Note Jack's sparkly mini-dress length armor.

Here's a meeting-of-the-minds crotch shot.

One of the unspoken rules of fantasy is that your secondary characters should be fairly endearing, even if they're kind of weird or awkward. Legend didn't bother to follow this rule. Everyone in this film (save Tim Curry, who's excellent, but even he is required to laugh at least once like this: Mwah ha ha ha ha ha haaaaah!) is expendable. It's sad because the makeup, cinematography and set design are lovely. It's as if Scott just couldn't be bothered with plot or character once he started shooting. He was lucky to cast Tim Curry. Pity he only exists in the film's final minutes.

What an entrance

Tim Curry embodies his fantasy role—no questions asked

That's some impressively claustrophobic makeup

Here's some fighting crotch action shots (I think this was the point in 1985 when I'd definitely reached my limit).

You have no idea how I labored to bring you this action-packed crotch shot

This is it: the last crotch—the money shot. Properly lit and presented for maximum crotch overdrive. It's no Tim Curry as the Devil, but I think you'll agree, it delivers.

The last crotch shot, dramatically lit for your pleasure

There's a romantic kiss where even then, Jack's squatting, but his crotch is off-screen. At this point, you must use your imagination!

And here's Cruise's romantic love-sick grin of happily-ever-after. Perhaps this is what he looks like now when he orders his Sea Org minions around his palatial estate whilst counting his stacks of gold coins after each Mission Impossible release.


But wait—there's more! On the director's cut DVD, two lost scenes are included—one so lost it's pieced together with stills, sketches and a found soundtrack. And what do they reveal? More crotches. I present them here, free of charge—BONUS CROTCHES.

Note the bubbles


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Congratulations Golden State Warriors!

Maaaan, watta team. I stopped watching the Warriors many years ago because it was too painful for my delicate psyche, but I'm so glad I finally tuned in because this team was poetry on the court. Lovely people passing the ball with lightning-quick precision. Those charming three-pointers, impeccable defense (I have a thing for defense) and all-around team camaraderie. A+ sportsmanship, charm and coaching smarts. This year's Warriors had it all and then some (Riley Currymega-star).

And a special mention of my cousins, Gary, Barb and their daughter, Jamie, who've been season-ticket holders for decades—true fans who patiently and with good grace waited for this and are deservedly very happy tonight. Cheers!

 photo warriors-curry.gif

Friday, May 29, 2015

San Diego Road Trip By Way of the Eastern Sierras

In April we headed to San Diego for a memorial for my Uncle Larry. Uncle Larry was my dad's oldest brother. He was a really good guy, a sweet guy, a family guy. His daughter, Jo, who's my cousin who I live vicariously through because she continues to do theater work, which I gave up years ago (she writes too), organized this service for him, as well as many other family gatherings around San Diego. Because my uncle was such a good guy, his bountiful spirit brought forth all sorts of McElroys and McElroy friends and relations to converge on the magical burg of San Diego.

But before we could enjoy what turned out to be a really fantastic family reunion, we drove through the Eastern Sierras on our way south. And a freak snowstorm blew in the night before our journey, so I'm telling you, the weather patterns we experienced on this trip were off the charts. OFF THE CHARTS! Let's review—California's going through the worst drought in recorded time, and here we were, driving to Lake Tahoe in April, in the snow.


Keith is such a smart traveler. He checked multiple times before we left and thought to pack Jackson's sled. Look how happy Jackson is to be sledding in April during the worst recorded drought in California history.

Wheee! Take that, climate change!

This was the view of Lake Tahoe from the top of the lovely and informative Stateline Fire Lookout hike. It's up a basic, paved fire road and there's signage along a loop at the top about the geologic timeline that created this beautiful area.

