Monday, December 4, 2017

Dinosaurs in the Desert

After spending a quiet Sunday afternoon watching, or to be more exact, re-watching Jurassic Park, two issues were quite apparent. Being a leisurely Sunday afternoon meant not really thinking too deeply into this marvelous film adapted from the novel by Michael Crichton, but two points did resonate with J.

First, there were no T-Rexes during the Jurassic Period (which was roughly 145 million to about 200 million years ago). The Tyrannosaurus existed during the Cretaceous period around 66 – 145 million years ago, probably more like 66 to 68 million years ago. The reason the film was named Jurassic instead of Cretaceous was probably the sound – Jurassic has a better ring than Cretaceous and really, how many people could pronounce that era anyway.

Hollywood has a license and that license is known as a poetic one. And that is defined as - the freedom to depart from the facts of a matter or from the conventional rules of language when speaking or writing in order to create an effect.

In other words – they lie, but as professional writers we at J and L prefer to call it ‘embellishing’ the facts. A lie is such a nasty turn of phrase.

The second point was that not all dinosaurs are gone from this earth. In fact, in Southern California, a sleepy little area known as Cabazon, there exist two behemoths just north of Interstate 10. That stretch of asphalt is the home of both an Apatosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Both of these creatures roamed the globe during the Cretaceous Period when the earth in which they resided was warm and tropical. They flourished for millions of years until, according to most scientists, a huge asteroid decided to play bumper pool with the earth down in the Yucatan about 65 million years ago. Large clouds of dust blew up into the atmosphere blocking sunlight for nearly two years which killed off the herbivores and then when they perished, the carnivores, having no food source, were next.

Only certain land dwelling creatures still existed after the tragic present sent to earth from outer space - primarily rats but let's not talk about politicians.

Claude K. Bell at the beginning of Dinny
The two large dinosaurs are actually the creation of Claude K. Bell who had a restaurant named the 'Wheel Inn Restaurant' in Cabazon. The restaurant started in 1958 and made it all the way to its closure in 2013. Bell decided from his time as a sculptor and portrait artist for Knott's Berry Farm, that what he needed was  a little sideshow to draw more customers to the restaurant. With that in mind, he started working on Dinny the Apatosaurus  (Dinny, short for dinosaur) in 1964. And Dinny was a huge undertaking. She measures 156 feet in length and 45 feet in height. That is one big old dinosaur. It took nearly twelve years to complete the steel framed sprayed concrete colossus, at a cost of $300,000. Dinny is hollow inside, with a steep staircase upon which the hearty can troop up into the belly of the herbivore and shop for trinkets while learning a little of the history of this tourist attraction.

The completed project - well not really
This concept of Bell's worked very well and business boomed - thus part of the reason the restaurant was a success for 55 years. Of course, Bell wasn't done with Dinny alone - no, the T-Rex was next. But Rex wasn't started until 1981. Today this prehistoric beast stands 65 feet tall. It had a slide for a tail, but that didn't last long, and it was filled in with concrete. Rex stands watch gazing southward toward the Interstate and watching the visitors who pay tribute to a creation by a very talented and patient artist by the name of Claude K. Bell.
That's one big dude, er dudette!
Unfortunately, Bell passed away in 1988, and so his dream of a Woolly Mammoth and prehistoric garden never came to fruition.

"Oh Yeah - I'm bad to the bone," yells Mr. Rex
The land and everything Bell had built was sold by his heirs in the 1990's to a partnership which received approval from the city of Cabazon to erect a motel, restaurant, and other financially sound ideas for the rest stop. The area is now known as a 'creationists dream' where evolution is poo-pooed and a museum located near the dinosaurs explains their belief.

Here at J and L will not go into this area but all views are valued and must be looked at on their own merit. It is up to the people reading explanations and doing research on their own to come up with the truth they desire to believe in. But, we thought it was an important aspect to add to this blog.

So, there after an afternoon of watching a film about dinosaurs chasing and eating people around a fictitious island the idea of Cabazon came into J's mind.  And it so happened that J and L's travelling buddy Paul Bakas had been on a recent trip with them and stopped to investigate these giants looming over the skyline of Cabazon.

