Eclipse Road Trip Day 4-6: Somewhere to Sidney

A driver’s seat view of the road from Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge up to Lakeside, on Highway 2, in western Nebraska.

Meant to publish this Saturday morning. But here it is at the tail end of Saturday night — we did make it to Valentine after an amazing drive through the Sand Hills (above) — instead:

Don’t have time to say much,
because we’re late getting on the road, but: We spent the night in Jackson on Wednesday; Thursday morning, we had breakfast with the parents of our son Thom’s roommate at Oregon, Barb and Tom Dillon, who live just south of town. They invited us to stay Thursday night, so we did — using the daylight hours for a leisurely drive up past the Tetons to Yellowstone and back.

Friday, we drove across Wyoming to Sidney, Nebraska, a town where our family has roots, sort of, that go back to the 1860s. Less than 10 miles outside town, the a tire-pressure indicator light went on in the car. We pulled over and discovered we had picked up a nail and had a leak big enough I could hear it. Since the tire wasn’t too bad yet, we jumped in and made it the rest of the way to our motel, just off Interstate 80, where the tire quickly went flat. I changed it (a chore in a vehicle as large as the 4Runner, but do-able thanks to the aid of a passer-by, a Seattle-ite named Michael). In any case, we got it done.

This morning I drove into Sidney to have the punctured tire fixed. It took a while, so I strolled through town, where a parade was forming up as part of the town’s contribution to Nebraska’s sesquicentennial. Chatted up some of the participants, went back and got the car, and now we’re getting ready to head out with a tentative destination of Valentine, which is a good piece up the road (we’re not far from the Colorado border, and Valentine is close to South Dakota).

The eclipse weather forecast in western Nebraska is not great right now. So we’ll see where we wind up Monday morning.

Eclipse Road Trip Day 3: Twin Falls to Jackson

Once upon a time — at least 20 pounds and a decent quantity of decent muscle mass ago — I used to do long, long bike rides. The kind where you’d be out all day, sometimes all weekend, sometimes longer. A natural obsession attached to these rides: Would it be raining? Would it be hot? Would there be unfriendly winds. None of those factors would typically dictate whether you’d do a ride or not, but it was an important factor in planning and indulging your worst bad-weather anxiety.

So now, we’re driving across the western United States with the idea that we’ll see the August 21 eclipse in the general area of Nebraska Sand Hills. We’re about halfway there now, and we’re starting to take the weather forecasts seriously. And while I normally wouldn’t care about the weather in a place I’m visiting — It’s cloudy? Is that a problem? — the forecast for Greater Western Nebraska isn’t so sunny right now.

In fact, if you read the forecast discussions for the four National Weather Service offices handling forecast for the area from the Idaho Rockies to the west-central Nebraska, the word “pessimism” has crept into the several-times-daily notes. Three examples (and about the jargon: GFS, ECM and European are all forecaster shorthand for supercomputer-driven numerical weather models; 12Z (or other numbers) refers to the time the most recent model run was completed in UTC (universal) time (Z stands for Zulu, and apparently comes from military usage):

Pocatello, Idaho: GFS and European continue to offer up different
solutions. GFS is more pessimistic for us. It monsoonal moisture into the region Sunday. This could produce viewing issues for the eclipse in terms of scattered areas of clouds and showers. The European on the other hand keeps the monsoonal moisture south of us for Sunday and Monday and provides much better viewing for the eclipse. The forecast favors the pessimistic solution and includes partly cloudy skies with slight chances of showers and thunderstorms. At this point, we do think the eclipse will be viewable, but there may be a few clouds in some areas. However the consensus models are leaning more towards the European solution so hopefully the GFS will move into that direction as well within the next couple of runs. Forecast for Tuesday and beyond continues to look unsettled. Even the European draws monsoonal moisture into our region for midweek.

Riverton, Wyoming: For Monday, Eclipse Day, the 12z model runs still indicate that a weak surface cold front is progged to move into the northwest portion of Wyoming and will bring with it some mid to high clouds into the region during the morning. The models seem to indicate that the frontal boundary should weaken and become diffuse during the day as it attempts to move southeast into the state. The low level southwest flow ahead of the boundary should also result in more low/mid level moisture and partly to mostly cloudy conditions expected across the forecast area from the morning into the afternoon. It is expected that there should be some isolated showers/storms over the western mountains due to expected slight instability.

