Thursday, June 28, 2012

Of footballs and rock falls

Two seemingly unrelated stories appeared in the newspaper recently.  The first was a front page article reporting that Pop Warner football had announced some new rules designed to protect kids from the possibility of concussions.  The youth football league set restrictions on how much time could be spent on tackling and blocking drills in practice, and also eliminated “full-speed, head-on drills in which players are more than three yards apart.”  They are the first to formally place restrictions on contact in practices, a decision which was made out of the growing concern over concussions and their long-term effects.  A local parent quoted in the article praised the move, saying, “Anything they can do to help our kids be safer is great.”  

Also in the same section of the paper on that same day was a story about some closures within Yosemite National Park due to “falling rocks.”  Parts of several popular lodging areas are being permanently shut down due to the danger.  In a report, the Park Service said, “Rock falls are common in Yosemite Valley, California, posing substantial hazard and risk to the approximately four million annual visitors to Yosemite National Park.”  According to the newspaper, “officials went on to say that dangers exist in nearly every national park but they are particularly acute in Yosemite, given its unstable geology, which causes rock falls weekly.”  Yosemite geologist Greg Stock went on to say, “There are no absolutely safe areas in Yosemite Valley.”

If I had seen either of those articles on its own, I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it.  “Good, protect those kids from brain injuries,” probably would have been the extent of it, or, “Good, protect those oblivious campers,” and that would have been that.  But there was something about the way those two stories appeared one right after the other, and the way they both spoke to the issue of safety that made me stop and reflect.  And the more I thought about it, the more something began to emerge from the juxtaposition of these two stories that bothered me. 

Now personally, I welcome Pop Warner’s concern for limiting kids’ concussions, and I have no problem with the Park Service wanting to prevent campers from being flattened by boulders.  But the thing that struck me about these two problems was that neither one was new.  The dangers have been present all along.  For example, yes, we’ve learned a lot scientifically about brain trauma and its long-term effects lately, but we’ve also known for a very long time that getting smacked in the head repeatedly isn’t exactly healthy, haven’t we?   And those rocks have been falling in the same places in Yosemite Valley for eons, and only now have we decided to do something about it.  At some point, you have to ask yourself why didn’t previous generations have rules about how much head-hitting is allowed in football practice, and why did they build those cabins in the first place?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

For Unlawful Concert Knowledge - Van Halen 2012

As Marty McFly, or any fan of Back to the Future can tell you, returning to the past can be a dangerous thing.  But the desire to raise the dead is a very human tendency, and it strikes all of us from time to time.  Just like Frankenstein’s monster, though, to act on this impulse is almost never a good idea. 

I was reminded of this, in all places, at a Van Halen concert last weekend.

Elizabeth and I, along with my sister Kim, her husband (and our concert blood-brother) Paul, and his friend Jamie, went to see the big VH.  June 16th, 2012.

The year is kind of the crucial part here.

I went because it was Van Halen, the Van Halen I remember from our childhood. Almost.  This tour didn’t include burly bassist (and original member) Michael Anthony, whose sweet, cherry-on-top, high-register vocal harmonies were sorely missed, but still.  David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, together again, after so many years of feuding and on-again, off-again ugliness.  This was the opportunity to recapture something I thought had likely been lost forever. 

Remember all those years spent wishing for this exact thing?

However, a lot of water has passed under the bridge; and after nearly thirty years, it’s not the water but the structural integrity of the bridge that tends to worry me. 

I don’t want this to sound bigger or more dramatic than it is.  I’ve never been a male groupie (moupie?) of the band or anything.  I didn’t live and die with every album and video drop.  I’m just one of what must have been hundreds of thousands of kids in the 70’s and 80’s who loved most of the Van Halen songs we heard on the radio, maybe enough to buy a album or two.  Okay, so I doodled my fair share of VH’s on school notebook covers and study guides, but certainly not more.  Their reputation as a live band was legendary, but I didn’t get to see them in concert during their glory days because I was only twelve in 1980, and concerts were still a few years ahead of me, an undiscovered new world a whole ocean away.    

I do remember the big ruckus when Van Halen went ‘electronic’ with 1984, and Eddie Van Halen, the band’s guitar virtuoso, jumped over to keyboards, apparently in a vain attempt to shame Billy Joel like he shamed so many guitarists in their chosen field.  But the band’s deviation from their heavy, guitar-centric sound didn’t bother me the way it did many hardcore fans; to me 1984 was clearly intended to be a collection of infectious, pop-song ear candy, and nothing more.  Besides, I had already decided that the band had peaked several albums ago, and pretty much everything after Van Halen II was just more mounting evidence of a slow, but not unenjoyable, decline.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Leaps of Faith: The Dorina Groves Interview

This interview marks the opening of a new front on thunderstrokes.  I’m expanding the scope of the blog to include interviews with people who have interesting, or even amazing, stories to tell about themselves.

