Scarecrow, or Pedestrian?


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I almost ran over Tom Gray today. Well, I think it was Tom. It wasn’t intentional, of course, and he probably didn’t notice. We were both paying attention to our Main Street surroundings, as sensible Cambrians do. The crosswalk and Tom were where they were supposed to be. So was I, buckled in, hands appropriately spaced on the steering wheel. My eyes ran through the sequence – straight ahead, sweep side to side, check mirrors, react, and repeat. Tom, it seemed, was doing likewise, sans steering wheel. He made it across safely, and I continued on my way. So what happened? I’ll tell you what happened; it was those damn scarecrows, that’s what happened.

Boo Who?

They are everywhere. On the corners, in the alleyways, and fronting just about every store in town. They pop out from behind the pines. They drop like party streamers from lamp posts. They stand guard at the entrance to the church. I stood on Cambria Drive for twenty-seven minutes, waiting for a Dancers By The Sea Flash Mob. Nope. Scarecrows.


Nuns and priests. Cats and Dogs. Goblins and ghouls. Pirates and Italian Chefs. I waved enthusiastically to a group of cyclists, thinking it might be Andy, Susan, and Charles. I assumed they were going slowly to accommodate a new hip. Wrong! Scarecrows.

After a spirited discussion on local water politics, I took off my glasses to give them a wipe. When I put them back on, I realized I had been arguing with a dummy, and not Cindy Steidel. Hoping nobody noticed, I patted a stuffed shoulder and thanked her for service to the community.

Say It Like You Mean It

I decided to make the most of my mistakes and began shouting greetings to all the figures. “Hi, Elizabeth! Great pictures from the beach this morning!” “Thanks for the road closure matrix, Susan!” “Love the new sport coat, Mr. Lyons!” “How goes the potato crop, Leslie?” “Great piece on your time in country music, Kathe!” Sorry about almost running you over, Tom!”

And thus I made my way through town, thinking of something positive to say to each scarecrow. Words I might not have the opportunity to share in person with every real, living, and breathing character in Cambria’s ever-changing story.

Different Spirits

Arriving at the far end of town, I popped into the Cutruzzola Tasting Room to say hello. I thought they might be busy, based on the crowd next to the building. DOH! Scarecrows with streamers. Thank goodness a real live Mari was there to talk me down. I did most of the talking, as I am wont to do. By the time I left, she was probably hoping for a mute scarecrow to stop by.

A Happy Place

I made it to my original destination – the Cambria Library. I go there to write, and by write, I mean people-watch in between sentences. It seems like the natural place when trying to turn thoughts into words–into sentences–into paragraphs. I like this library. It is not so quiet that you can’t think. It is not so stuffy that you are afraid to sneeze.


It is, instead, a welcoming place with friendly librarians, local volunteers who staff the bookstore, and kids with grandmas who come every week to exchange last week’s adventures for a whole new set of imagination boosters. Astronauts on week one, traded in for Lego Dinosaur adventures the next trip. Today’s choice features a Princess, a Snowman, and enough excitement to keep a young boy and a young-at-heart grandmother joined in exploration, building a bond that will strengthen with every turn of a page.

There should be a scarecrow for that.

Learn about the Cambria Scarecrows here.

Saturday Sessions – Water Works


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Remote Thoughts – Home Viewing Version

(or, How I Spent Mike Lyons’ Birthday)

The tradition of Cambria’s Saturday morning community forums continued September 7 with a session focused on the town’s water supply systems, and particularly the “EmergencySustainableAdvancedWaterFacilityMachineSystem” ™ patent and permit pending.

Cambria Community Services District Board President Dave Pierson, resplendent in navy blazer and open-collared, pinstriped button-down shirt, facilitated the forum. Attendees and viewers received a well-crafted and smoothly delivered fact-and data-filled presentation. Those at the Vet’s Hall enjoyed a tantalizing and delicious (I imagine) array of freshly baked cookies created by the delightful and community-minded Karen Dean.

The session was thoughtfully constructed and delivered by the team of former acting General Manager and current district consultant Paavo Ogren, data and administration analyst Melissa Bland, and water systems leader Jim Green. Each of the presenters stood as examples of skilled, experienced, and capable personnel that staff critical roles in the Services District.


Mr. Ogren demonstrated his grasp of the complexity of the issues and brought an interesting outsider/insider perspective from his previous work in county planning through his tenure with the CCSD organization and administration.

Ms. Bland took us back to what seems like a reasonable point in time – 1990. She did an excellent job, walking through a series of statistics, requirements, and point-in-time events that led to the current state of Cambria’s water situation.

Mr. Green then took the mouse and did a great job of again mixing data, regulations, and requirements, and actions are taken to maintain and expand the systems that deliver Cambria’s precious water supply.

All three presenters addressed many of the questions, opinions, and assumptions that have clouded the critical discussions around Cambria’s water facilities.