Cheyenne, Wyoming: It continues to be a tricky cloud forecast for Eclipse Day (Monday) with west-southwest flow aloft and decent H7-H3 [upper atmospheric] moisture. There are still considerable differences though in the RH [relative humidity] fields, so opted to maintain a partly cloudy forecast for most areas.

North Platte, Nebraska: The cloud forecast Monday continues to evaluate the potential for high cloudiness which could partially obscure the eclipse.

The ECM and GFS shows subtropical moisture aloft moving across the Rockies which could produce scattered or broken high cloudiness around noon Monday. The GFS also indicates substantial low level moisture and stratus across Wrn/Ncntl Neb leftover from heavy thunderstorms across Ern Neb Sunday night. The ECM produces the thunderstorms across SD but shows the same moisture in place like the GFS. Thus, it is possible significant cloudiness will occur Monday.

As a result, the sky forecast for noon Monday has been increased from 35-40 percent yesterday, to 40 to 60 percent with the forecast today.

Important to remember: While the forecast models are sometimes shockingly good, they also miss. We’re more than 100 hours out from the eclipse right now, and there’s plenty of time for things to evolve. Right now, though, I’m rooting for monsoonal moisture to keep its ass parked well clear of the eclipse zone; the same for stray moisture and frontal boundaries and all other atmospheric interference with OUR EVENT OF A LIFETIME. You listening, cloudmakers?

***

Anyway. Isn’t this supposed to be a road trip?

We started out in Twin Falls, Idaho, today, walking through a mall to the Petco with, guaranteed, the most scenic view in all of Petco World. Or, it would be the most scenic view if the entrance was at the back of the store, because that’s where you can look down into the Snake River Canyon of Evel Knievel fame.

Alas, Evel is pulling his cheap stunts in the afterlife now (and maybe still getting upstaged by Richard Nixon). But there were base jumpers leaping, one after another, from the big beautiful steel arch bridge that carries U.S. 93 across the canyon. Here’s a video — watch it full screen — that sort of conveys what that was about:

Twin Falls Base Jumpers from Dan Brekke on Vimeo.

At the visitors center, near the Petco and overlooking the bridge, I had a talk with a guy who arrived with a daypack and a longboard-style skateboard who confided early on, “I’m a bum. I live down in the canyon.” But what he really wanted was to talk about losing a camera over the side of the canyon rim earlier in the week. He also confided he was an old time base jumper who had gone off the high bridge outside Auburn many times (OK — he said 1,000 times).

After that, we headed up 93 and saw lots:

An aqueduct that a bunch of kids — wearing personal flotation devices, all of them — were getting ready to jump into for a 20-minute trip downstream.

Untitled from Dan Brekke on Vimeo.

A memorial to a guy who crashed in February off U.S. 26 on the edge of Craters of the Moon National Monument; the debris field from the crash was still present, as was a memorial to “The Highwayman.”

A roadside memorial alongside U.S. 26 near Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Lava. Lots of lava.

Arco, Idaho, which advertises itself as the first place in the world to use electricity generated by atomic power (circa 1955). The proprietor of the Lost River Valley espresso shack served us a latte and a cappuccino. We talked eclipse, since Arco is in the path. Was she bringing on extra help? Her sons would be there, she said. “I started this business for them — they’re both autistic. They’re home today. … They’re anxious about all the people who’ll be showing up. …”

Idaho Falls. Bought gas there. By the way, the mileage on a Toyota 4Runner — the only car Hertz had to give us after I asked for a small SUV — sucks.

The towns of Shoshone, Richfield, Carey …

The Snake River. Swan Valley. The Grand Tetons. Jackson Hole. And that’s where we are tonight.

Tomorrow? We have a reservation in Casper, Wyoming. We’ll be looking at the weather.

Berkeley Heat, With Bonus Mockingbird

We had some heat today. We’ll call the high here in the refined northern reaches of Berkeley 91. The official Berkeley record for June 18 is 90, set in 1895. Because one must turn cartwheels to get the data from the official station, which is on the UC Berkeley campus and overseen by a Department of Geography employee who has heretofore ignored my queries about getting data from the station, I don’t know whether that 122-year-old record was broken or not. I’ll try to remember to look for the number when it becomes available in a month or so.

But other high-temperature records were broken in the Bay Area today. To wit (data by way of the National Weather Service):

The quality of Bay Area heat is different from what I remember of Chicagoland heat: It can be scorchng if you’re out in the sun, but it’s not so bad if you can find some shade (and stay there). My recollection of hot days growing up was that there was no getting away from it; the humidity just draped the heat around you. Great if you’re looking to get a good sweat on, though.

