Sunday, January 31, 2010

Serac's Free Film Festival

Monday night, my pals at Serac Adventure Film School are putting on their first student film festival at the Colorado Mountain Center in Golden. I may have helped a wee bit with this but the staff and the students do all the hard work.

These films were put together over the last week by a group of crazy filmmakers cross-country skiing through Colorado's backcountry. Led by Serac Founder Michael Brown and Serac Adventure Film School Head, Ryan Ross, these students quickly find out what they are made of and entertaining stories are naturally born.

Serac's free shindig starts at 7:00 p.m - hope all you Colorado folks can make it!

Also, I re-screen Michael's amazing 2003 documentary, "Farther Than The Eye Can See", over the weekend and was blown away all over again. Michael expertly captured the noble struggles of a blind man, Erik Weihenmayer, in climbing Mt. Everest while illustrating the persistent spirit of climbing in general. The cinematography is jaw-dropping and the emotions sock you in the heart; an unforgettable film...climbing experience not necessary.

Meanwhile, on Friday, I floated around the SIA Snow Show - moved to Denver after 37 years in Las Vegas. Lots of fashion and fancy energy bars but here's the best thing I found, an indoor demo of the latest fun way to hurt yourself - mountain boarding!:

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Rag Doll

Going through some papers, I just found this essay I wrote while riding the bus in San Francisco on November 6, 2002. I'm observing a bag lady who is so covered in rags that I never actually saw her face:

The woman is completely covered in tattered rags and torn clothing. Not one square inch of skin is visible to the outside world, even her eyes are hidden. How she sees enough to walk is somewhat of a mystery.

She scribbles notes on a stray news page - something about cab drivers. Bags and bundles of belongings follow her on her journeys throughout the city; I have come across her on nearly every bus line.

How do I know it is a woman? The frame that holds up this curious bit of obvious invisibility is so small, the wind might blow her away, like the trash she lugs around.

Where does she live? What must her house look like? Perhaps she's homeless. Yet there's something about her that seems proud, like she knows more than we do and must protect us from that knowledge.

Perhaps she's an alien. If one were of the scaly, green-skinned variety, and, say, trapped or left behind here on Earth, one would have to make due.

She just got off at Fillmore and Sacramento wearing tennis shoes. I get the sense that she's Chinese, maybe because I often see Chinese people wear air filter masks. Are they smart or just paranoid? I always wonder.

Mostly I think no one sees the Rag Doll but me.

God, I miss the bus.

(Photo: Liz Hafalia/SF Chronicle)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mountain Man

Remember back when the new $20 bills came out? About six years or so ago? My job at the time had me in charge of the Seattle launch of these bills. (I was but one of a large team of folks doing this all over the country.)

Since it was a day of history, I thought it'd be cool to have an American hero buy the first latte with a snappy new Andy Hamilton, funky colors and all.

Luck led me to Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest (on May 1, 1963). Not only was he game for my little media shindig but he showed up to the event on time, with his lovely wife, Diane Roberts, and was the happiest fellow ever. He cheerfully did whatever I asked of him - say a few words, whip out the new $20, buy a coffee, pose for photos, etc. - and did it amiably.

Now here's a fellow who not only was the first to plant the American flag at the summit - after having run out of oxygen - but he went on to do it 250 more times.
When President John F. Kennedy presented him with The Hubble Medal for the initial ascent (after his hometown, Seattle, threw him a parade), Jim famously uttered what has now become a bumper sticker philosophy:

"If you aren't living on the edge, you are taking up too much space."

Two years later, Kennedy's brother, Sen. Robert Kennedy, visited the Northwest and developed an interest in climbing Mount Kennedy, an unconquered Canadian peak named for his late brother.

"I said, 'Has he ever climbed before?' No. 'Does he know this peak has never been climbed before?' Yes, but he still wants to go...We stopped 50 feet below the summit and he walked up and became the first human being to stand there....That was a wonderful experience. It was one of those times when the tears freeze on the front of your parka. He was in better shape than some of the guys I had on Everest. I couldn't believe it."

--Jim Whittaker, on guiding Robert Kennedy to the first ascent of Mount Kennedy

Jim and Sen. Kennedy instantly became buddies and would take off on climbing, skiing and rafting trips together. Unfortunately, Jim was head of Kennedy's campaign in Washington when Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. Jim was a pallbearer at Kennedy's funeral.

"I'm telling you, he would have changed the planet,"
Jim has said in interviews. "That was a very tough time."

And if that weren't all enough for historical credentials, note that Jim was also the first full-time employee of Recreational Equipment, Inc., what we know now as REI. I've read that he was also its CEO for a time. Not shocking.

But after all these accomplishments and things he'd seen, you know what he talked to me about? His wife. He just kept bragging about her and her own climbing accomplishments. My brain has lost track of specifics but I recall hearing the phrase "the first woman to climb ..." quite a few times. He beamed at her and she gave a cute, "Aw, shucks" look. Totally endearing.

Anyway, I recently conducted some business at the Colorado Mountain Club in Golden. One of the lovely gals I'd met with happened to have one of Jim's boots from the original Everest ascent in 1963. (They were adding it to the Mountaineering Museum a floor below.)

That monster weighed at least 3-4 pounds, and that is without crampons. It was huge - I could have lost an arm in there. Here is my foot in comparison:

Literally and historically, those are some big ass shoes to fill.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Refuge

When I feel overwhelmed, which is most of the time, I hightail it for the nearest patch of green, even if it is covered in ice. Washington Park, you are my quiet little sanctuary.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stock Show Stuff

Meet Silverado Shadow, the biggest kid on the playground. At five years old, he weighs in at 1700 pounds. His horn span measures seven feet, tip to tip, and even though he looks like the biggest, baddest Longhorn you've ever seen, he's also a kind, gentle fellow who will eat from your hand.