Keep Tahoe Blue. And clear—I love Mark Twain's description of the clarity of Tahoe's water from his 1872 travelogue, Roughing It. Here's the passage describing his small-boat excursion around the lake. Though Twain was famous for his comic gift of exaggeration, this was an honest piece of reportage:
So singularly clear was the water, that where it was only twenty or thirty feet deep the bottom was so perfectly distinct that the boat seemed floating in the air! Yes, where it was even eighty feet deep. Every little pebble was distinct, every speckled trout, every hand's- breadth of sand. Often, as we lay on our faces, a granite boulder, as large as a village church, would start out of the bottom apparently, and seem climbing up rapidly to the surface, till presently it threatened to touch our faces, and we could not resist the impulse to seize an oar and avert the danger. But the boat would float on, and the boulder descend again, and then we could see that when we had been exactly above it, it must still have been twenty or thirty feet below the surface. Down through the transparency of these great depths, the water was not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so. All objects seen through it had a bright, strong vividness, not only of outline, but of every minute detail, which they would not have had when seen simply through the same depth of atmosphere. So empty and airy did all spaces seem below us, and so strong was the sense of floating high aloft in mid-nothingness, that we called these boat-excursions "balloon-voyages."

If you're passing through downtown Truckee and need some grub, we recommend stopping at Burger Me—burgers, shakes, fries—simple fare, but so, so good. You won't be sorry! The milkshakes are HUGE.

On to BRIDGEPORT! I like Bridgeport. Look at the courthouse—cool.

There's a modern (ugly) building addition in the back for further courthouse functions, but that doesn't stop this original building from being one of the all-time great goldrush-era courthouses.

I should mention the temperatures we encountered on this trip. Due to the storm, it was seriously cold on this leg of the journey (and many restaurants and other summer-based businesses were still closed in Bridgeport). During our Bridgeport overnight stay, it was in the high-teens, temperature-wise. It hit 22°F in the morning. We layered up. This trip was a wardrobe challenge—I mean, the destination was San Diego in the spring—you can imagine...

The Bridgeport Community Church and its landscaping is so compelling to me that I shot it at two different angles, which I will share with you here.

Isn't this the most existential-looking church?

It's trying very hard in a hard land

We walked around the nearby Travertine Hot Springs but didn't partake. It's not a nude hot spring but that didn't stop the old sunburned guy wearing (only) a cowboy hat who was sitting on the edge of one of the tiny springs (there's three), apologizing for being nude while showing off his nudity. I told him I was a California native, so I could handle his nakedness. But Jackson kept muttering, "no way" as we weighed the pros and cons of the situation. There were two other small springs but they were pretty crowded. Another time.

The view from the springs (looking away from old naked cowboy-hat guy)

We headed down the 3-mile rattly bumpy rutted dirt road to Bodie State Historic Park for our second visit in two years and hiked a little higher up above town and over by the closed mine this time around. Most of my latest photos aren't that interesting, but here's the view from inside the schoolhouse once again, just to show that nothing changes in Bodie throughout the years—the layer of dust just thickens.

As we roamed around the dirt roads of the abandoned mining town, former home of working men and women, criminals, drunks, merchants, pimps and the occasional family unit, we came across this slightly well-appointed (for Bodie) home. A couple of the houses out of the 200 decaying buildings have curtains covering their windows and suspiciously sturdy steps leading up to their building-code compliant porches. Is this where the park ranger lives? we wondered as we studied the vintage junk left in the yard, oh so historically...

A quick inspection around the grounds revealed a satellite dish hidden behind a sturdy shed built from weathered reclaimed wood. And a discreet garbage bin, also hidden behind an old junky-looking structure. There was an outhouse too, but it was long abandoned, thankfully. I'm glad the rangers have some indoor plumbing going on (I'm assuming).

Sorry, rangers, if it was a little creepy for us to be stalking your home. We were just curious about where park workers function when the park shuts down for the night. We joked about calling the homeowners association to get this yard cleaned up. Chimneys look compliant though, so that's good.

Just look at this mess (also a little snow visible—temperature was in the low 40s)

Refreshed, we stopped by the Mono Lake Visitor's Center, which is a great educational resource to learn about the geology and natural history of this uncanny waterway. If you're looking to experience the incredible tufa formations, head to the State Natural Reserve, off of 395, south of Lee Vining. The Mono Lake Committee Information Center in downtown (heh) Lee Vining is also worth a visit. You could make a study of Mono Lake many times over and still learn something new the next time you visit.