Anyway. When the heat broke early this evening, I took The Dog out for a walk. We went to his favorite pet food store — his favorite because he gets treats every time he walks in the door. The place was closed — I knew it would be, but it was a nice walk with the evening started to cool down.

On the way home, a mockingbird was putting on a show; enough so that several passers-by, including The Dog and I, stopped. That’s the little audio clip above. In addition to the bird, there’s a siren and the sound of the dog panting. Real street sound.

Night-time Shed Visitor: No, Not a Black Widow

A false black widow, or
Steatoda grossa, in our backyard shed. It scrambled for cover after this one shot.

OK — so that arachnid above got my attention when I went into our backyard shed this evening in search of WD-40 (exciting scenario, right?). I didn’t know what it was, and I’m always thinking I’m going to bump into a brown recluse. If you know what those look like — well, the specimen above isn’t remotely similar.

But it was dark and shiny, sort of like a black widow. Our neighbors believe they spotted one of those in their mailbox late in the autumn. But this spider tonight lacked the black widow’s distinctive red marking.

With that one photograph, I went online to see if I could find a match. This UC Berkeley page suggests it’s a false black widow, Steotoda grossa (you need to scroll down at that link to the seventh species listed).

Excitement concluded. I posted the picture at iNaturalist to see if someone more expert than myself corroborates the sighting.

New Old Camera

An oak along Orr Springs Road, in Mendocino County west of Ukiah.
An oak along Orr Springs Road, in Mendocino County west of Ukiah.

OK — a break from post-election stuff.

For my birthday earlier this year, one of my kids gave me what probably qualifies as an antique film camera. It’s a Canonet — a little rangefinder camera made by Canon in the mid-1960s through the late ’70s.

I haven’t shot any film in years, and while the camera is fairly simple to use, I had no idea how pictures would come out. After ruining a couple rolls that I apparently failed to advance or rewind correctly, I finally managed to shoot some color slide film, extract it from the camera, and get it processed.

The results are fun and gratifying — here’s a Flickr slideshow of images that the lab digitized and transferred to a CD. I’m ready to go out and shoot more.

Pinot noir grapes, Toulouse Vineyards, Mendocino County.
Pinot noir grapes, Toulouse Vineyards, Mendocino County.

Our Little Houses on the Prairie

Here’s a story that made the rounds in the midst of this week’s unpleasantness: a piece from the CBC on a township in the southwestern corner of Manitoba that offers cheap house lots for those willing to build there.

Well, the story isn’t really about the township — the Rural Municipality of Pipestone. It’s about a half-dozen calls the municipality got from Americans in the days after the election asking about the lot purchase program.

Try as I might, I can’t find details about the lot sizes or locations (yes, I’m curious). But the RM of Pipestone website lays out the deal: You put down $1,000 for a lot, with the promise to start building on it within 12 months, and you get $990 back when your dream house on the prairie is finished.

You get a little bit of the flavor of the community from one of the local papers, the Reston Recorder (the online edition is a little out of date).

You can get a little more from a virtual trip through Reston via Google Streetview (that’s Danny and Angie Vanderberghe’s place, with the Canada and Manitoba flags, on the right):

And here are a couple more nuggets:

This is oil country, just north of the North Dakota border. On the plus side, the Rural Municipality of Pipestone was in the news a few years back for using some of the oil revenue it’s getting to fund a annual $500 grants for residents. The municipality is also funding the $10 lot program with its oil windfall.

Some have seen a downside. In addition to the wear and tear on local infrastructure — shades of what’s been seen south of the border — there have been complaints in the area about oil spills and provincial regulators’ failure to take action.

Anyway, you would-be Trump exiles, that’s waiting for you north of the border.

I’ve got my own little Great Plains rural fantasy — Benkelman, Nebraska — and was wondering how the elections went there.

Among Benkelman’s many claims to attention, beyond the fact I drove by in 2007, is that it’s the birthplace of Ward Bond. You know — the actor. “Wagon Train.” Sergeant Tom Polhaus in “The Maltese Falcon,” the character who sets up Humphrey Bogart’s last line.

The town’s in southwestern Nebraska, in Dundy County along U.S. 34 near the Colorado line. So how did the county vote on Tuesday?

Of 949 votes counted in the presidential contest, Trump got 823, Clinton got 89, Gary Johnson 31, and Jill Stein 6. I would like to meet the Stein voters in Dundy County.