Complex Questions, Honest Answers

After the presentations were complete, President Pierson read questions submitted by the public. The questions were thoughtful and detailed. Many were based on technical, environmental, and regulatory factors; some were both complex and carefully worded. Mr. Ogren skillfully answered one such question by pointing out that based on the wording, the answer was “no,” but he then dug down into what he saw as the intent behind the question. His subsequent answer was much more helpful.

Some of the questions made me wonder, “what is this all about?” and “what is the goal of asking that?” To the credit of the panelists, each question was answered thoughtfully, and explanations were put into the broader context of the issues being discussed. I really appreciated that approach and found that my field of vision was widened as I saw how the panelists listened and responded. Mr. Ogren’s description of “adaptive management planning” was a “duh” moment for me!

President Pierson also had a strong moment, stopping some guesswork responses with a firm statement: (paraphrasing) “This is about facts and not guesses.”


It is clear that the CCSD has talented, thorough, and involved employees and leaders who are serious about what they do for the community. These folks know their stuff. They are clear communicators, experts in their areas, and understand how to connect the dots across what is often a confusing landscape of issues and solutions.

The issue of cost will continue to be painfully present in all discussions. It was encouraging to hear future-focused, practical and pragmatic positions from some of the board, alongside the constant drumbeat of negativity and solution-less posturing from less visionary members. To me, the contrast between investing and building for tomorrow or destroying progress to save yesterday was stark. And needed.

It comes back to the eternal question of what we expect from an elected representative. Some favor a person who will act as an amplifier of a particular position. Others favor someone who will use their best judgment and act based on what they believe is best for all.

I admire the courage and conviction it takes to stand on principle, regardless of which perspective one favors. It is easy to be a dilettante. It is noble to raise the hand and say, “I’ll do it.”

Why made this session valuable? Hyperbole was muted, opinion replaced with fact. The table was properly set with a beginning, middle and ending. Complex things became much simpler to understand and assess.

The event was broadcast and recorded and will be available for viewing over the coming days at the SLO-SPAN website. It is worth watching, even without the cookies.




Grace Notes


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Contrast and compare – that’s one very good way to track an artist as he or she progresses through their life. Do they grow, or do they stay rooted in place and style? Are they true to their muse, or do they bend with the fashion of the day? Does the work resonate years and decades later? Does it make you feel as much at age 60 as it did at age 30?


Bruce Springsteen has been a constant in my adult life. From the first earth-shattering concert I attended at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, way back in 197something I knew that he and the E Street Band were quite simply great. Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to see them in concert, and every show was just magic. Jan and I saw them in Connecticut shortly before we moved west, and I got to see them from a corporate box at Madison Square Garden with some colleagues and clients. I was struck by how many in my group were like me – respectable older guys by day, rock and roll animals and Bruce fanatics by night. We knew every lyric, every lick, and every story. We also had some first-timers with us. I sat next to Kim, a young marketing manager who I had been informally mentoring as she moved through her career. She was not familiar with the music, so I tried to give her some history and perspective. After a short while it became totally unnecessary. “I get it,” she said. Another fan is born.


Bruce Springsteen the songwriter is pretty fearless. He has written about everything from youthful love, lust and longing (Rosalita, Sandy, Incident on 57th Street…) He invents characters, gives them a story, colors them with emotion and confusion, and lays out the path to success or failure.

He takes on social issues, using his gifted ability to again create and infuse characters to make his points. His Oscar-winning “Streets of Philadelphia” gives voice to the AIDS epidemic. Born In The USA – often misappropriated as a flag-waving anthem, really gets down to the grit and pain of a veteran returning to a fading American Dream. The raucous version of the single, or the dark of the night solo version on an open-tuned 12 string slide guitar – same song, different shades of dark. “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” – “Sinaloa Cowboys,” “ Youngstown” – American Storytelling at its finest.

Faith and Hope

Bruce has penned many songs that touch on faith and hope. They seem to send a message of determination built on shaky confidence in himself, and in the rest of us too. Better Days. Land of Hopes and Dreams. My City of Ruins.

My favorite has always been Thunder Road. From the first time the needle hit the vinyl of the Born To Run record (kids, ask your parents to explain) I was struck still. I can’t think of a better, more descriptive, cinematic opening verse. Piano and harmonica.

The screen door slams

Mary’s dress sways

Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays

Roy Orbison singing for the lonely

Hey, that’s me and I want you only

Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again…

Thunder Road has aged as Bruce and the band has aged. The finest version I have found is from the Live In Barcelona concert from 2002. It is so in the pocket, so mature, so beautifully played that it makes me a bit teary-eyed. A hopeful, almost desperate instrumental theme takes over the piece when the lyrics end. Building through the voice of the guitars, no flash, no frills, deliberate and plainly voiced. Then the immortal Clarence Clemons steps forward and sends it to the heavens, and you feel like maybe it will all work out for the characters.

(Bonus love for the audience sing-along, where they go rapidly out of time, drawing a slight head tilt and smile from bassist Gary Tallent, followed by a grin from Bruce as he brings everyone back into time (1:13 in the video.)

