Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Transitions And Conditions

Pulled The Pin was meant to be a humor and perspective blog……… A place where I could put forth my observations and have fun with language. The blog had a decidedly firehouse slant.  

Recently I have been authoring an entirely different blog on Caring Bridge.  It is about the life and death struggles of my wife, The Baroness.  She had a burst aneurism, two serious strokes, and the realities of facing life as a handicapped person.

My life is now much different; I am a product of my recent experiences. But I think my worldly observations remain similar.  It is maybe even more valuable as humor is a constant medicine that heals many wounds; hopefully my own.

So now I return to Pulled The Pin a changed person yet very similar in perspective and polarity.  But I am now medically modulated and therapist friendly. 

One of my medications makes me forgetful, bemused and mildly befuddled; I am like a modern day Mr. McGoo.  If you can handle this new me……well then so can I.  Welcome aboard the new Pulled The Pin.

Bill Comes To Joe's

North Beach is a timeless haven for San Franciscans of a certain age.  Its glitter and neon cannot hide its authentic character and old City charm.  To walk its streets is to tread through the history of a grand city’s cultural, ethnic, and political greatness.

Another jewel is added to the crown of North Beach with the opening of the new Original Joe’s. A great gathering of ‘men who do lunch’ assembled at the new Original Joe’s.  It occupies the ground once the home of Fior d’ Italia. It is like tracing the lineage of a true thoroughbred.

The bar was packed with retired and active firefighters; why I think I might have even seen a few civilians.  Woe the poor man who decided to take his wife to the new Original Joe’s for a romantic lunch that day.  It was a cacophony of loud voices, braying laughter, and even two lusty hymns that were shouted to the star of the show.

The luncheon was homage to Bill Mulkeen who was retiring after 31years in the Fire Department. It was also an honor for a particularly heroic rescue that he executed in his last year.

Bill gave a ringing acceptance and held the floor like a lion on the prowl; he gave notice to many who had played a role in his career. It was another classic Station 2 event; it reeked of class, charm, and rollicking good fun. 

A hats’ off to Bryan, Julio, and David for putting on such a successful event.  It is obvious that the young guys have not missed a beat and do not have to take a back seat to anyone; nice to see a great tradition thriving in new hands.


Paganelli's Guest Book

When the great Pag passed on last year the online Chronicle Obituaries section had a Guest Book for people to leave a message.  Those messages did the Pag proud and were great works of art.  I have appropriated a few of them for your pleasure.  Because Pag's life was a work of art.

Richard Paganelli

This Guest Book will remain online until 4/18/2011.

The SFFD has always had an endless list of characters but no legitimate Bon Vivant - until the doors swung open and in stepped a man claiming Yiddish-Italian descent and known to most as "da Pag." Heaven……. look out!
George Alboff, San Anselmo

When the great Pavarotti was performing in San Francisco, Pag said let's go to the Opera House and you can be my interpreter and invite him to dine with me. As we crossed Market Street, he informed radio to place Batt. 9 out (6-6). I quickly said to Pag you can't do that, that’s only for Assistant Chiefs. He responded, "I just did"!    Thanks for the memories.
Bob Cutone, San Bruno

I'll never forget the morning Pag was blowing his trumpet out the window of the chief's room at Station 15. Soon he was joined by a 2nd trumpet coming from a MUNI driver down below at the bus turn-around. That's the way it was with Pag - he celebrated life and music, drawing everyone into his whimsical world.
Let's all toss another figurative dinner roll in his direction as he serenades St, Peter with his inimitable version of "O Sole Mio".
John O'Shea, El Sobrante

He made me smile just by walking in the door. I met him for the first time when I was a brand new rookie. He was full of joy and exuberance and he even serenaded us at the dinner table that night. A great man who's passing is a loss to us all. May God Bless.
Carl Champion

Pag, I will miss your phone calls with your wit and enthusiasm for life, also our lunch dates together which were enjoyable. On your journey, May the road rise to meet you may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Bob Moser, San Francisco

He was my Captain early on at Station #17 (might have been Sta. #11 then) Pag, besides being a good Fireman, tenor, and avid swimmer at the old Flieshaker Pool, his soft shoe to the melody of "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" was pretty good too. He will be missed. Go with God, Pag.
Frank Grimley, Oakley

I met Captain Pag when I was detailed to E-25 as a young firefighter. He took me under his wing for the day and we remained great friends throughout the years. Simply stated, "he was one of the best"! What a great smile, what a great voice, what a sweet man. Rest in Peace Chief.

So long Pag. May you always have a strong wind and a following sea.
Eddie Phipps, Sausalito

R.J. Paganelli was my first real Captain when I first made Engine 25. During my years in the Lost Battalion, he was perfect as the steady hand guiding his motley crew of Wharf Rats. Probably the best time I ever spent in the Fire Department.

Pag was always there to lead, advise, and most importantly, make us laugh. I NEVER had a bad day with Pag. He filled your life with laughter, but all the time you respected him for his fatherly advice and worldly wisdom. Great firefighter who enjoyed the workers, the dumps and endless car fires, but also the downtime with his men afterwards. We even told him he was a great singer and trumpet player! He will be greatly missed, but he will never, never be forgotten!
Elmer "Kiddy" Carr, Engine 25

Richard, in his own unique way, was an icon to most of us
who knew him. He loved the people who surrounded him during his lifetime. "He did it his way!" Bright, articulate and full of life, he was a joy to be with. He adored his dear wife, "Tootsie" who departed too soon.

