fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


karmic payoff (or, one degree of separation from the original physical fitness badass)

I stopped at Costco on the way home last Friday to pick up a few items, as if anyone can pick up just a few items and not walk out of Costco with a kayak or some such thing.

It was Good Friday. The line to the gas station was long, the parking lot nearly full and the crowd of shoppers thick. But I wasn’t in a hurry; it was one of those clear, sunny spring days with a blanket of astonishingly blue sky that can’t be appreciated if you don’t slow down and look around. The shopping list wasn’t long and soon I was loading more than expected into the car. And while it’s not unusual for other shoppers to wander by, an uncomfortably close, slow-moving shopping cart caught my eye.

Who is this?

Do you recognize this guy?
Circa 1950s, photo by Russ Warner.

Pushing it was an elderly gentleman, appropriately grizzly for his age but dressed in pressed khakis, a button-down shirt and sweater, as you might imagine would have been the standard about 50 years ago, when publicly wearing pajamas would attract attention and perhaps include a visit to the funny farm. He walked slowly but without shuffling, slowly looking left, then right. The corners of his green sweater flapped in the breeze while the set of his face showed he was expending more than a little effort on thinking.

There’s no telling whether it was my Boy Scout mindset or overly hopeful belief in karma, but I slipped out of the car. As I stepped toward the man, he eyed me through thick glasses with a level of caution that’s unfortunately appropriate these days. His posture relaxed after I asked if he might need some assistance.

His eyes were clear and sharp under tussled salt-and-pepper hair as he described a growing distrust of his memory, a worry reinforced today by his inability to find his car. His habit was to fill up at the Costco gas station and park near the gas station exit. Today, because he couldn’t find an open spot in that section, he cruised around the lot to find a spot.

Knowing cars a little bit more than the average person and figuring I might help, I asked what type of car he was driving. It was Honda, that he was sure of; but of the model he wasn’t. The color was gray, but maybe lighter. Perhaps silver. It had four doors and was more than five years old. Rubbing the whiskers on his chin, he told me that it was bigger than a Civic. The easiest solution, pressing a button on his key fob, wasn’t an option; the remote integrated with the key was held together by masking tape and hadn’t worked for years.

My offer of assistance accepted, I began walking the 15 or so aisles of the parking lot, scanning for a four-door, gray or silver, Honda sedan. I was hunting for an Accord, but didn’t dismiss the possibility it could be a Civic. As might be expected in any parking lot in America, there was no scarcity of matching vehicles. (Silver – the color of indecision – and gray, were two of the top five most popular car colors during the last decade.) Wandering the closest three aisles, I took cell phone photos of a few suspect cars and returned to my lost friend. No, the car didn’t have a sun roof. The color was more of a light gray. The tail lights were different.

I searched a few more aisles, then returned to find the gentleman in conversation with the gas station attendant. This Costco gas station attendant is a good ol’ boy, always wearing a cowboy hat and quick to tell seemingly deaf patrons to turn down their stereos. He told me that he knew the older gentlemen I was assisting. His name is Clay. The attendant radioed the store’s cart crew for help, but no one was available. I tried to get a better description of the car but only got confirmation that it was indeed silver and had four doors. Clay wondered out loud if his car was on the far side of the lot.

Knowing I could cover ground about three times faster, I walked the rest of the parking lot, ending up as far away as possible from my starting point. Clay, who had walked in a straight line rather than up and down each aisle, caught up with me.

Not wanting to leave Clay on his own, I again prodded him for any identifying features of his car. Was it dirty? Was anything hanging from the mirror? Did it have special wheels? A light seemed to flicker behind his eyes; yes, there was something. The number five and “UES” had come to mind, though Clay was uncertain why. Hoping the number suggested the beginning of a license place – sequential 5-series plates were issued in California about five to seven years ago, fitting the possible age of a vehicle that had so far eluded us.

I began scanning plates and less than ten steps away, there is was; on a silver CR-V. Not quite the sedan I was looking for. Clay’s key fit the front door. An offer to help load his groceries was declined, so I wished Clay good luck and we parted company.

I was a few steps away when Clay called out to offer fruit snacks and thanks. I declined, again began to walk away, Clay drew me back with another comment about how he appreciated the help. My acknowledgement ended with an observation that we’d both gotten in some exercise by walking, never a bad thing. Clay replied, “You know, that was part of my training.”

I’m sure that I cocked my head to one side, wondering what that might mean. Bewilderment got the best of me and I asked, “What do you mean?” His story began with being stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda as a young man. (A quick calculation told me that this was likely in the mid 1930s.)

Then Clay asked, “Have you ever heard of Jack LaLanne?”

A response that I did seemed to release a flood of memories. Clay hung out with Jack, performing feats of strength. Occasionally he stepped in to watch over Jack’s exercise studio in Oakland*. He and Jack would impress the “girls” with their muscles, and eventually shared a lifelong friendship.

The photo strip that Clay gave me.

The photo strip that Clay gave me.

Clay illustrated his story with a strip of glossy photo paper upon which were printed digitized photos showing Jack and Clay through the years. One photo shows Clay lying on the ground, with his hands skyward while Jack uses Clay’s hands as a foundation for a handstand. Others show Clay, Jack and their wives at dinner. In one photo they are celebrating Jack’s 90th birthday.

Clay shared that he had to take care of himself for at least five more years. Jack LaLanne died in 2011 at age 96, and Jack wouldn’t like it if Clay didn’t live to the same age or longer.