Thunder Road Live In Barcelona

Love Songs

And then, there are these two songs, written decades apart. The first one – “Tougher Than The Rest” captures the feeling of love, lust, semi-hollow bravado, and a longing for connection, wrapped up and presented in a slow, low and controlled delivery, Telecaster played down the neck, basic chords, lots of Fender-y tremolo and reverb with enough twang to be country and enough growl to be punk and enough sexual tension to be … . This is a guy blustering his way into a relationship! This song has been covered by a lot of people, including Emmylou Harris and Travis Tritt. All great, but I still favor Bruce’s original.

Here’s a video of Bruce and company (including his now – wife Patti Scialfa on the duet.)

Tougher Than The Rest

Now, fast forward 30 years or so. A lot of living, and a lot of years with that woman he sang with in the first video. Kids, massive success, and accolades. And lots of causes supported. Lots of songs, lots of collaborations and lots of shows. And lots of love.

I think of this one as a love song for grownups. The arrangement is a bit of a mess, perhaps missing the mark in an attempt to sound “older”. I don’t know and I don’t care, because this song makes me tear up just about every time. Probably because it reflects how I feel about my love, our relationship and our life so far.

And I count my blessings and you’re mine for always

we laugh beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the greys

Sing away, sing away, sing away sing away

Sing away, sing away, my darling we’ll sing away.

This is our Kingdom of Days.

This is our Kingdom of Days.


Damnit, it got me again!

Community, Part II -Knowledge in Action


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“Wildfire Preparedness Day” took place on a peaceful Saturday morning. The Veteran’s Hall filled with a mix of community members and emergency services professionals, as well as citizen-staffed emergency response teams and experienced building contractors who brought information and expertise to help us prepare for emergencies. Wildfire is a significant threat, but many of the conditions the community might experience during an earthquake or even a tsunami were addressed in this three-hour session. Cambria Fire Safe-Wildfire Preparedness Day[header
With all of these risks factors as background, the Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group, under the leadership of Chair David Pierson, put together a program that took these issues on, and delivered practical, factual information and strategies to help the community prepare for and respond to catastrophic effects of a disaster, primarily wildfire.

The event was videotaped and can be viewed HERE. It is well worth a viewing. 

The Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group is a local focus group of the San Luis Obispo County Fire Council, which is a County focus group of the California State Fire Safe Council. The Fire Safe Council is comprised of stakeholders in community fire prevention and especially wildland fire pre-planning, community education and preparedness. The Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group was established to improve local fire safety, especially from wildland fire. Their mission is to mobilize Cambrians to protect our community, homes, businesses, and environment from wildfire.

The Landscape

Wildfire is a genuine threat to California. Cambria’s location presents additional challenges to emergency response, particularly fire. Within the forested areas, drought has taken a severe toll on many native Monterrey pines, adding significant fuel to a potential fire. Homes and open fields share the landscape, with mixed conditions of well-maintained lots running into overgrown fields of weeds and scrub.

mapNeighborhoods are embedded into wooded, hilly terrain served by narrow, winding streets. Most of the local roads are paved, though those that are not are somewhat difficult to drive at anything more than a slow mosey. During an emergency evacuation, getting out of a neighborhood and on to the main feeder street can quickly become a nightmare. Hundreds of residents would be making the same dash to safety.

With the threat of wildfire most likely driving people to the south, the main road – scenic Highway 1, would quickly become filled with cars, overwhelming the capacity and adding minutes and hours to any evacuation.

The 1

imagesSitting along the wondrous California Highway 1, Cambria is often a stopping point for visitors making the legendary drive up the coast, through Big Sur, and beyond. Hearst Castle, visible from parts of town, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. All of the added cars and bodies to the region underscores a significant concern for residents and emergency services personnel alike. The 1 is the only major route in and out of the area, and it can quickly become a chokepoint during an emergency. Recent roadwork brought this home like an earthquake, as many community members found themselves caught in standstills as portions of the road were closed to allow road crews to do their work, Normal 15-minute runs became hours-long crawls.

Evacuating a Neighborhood

The evacuation scenario for Beautiful Cambria took center stage. Dan Turner of the San Luis Obispo Fire Safe Council presented the preliminary results of a study conducted by Cal Poly Professor Cornelius Nuworsoo and his transportation and engineering students. The report initially focuses on the Lodge Hill area of Cambria, and uses population data, infrastructure (roads and streets) conditions and traffic flow modeling to determine how efficiently a mass evacuation could be executed. The results are gasp-inducing. Best case estimates project a three to four-hour window to evacuate the residents of the neighborhood.

KSBY reporter Aja Goare attended the event and filed this report. KSBY

The good news, given the seriousness of the information, is that residents now have an acute awareness of what they might face in a crisis. With that awareness comes the opportunity and the mandate to become better educated on preparedness and response planning. Combined with the information and resources provided by all the event participants, Cambrians who take action will increase their chances of getting through a disaster reasonably intact.