"Pag" loved to do his "crossing" on the Queen Mary, NY to Southampton. Even as a single passenger he enjoyed every moment at sea, even staying aboard when the "Queen" reached Southampton, itching to get back to the "briny deep!" Pavarotti was his favorite tenor and spent hours and hours trying to emulate him! Pag's favorite Italian song was, " O Sole Mio," which he sang with gusto!! We'll all miss you,
"Pag," you made our days on earth more enjoyable!
Jack Sherratt, SFFD, Retired

To the Family and Friends of Rich Paganelli-
The staff and students of St.Peter's School send their love and prayers.  Rich touched the lives of many while with us. May His God give him the fullness of peace and joy that Rich shared with us.  Mass is offered for him at St. Peter's Church. We are so grateful for his love and support.
Victoria A. Butler, Principal and Sister Marian Rose RSM

I worked with him when he was a firefighter, lieutenant, captain and chief. No matter what his rank he was always the same guy. Outgoing, friendly, and a great leader. Most of all just fun to be with.
"Frankie The Bat"

The death of Pag marks the passing of one of the great showmen of the SFFD. Who would have ever heard "Grand Opera" in the fire house or at a banquet if it were not for Pag. We are remembering him in prayer at St. Monica's each day this week. Arrividerci Caro Bambino!
Fr, John Greene Greene, Chaplain, SFFD

Driving Pag was a great experience. Rest in peace & I'll throw a hard roll at a speaker in your honor (but not Father Greene!)
Joe Carlomagno, Novato

Non Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is so fascinating.  The French do it so well.  It is not the broad, comic hand gestures of their Italian brothers.  It is more subtle, it is constrained, controlled, and almost constipated.  It is so much fun to watch; it is so French.  

It is such a part of French communication; it is as important as the spoken words.  The French speakers do a subtle pursing of the lips, sometimes with a shoulder shrug or head shake or even a lean.  Sometimes it is accompanied by a gentle jaw jut.

I want to work on my non-verbal communication with full lip pursing as I grunt, purr and occasionally throw in a shoulder shake and shrug.

French women are a different look from her American sisters.  It is a more subtle look, quieter.  French women are smaller, slimmer, and usually bare legged with faux tanning cream.  They have a greater fashion sense and can do things with a simple scarf that is amazing.

Women walking their dogs in Paris are a great game to watch as it is a whole separate look.  There are flashing calves, taut leash on small dog, scissoring legs, and a general look that conveys a sense of entitlement.

They too are are non-verbal cues it; is just such fun to watch and appreciate all of these communication points of interest.

Everybody's Dying

It just seems like everybody’s dying: Friends, associates, celebrities, pets and pals. I know that it is just a momentary aberration and soon the obits will be filled with the names of strangers. But it still feels crushing and just a little depressing.

The dark side of 65 holds many events and the loss of friends and loved ones is just an example. I suppose it could be worse and it could be yourself; that certainly puts things like the 49ers and the economy into a sharper focus. There are important things and then………there are important things. It is in moments like these when friends are funereally falling that age, infirmities, and just luck enter your thinking.

Firemen see death frequently but it does not prepare you. It is death that is professional, emotionally distant, and anonymous. It is like filling out a Fire Report, it asks you the number of persons dead and the number injured. No names, it is just numbers.

This is real death, it is death with names and stories and faces and laughter and heart felt associations. So everybody’s dying now except me and you. We will be grateful for that but we will mourn those with names and stories and look forward to as many tomorrows as we can have.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Swing

Jim Andersen was the heart, soul, and bell cow of The Swing for more years than 260 Golden Gate would have liked. It was his open, friendly and pipe puffing predilections that set the tone for that legendary Swing.

It takes three and a third chiefs to man a Battalion HQ, The Swing was that third in Battalions 4 (E38), 5 (E21, and 7 (E31). Just in for the day was our mantra.

Recently I encountered the big fella at a typical retiree social event; we were at another fellow’s funeral. He mentioned The Swing and the statute of limitations on telling stories. In my usual senior citizen befuddlement I became confused about whether he said the statute was still in full force and effect or whether it had expired.

I am sure that in the spirit of openness, transparency, and the Sunshine ordinances of the Brown Act he meant that it had ended. In that same open spirit I would like to begin a series of blog segments detailing the management style and cult of personality that he exerted on The Swing.

But first we must set our terms. Under no circumstances will the full story be really told; loyalty, rules of self-incrimination, and good taste will be my over-arching mandates. Financial liabilities, personal feelings, and a litigious society will guide my story telling.

His name is Speed…… Speed Andersen. The origin of the nickname is somewhere in the murky past. But it was Bill ‘Slip’ Tuohy at a chance meeting at the South End Rowing Club many years ago who said they called him Speed on the Fire Department All Star basketball team back when Dr. Naismith was still a young man.

Bill went on to say, “We didn’t call him Speed because he was so fast but because he went at one speed…………..his speed”. He moved at a pace that could be described as deliberative and almost measured if it was not so casually ambling.