Also of interest in the county returns:

  • The region’s Republican congressman ran unopposed. He got 841 votes.
  • Tammy Buffington won the race for Benkelman’s East Ward City Council seat.
  • No one ran to represent Upper Republican Natural Resource Subdistrict #1.
  • The village of Haigler, which claims to have been the home of the first female postmaster in the United States, saw a dramatic contest for town board. Jolene Brunswig got 43 votes and Rick Starks 41.

Guest Observation: The Cubs

“I suppose I don’t really care why the Cubs have such a plethora of devotees, I know only that I am one and that I find it impossible — inconceivable — to give my heart to another, however talented or untalented, bunch of ballplayers performing in whatever city in this country or any other.”

–Barry Gifford, “The Neighborhood of Baseball,” 1981

(Having cited the above, I will freely confess to what some witnesses saw at the Oakland Coliseum in the summer of 2013. I cheered against the Cubs and their sloppy, incoherent play against an exciting, inspired Athletics squad. Then — go ahead and call me a front-runner — I was back in the stands this past season cheering for the Cubs against the not-quite-up-to-the-challenge A’s. I just need to say that for the completeness of the historical record.)

Oakland’s Homicide Rate vs. Chicago’s

So here I am on vacation. I slept late; or more accurately, went back to bed after my spouse/best friend went off to work. I got up, microwaved the early-morning coffee, and sat down at the computer.

I happened across a headline about a fatal shooting over the weekend in Oakland — the city’s 52nd homicide this year. That brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend last week during which I rashly said that though Chicago has gotten lots of media attention this year over its shocking wave of killings, Oakland’s rate was still actually many times that of Chicago. Yes — I said “many times.” But doing the arithmetic in my head as I spoke, I corrected myself — Oakland’s rate is higher than Chicago’s, though not “many times.”

Seeing the story about the weekend murder, I decided to quickly run the numbers to see whether my assertion was true. (Reminder for the next time this impulse hits me: When I run the numbers, it’s never “quickly.”)

What I’ve done in each case is to “annualize” the number of homicides by taking the current toll, dividing by 9 to get a monthly average, then multiplying the result by 12 to project a 2016 total based on that monthly total. To get a rate of homicides per 100,000 population, I divided the projected 2016 totals by the city population — or actually, by the number of 100,000s in each city’s population. Oakland’s population is currently estimated at about 420,000 (divisor used in my arithmetic=4.2) and Chicago’s is 2,720,000 (divisor=27.2).

So, as of Monday, September 26, with 52 homicides reported so far in Oakland and 545 reported in Chicago, here are the annualized rates:

Oakland’s 2016 homicide rate per 100,000 residents: 16.39
Chicago’s 2016 homicide rate per 100,000 residents: 26.72

Regard those as rough (but good ballpark) numbers. Each includes a few “justifiable” killings — those committed in self-defense, for instance — that the FBI won’t count in its annual tally of homicides and cases of non-negligent manslaughter.

How much have things changed in the last few years?

In 2012, Oakland experienced a spike in homicides: 127, excluding a handful of killings that were ruled to be justifiable. Chicago had a total of 500 homicides, excluding a half-dozen “justifiable” killings. Using the same method, here are the rates:

Oakland: 31.75
Chicago: 18.45

The FBI calculated the national homicide rate in 2012 at 4.7 per 100,000 population. Chicago’s number was four times the national rate; Oakland’s was more than seven times the national rate.

The limited takeaways from the Oakland vs. Chicago rates:

Oakland’s decline is historic, in a sense: Barring a sudden surge in killings, the city is headed to its lowest annual homicide toll since 1999, when 60 were recorded, and would be the second lowest since 1985, which is as far back as the FBI numbers go. (Yes, I could hunt down the earlier numbers and perhaps will on some future vacation or workday.)

One also observes that 1999 was at the height of the dot-com boom, when employment was high and the regional economy was generally robust. Right now, we’re in the midst of an even bigger boom — characterized by home prices that are out of reach for many. Coincidence or correlation?

Chicago’s murder surge is also historic in a sense, with the projected number representing about a 50 percent increase in homicides in one calendar year. Though the overall total is still far below the terrible years of the early ’90s, when the city’s homicide toll topped 900 in 1991, 1992 and 1994, the city hasn’t seen anything like that year-over-year jump in the past 30 years (and maybe ever).