The study will continue, expanding into other neighborhoods in the Cambria/San Simeon area. The information gathered to date, and all that will follow, will inform the thinking and planning of professionals and citizens alike, and lead to better, more effective evacuation and fire-safe space planning.

Taking Responsibility

The opening session featured Steve Crawford, a very talented (and brave) representative from PG&E. This segment could have gone a few different ways, as PG&E has been found responsible for starting deadly and devastating wildfires in California. Steve had the unenviable task of educating the community on the comprehensive strategy the utility was following to reduce the risks of accidental fire events caused by their equipment.
One of the key strategies PG&E will be following will be proactively shutting power distribution off in the event of hazardous conditions, such as high wind events that might cause trees, power poles and high tension wires to fall, spark and ignite a fire.
Mr. Crawford did a great job of explaining technical, operational, and situational scenarios, and the processes that would be used to manage power shutoffs. His presentation answered a lot of questions and gave the audience critical information that will help them better manage through a power outage.

For more detail, visit the PG&E site.

All The Information

Cambria Fire Chief William Hollingsworth closed the formal program with an unveiling of the newly-created North Coast Emergency Preparedness website. The chief has been leading a team tasked with designing and implementing a comprehensive, real-time web tool that would provide access to all the information people might need to prepare and respond to emergency conditions. The site contains links to just about any agency, report, and how-to guide a concerned resident might need. The site is accessible on mobile, desktop and tablet platforms and browsers. Every resident should bookmark this site, and it should be promoted by local businesses, hotels, and services organization.


We Are In This Together

Beautiful Cambria is America in a small container. There are many opinions on many topics. There are minor disagreements, and there are sometimes harsh conflicts between passionate proponents and equally excited opponents. Friction can be uncomfortable, but it can also be a catalyst for positive action. The citizens who sit on committees or represent the community in elected positions, and who go to meetings and voice their opinions make the community work. And when the going gets rough, people join hands and get to work.

Beautiful Cambria. Beautiful Cambrians.

Community Part I – Our Brother’s Keeper


Community Part I – Our Brother’s Keeper


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The past few weeks have brought into focus something that I have been trying to capture about beautiful Cambria. The community was invited to attend two different town forums, both on topics that cut across all artificial barriers. Both sessions shared a set of common characteristics. First, they were led by top-shelf chairpersons. Both committees have an outstanding group of citizens who serve our community with passion and distinction. And both forums featured expert presenters who brought facts to what are often emotionally charged and occasionally hyperbolic topics – Homelessness and Wildfire Preparedness.

Session One – Homeless in the Community

The first event, hosted by the North Coast Advisory Council under the leadership of Chair  Susan McDonald, offered an in-depth discussion of homelessness in the community. The council put together a panel of fourteen experts who represented governmental, faith-based, and non-profit organizations that deal with the myriad issues grouped under the HOMELESS label.

It was, at times, depressing, shocking, and despairing. But those moments were countered by hope, success, actions and intelligent determination to meet the issues where they are, and not accept the simple and superficial arguments that say there are no answers except the one that aligns with an individual’s worldview.

When we were young we pledged allegiance
Every morning of our lives
The classroom rang with children’s voices
Under teacher’s watchful eye
We learned about the world around us
At our desks and at dinner time
Reminded of the starving children
We cleaned our plates with guilty minds
And the stones in the road
Shone like diamonds in the dust
And then a voice called to us
To make our way back home
Mary Chapin Carpenter

Read Kathe Tanner’s excellent reporting on the Forum.


What does “homeless” mean? There are as many variants as there are people, it seems.

People without a place to live due to a financial crisis or a health crisis.  Victims fleeing domestic abuse. People who have a mental illness, addiction, or untreated substance abuse problems.

There are the transients, the part-timers, the semi-homeless, the on and off again homeless. There are rotating families who struggle to find the ways and means to a permanent place. There are veterans and those who illicitly claim that status.

There are those who like the freedom of rootless life, who depend on the kindness of strangers for sustenance. There are those who similarly wander, but use other methods of extracting support from communities.


Most distressingly, there are, in Beautiful Cambria, almost one hundred kids classified as homeless. They couch surf or share grossly overcrowded motel rooms with others in similar situations. They rotate through homes and sheltered places, often claiming a corner of a floor or perhaps a shared bed. Sometimes they shiver in a car or a campground. That might be fun during an adventurous road trip, but not so much as a way of life.

As reported by a school administrator, there are 601 students enrolled in the Coast Union school system. Of those 601 students, 73.8% are eligible for nutrition assistance. That’s 447 kids. The meals provided by the school are often the only healthy food these kids regularly get.

The numbers seem to remain constant, but the faces change. Families who come to this area are looking for a place where they can build a decent life. They work hard, contribute to the community, and help make the local economy run, yet can’t get enough traction to sustain a permanent home base. So they move on to the next place and are replaced by the next group of hopefuls.

Solutions in Action

As the forum progressed, the experts on the panel stood up and answered the question, “What are you going to do about it?” It was heartening to hear the consistent answer – “This is what we are doing about it.”