From his first day in the Swing his more casual management style melded seamlessly with my rebellious and independent spirit. His management style is best manifested by his approach to the Annual Performance Appraisal reports. Every year he had to write an appraisal of my work habits and department contributions, meager as they were.

He would always lavishly praise me for whatever area I was deficient in. I was a bit of a ‘Minute Man’ coming to work just a few minutes before the start time; he would go on for several paragraphs about my overly early arrivals and dedication to the team concept.

So I would be reading my Appraisal Report and have to say, Hey! What’s going on here?” Even the terminally dense come around eventually. I think you can see how his personal Mission Statement complimented my dysfunctional and comically delusional personality.

Those early Swing years were great years; there was a friendship and easy banter that made the Buggy both a refuge and a separate identity to a parallel universe. Jim said the buggy was our Windshield OnThe World; we would observe the world through the filters of our Swing identity and enjoy its foibles and fables.

We would create adventures filled with repartee and laughter. We were the swing ‘going baseline’ against a hostile world.

Western Civilization

The answer is at hand; the newspapers deliver it every morning along with the sports and the comics. The reason for the fall of Western Civilization as we know it is ….. Firefighter pensions.

Well that was a relief; I thought I was going to be accused of something really heinous like spreading the AIDS virus to warm puppies, or taking cell phones away from teenagers, or giving toys to a child with a Happy Meal.

The drill is that they must demonize you first before taking something away from you. It is like a courtesy flush; it’s so reassuring. We are presently experiencing that uncomfortable period of demonization. Until now the only person who thought me a schnook was the Baroness. Now the whole country thinks I am the antichrist.

Now is our time in the barrel; so be it. But when the Wall Street arbitragers, Hedge Fund manipulators, and default swap sultans go before the gods of justice without their attorneys, lobbyists, spokespersons, and congressional liaisons what will say they?

The constant media stampede asks how this can happen. I ask not how I have a decent and livable pension, but how the rest of America allowed them to take away their pensions, security, and dignity and replace it with some cheesy 401K’s, team building with mission statements, and watching a foreign built ship send your jobs and your dreams to overseas shores?

Battalion #1 Ball

Recently the Battalion that which all others measure themselves and which is the leading light of the entire Fire Department had a Christmas Toy Program fundraiser.

It was called Jingle Balls lll, Battalion # 1 Ball Drive. The event poster also had a sensitive descriptor,” Come let your balls hang out at Gino and Carlo’s”. It was reassuring to see that the mens had not let sophistication, good taste, and political correctness intrude on a great idea.

The luncheon cost was $25 if you brought a new ball as a gift for the Toy Program and $35 if you had no balls. As usual, I paid the 35.

It was a luncheon deep in the heart of old North Beach at Gino and Carlo’s liquor emporium and poolroom. The cast of characters was large and diverse; both Stations 2 and 41 were well represented

This fundraiser additionally served as a conduit for the retirees of Battalion 1 companies to meet the young active firefighters to tell lies, burnish old tales of heroism and humor and to together test the bartending skills of the resident Mixologists.

I was really impressed with the new Station 2 House Collector for putting on a great event and for verbally bitch slapping the attendees for not moving fast enough to sit for lunch. Way to go Julio.

As I approached the luncheon from Grant Avenue I could see some rigs parked in the street and men milling on the sidewalk holding glasses and gesturing as they told tales. Nice to see the young guys haven’t strayed far from a winning hand.


The New Year brought the largest Mafia ‘take down’ in US history. 125 citizens whose names end in a vowel were taken into custody for offenses ranging from the common to the shocking.

The indictments listed colorful nicknames — Bobby Glasses, Vinnie Carwash, Jack the Whack, Johnny Cash, Junior Lollipops and —Jackie The Nose. It went on to catalogue murders, extortion, arson and other crimes dating back 30 years.

One of the indictments charges a reputed Gambino boss, Bartolomeo Vernace, in a double murder in the hallowed confines of an Irish bar. Is no place sacred? The double hit occurred in the Shamrock Bar in Queens in a dispute over a spilled drink.

Below I will list the names of some of these colorful characters who appreciated a tidy bar top more than life itself.

Luigi Manocchio aka Baby Shacks, The Old Man, The Professor
Joseph Corozzo aka "JoJo" - at times a soldier, a captain and a consigliore in a crime family.
Michael Roccaforte aka "Roc" -
Vincenzo Frogiero aka "Vinny Carwash" - a soldier in the Gambino crime family.
Frank Bellantoni aka "Meatball" -
Christopher Reynolds aka "Burger" -
Michael Russo aka "Mush" -.
Like Firemen, Mafia hoods have a preoccupation with food and physical abnormalities for nicknames.
John Brancaccio aka "Johnny Bandana"
Vito Cortesiano aka "Vito Love" -
Bartolomeo Vernace aka "Pepe,"Bobby Glasses"

You can decide for yourself, what's in a name.

The Social Media - I'm Helping

One of the great difficulties of the aging process is staying current on the constantly changing cultural clutter. There was a time when I instantly knew the names of ‘stars’. Not only did I know the names but I also could provide the details of their stardom. I was conversant with their art form, HIV status, drug of choice, sexual orientation, and other important details.