I am particularly fascinated by stories involving a ‘leap of faith.’  I’ve taken the proverbial leap once or twice myself (in fact, the blog itself is one).  I am endlessly fascinated by others’ experiences, and learning more about where the impulse to make vastly logic-defying moves comes from, how it all comes into being, and then, of course, assessing the consequences.  I guess part of me is always seeking to understand things better, and leaps of faith can seem like mysterious, or incomprehensible, creatures.   

Dorina Groves’ story falls into the amazing category, at least for me.  This is a woman who walked away from the life she had built for herself, which included owning and operating a coffee shop here in Phoenix called “The Coffee Grove.”  A few weeks ago, she set out on the road in her ‘hoopty,’ an old camper she obtained in a trade for her car, to spread a message of hope to the people she knows are out there right now feeling lost and lacking faith in life and themselves.   That’s all you really need to know for the following interview to make sense, although part one of this two-part set provides a good deal of useful background information.   

I feel extremely fortunate that Dorina Groves made the time to talk to me, even as she was trying to tie up all the loose ends of the life she was leaving behind, and making last-minute preparations for the great adventure to come.  We talked for two hours after she closed the store on her last Thursday at The Coffee Grove.  In the moment, the conversation we had was inspiring, and I was inspired over and over again as I transcribed her words and then put together the interview you are about to read. 

At the end of part one, I posed a question that was probably foremost in many readers’ minds, along the lines of:  “What could possibly possess someone to get rid of almost everything they own at the age of 40, buy a dilapidated ’78 Dodge camper, and travel across the country to spread the word that, ‘If you have a pulse, you have a purpose?’” Here to answer that question, in her own words, is Ms. Groves. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Leaps of Faith: Dorina Groves

As we speak, Dorina Groves is somewhere east of here, here being Phoenix, the home she left a few weeks ago.  She doesn’t have a home anymore; not in the sense you or I think of home, at least not for now.  She sold or gave away almost everything (she did keep some books, and her two dogs, Roscoe and Riley).  She walked away from the free rent she had at the apartment complex where she worked as a property manager.  She sold the coffee shop she owned and ran by herself, and traded her car for a ’78 Dodge camper.  Before she left, she painted it, which she variously calls her ‘hoopty,’ ‘the beast for the east,’ and ‘sexy b*tch,’ with bright stripes of purple, blue, green, and yellow.  Also painted on this tired old camper are the words, “If you have a pulse, you have a purpose.” 

Those words are the reason for everything she’s doing.   

Dorina with Roscoe and Riley
She would probably be the first to agree that she’s no stranger to taking chances.  This is a person, after all, who once drove from her home in Washington state to Minnesota just to interview for a job as a housekeeper.  In 1996, she drove to California to find a job in motorcycle racing just because she thought it would be cool.  No experience in anything related to racing, no connections; she just knew she wanted to be involved somehow with the sport.  She did get a job, and rose to the level of Media Manager for the AMA Chevy Truck Superbike Championship in '02.  A willingness to travel seems to be in her blood.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Phoenix Comicon 2012

Phoenix hosted the annual Comicon convention downtown over Memorial Day weekend.  Comicon, for the uninitiated, is far more than a celebration of comic books and comic book characters.  It is a weekend-long, wide-ranging paean to pop culture:  movies and television, games and books; anything with an emphasis on the futuristic and/or the fantastic.       

Conventions of any kind aren’t really my thing, just like parades, or high school rallies, or really anything where large masses of people tend to concentrate into a relatively small area.  Generally, people make me anxious, so it only follows that more people = more anxious.   I have this fear that everyone I’ve ever wronged will somehow be in the same place at the same time, and that one person will recognize me, which will start an ugly chain reaction that ends with me at the bottom of a very large dogpile, helplessly suffering an endless combination of noogies, atomic wedgies, and worst of all, angry tickling. 

But this year I learned that the actor who played the role of Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Jeremy Bulloch, would be attending.  Mr. Bulloch was the man inside the armor.  Yes, another actor supplied Fett’s voice; but as any true fan of Star Wars knows, the real acting, and the ultimate effectiveness of the character, came from Bulloch’s physical performance (besides, the character didn’t have more than five lines of dialogue between the two films combined!). 