Each presenter gave a straightforward description of what their organization does, the challenges they face, and the programs and approaches they rely on to provide critical services.

The level of cooperation and coordination was heartening. The inter-agency relationships painted a picture of the few doing the work of many. Churches and schools, CCSD employees and citizen-driven action committees are all taking on a piece of the challenge. From Veterans Services to Domestic Violence victim support, from the Sheriff to State Parks, the message that rang out was – it is not just “my” problem – it is “our” problem.

There are no rose-colored glasses here, but there is a lot of clear vision. The problems facing too many of us are real, and the impacts are not insignificant. The truth takes the heart in many directions. There is real human suffering, and in beautiful Cambria, it is met by true humanity.

For more detailed information, download the NCAC meeting minutes here.

The starving children have been replaced
By souls out on the street
We give a dollar when we pass
And hope our eyes don’t meet…
Stones in the road
Leave a mark whence they came
A thousands points of light or shame
Baby, I don’t know

Community, Part II -Knowledge in Action

Everyone Looks Familiar…


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“Hmmm, that person looks familiar.” It seems I have that thought a dozen times a day.


Wherever I go, the people I see seem to strike a chord in my brain. At the post office, at the Cookie Crock, or on a walk across the ranch, faces all look familiar. It is not only a face that opens my mental file cabinet, but a hat, a jacket, some glasses, or a gait that says “oh, hello again!”

As often as not, the person is a stranger to me. I do my best to smile and say hello, and frequently get a guarded nod or smile in return. Occasionally I get a scowl or a narrow-eyed stare, or a slightly frightened or worried look.

Sometimes my smile falls on someone I know slightly, and we enjoy a brief, pleasant exchange about simple things. Then there are the times where people react less positively, sometimes with good reason, sometimes for reasons only they know. It’s all good, as the kids say. I’m just grateful I can see it all.

What Are You Looking At, Kid?

cuteLilFellaAs a child, I had a “lazy eye” – strabismus – which always had me looking off to the side. At age eight, I had surgery to correct the turn. I can recall, over fifty years later, the terror of seeing the surgeon looking down at me as anesthesia was being administered. I can see his eyeglasses, and the magnifying lenses attached to them, between his mask and his cap. I can still smell the gas – maybe it was ether – and then nothing. I woke up post surgery with a big bandage and the constant need to throw up. After it was all over, I was a relatively normal looking kid with two straight eyes.

Life went on, and I used those eyes to explore the world.

Drift Away

As I aged, my eye decided not to follow the straight and narrow path. It began to drift, noticeable to me but not to others for some time. I would be having a conversation with someone, and would notice them glancing over their shoulder. It dawned on me that they were wondering what the heck I was looking at back there. To me, I was making and holding eye contact. To them, I was scanning the area looking for butterflies. It got weird, so I decided to have it straightened again.

Upon the recommendation of my brother-in-law, who is an expert on eye stuff, I went to see Doctor Martin Lederman. If a call went out to Central Casting for a nattily dressed, old-timey doctor with a speaking style that recalls an earlier era, Dr. Lederman would be the person they send.

Dr. Lederman’s practice focuses on adolescent ophthalmology. He volunteers a lot of his time traveling around the world, performing corrective surgeries on children who face real social and cultural challenges because of their condition. He is a true hero who has changed, and likely saved, numerous lives with his gift.

He would fit in perfectly in beautiful Cambria.

Here We Go Again

After many exams and many tests, we decided that surgery was the best way to straighten me out. We booked a time, and on the big day my wife drove us to White Plains Hospital to get me fixed. My eye, that is.

This time, the terror was replaced by a slight nervousness. The anesthesiologist came in to sedate me, and I told him solemnly, “Doctor, if anything happens to me during surgery, I want to donate my body to science fiction.” Nothing. Not a twitch, not a fleeting grin. Just dead eyes and a big needle. Good night!

Wonderful Job

I woke up many hours later, groggy, thirsty, and more than a little confused. I had a bandage that resembled a rolled-up pair of sweat socks affixed to my head. I was a sight with sore eyes. After a few weeks of recovery time, I was ready to resume normal activities. Dr. Lederman was quite pleased with the results of his work, saying proudly, “My, I did an excellent job!” After we moved to California, Dr. Lederman referred me to a colleague at UCLA for follow-up tests to locate and treat some residual eye pain. Though he couldn’t identify the cause of my discomfort, he did remark, “My, Dr. Lederman did an excellent job!” Well, then, I guess he did.

Dr. Lederman is particularly interested in improving care to the world’s children and has headed teaching and surgical missions to Panama, Kenya, Morocco, Dubai, and Belize. He cofounded “One World, One Vision”, an organization devoted to training Ophthalmologists in developing countries to treat children and adults with strabismus and children with cataracts.