I only spent about an hour helping Clay. His memory may be fading, but I hope his enthusiasm for life and appreciation of his past allows him to reach that goal.

♫♫Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day.♫♫

*For those who don’t know, Bally Total Fitness grew out of licensing LaLanne’s European Health Spas, which numbered more than 200 by the 1980s.


Leave a comment

will travel for food: Show Dogs & Cellarmakers Brewing

I do enjoy living in California. I love our many outdoor options. I live in a suburb of the Bay Area, in a balance of choice and means. But I have a love/hate relationship with our “big city,” San Francisco.

San Francisco was the seventh most visited city in the United States last year, for good reason — cool summers of fog-kissed sunshine, a history that lives on through landmarks such Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Coit Tower and Fisherman’s Wharf. Lending to its picturesque quality are steep rolling hills patrolled by cable cars and dotted by a mix of architecture styles such as Italianate, Mission, Queen Anne, Stick/Eastlake, Craftsman, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. Parks are sprinkled about, including the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Culture abounds with art museums and performing arts. The sciences are represented at the California Academy of Sciences, the Morrison Planetarium and Steinhart Aquarium.

Wandering through neighborhoods like North Beach, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill and SoMa on a sunny day rank among some of my favorite experiences in The City. Christmas can be made more special with a visit to Union Square and a walk by Macy’s holiday windows displaying SPCA cats and dogs looking for forever homes. Personally, I enjoy carspotting and rarely is there not a sighting of a Ferrari or Tesla or the occasional Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls Royce or Pagini. (BMWs, Audis, Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches are too commonplace.)

San Francisco is also most densely inhabited large city in our state and the second-most densely populated major city in the United States; second only to New York City. High-rise office buildings blot out the sky and create dark canyons that can be 10 degrees cooler. Our visit last weekend was marked by warmish temperatures, which likely gave rise to the rather pungent odors one might expect during a rainless winter.

Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

But we will travel for food, which lured us once again across the Bay. Intellectually, I understand the need for and benefits of mass transit; but deep inside I harbor an irrational fear of missing a scheduled stop. (Yes, I know there will be another bus or train, but that means giving up control of my schedule.) However, I’ve become accustomed to the hour-long ferry ride and have recently adopted the mantra “walking is good.”

Walk we did. To get where we were going, we’d skirt the Tenderloin just above SoMa. The situational awareness I’ve been working on, unfortunately, meant I wouldn’t miss that guy relieving himself in the gutter on Turk Street. More than once we walked through a repellent cloud of “skunk” originating from green stuff, not the black and white animal.

In truth, it was more akin to hiking for food and beer, and lunch at Show Dogs Fine Sausages was the reward on the first leg. House-made hot dogs, sausages and condiments, and beer on tap. What’s not to love? And love it we did. Maximizing our opportunity to taste Show Dogs’ offerings, we split a House Maple Pork sausage and Fried Chicken Sandwich, a pint of 21st Amendment’s seasonal Fireside Chat — a nice, rich and semi-dark English-style ale tweaked with spices — and a side of fries. The maple pork sausage was an experience I’d gladly repeat, even without the sprinkling of bacon. The proportion of maple to pork was perfect. Think of that time at breakfast when your sausage rolled into a bit of syrup. The twist for me was the deliciousness of the fried chicken sandwich, it was outstanding. Sure, it’s fried, but the house-made lemon cayenne aioli, coleslaw, pickled ginger and well-matched bun make it something quite special. The fries weren’t as special, but were perked up by the house-made habanero ketchup.

We’d walk another mile or so to pick up something Karen had ordered, then it’d be another mile to Cellarmaker Brewing Co.’s taproom. But it was one o’clock, and the taproom wouldn’t open until two. So, without thinking, began to head to the Ferry Building.

A few blocks later Karen thought to check the ferry schedule. The next ferry wouldn’t leave until 3:45 p.m. Apparently, God wants us to have beer. And Cellarmaker delivered.

Cellarmaker is small, with a ten-barrel brewery and a twelve-tap tasting room inside a former garage in SoMa. It opened last October with four beers and has since expanded it lineup with a rotation of beers. We settled into the cozy taproom and upon learning that some taps were dry, ordered up five ounces of each available beer. It was nice to see that each glass was pre-wetted with chilled water before filling (I expect that it was distilled water).

We ended up with glasses of Coquette, Simcoe Galaxy IPA, Jagged Little Pale Ale, Coffee and Cigarettes and Kelly’s Blackout Stout. All were good enough to order again, but I fell in love with piney goodness of the Simcoe Galaxy. It reminded me of Skagway Brewing’s Spruce Tip Blonde, which is brewed with spruce tips. The Simcoe Galaxy is not, but the herbal, piney and almost earthy fragrance (of the Simcoe hops?) comes forward and lingers. This is an aroma-heavy beer with a light hazy yellow color and a surprising lightness. Karen was fonder of the easy-drinking Jagged Little Pale Ale, a clean almost-IPA. Coffee and Cigarettes stood out for its aggressive aroma of espresso and burnt malt backed up by a lingering smokiness.

I’m a fan of saisons/farmhouse ales, but Cellarmakers Saison Francisco wouldn’t be released for another week; however the Coquette, a grisette, was a good stand-in. This is in the style of a working-class beer: a light, slightly tart, low alcohol wheat saison about as pale as it comes. Envision sitting down and enjoy a pint after mowing that one-acre lawn on a hot summer day.

We ended up walking just over six miles this day. Nothing like enjoying good food and all that beer without gaining too much weight.