Today I sit in bemused befuddlement as a parade of names marches by my consciousness and barely raises a notice. Just who is Justin Bieber, Lady GaGa and a host of other strange names? Are they actors, singers, or just celebrities like Paris Hilton who are famous for fellating friends and foes?

I am here to help, I am beginning Seniorpedia. Yeah! It is just like Wikipedia except it is massaged and manipulated for the particularized needs of the senior community.

Are you confused about what makes a 3G or 4G cell phone? What the hell is Twitter? Who or what is a 50 Cent or Ludacris or even a Heidi Klum? Seniorpedia, the greatest invention since the vespers, is here to help. Just go online and our patient and Senior-centric software will guide you to a stress free answer.

Have you ever considered an old Hollywood name and thought are they alive or dead? Well wonder no more; our Dead or Alive web software will answer those pesky questions. You can even enter your name to see if you should buy flowers for yourself.

The Irish Miracle

In a recent issue of Vanity Fair, financial journalist Michael Lewis wrote an interesting, perceptive, and humorous article on the Irish and their national financial meltdown. I am sharing some of my favorite quotes from that piece.

“We are sort of a hard, pessimistic people” says Irish economist Morgan Kelly. “We don’t look on the bright side”. Yet, since the year 2000, a lot of people had behaved as if each day would be sunnier than the last. The Irish had discovered optimism.

Two things strike every Irish person when he comes to America, Irish friends tell me: the vastness of the country, and the seemingly endless desire of its people to talk about their personal problems.

Two things strike an American when he comes to Ireland: how small it is and how tight lipped. An Irish person with a personal problem takes it into a hole with him, like a squirrel with a nut before winter. He tortures himself and sometimes his loved ones too. The famous Irish gift of gab is a cover for all the things they aren’t telling you.

The Irish countryside remains a place people flee; among its drawbacks is the weather. It is always raining or about to rain. I drove a black guy from Africa around Ireland. He said I don’t know why people live here; it’s like living under an elephant.

That had been the strangest consequence of the Irish (Real Estate) bubble: to throw a nation which had finally clawed its way out of centuries of indentured servitude back into it.

Even in an era when capitalists went out of their way to destroy capitalism, the Irish bankers set some kind of record.
Ireland’s financial disaster shared some things with Iceland’s. It was created by the sort of men who ignore their wives’ suggestion that maybe they should stop and ask for directions, for instance.

There is an ancient rule of financial life – that if you owe the bank five million bucks the bank owns you, but if you owe the bank five billion bucks you own the bank.

The Bells

The following email exchange occurred between myself and Rippy Allen. I think it is self-explanatory to all who lived in fear of the night watch.


I was going through some old fire department paperwork and found the old bell codes.
There are not many left that used to "peg a box", so this will bring back some old memories.
R. Allen


Thanks for sending it along. We all have bad dreams about waking up in the middle of the night, the automatics are on and there is a spool of white tape on the floor.

I also remember those arcane pegging drills where we discussed a cover company responding to a greater alarm on a full moon with a broken Trojan valve. What???????????????????

.....with the 9-1 in effect.....then a vicinity to a vicinity comes in, the Blue Max chalks a half circle in front of the pegging board .and threatens a month of night watches if anyone trespasses inside "no man’s land". Then the service squad goes missing....again, and the valve wagon goes 4/4. Flakey Pugh starts yelling "who's first due at the zoo". …….. and we all head for the back room.


1-1 Vicinity Box, full first alarm assignment
2-2 In Service, on air
3-3 Out of Service, at incident
4-4 Out of Service while responding to emergency
5-5 Out of Service, drills, repairs
6-6 AC Deferred assignment
7-7-3-3 Fire Safety Survey
9-1 Fire Alarm Deferment Response
10-10 Recall Previous Signal
2-2-2 Preliminary Signal Call
3-3-3 Drill Tower out of Service
4-4-4 Directed Cover In Call
5-2-6 Radio Test Signal
5-5-5 Raise or Lower Flag
6-6-6 New Fire Alarm Box in Service
7-7-7 Pay Signal, checks ready to be picked up
8-8-8 Physician’s Signal
9-9-9 Chaplin’s Signal, death of FF at incident
2-2-2-2 High Pressure Special Call
2-2-2-2-3 Jones St. Tank in Service
2-2-2-2-4 Ashbury St. Tank in Service
2-2-2-2-5 Twin Peaks Tank in Service
2-2-2-2-6 Pumping Station 1 Activated
2-2-2-2-7 Pumping Station 2 Activated
2-2-2-2-8 Fire Boat to High Pressure Manifold
10-1 Modified Response Assignment
10-2 Specified Personnel Emergency Recal
10-3 Emergency Duty Recall, suppression personnel
10-4 Riot Operation Plan, preparation
10-5 Riot Operation Plan, activation
10-1-4 Master Control
10-1-5 Take Cover

1-3 Truck
1-4 Assistant Chief
1-5 Battalion Chief
1-6 Fireboat
1-7 Hose Tender
1-8 Salvage Corps
1-9 Foam Unit
2-3 Small Water Tower
2-4 Large Water Tower
2-5 Valve Operating Unit
2-6 Searchlight Unit
2-7 Air Compressor Unit
2-8 Fuel Unit
2-9 Coffee Unit
3-1 Ambulance
3-4 Communications Unit
4-1 Rescue Squad
4-2 Service Squad

Monday, October 25, 2010

Who Loves Ya

It was the smile I remembered; it was an Irish smile full of charm, charisma, and underneath it maybe a secret. The smile belonged to Bill Cochrane, The Cock. The legend passed on and the funeral was on Friday, July 16th. The word legend has become cheapened of late; it is used to describe some pretty pedestrian people.