Natalie Portman

Seeing a face is one thing; remembering a name is something else altogether. I can “Name That Tune” as fast as anyone, complete with title and artist. I remember lyrics, bass lines, backup vocal parts, and little ornaments within a song. People’s names, though, often frustrate me.

natalie-portman-miss-diorNatalie Portman was, for the longest time, one of those names I could not remember. I could list her movies. I could remember seeing her on Broadway in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and could instantly visualize her brilliantly funny video shorts on Saturday Night Live. I just could not remember her name. I eventually found myself saying it out loud for no apparent reason. I realized that it was my way of giving my brain a little jolt when I struggled to recall something. Now, when I see her face, I yell out, “NATALIE PORTMAN!!!!!” It’s fine when I’m home, but not so much when I’m out in public.

The same thing happens with former heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis. This giant, dreadlock-ed champion with the British accent, who won the gold for Canada in the 1988 Olympics, who captured the heavyweight title twice, who went on to be a commentator for HBO – well, my mind doesn’t fill in the blank. Lennox Lewis is the Natalie Portman of sports.

Everyone Looks Familiar…at Costco

So, here I am, looking at the world with two straight eyes, pushing my cart down the aisle at Costco. I’m pretty sure I won’t bump into Natalie or Lennox, so the odds are good I won’t blurt out either name as I scan the mini-city. I find myself glancing at faces, listening to voices, and creating flash stories in my head about the people that stream past. An occupational hazard, I suppose.

Every Picture Tells A Story. I’ve Just Seen A Face. Delta Dawn. Mother and Child Reunion. Santa Baby. Inspiration for these songs could well have struck at Costco, or any concern where a wide range of people would shop.

Wait a minute – Santa Baby? Explain, please.

Ok, sure.

This Brain

As I did my Shop N’ ScanTM, a woman flew by, headed towards the checkout line. Ding ding, ding went my internal facial recognition program. Scanning records (mental file cabinet stuck, pick up some WD-40 in aisle 35, or maybe some ginkgo biloba in the lotions and potions section), no match. Re-scan. Still no match, but the image of a Santa hat randomly pops into my head.61Iy6w-VamL._SX425_

I mutter to my brain, “Santa hat??? Really??? Do you need some protein, maybe?”

I let it go, only to glance across the aisle to where the books sit piled on tables, and again feel the sense of recognition as a young woman carrying a small child hurried past. Nothing connects, but something seems familiar. I give up, turn back upfield, and see another face, and this one I identify immediately. Then it all comes together. Mother, father, daughter. Cambrians. Neighbors. First responder. Michael. Luna. Uh, umm, uh…Natalie Portman?  We chat for a minute, and I am reminded of her name. And immediately forget it. Aaaarrrrgghhh!

Thanks For The Sample

We find ourselves at the registers, separated by a few aisles. I look to my right, and the Santa hat lady and her husband are checking out. She looks over at me; I think she thinks we know each other. We banter, light, and non-committal. I pay for my stuff, get my cart and head to the exit.

As I pass the optometry department, I exchange hellos with Rachel, the always friendly and efficient rep who has helped me with my eyeglasses. Her name, I remember instantly. Maybe the protein from that chicken nugget sample I ingested was helping. Yes, that must have been it, because all of a sudden I remembered who the Santas were – Cambrians who attended a holiday concert, wearing Santa hats! Yay brain! Yay, chicken nuggets! Yay Costco! And their names are, uh, umm, ehh, Lennox and Natalie?


I got in my car and headed homeward, two straight eyes protected by prescription sunglasses Rachel helped select. I made a quick stop at the fire station, did a little research, and added Madison to the list of names I must try to remember.

Names and faces may soon fade away, but I’ll always have Natalie.

Sing Sing Sing!!!

After spending time at the Cambria Center For The Arts open house, I thought of all the opportunities beautiful Cambria offers to music lovers of all levels and tastes.

Though not featured at the Open House, the Cambria Center For The Arts offers concerts and performances that feature both local and visiting artists in multiple genres.

The community was recently treated to a beautiful, personal blend of music and memoir by local singer/writer/multi-instrumentalist Mary Anne Anderson, who shared her story from childhood to today, through the musical touchstones that marked her journey. A brave, thoughtful performance. Brava, Mary Anne.


Intimate, stellar concerts are offered on occasion at Painted Sky Studios.
The Legendary Jazz Series, hosted by distinguished pianist/vibraphonist/educator Charlie Shoemake, brings top-level musicians to town to perform in the intimate setting of the Harmony Cafe. The names may not be readily known by those who don’t follow jazz, but the performances are other-worldly brilliant.

There is no shortage of performance spaces that feature local area talent, from solo singer/songwriters to duos, trios and revolving groups of like-minded artists who collaborate and support each other’s visions. Casual listeners who happen to stop by for a taste at 927 Beer can find themselves enchanted, disturbed or otherwise moved by a voice, a lyric, or a personality putting it out there for the world to experience.

Stop by the Farmer’s Market and hear live music delivered by an eclectic range of talents including a trombone quartet thematically named “Bone Appetit”.