He's just one of the many friends I make volunteering at the National Western Stock Show every year. This weekend, I spent my time helping out with the Wild West Show and we were encouraged to dress in costume. HEAVEN.

I still shake my head in wonder when I think about how I had to move east to really understand The West but it's so true.

As a nation, we look westward, always have. When you grow up in LA, you don't think toward any direction at all because you are already there, which gives you plenty of time to worry about your tan and sit in traffic.

And so, I must declare that there may not be any place so fervently Western in this country as the place where The West really began, right along the Continental Divide.

This year, I got to help with dragging a giant metal 'Ring of Fire' into the arena. Yup, it's a big metal hoop that was indeed set aflame so that a guy STANDING on TWO horses at full gallop could jump BOTH OF THEM through the flaming ring. Have I mentioned that horses hate fire?

You know what else they hate? Boredom.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Yes, I know - two Dad-themed posts in a row ... What can I say? I love the guy. Yes, I'll get to the unsavory grizzle that is the Real World eventually in this space for but for today, it's all about the Dadster.

I dug this photo up while researching his life. It makes perfect sense; at 76, he's still the most American Boy I know.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Missing Dad

One of the things I really love about my Dad is that he is always willing to be my model without question.

If, for example, I should say, "Hey Dad. Let me put these Confederate Flag flip-flops on your belly for a photo. Just be the backdrop, okay?", his response would undoubtedly be, "Okey-doke!"

And really, what's better than that? Answer: Nothing.

I should point out that I am not in charge of his facial expressions. He gets total artistic freedom with that.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

So Long, Mr. Wood

There are teachers and then there are Teachers.

Quentin Wood, "Mr. Wood" or "Woody" to us kids, was one of the latter. He was born to teach and and it was a joy to watch him do so at Lakewood High School. Mr. Wood passed away last week at the age of 66 from liver cancer. Soon after, my Facebook page filled up with sad updates from my former classmates that all read the same: "I loved him!"

So, remember how in high school, we were all trying so hard to be cool but having no idea how to pull it off? Well, Woody was naturally cool and we admired him for this. Despite his wacky, gregarious nature, he never wavered from his suit-and-tie get-up, no matter what. This alone made him stand out at the beachy, suburban high school. Looking back now, it makes perfect sense. Woody was a Professional, through and through.

In addition to his fantastic style, what made Woody so beloved is that he taught with great humor. You wanted to hear what he had to say in class, in case you missed a great line. Mouthy dumb asses stood no chance whatsoever, he simply shamed them into silence. He also had a hipster presence when heading down the hallways of LHS. Because he was a smoker off-campus, he chewed gum a lot at work. I picture him in my mind, swaggering across campus like he owned the place and chewing gum like some distracted artist.

In truth, Mr. Wood was funnier and cooler than any of us could ever hope to be in our impending adulthoods...and we knew it.

At the very core of Woody's teaching ability was a deep love for his students. He genuinely enjoyed teasing us, challenging our minds and making faces behind our backs. (See photo.) I don't know where he got the patience but he pulled it off - class after class, school after school, year after year. A write-up in our hometown paper, Press-Telegram, included quotes from people describing him as a "true educator", "zany" and "just brilliant" at reaching students. All true.

As a side note, Woody was also a customer of my father's (he sold insurance) and they would occasionally get drunk together. In my mind, this gave Dad a sort of Rat Pack cool factor he did not previously possess. Both men were cut from the same cloth (although Woody's was much dressier) so I can only imagine their adventures ...

I felt compelled to write this up because I don't believe that day-to-day heroes like Quentin Wood should pass through this life without a big, fat "Huzzah!" He was a wonderful teacher, a delightful human being and, as my dad said, "A helluva nice guy." We were all better for having known him, his students especially.

So long, Mr. Wood. I hope they don't stop you for a hallway pass on your way up to the Principal's Office in the Sky ....

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Weekend in Aspen, Dahling

With my New Year's Eve plans up in the air, I made the brilliant last-minute decision to join Reid in Aspen, where he is 'stuck' working for a few weeks. What was supposed to be a 24-hour visit turned into 72 hours. Aspen is not unlike Hotel California ...checking out is one thing but leaving is another.

Aspen is a town so bursting with natural beauty that the locals have to adorn themselves, just to keep up with their glorious surroundings. The historic town is brimming with shiny, happy white people and unspeakably gorgeous scenery. Here's me at Aspen Furs, trying on a few things. As a struggling vegetarian, fur coats aren't going to be part of my wardrobe any time soon but I couldn't resist getting the feel.

I asked the proprietor if chinchilla still sold. "Sure," he said, "we just sold a chinchilla throw for $35,000."

That's right. A casual couch blanket the cost of a down payment on a house. Aspen has very little in common with the real world.

New Year's Eve was so magical. A huge community bonfire was raging right in front of our hotel (the charming Mountain Chalet, family-owned for decades) on the rugby field. From there, we all watched the gorgeous fireworks light up the town, those black diamond slopes and the entire Aspen mountain.

We spent the rest of our time checking out a nearby ghost town (Ashcroft), drinking with Hunter S. Thompson's ghost at Woody Creek Tavern, watching other people exercise, exploring Explore bookstore and their incredible pescatarian restaurant above it, drinking vodka infused with Earl Grey at The Library in Hotel Jerome and hanging out in a very large hot tub.

We also checked out two new films, "Avatar" - an epic masterpiece that blew my mind so hard, I actually needed Excedrin to recover - and "Sherlock Holmes" - a rollicking good time which made us both grateful that Robert Downey, Jr. never did overdose.

All in all, a perfect way to sweep out the old and welcome in the new.