Anyway, his presence at the convention, combined with the fact that I coincidentally had written a popular blog post tribute to the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter, was enough to convince me to brave this peculiar gauntlet for the first time.  I made up a hundred copies of “The Ballad of Boba Fett” on some nice paper stock to take with me.  Wouldn’t it be awesome, I thought, to have Boba Fett himself sign a copy of my poem, and maybe the three of us (me, Mr. Bulloch, and my poem) take a picture together that I could place triumphantly on the blog as a symbol of my success.  Exactly what the success was supposed to be, I’m not too sure; let’s say it was working up the courage to go to comicon, the nerve to find Mr. Bulloch and get his autograph and picture, and then the perseverance to survive whatever might happen after that.  At the same time, I also figured I could pass out copies of the poem to anyone who seemed they might be receptive (minimally that would include anyone dressed up in Mandalorian armor, and I was surprised at how many of those there were).
Mandalorian armor represent!  This photo comes from
the blog Lightning Octopus.  If you want to see some great
photos from Phx Comicon 2012 (far better than mine),
check it out! 

We went on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show.  I took my older daughter Jessica with me for a certain measure of protection, and moral support, and possibly because I thought she might enjoy the spectacle.  Four blocks from the convention center, we began to see individuals with green and blue hair, wings, silver body paint, and/or horns, as well as a small delegation of the living dead.  Once inside, it was as if we had been transported to an alternative universe ruled by extreme genre confusion.  Sci-fi meets horror meets fantasy meets anime.  Sometimes literally, as when a stormtrooper, a gore-dripping zombie, a mechanical-faced cowboy, and a masked, purple-haired butterfly all collided because none of them could see where they were going. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Operation Dekookification

I’m a fairly rational, reasonable, moderate person by nature.  The problem is, I live in Arizona, where these things are not taken as virtues, but more like strikes one, two and three.  Nowhere can this be seen quite as vividly as in the workings of our state legislature, where even the words ‘rational,’ ‘reasonable,’ and ‘moderate’ were  banned for awhile because someone thought they might have Spanish roots.  Case in point:  this year the legislature passed a bill that allows hunters, for self defense purposes, to carry a handgun while in the field.  I’m still trying to figure this one out.  Have these people seen one too many “I support the right to arm bears” bumper stickers?  Are hunters in this state really running across murderous thugs in the middle of the wilderness (although it is well known that many murderous thugs enjoy the serenity and solitude of nature)?  And if so, are they really pausing to say to themselves, “What am I going to do?  I’ve got this loaded shotgun in my hands, but I only use that for hunting.  If only I had my Glock 9mm pistol right now.  Maybe I can find a rock or a big stick…”  Are our outdoorsmen and women really struggling with this dilemma?  Of course they aren’t.  One thing we should all know about Arizona by now is that we like to make emphatic points.  And you have to admit, a Remington semi-automatic 30-06 in one hand and a .357 in the other is, if nothing else, pretty emphatic.

Yes, we here in Arizona are big believers in the symbolic gesture.  Perhaps you saw the photos of our governor wagging her finger in our President’s face, or the more recent effort by our secretary of state to demand proof of birth from the state of Hawaii before putting the same President on the ballot for reelection this year, or the effort of certain members of the state legislature to nullify the fourteenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Why, just the other day I had to refuse one of those signature-gathering people outside the library, something I almost never do.  Even if I don’t agree with a proposed proposition, my typical attitude is sure, let’s vote on it, because I trust the sensibility of my fellow citizens more than I do my legislators.  But this was different.  The man asked us if we would sign a proposition proposal saying that our state could decide not to follow federal laws that we don’t like.  We politely told him we would not sign any such thing.  In retrospect, maybe we were too polite; we should have tarred and feathered him first, and then rode him on a rail out of town.  By the way, when I say we, I mean myself and the Founding Fathers I was with.  They all helped, except for Jefferson, who always seems to have some urgent business to attend to when it’s time to actually lift anything heavier than a pen.  In this case, he said it was an emergency call from his massage therapist.  I mean, really, who gets an emergency call from their massage therapist? 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I hate when that happens

If you’re old enough, you may remember a series of Saturday Night Live skits that were popular back in the mid-80’s.  They featured Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest as Willie and Frankie, two pals who work as overnight security guards in a big office building in the city.  They pass the time describing to each other the odd, elaborate and excruciating ways they have found to inflict pain on themselves in their spare moments.  What makes the skit funny is that they talk about these intentionally masochistic acts as though they were simple accidents, much like walking into a glass door, or stubbing a toe.  And each vividly rendered description of self-inflicted suffering ends with some variation of, “Oooh, I hate when that happens…”

Note:  Here you can read this transcript of one of the 'I hate when that happens' sketches.  Or, you can watch a different one via hulu.

I always liked those sketches, not because I enjoy rolling in razor wire and then soaking in a hot tub filled with Listerine in my spare time, but because it does kind of point something out about human nature.  About how sometimes we take things which are completely external to us and make them personal, and then proceed to hurt ourselves with them.

Let me give you a theoretical example from my own life.  Wait.  I guess it’s not theoretical if it really happened.  Let’s turn it into a theoretical example of something that really happened.