Monday, July 29, 2013

A Day at the Races

Normally, J and L are not gamblers - not the type to lay down hard earned money on a game of chance but when the opportunity to watch the 'ponies' run at Betfair Hollywood Park we put away our hesitancy and took up the call. An hour from home and a fortune awaiting - one would shudder to think of turning down this dream come true.

Two of our daughters, Erica and Jessica (along with our son-in-law Justin and Erica's boyfriend Brandon), invited us to the horse racing track in Inglewood, California for a Saturday afternoon of placing two dollar bets on various horses in the nine races scheduled for that particular day we couldn't resist. Mint juleps, million dollar horses, celebrities - okay - a beer, homemade sandwiches and sunscreen was the fare of the day.

The Crew - Laureen was the photographer

Oh, what a day it turned out to be watching the real betters pouring over horse racing newspapers all the while jotting down notes after not examining every written stat or word on the horse and rider.

We watched, studied, learned and discussed. We were in the midst of a multi-million dollar industry and would benefit from it.

With names like Salt Tequila Lime, Bugsky, U R My Candy Girl, Include the Cat, and Apostle Paul, who wouldn't want to slap down a couple of dollars and watch these four-legged wonders sprint around the mile and a quarter track? We did and did.

The weather was perfect for such an event - warm but not roasting, little if any wind, a few clouds to make the skyline look like a painting and by mid-afternoon comfortable enough to sit in a booth built for six. Overlooking the grass infield with water fountains, a large man-made lake, and towering trees made the event ever more spectacular.

As once mentioned in an earlier article about a first rodeo, this too was a first for the team from J and L - a horse race. Something we had wanted to do for years but never gotten around to.

It was a great treat.

 Again, being folks who don't throw money away, we were choosy with the horses we bet on. Studying the statistics, looking over the weight differences, if the horse ran better on dry or wet ground, seeing who the jockey was, watching the pros around us - okay - we chose the horse to bet on by their names.

Not exactly scientific but a fun way to bet when you don't have a clue on being a handicapping guru.

Two dollar bets were slapped down on Beautiful Strike, Sensational Niki, Sizzling Gold, Citizen Jane, Scatman Blues, and others with such alluring names.

John R. Beyer with the winning ticket - doubt it!
Laureen Beyer ready to spend the winnings

When the gates opened and the hooves thundered we could imagine the payoffs for some of these 'ponies' with high odds. 15 to 1, 12 to 1 - we were going to make a fortune.

We suddenly learned as the horses sprinted across the finish line why some of them have such high odds.

They can't or won't win.

J felt as though he had been betting on cows. "Stupid cows," was his favorite expression as the horse he bet on labored in lengths behind the lead horses and torn betting chips fluttered to the ground along with the image of winnings.

Overall though, it was an exciting day and J and L would highly recommend that any explorer or traveler take a day out of their lives to spend it at a horse racing track. Friendship, excitement, being outdoors is what life is about - throw a couple of bucks down and enjoy.

And don't forget the hats
Of course, common sense dictates: bet sensibly, wisely and stay away from cows.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Gone, but not Forgotten

Over a year has passed since Ray Douglas Bradbury passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 91 years after fighting a longtime illness. J of J and L has had a lot of time to reflect the loss of one of America's, if not the world's, greatest science fiction.

J is a novelist with a new novel coming out entitled, Soft Target, later (hopefully) in 2013 but he is not a science fiction writer. Ray was and created such masterpieces as Fahrenheit 451, The Sound of Thunder, The Illustrated Man, and of course The Martian Chronicles. Upon learning of his death, another famous author by the name of Stephen King (thought you might know him) wrote this: "Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called 'A Sound of Thunder.' The sound I hear today is the thunder of giant's footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty."

What a wonderful epitaph for a fellow writer.

Perhaps it's summer or just thinking back through the decades when J knew Ray Bradbury as an acquaintance, or dare I say, friend. Looking upon a few letters, framed now, from Ray hanging in my study, it suddenly brought back those moments when J and Ray sat and talked in the nineties as one writer to another. Granted, at the time J was a struggling free-lancer talking to one of the greatest writers in America, but the man instantly put me at ease.

It was like talking to an old friend.

The typical interviewer questions were asked and answered but when the pieces were written and submitted to the various magazines for whom J worked part-time, the conversations continued for many years.

One unforgettable moment was when my mother, Anne, was visiting and the house phone rang. She being the closest naturally picked it up and immediately her face went blank as her hand clamped over the mouthpiece.

"Joh - -John ---Johnny," she stuttered, "It's Ray Bradbury!"

I took the phone and talked a few minutes with a man I admired so well.

It went on like that for a few years and then the talking stopped. It was not due to not sharing the same love of writing but years don't stretch out but simply shrink and soon Ray was dead.

Our daughter, Jessica, texted: "I'm sorry, Daddy, I just heard Ray Bradbury has passed away."

It was true on June 6th of 2012 that one of America's greatest Sci Fi writers had left this planet and ventured far away into the cosmos.