Same Store, New Location

For years, this blog has been hosted on Typepad. The virtue of publishing it there has been I could pretty much write my text and slap my pictures into a post editor, hit a button, and forget about everything. The service has always worked reasonably well and in recent years seems to have had far fewer of the outages and hiccups that once afflicted it.

And I’m not sure why I’m going away from it now, except for the monthly bill of 13 dollars and something. Do I  really need to spend that money, or could I do better?  Especially when I, like so many people, have moved to other platforms for sharing our favorite links, insights, bons mots and car-crash videos. I’ve thought about going to WordPress, and today and tonight, that’s what’s happened. I opened a web hosting account, installed WordPress there, and am in the process of importing my Typepad files there.

And speaking of those files: I am hardly the most prolific of diarists or bloggers, but the posts go back to November 2003, and there are 2,600 of them, along with 3,600 comments. If nothing else, a pretty significant chunk of history. For a while, anyway, I plan to keep it going. Maybe this will just be an archive, or maybe I’ll figure out some other direction to take this long, long project.

Thanks for still reading.

Embarcadero Pedicab

ferrybuilding052512.jpg

Short version of this post: A very cool pedicab driver gave me a free ride a couple weeks ago, and I want to say “thanks again.” I’m also including a pretty picture of the Ferry Building taken on another night altogether, because I like it.

Longer version: Most Fridays, I try to end the work week by walking from my office in Public Radio World, located on the west side of Potrero Hill in San Francisco, over to the Ferry Building, at the foot of Market Street on the Embarcadero, to catch the last boat of the night to Oakland. The favored route is across the summit or upper northern slope of the hill and over to Third Street, then north past AT&T Park and up the waterfront to the ferry. But since it’s a walk with a deadline–the boat has a schedule, and it leaves on time–the route can be adjusted if I’m getting out of the office a little late. I’ve developed a nice zig-zag route across South of Market with what I fancy to be shortcuts through alleys and parking lots. The longest version of the route might be four and a half miles, the shortest is just 100 yards or so under three miles, and the version I usually take is four miles, a distance I can reliably cover in about 55 minutes.

Of course, another variable I can change is speed. I like to stop and take pictures along the way, but I’ll keep that to a minimum if I haven’t left myself a lot of time. Or I can run part of the way. As fun as that sounds, I’m not fond of it because I’ve turned what started out as a relaxing stroll and turns it into a race and I have occasionally wound up at the boat with zero seconds to spare (the captain saw me running up to the dock once and waited for me) and soaked with sweat.

A couple of weeks ago, I had left the office a little late and knew I would be cutting it close. Still, it was a gorgeous evening and I really wanted to go over the hill, longer than the shortest route across town. I can sort of gauge my time and how much I have to hurry by my arrival at the ballpark. When I got there on this evening, I knew I’d have to hustle. So I alternated jogging and walking with backpack and camera up the Embarcadero. About half a mile or so from the ferry, heading to a sweaty finish, I saw three guys who’d just come out of a bar talking to one of the pedicab drivers who work the waterfront. I jogged past. A minute later, the pedicab guy was pulling up alongside me.

“Sir, you look like in kind of a hurry,” he said. “Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Where are you going?” “Just up to the Ferry Building.” I would have liked to have jumped aboard. “You know, I don’t have a dime on me,” I said. “Well, just let me give you a ride,” the driver said. “I’d like to do something nice for you.” So I got in.

The driver’s name was Bill Cummings, and he rides and manages the shop for Cabrio Taxi. He told me he’s had the pedicab gig for two and a half years, and the business has been good enough to him that it’s his only job. Tourists going up to Pier 39, the Alcatraz Ferry, and Fisherman’s Wharf make up a lot of his business, as do people going to and from the ballpark. The Embarcadero bike lanes and weekend traffic congestion around the tourist spots means he can get back and forth faster than people in cars or on public transit. On the other hand, the three guys I saw him talking to before he picked me up were going out to 19th and Mission, several miles into the a heavily driven part of the city–not a terribly safe or attractive trip just as it was getting dark. I had noticed he had the look of a competitive cyclist, and I asked him whether he raced. He said he does Ironman-length triathlons (140.6 events, to the cognoscenti) and that he was in training for one–in New York state, I think.

When we got to the Ferry Building, I offered to go inside to an ATM and pay him. He said no, he really just wanted to do something nice, and it was something he tried to do every day. OK, then. Something nice done, and noted. And below is Bill’s card.

cabriotaxi.jpg