The lake's water level is definitely dangerously low this year due to the drought. Los Angeles has agreed to allow more freshwater springs to flow into the lake to balance out its heavy alkaline levels. Los Angeles and Eastern Sierras water rights is an ongoing power/environmental/population struggle in California's timeline. See Roman Polanski's Chinatown for an artist's take on that story. Here's the Wikipedia entry on this never-ending struggle for water here in the west. 

A quick stop at teeny-tiny Lee Vining to visit the Upside-Down House. What's that, you ask? Why, it's a house, turned upside down! Let's read the plaque:

Ha ha! The plaque's upside down too (of course)! I could turn it right-side up in Photoshop, but it's more fun this way. Here's the gist:
A distinctive local landmark and nationally renowned tourist attraction. It was the creation of Nellie Bly O'Bryan (1893 - 1984), visionary, entrepreneur and long-time resident of the Mono Basin. [She was also a silent-film actress who worked with Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Greta Garbo - ed.] Originally located along US-395, North of the Tioga Lodge, it was inspired by two children's stories—"Upside Down Land" and "The Upsidedownians." [The second book sounds good - ed.] ... Although it's (sic) tenure as Mono County's first "man-made" tourist attraction was brief (1956 to 1968), it made a lasting contribution to the promotion and development of the Eastern Sierra.
Here it is, the Eastern Sierras' first tourist attraction, The Upside-Down House:

The Upside-Down House could use some skylights (floorlights...?). It's very difficult to see all the upside-down stuff inside when you peek in its tiny window. Here's my attempt—pretty dark and spooky for an attraction based on children's literature. Still, I get a hint of charm in the decor.

There's even an upside-down potted plant, for some nice upside-down fung shui.

Onward! A quick stop at the June Lake Loop for this lovely view of June Lake.

The view from State Route 158

Long car rides and a couple nights on hard motel beds gave us a hankerin' for a swim and a soak at Keough Hot Springs, just down the road from Bishop. With its warm mineral-water splashing swimmers from its ancient plumbing, his family-owned resort, though crumbling in a modern-ruin kind of way, may be the happiest place on earth. If it can just hold on for another hundred years, I'll know there's some good in this world.

Then on to that fabulous portal to Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental U.S. (not that we were going hiking up there—it's more than 14,000 feet tall—Jesus), Lone Pine. Here's downtown Lone Pine.

Who needs some moccasins?
Home of Margie's Merry-Go-Round

What's there to do in Lone Pine? Plenty, my friend. First, have a fine breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe. It's over there by the laundromat and full of nice people and good affordable grub.

After your delicious huevos rancheros, why not take a leisurely drive around the Alabama Hills? Stupidly named, but well-worth the short drive out of town. This is where so many western and sci-fi films were shot over the years, you'll think you see some gunslingers or lizard people come sweeping from 'round about that strange outcropping of rocks ov'r t'ere.

My photos don't do it justice—we did a quick drive and popped out of the car only a few times. A camera with a big fat lens to handle all the reflective sunlight is a must. The reddish-orangeish rock formations are so bizarre and near-cartoonish that your brain won't know what to make of what you're seeing all around you. And the Sierras loom in the background—the perfect backdrop for crazy wild-west adventures.

The rain from two nights before brought out these wildflowers

A delightful horsie lives on this ranch and neighed at us as we drove by

Don't forget to pack your golf clubs to try out the range at the Mt. Whitney Course, established 1959.

Golf is hard, but you know what's even harder? That's right, Death Valley. Keith wanted to revisit the biggest national park in the continental U.S. (damn you, Alaska with your even larger national parks!), to see one of its wonders that we missed last time: Darwin Falls. Falls, in Death Valley?!?! It's true, folks. Death Valley, the lowest, meanest, driest, hottest place on Earth (pretty much, give or take a few other worldwide desert regions), has a waterfall.