And isn't that the way it should be?

Perhaps it was just a summer day or recollections of a time gone by that made me think of my old friend, but whatever the case may be those memories are always cherished.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Adventure Begins: Part One - Tarmac Tremors

This will be the beginning of a series on J and L's  three week adventure to Ireland during the summer of 2013. We truly hope all our viewers will enjoy the pieces placed here.

As with any travelling, especially aboard those large hollow thin-skinned birds filled with humans, there is a bit of anxiety engulfed with trepidation. It's not that J of J and L fears flying, but as his traveling partner Laureen takes to flight like the proverbial duck to water John clasps her hand and silently prays the jet liner will stay in the air long enough to reach their destination.

J knows he is not the only traveler who would rather Star Trek it by breaking into microscopic particles and beam seamlessly to another planetary location within seconds. As long as the final result would ensure his head was attached properly to his shoulders and not his rear, which would be hard to explain.

The flight reached it's cruising altitude within the anticipated time and Los Angeles was soon to the west as the Air Bus 319 darted east-bound toward O'Hare in Chicago where the travelers would change planes for the final leg across the Atlantic to Dublin International.

As with any exploration there has to be some angst and ours started with TSA - as do many such moments.

J had some concern that he may find himself on a 'no fly' list since he had just spent the last year and a half completing research for his newest novel, Soft Target. The plot revolves around a public school takeover by an Islamic Fundamentalist group (no further details at this time so not a spoil the anticipation) so there had been many 'Google'  searches for jihad this and jihad that.

That is where the nagging back of the head thoughts came from when J approached the queue to start the bothersome but necessary procedure of taking off the shoes, the belt, the watch, and anything else which could hide something that could take down an airliner. J kept wondering which of the stern and serious TSA officers would approach him and advise him that there would be no flight for him on this day to the Emerald Island.

"We don't allow guys who do a lot of research on Jihad this and Jihad that onto our planes!"

But alas there was no 'no fly' list and J walked through unscathed. What nearly cost the intrepid adventurers was lurking within L's carry-on baggage. The bag went twice through the x-ray and raised eyebrows with a large woman behind the screen. She gave J a look and he innocently pointed at L as she was waved through the scanner.

"Is there something in here we should know about?" the woman questioned as instantly another TSA person showed up and took possession of L's carry-on.

J was minding his business retying his shoes but the focus of his ears were on the conversation between L and the TSA agent. He didn't feel the need to get involved - the image of the agent suddenly forgetting the carry-on and focusing his attention on the 'guy' who had spent 18 months researching Islamic terrorists still had J on the wary path. And besides, it wasn't his carry-on now was it?

At this point people were starting to stare over at J and L, especially L since it was her bag, with looks of worry. What line had they gotten into were the thoughts probably running through their minds? These people look just like the rest of us - what were they hiding to garner such a thorough investigation by the officials from the TSA? Why did we choose this day to travel with people like that especially the guy who is taking forever tying his shoes - he probably spends his time searching the internet for insights into the jihadist mind-set.

Within seconds, after two more TSA agents showed up and asked if they could open L's carry-on, as if she was going to deny them that privilege, and proceeded to do so.

A laugh. A chuckle. And a simple nod came from the three officers as they found what had caused all the consternation in the first place.

A large dark brown oblong shaped object was the villain on this day. A rather mild sausage that had been given to J and L by their daughters as something to eat on the long flights ahead.

The afore-mentioned culprit!

"It's just a sausage." grinned one agent.

"That's a relief," said another.

"Looks like a good sausage though," agreed the third.

One more pass through the x-ray machine for the sausage and we were cleared to travel with J wondering if the sausage had now been fully cooked and ruined from three separate trips through the machine.

It turned out that Mr. Sausage had been so cleverly wrapped to seal in the flavor that the machine only saw an oblong object which could have been a C-4 explosive device.

J and L thanked the officers for their diligence and made the final walk to the gate where their plane was waiting. Thank goodness that moment was over - J made sure that L continued to hold onto that carry-on.

Unfortunately, LAX didn't inform O'Hare about the disguised sausage looking thing in L's carry-on and the whole procedure happened again when once again the call to go through the TSA check-point came up. This time people in line with us actually physically moved to other more crowded lines to get away from the people with the suspicious package in the carry-on - L's not J's, I must continue to remind the reader. Within minutes J and L were again walking to their airline gate smiling to each other knowing as L is prone to state:

"We never go on vacations. We take adventures."

And isn't that the way traveling should be?

The guilty sausage was a thing of the past once J and L reached Dublin, along with the crackers and cheese nestled innocently beside the sausage within L's carry-on.

Though this was the beginning of a long trip, we from J and L have to give a round of applause to the TSA agents as they did a marvelous job and actually were pretty good natured with both of us at either airport. They were professional, respectful, and courteous which always makes traveling easier.

So, the journey begins minus the sausage but hopefully other tasteful treats will be awaiting our readers.