But Bill was a legend, and he worked hard at it, no one deserved the title more than he. Father Green did his usual excellent job and captured the spirit of the man. For those of you who were not ‘in the business’ or were but resided on the far flank of the moon and did not know him The Cock was William T “Wild Bill” Cochrane.

The Cock was the Captain of 3 Engine since Christ was a Corporal and thought it the finest firefighting weapon created by God and honed by him. There were some telling quotes at the funeral that captured some pieces of The Cock.

Father Greene said that 3 Engine was parked in front of the church; there was no room for 3 Truck so it parked across the street. Father Greene went on to say that was perfect because Bill had no use for the Truck anyway.

Bills oldest daughter, Deborah, spoke at the funeral. She said she was in New York when Bill married his second wife, “It was nice because she was my age” Deborah said. You could almost hear the faces breaking into smiles.

I did not personally know Bill well; to me he was always the legend more than the man. He did a vacation spot in The Swing once and I spent a month with him. . He was preceded by the stories and the reputation. I can report it was a great month. We did not have any fires Bill couldn’t handle, nobody gave him any shit, and he had me smoking cigars by the end of the month. Good-by Bill.

Tadich Grill

I went old school recently; we were doing lunch in The City and we went to the Tadich Grill. Old restaurants can be like old friends: enveloping you in a warm embrace. The Tadich did just that and I had never been there before.

It is not unheard to check out an old chestnut and find it is resting on its laurels and isn’t living up to its fame. You never felt that with the Station 2 Kitchen Bitches. Bob Burrito and Barney Rubble had no laurels to rest. But they did have great food and fun.

Rest assured boyos the restaurant begun by three Croatian immigrants in 1849 is alive, well, and just the same. There is something warmly reassuring in older restaurants and the Tadich is a classic.

The copper clad doors welcomed us into its old fashioned dining area where hungry diners sat at the counter. A white jacketed waiter attended their needs. We opted for a table in the rear of this historic feeding emporium.

There are varnished booths lining one wall with classic old mirrors, some stained glass, and old lamps and lights to let you know you are in a place with a history that is real and not contrived by a decorator. The tables had starched white table cloths and hooks for gentlemen to put their hats.

The old school waiter was almost as old as I in his white jacket and floor length apron. He handled his chores in an understated and classic way; he anticipated things before we did and they just seemed to appear without a lot of unnecessary flair. Oh! And he didn’t say his name was Blair, that he was a Pisces, and that he would be our server for the day. He just did his job, and well.

I saw more men dressed in denim than I saw in suits with ties; downtown career apparel has changed for the casual. And if you are downtown, do yourself a big favor and check out Tadich’s Grill. You won’t be sorry. I found parking two doors away in a city garage.

Thinking Positive

The local fish wrap brought more good news today; I like to think of it as news of a positive nature. San Francisco Sheriff Hennessy has recently installed 16 condom dispensers in the City Jail. At first I thought this might be some heinous Anti-Catholic birth control program; but then I realized that uteruses ‘s are a little thin on the ground in the Main Men’s jail.

Well that seemed to change everything, especially for people with the dropsies. Guys dropping anything, and I mean anything, leave it on the ground. Bending over for personal retrieval is an option fraught with personal peril.

The quick and dirty math (to coin a purple phrase) is 16 condom dispensers for 750 prisoners; that works out to almost one dispenser for 47 prisoners. No waiting in line, no lost opportunities, no down time.

I also like to think of the dispensers as community gathering ‘hot spots’; it has everything but WiFi. Get a condom and get a chum in the same line at the same time. That my friends is dynamic relationship building. It is like the office water cooler with a touch of the lurid and the profane.

Imagine the lost opportunities at standing in line at the old Coffee Unit at Fifth Alarm fires in the middle of a cold rainy night. If only the Department administrations had had the foresight and political courage to have installed condom dispensers. The mind boggles.

Say who is the cute, hairy, Irish Truckman over there? Yeah, the one with the hangover, the halitosis, and the hair lip. You can see where I am going, and you sense the possibilities. “Paging Sheriff Hennessey to the Command Post; Chief Olson would like a word with you”.


What little summer we had was closing in and the travel year was escaping us. It was time to take the new RV out on the road. We had talked of Oregon; it was time to see more of it. Two weeks seemed like a good time frame; we negotiated a non- sequential home exchange. That means Greg from Fort Lauderdale would be in our house for two weeks and we would stay in his beach condo at some later date.

The drive north was dominated by the magnificence of a towering and snow capped Mount Shasta; its size seemed to fill our vision and our imagination. It is easy sometimes to forget just how beautiful California can be.

Our new 25 foot travel trailer had an entertainment center with a flat screen TV and a combination AM, FM, CD, and DVD player that was cable wired. Our first night on the road was the Monday that the 49ers were playing New Orleans. We arrived and set up camp as the sun was falling.