But first you have to drive through the park a bit to get to it. Here's what you see as you drive along Highway 190:

Father Crowley Vista - bleak but majestic too

The incredibly resilient flowering plants that appear after scarce rainfall

Daisy-like flowers survive against all odds

And then, here's more testimony to Keith's travel smarts (and all-around smarts, in general). Reading multiple sites and guidebooks for weeks on end paid off, because he knew to check our mileage from main highway junctions to find crucial and very obscure turn-offs in order to locate some of this stuff. The signage for the (dirt) road that leads to the 2-mile round-trip hike to the falls is a dirt-colored sign, a few feet off the ground, and it's not on the highway itself. Plus it looks like a homemade sign that someone scribbled in haste on their way out to grab some brewskies after a day of hiking (see nearby Panamint Springs Resort for those brewskies, and ice cream, etc.)

So travelers: heed your mileage. We were having a nice conversation in the car when Keith thought to look at the odometer and see if we were forty miles or so from our initial checkpoint. We were, so he yelled, "I think we were supposed to turn THERE!" I had already missed this barely visible turnoff, so I backed up on the highway for an eighth of a mile (hey, it's Death Valley—make your own rules), and we were off, down a twisty bumpy dusty dirt path toward a lot full o cars.

And this canyon:

Falls? What falls? I don't see any falls...

We trundled along (now wearing shorts and T-shirts—winter gear stashed away for good), noticing more greenery as we delved deeper into the canyon.

Until, finally—a stream! The recent storm made for a good little rush of water for the rest of the hike.

We hippity-hopped over some bends in the stream and climbed a few boulders near the end of the hike, until we reached it—Darwin Falls.

Here's a portrait view to show a bit of scale—not a towering behemoth of a fall by any means, but relative to where we were, pretty damn impressive. 

There's a super-long, leaky, ancient pipeline along the entire canyon hike, perhaps bringing much-need water to the nearby settlement of Darwin (population: 36). I think the more we visit Death Valley, the more we agree: it's a freaky place, on many levels.

After Death Valley, we made a pilgrimage to the Trona Pinnacles. The what? That's what I said. Keith said we should go, so we went, down yet another bumpy, dusty, twister, rutted dirt road to this:

It's a former lake bed that dried up completely 10,000 years ago, revealing 500 tufas. It's otherworldly yet of this world. If you're coming from Death Valley to Trona Pinnacles, you'll be heading through Trona, a dry lake-bed mining town (a different dry lake bed, full of minerals). Stop at Trails Drive In for your burgers, shakes and fries before visiting the Pinnacles. I had a strawberry shake with fresh strawberries and it was SO GOOD.

And on to San Diego. I love San Diego. Love, love, love San Diego. I love my family. I want my family to all go to San Diego to meet up again.

Downtown, San Diego, looking good

Jackson and his cousins Paris and Fayme with Aunt Kamber at Old Town schoolhouse

Balboa Park

Mission Beach

Cousins, Megan and Matt with their mom, my Aunt Linda (I just call her Linda)

My Mom & Dad with my cousin Marianne and three of her kids, Allie, Kristen and Sean (Kimmie's not in the photo, but she, like her cool siblings, was very present)

Farewell, Uncle Larry—you were here in spirit.

Larry's daugthers, Jo and Molly with Uncle Tom, their brother Mike, our friend, Father Dave and my Dad

My Dad with his arm around his youngest brother, Tom

I had never been to a military service. We first attended a church service, presided over by our family friend, Father Dave, and after the reception we headed out to the cemetery for a gun salute and flag-folding ceremony. It was quite moving. The young soldiers in formation, especially during their slow-motion march, are walking symbols of giving up individuality for the good of the whole.

Warrior culture is very cut off from day-to-day life in our Bay Area burg, but in San Diego, it's a huge part of city culture and industry. My Uncle didn't talk about his service much but it must have deeply affected him (I know he traveled far for the first time after he was drafted and joined the Marines) for him to request this kind of send-off. For such a kind, gentle guy, it was a dignified and very proper way to go. And beautiful and dramatic. Perfect.

I made a short video of the salute. Hat's off to these young soldiers.