The really positive side of this is that there are no Raptors running loose - if there had been, no stopping by this research team would have occurred.
No taking sides at J and L - that would be too much to bite off
On a side note and an important one - Dinny and Mr. Rex are celebrities. They had made appearances in the 1985 comedy - Pee Wee's Big Adventure, in the 1985 music video for Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World, in 1988 on the album cover for Notes from the Lost Civilization by Tonio K's and numerous other documentaries, music albums/videos and the like. The two are as famous as perhaps the original ones during the Cretaceous period - yeah, and not the Jurassic Period.

Attention - this tram will not be stopping any time soon

Friday, November 24, 2017

San Bernardino Strong

John had his second novel, Soft Target, released in 2014 - it was a fictional account of a terrorist attack in a small city in Southern California. Terrorists commandeering a public middle school in the city of Victorville which left countless dead and horrific memories to last a lifetime.

It was a piece of fiction.

On December 2nd, 2015 at approximately 11 a.m. that horror became an unbelievable reality when two Islamic Terrorists (we will not mention their names out of respect for the victims and their families as well as these two evil persons do not deserve any one remembering them), entered the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino and murdered 14, seriously wounding 22 innocent souls. There had been a planned holiday party luncheon for those who who worked for the County Department of Public Health.

Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino after the horrible event
These were the good guys and gals. Those public servants who truly believed that every day they went to work, they made a positive difference for the clients with whom they dealt. They were the ones who should be the role models for most of us.

They were everyday heroes.

Two monsters showed up (and one of whom actually worked in the office and his fellow workers had treated him - according to all reported accounts - as a colleague and friend) murdering the party goers. These were his co-workers. Evil is not even close to what this person and his spouse were during those moments and the ones that followed as they tried to elude law enforcement before luckily being gunned down.

Law enforcement heading toward the gunshots, not away.
This is a bit out of character for J and L. Most of our pieces are upbeat: about countries where we have traveled, the people we meet, and the research we conduct. But today - this is about the ones who lost their lives and the wonderful first responders.

It was a moment of personal angst for J and L since their daughter, Jessica, worked as a teacher in a small private school in San Bernardino, only a mile or so from the Regional Center. Of course, as first reports came out, no one truly had a clear vision of where the mass shooting was taking place - active cases are often fluid and this one was no different then unfortunately the ones we hear about too often.

First responders taking care of the wounded - these are heroes working on heroes
Laureen called John at work and asked if he had heard the news of the shooting, This was about ten minutes after the first shots had been reported. San Bernardino may be the largest county landwise in the United States, but not so much in the population. Especially in the realm of education where John and Laureen know many people in the field and that includes public health.

This was personal.

After ensuring that Jessica was safe and it wasn't her school, they learned that it was the Regional Center. Both J and L had been there numerous times in the past dealing with their functions in the educational world.

To say what went through our hearts as the news kept leaking out is hard to explain. Good people who do and did wonderful things for fellow citizens being executed during a party that should have been nothing but happiness was beyond reason.

Our hearts were broken as were many in the county, the country and the world, after hearing of such an evil inflicted upon such strong and honorable people. What would cause people to kill innocents for any reason? That question and many more will not be answered any time soon and to these bloggers those questions may never be.

These wonderful heroes deserve an answer and so do their family and friends.
On Friday, the 17th of November, J and L were invited to take part in a benefit -- a musical for the victims, families, first responders, and others physically or emotionally taxed by this terrorist attack. It will be the second anniversary and the musical was to be performed at the California Theater in San Bernardino.

Of course, J and L agreed to do as much as we could to assist such a worthy cause as long as J didn't have a singing role. The reasons were simple - the production was to be run one night only on the 25th of November. J may be able to take up an acting role in such short notice but singing? L on the other hand knew she could handle singing (and maybe some dancing) - she's a pro after singing for years in their own and other's productions.

As always - the Show will go ON!
Night after night of rehearsals left J and L, along with the rest of the cast, pretty exhausted, but spirits were high thanks to the bubbling personality of Shannon Maxwell. She is the director of the musical, and niece of Heather McClusky, who wrote the original script as a historical, but funny tale about the history of San Bernardino. But there is a moment during the second act where a moment of seriousness takes over the stage. It is where a song, recently written by Ms. McClusky, is sung in tribute to those lost their lives and their families, on December 2nd, 2015. It is a touching, soul wrenching number, and should be listened to only with a box of Kleenex at hand.