I experienced some challenging moments getting the cable hooked up and put on the game on radio while working on the TV. Well, I never did get the cable working and the radio signal was so scratchy, and full of static that I turned it off in disgust before the 9ers final drive.

The Baroness complimented me on my limited use of the mother-f words in response to those challenging moments. In a world of 3G phones, Wifi, and universal connectivity you would think a clear AM signal is not too much to expect. I was almost as mad as Mike Singletary.

The very far north of California is a high desert environment with buttes as respite and is not to be confused with attractive. After passing into Oregon the high countryside changed to forested mountains and blue lakes; the word verdant seems perfect to describe this nature.

We found lush forests, intimate lakes, empty highways, and nice people. We Californians think we are the best and want you to know it also. Oregonians are dealing with a more quiet assurance of themselves and their wonders. We are giving our neighbors to the north two thumbs up.

New Age Camping

My introduction to camping was with the Boy Scouts in pup tents, surplus mess kits and balky flashlights of WW2 lineage. Times have changed and camping has moved in many different directions. Today you can find everything from minimalist back packers to catered safari campers.

My daughter has a new monster tent separated into private rooms with a small closet. She rightly calls it the Taj Mahal. The Divas (granddaughters) bring cell phones, game boys, MP3 players, and high expectations when they camp out.

But it is in the motorized and wheeled vehicles that camping has made its greatest strides of change. $250,000 monster motor homes with every convenience and décor are cruising the roads of America like post modern predators. They are usually populated by retirees and miniature pure breed pets.

38 foot Fifth wheel trailers are giving the motor homes some competition. Some rooftops bristle with outdoor cameras, security lights, and satellite dishes to bring you your television and Wifi no matter how rustic your location.

There were times when we felt dwarfed in our new 25 foot trailer; it seemed like everyone was sporting much larger motorhomes or fifth wheels. I reassured the Baroness that size does not matter.

Mary and I have mainly taken our travel trailer to State Parks where sites are large and the family vibe is strong. We have found RV parks to be more crowded and space constrained. I also must deal with my old prejudice against RV parks I imagine them filled with prison probationers and welfare people from a reality TV show hosted by Jerry Springer.

Most state parks do not offer electricity for RV’s, and the night time Oregon temperatures were dipping into the low 40’s. Suddenly, electricity and its friends the electric blanket and heated RV’s seemed like the intelligent alternative for two comfort centric seniors.

We had great experiences at Lake of The Woods and Diamond Lake RV Parks, your correspondent’s anti-RV Park bias has ended. Thud. But I must tell you about the RV park my son touted us onto, Crown Villa in Bend Oregon.

Oh my God! It is the Fontainebleau of RV parks. It is a 12 on a ten scale. But that is the next blog.

Around The Bend

The city of Bend caught me by surprise; I did not realize it was going to be such a star. It has a very old, tasteful, and vibrant downtown.

Bend is 81,000 citizens living in a town with great bones. Modern planners and architects have taken an old downtown and grafted it to a new, vibrant, and tasteful city hub.

This central hub is surrounded by world class mountains that stand in vertical relief against the city skyline. The area is a center for outdoors activity of all kinds. It is very bike friendly with special bike lanes in the city and mountain biking opportunities everywhere.

Bend is full of golf courses and a special emphasis on outdoors activities. Camping, hiking, fishing, and all manner of skiing and snow sports abound in this Pacific Northwest area.

We stayed in the Cadillac of all RV parks at a place called Crown Villa. It had everything including massages and a spa, a free golf chipping and putting area, and don’t tell the cops but free doughnuts were available every morning. This was a twelve on a ten scale.

We stumbled on a first class French bistro (Bistro Tart) with a great duck dish and pomme frites. We were downtown on a first Friday when all the art galleries have special displays and the entire area was packed with young people and a great spirit. The streets were crowded with musicians, artists, and young people cruising for meaningful encounters of both an intellectual and emotional level.

It seems that stumbling onto large, local, outdoor events is an excellent way to see and get a feel for a community. In Bend it was the Friday gallery openings and in Grants Pass it was a Sunday street painting contest. In both cases we saw, met, and mingled up close with locals and their city.

We had a meaningful encounter at a restaurant called Zydeco in Bend. It had a great menu and perfect execution. I perused the extensive wine list like a eunuch at a prom dance. The Baroness and I give this a five spanner rating.

So why are you waiting?……………Go on a Bender………..get thee there…………


I am starting a new tradition at Pulled The Pin; it is the great obit. I love obits and like any Irishman worth his salt I read them daily.

I think of obits as mini biographies. You do not have to plow through 300 pages of flotsam and fluff; you get it all in a few pithy paragraphs.

Get the short and real version. The below obit has all that I like in an obit. An interesting and well lived life; it is written well, and captures a person’s spirit. This is my first obit posting since Bozo Miller in January 2008..… Hey you don’t think they were family? Well family of the spirit for sure.

Susan ‘Rebel’ Miller

Susan Miller, many know her by one name: Rebel. She died on Sept. 20th, 2010. Rebel was born in Plant City, Florida on March 18, 1944, the only daughter of Harley and Florence Miller.