The Cambria Community Chorale is a magnet for many older members of the community. They carry a love of song up on the risers, joyfully belting out everything from holiday standards to intricate, multi-part vocal pieces. It’s great fun to scan their faces as they sing; the serious – “I can’t make-a-mistake-ers” to the “I think I’m in the right place-rs,” to the “I can’t believe I’m having this much fun-ers.” One thing is sure – they all enjoy being part of the musical community. I see you, Midge!


The current Spring concert is a doozy, spanning everything from the classic Americana of Aaron Copeland to the pop sparkle of ABBA. There is just something indescribable about listening to fifty or more mature singers raising the roof of a church with the 70’s pop classic (and personal guilty pleasure) Dancing Queen. I mean, you just have to experience it for yourself! Luckily, there is one more performance scheduled for May 19th at the Presbyterian church on Burton Drive.

The Chain

Beyond the rehearsals and the performances, the Chorale lives their commitment to music. Every year, the Chorale, in concert with the Lions Club, provide scholarships for local students with the desire and commitment to further their music education. These awards come with the understanding that the students and their families will commit to a level of support, and that the training will be embraced and given the proper level of focus.

Each spring, the students join with their teachers in a recital, demonstrating the skills they have gained and more importantly, the true love they have for the art. From the littlest pianist to the tallest singer, performances touch a supportive community of family, friends and fellow Cambrians. Nerves and confidence sit side by side, and it doesn’t matter how many mistakes happen or how many restarts are required. Everyone is in it together.


Not enough can be said about the teachers. I can tell you with confidence that the level of effort put into each student, each piece, and each performance far exceeds whatever pay they receive. Watching the teachers work with the kids is a joy. They encourage, compliment, and correct as they journey along, note by note. They are building musicians and so much more; they are building confident and caring kids.

Education, The Musical!

Even with the financial pressures out schools face, Coast Union still goes all out for the annual high school musical. Building the musical is a great process where complete chaos turns into manageable chaos as scores of students get to put their efforts and passions on display. The performances are the end product of months of a collaborative effort from students, teachers, parents, musicians,and technical crews. The whole megillah is supported by promotional, logistical, and administrative folks who devote themselves to the endeavor.


Along the path to performance, real learning takes place. The students experience challenging situations that they will often face as they move through life. Conflict resolution, competition, repetitive practice, social skills, and teamwork all come into play. Disappointment, envy, and tears are as present as laughter, confidence, and splashy performance.

Life Lessons

They learn the differences between merit and entitlement, between wanting to shine and working to shine. They have the chance to succeed or not succeed, and the opportunity to learn how to handle both. They can learn a new skill, and realize that there is just as much creativity and satisfaction in helping to build scenery as singing in the chorus. They live real-life case studies in helping each other succeed. It is life lessons in a time and place where learning and growing are encouraged and supported. As much as the grown-ups involve themselves in the endeavor, it is, and should always be all about the kids.

There is plenty of Education in the Arts.

Heart, Soul, and Spirit


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Arts and Artists

Beautiful Cambria is home to a colorful box of arts, from painting and sculpture to music and theater. There are plenty of opportunities to participate, from studying with established artists and teachers to collaborating with fellow theater lovers. Artist, actor, or audience member, all are welcome.

This past weekend the allied artists at Cambria Center For The Arts  hosted an open house that featured exhibits and presentations from fine artists, theater performers and directors, and the team from the Cambria Film Festival.

It was a treat to see and feel all the creativity and commitment to the arts in one place, and heartening to see all the community members and event sponsors who filled the building with positive energy.

Small Sparks

As my wife and I wandered through the event, I thought of my evolving relationship with art, music, and theater. I am no expert on any of those things, but I am an expert on how they affect me, emotionally and spiritually.

I flashed back to John Stewart’s funny and heartfelt introduction of Kennedy Center Honoree Bruce Springsteen a few short years ago. Stewart started his speech by acknowledging that he was no music critic or historian, and was unable to say where Springsteen ranked on the lists of great American poets and songwriters. He then took a perfect pause and said”…but I’m from New Jersey…” and continued with a description of how Bruce’s work touched him personally.

I get that feeling a lot when I look at, watch or hear art in all its forms, and I wonder how I came to be a guy who is so moved by the grace of creative passions.

Enjoy John Stewart’s tribute here.

What Do You See?

Growing up, the arts were not front and center in my life. In grammar school, art class mostly consisted of the annual street-crossing safety poster competitions. Perhaps there was more, but I sure can’t recall anything beyond needing oak tag and magic markers. I still struggle with drawing even the simplest sketches.

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Lunch and Mommy – Jeanette Wolff, Artist

Jeanette Wolff is a delightful, energetic and near-fearless artist who can’t help but show her heart and soul in the beauty she produces. Her work is unfailingly identifiable, bursting with unexpected color, imaginative techniques and what I can only describe as joy on canvas. I was delighted to listen to her share the story of her piece, her descriptions and stylistic reasoning flowing out in a stream of consciousness, with hands darting towards the canvas to underscore a point, then dashing off to another quadrant to connect the dots within the whole piece. More than just a storyteller, Jeanette was engaged in conversation at a level that was pure and filled with creative passion.