Unfortunately, with all things theater and film, as we've learned the hard way through the years, there are sometimes snags and delays. The musical will not be performed on November 25th, but has been postponed until March 17th. Roughly, on the 23rd anniversary of the original production.

Of course, this will not be the only blog about this production since at least one more will need to be written about the wonderful instant friends we met during those few hectic nights of rehearsal - Rebecca (who we actually have known for years by her stage name, Odessa Red), and new friends: Andrew, Patrick, Ryan, Derek, Becky, Shannon, and all the others who made those nights together memorable and enjoyable.

We look forward to more practices and finally the production. It is needed in a small city in Southern California named San Bernardino - which witnessed a senseless tragedy during a season of hope.

We are and will always be San Bernardino Strong!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks - Around the World

Forty-three years before the Pilgrims sat down for their feast of thanks with their Native American neighbors in 1621 the tradition had already begun in 1578 on the North American continent. It was in that year that explorer Martin Frobisher held a ‘thanks giving’ in October – his thanks? Surviving the arduous sea voyage from England to his new home in Canada. Thanksgiving started as a harvest festival to celebrate the bounties of food stuffs that would maintain the settlers through the cold winter months.

Though most resident of the United States may believe Thanksgiving is a unique American tradition it is not.

The celebration of the previous year and hopes for a good harvest is an ancient rite but the more modern concept of Thanksgiving really is a Canadian and American tradition. Canada holds this holiday on the second Monday in October and we of course the fourth Thursday in November – wouldn’t want to cramp our cousin’s style to the north.

But in fact, dozens of countries around the world hold the idea of giving thanks as so important that they too have specific declared dates for such an event. It is a time to celebrate the good fortunes of the past year as well as prepare for the upcoming year with family and friends. To sit down together at a feast and count the blessings seem to be a constant around the world – sounds very familiar.

It is. From ancient times people gathered about the hearths and tables laden with all sorts of yummy foods to give thanks for what they had and for what they hoped to have as winter came and then turned into spring. Forever hopeful - those humans no matter what century they belonged.

The grass is always greener.

President George Washington proclaimed it should be observed yearly in 1789. It wasn't every year the giving thanks day was celebrated - no, that didn't occur until 1863 when President Lincoln declared it a federal holiday. President Abraham Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving would be held always on the fourth Thursday of November after being persuaded by a letter written from Philadelphia on September 28th of 1863 by Sarah Josepha Hale -  author of the 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' story.  She was a very astute and convincing woman since the president ordered that Thanksgiving would begin that very year. She knew what she wanted and got it.

Though not to be too nationalistic, though there is nothing wrong in that, other countries as mentioned earlier celebrate similar holidays.

In China the eating of moon-cake during the August moon festival which falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of their calendar is an extremely important tradition. It is the time when lovers tell each other their deepest felt emotions and women are considered similes to warm and compassionate virtues - fertility is a big thing mentioned here - albeit the lover issue.

Brazil celebrates something very similar to the United States due to the fact that an ambassador once visited the United States during Thanksgiving and believed it to be such a wonderful expression of thanks he brought it back to his own country. Carnivals, sports and great harvest celebrations are held there each year in thanks for what the Brazilians are thankful for.

And on October 4th in Rome is celebrated Cerelia - in honor of an ancient 'goddess of the corn ' Ceres. Musical events, parades and sporting events are conducted to keep this ancient custom alive.

So, around the world there is always time set aside each year for peoples to gather among each other and give thanks for what they have and give thanks for what they may receive in the coming year.

Good food, great family and friends are more than anyone could be thankful for and for that uncertain future - give thanks and a few prayers may serve the purpose also. Perhaps Thanksgiving should be looked at as a time when friends and family visit - put away past troubles and look to the future. A momentary respite from a hectic year when we all look into our fellow humans eyes and say we are thankful they are with us. Life is often too short so this year, as every year we should make an effort to be thankful for all we have.

We at J and L wish all a wonderful Thanksgiving no matter what country you call home..