When Rebel arrived in San Francisco, she had a style and flair all her own. She was wild and funny, and crazy and loud, and even a bit trashy when the occasion called for it ---- and she was loved.

She knew what you drank or what your pleasure might be and could always get the party started. She was your sunshine on a grey day or an eyesore the next,--- but we loved her.

She is survived by all of us left with our hearts aching, but her spirit will live on in future remembrances and stories told. ...And now, borrowing the words that Pooh Bear so elegantly spoke to his friend Christopher Robin, from all of us, your friends, Rebel we "will never not remember you.'

Monday, April 12, 2010

Alpine Adventure

High in the Andes Mountains along the western border with Chile rests the Argentine alpine region in northern Patagonia. It is a land of beautiful mountain lakes, snow capped peaks, and gorgeous mountain scenery. Bariloche is the jumping off point for travel in this region. We took the two hour flight from Buenos Aires and spent a few days in Bariloche.

Bariloche is now a classic example of a place being ruined by the tourism that spawned it, fed it, and is now destroying it. The town sits on the shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake. Bariloche is a myriad of internet cafes, discos, chocolate shops, Hostels for the back pack youth, and tourist shops selling all manner of travel related tours and products.

We had reserved a Hertz car and we took off to tour the lake district along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos or Route of The Seven Lakes. My two years of Sacred Heart Spanish make me so bi …….lingual. Our plans are open; we have no reservations even though it is high season. We only want to get as far as St Martin de Los Andes and be back in five days to make our return flight to Buenos Aires.

We planned to stop for lunch in Villa La Angostura but so fell in love with the area we stayed for two days. It is a ski area in winter and family resort area in summer; the architectural look is the stone, timber, and glass of Lake Tahoe (with a strong German style accent.) The word coming to mind: tasty.

The highway to San Martin de Los Andes includes a three hour stretch of unpaved road filled with construction crews, tour buses trailing dust clouds for miles, and views of beautiful lakes and mountains. The word coming to mind: marginally awful.

San Martin is a gem of a large town situated on a lake near a major ski resort, and within striking distance of world class trout fishing streams in both Argentina and Chile. We spent two days in San Martin and could easily have spent more.

The Argentine people are warm, friendly, and open. They always are so courteous until you are in a crosswalk……BEWARE….In Argentina the car is king and the pedestrian is nothing but a nattering and nettlesome nuisance. And now - back to our regular programming.

web counter
web counter

All That Jazz

The evening was spread out like a humid ending to a scorching day; our time in Buenos Aires was coming to a close; we wanted to take in an evening of music. We headed to a jazz club in the Palermo Barrio called Thelonious Club. The club was in an emerging neighborhood on a block that had successfully eluded both gentrification and cleanliness.

The cab let us out in front near the waiting line of patrons; I didn’t see any gray heads so I knew my status of oldest guy in the room would be safe. Theories of age appropriate activities will be addressed later. Finally a couple on the far side of fifty came to offer a sense of relief.

A steep and curved marble staircase leads to the second floor club. We walked into the L shaped room with the band stand at the far end. There was only one way in and out and the absence of any sprinklers was mildly disconcerting. But there were some large French doors looking down on a hard and unyielding sidewalk that offered a hasty if jarring exit.

The color scheme was black and dark red featuring 1920’s lampshades with tasseled fringes. All the employees were in their mid 20’s and gave off a friendly and enthusiastic vibe that was encouraging. We settled the one drink minimum with water and some fresh fruit frou-frou cocktail beverage for the Baroness.

The six piece band of young 20 something’s began to play; I had expected some variation of Latin jazz but was surprised by a cool West Coast bebop sound from the late 50’s. The piano and drums set a nice pace; it was just too bad that the trumpet and trombone decided to go in another direction.

The crowd was mainly young and appreciative; it was warming to see bebop so well received far from its original home. I guess it speaks to the universality of jazz. All in all it was a fun evening and a nice coda to our Argentine stay. Now if we could get the sprinkler installers back to full employment all would be well.

Cops, Robbers, And A Great Lunch - Part One

On our last full day in Buenos Aires we did some light shopping and then took a cab to the La Boca district for lunch. We passed by, La Bombonera (the Chocolate Box) the bandbox home of Boca Juniors soccer club. The relationship of La Boca and its football club is only matched by Brooklyn and the Dodgers.
La Bombonera was built in 1940 and holds sixty thousand fanatic fans; this is Diego Maradona’s home club squeezed into a corner of the city by the industrial riverfront near the Rio de La Plata.

The a joining districts of San Telmo and La Boca are the 19th Century homes of the Tango and a polyglot immigrant population that contributed so much richness and texture to the city’s fabric. To call La Boca a neighborhood in transition would not be inaccurate.

Today La Boca is a combination of a working class and mixed use neighborhood and one with rising crime issues as we saw two young thieves escaping (running at full speed) along a busy sidewalk. It was to La Boca that Mary and I came to have our most expensive and satisfying BA lunch.

We entered Patagonia Sur restaurant at 2pm to find an empty dining room done in leather walls and a vaguely Bohemiaian flavor. We had the waiter’s full attention and the kitchen did not disappoint as the Argentine themed delicacies were carried our way in stately and measured fashion. We seemed to be cosseted in a cocoon of luxury and taste surrounded by no diners and no dinero.

The long ride back to our upscale neighborhood was gratefully in an air conditioned taxi. We picked up our laundry for a final time and pantomimed our good-by to the young laundry lady who always smilingly prattled on in Spanish at us even though she knew we were language challenged Americans.

Cops, Robbers And A Great Lunch- Part Two

Returning to our apartment building we tried to enter but a group of elderly ladies at the tradesmen’s entrance cautioned us in excited Spanish about some problema; this was accompanied with much arm waving and loud voices. They had used their bodies to physically block our path.

Finally a cell phone was thrust in my hand and an English language voice explained that a thief was possibly loose in the building and I was not to enter. Only when I seemed to finally understand did my Spanish language ladies break the protective circle around me.

The sounds of sirens preceded the arrival of three tiny squad cars; (think compact size from Hertz) uniformed bodies disgorged and set up a perimeter, then two incredibly well dressed detectives with roscoe’s held discreetly if not menacingly at their thighs, took charge of the street theater.

Orange safety vests, cell phones, police radios, bullet proof vests, and hand held revolvers were all on display. Mary and I sat on a ledge at an adjacent building and cheerfully watched it all. We had returned to our upscale barrio to be involved in a ‘Law And Order’ installment.

It was at this drama-filled moment when Mary turned to me and said, “So OK, when are the cops going to start standing around and yakking?” Because of my many command post stories Mary felt she knew what to expect from her public servants

When the Policia finally left the building they began shaking hands, lighting cigarettes, radioing in false alarm reports, and the serious work began. It was time for strutting, posing, and smoking, telling tall tales, and checking out passing females. The body language was the story.

All is well in Public Safety land, Argentine division. It is all the same and all is well. But please explain where the detectives in pinstripes, white shirts, and silk ties came from. It was like CSI with Italian tailoring. Adios.

Why Travel

The reasons for travel are many. The top of the list is always an interest in that large world out there that you have never seen; a curiosity of everything unknown, and maybe exotic.

While walking the aisles of a Uruguayan super market I heard a song from the rock group Meatloaf on the PA speakers. The song was a comic opera paean to teen angst and sexual yearning; now I ask is that reason enough to buy that flight ticket to Montevideo? The word Montevideo elicits foreign, exotic, and Latin flavors, doesn’t it?

But I suppose it is yourself that you find when you travel. It is the self that hides in habit and habitué; I learn more about myself and my values when I see it through the prism of foreign travel. Looking at someone else’s life through my eyes and filters makes me look at my own life through someone else’s eyes and filters.

It is usually the people you meet that are so much fun. At dinner in Buenos Aires we started talking to the guys at the table next to ours. They were in their early 40’s, had known each other since grammar school in Denton, Texas.

One was white one black, and one was gay and the other uncommitted. One had appeared on Broadway as a dancer and for 15 years had performed with the Brazilian Cirque du Soleil. The other was a sketch comedian and property investment advisor

Did I say they were really good guys and a joy to talk with? Travel takes me out of my comfort zone and confronts me with new people, experiences, and different ways of doing things. Different is not always better or even worse but it is always different, enlightening.

At home I can always think of a hundred nagging shoulds: A gardening project, some bills to pay, or whatever. Being on the road is never having any shoulds; it is a world of coulds and woulds. Maybe it will bring some kind of breakthrough; or just a new thought.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Strangers In Paraiso

Travel brings many things; always being the odd man out is one of them. No matter how hard you try and how much you prepare you will always be a touch slower, a second behind, and a little out of step.

Everything seems so difficult; whether it is making a phone call, trying to fight your way through a menu, sussing out the subway, or being the new guy in the super market looking for whatever.

I am back being the new guy; this time in Buenos Aires. Aerolinas Argentinas flew us from Miami to BA. The flight was full and they put us in 1st Class. Oh my God ! I have been living in the Economy Tourist ghetto for so long I didn’t know what I was missing. I thought squished seating and bad food was ordained from on high.

I guess the pre takeoff glass of Champagne for Mary and the real cloth napkins, roomy and full reclining seats with foot rests was the give-away. I wondered what the poor people were doing.

We found our apartment, got settled in, found the Super Mercado for provisions and necessities, and walked around our new Recoleta neighborhood. Recoleta is an upscale Barrio with a vague Manhattan vibe. High-rise apartments predominate with a strong restaurant and boutique showing. We have made inroads in our café search, scoped out some restaurant possibilities, and saw a laundry with our name on it.

The Argentine Peso is almost 4 to one. In today’s world of devalued dollars and poor currency exchange that is a great deal. The coming days will find us more than pleased with things monetary. It is so good there is a dub in the box for everyone. Drink up.

Back home, Sharon and Neil, retired and house sitters from Phoenix who we had never met before our departure date, are settling into our house, meeting GeeGee, and acquainting themselves with Sonoma. Soon they will be experiencing the richness of the Bay Area.

You do not have to say it; we know it is not usual having strangers housesit. It has become our way, it works and we are happy about the results. But as we are pulling out of our driveway to leave, total strangers standing in our doorway waving good-by, we always look to each other and say, “What the hell did we just do?” We are off to another adventure.