I can’t begin to understand how to do what she does in her art form, but I definitely connect with her as an artist.

You can see Jeanette’s work on her website

What Do You Feel?

I became interested in theater as I entered high school. In my sophomore year I made an attempt to “do a play” at Mount Saint Ursula Girls High School. Why? All girls school. Boys needed to play roles. Where’s my bus pass!!

I was worse than awful. I had no clue, no skills, and no confidence. I was humiliated but still met a few nice girls despite my complete and utter suckery. In later years I again tried the stage and maintained my reputation as not an actor. My theater mask had two faces, one covering eyes, the other, ears. I did, however, find a creative home in theater as a composer and lyricist.

“Here’s a dime. Go call your mother and tell her you will never be an actor.”

We slipped through the wooden doors at the end of the corridor and entered “The Cambria Center For The Arts Theater.” On the stage, two volunteers were engaged in a theater exercise, demonstrating critical skills every actor must master – listening and reacting to each other. The same lines were exchanged – “I have to go,” and “I want you to stay.” Nuance, inflection, cadence, and pitch altered the meaning with each repetition. I was reminded of a play we attended in New York, starring our friend Robert Newman. For most of the play, his only line was “Come on,” spoken in response to his lover, who was unhappy and working on leaving their relationship. So, a playwright took a theater training exercise and turned it into an off-Broadway play. Huh.

Stage or Screen

Theater moves me more than film, though I appreciate the art form. There are rare exceptions where the two mediums cross paths. One example that is burned into my soul is the brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning piece “Doubt, A Parable” by John Patrick Shanley. Mr. Shanley has enjoyed success in both the theater and film. He wrote and directed “Moonstruck” and “Joe Versus the Volcano, ” two quirky, funny and emotionally complex films.

“Doubt” is a theater experience that will never leave me. I saw it, alone, one Sunday afternoon. I had a bit of an idea about the play but was utterly unprepared for what I experienced. The premise, the characters, the dialog, the staging. The ambiguity, the moral murkiness, the very humanness of the piece was breathtaking. After the curtain fell, I paced outside the theater, a busy and frenetic New York swirling around me. I called my wife and tried to describe the experience I just had. We came back to that theater a while later. The play kicked my soul all over again.

A few years later “Doubt” was made into a film, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, and Amy Adams. I was a bit disappointed that the original Broadway actors, which included Brían F. O’Byrne and Cherry Jones, weren’t cast in the film. Both actors were perfect in their stage roles. Watching the movie made me forget my disappointment, as Hoffman and Streep were just as excellent. For me though, the most electrifying performance came from Viola Davis, who, in a scene with Streep, had me in a puddle as she did emotional battle with Streep’s character.

That is what art – on stage and screen – does for my soul. I have so many other moments like these filed in my memory. “That Championship Season” – the first Broadway show I ever saw, thanks to my sister Patricia and her husband, Ken. The opening scene from “Jerusalem” with a bellowing, bellicose Mark Rylance emerging from a headstand in a bucket of water… and so many more.

Who’s to say if the next mesmerizing writer, actor, composer or director isn’t right now learning to create at CCAT, or another cradle of creativity in a small town somewhere out there?

What Do You Hear?

My early music education was delivered by Mrs. Dean, who may have been a hundred years old, or forty years young. She would go from class to class, followed by a portable organ hauled by one or two boys from the previous class. I recall very little music from those sessions, though I do remember a decidedly non-musical screech from a wire-fingered, comb-like device she used to draw a staff in one long drag across the board. I also can’t forget the bleating of that little organ as Mrs. Dean banged out “Columbia, The Gem Of The Ocean.” Why do I remember that? No idea.

Learning to hear is as important as learning to play music. I can spend hours listening and re-listening to a song, or an artist, finding more pieces of the puzzle with each replay. My wife, who is a much more accomplished musician than I, learns and understands by the repetitive playing of a piece. Her learning is technical and disciplined. Mine is emotional and intuitive. We take different paths but often wind up at the same destination. It is a lovely place to be.

Perhaps next year’s open house will include a music breakout. I’m not sure if Mrs. Dean is still out there dragging that Emenee organ around, or if Columbia is still the “Gem Of The Ocean,” but nurturing the musical part of the artist soul absolutely needs to stand tall alongside the rest of the creative circle.

Support the Arts and The Artists.

Disaster At The Firehouse!


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Part One – The Mistake

It started innocently enough, just another day in a long stretch of multi-day shifts. The duty crew was settling in for a fitful sleep. Reading lights glowed in small, spartan rooms. Each member of the service reading, texting, or relaxing, near rest but still on the edge of adrenaline known to those who answer the bell.

A television played quietly in the communal room near the back of the station. Jimmy Fallon was doing his usual “laugh too hard at his guest’s every comment” routine. The last few unpopped kernels of Skinny Girl popcorn (with sea salt) sat at the bottom of an old takeout carton from Robin’s. The empty cans of Red Bull lay in the recycle bin. The unique nightlight, thoughtfully provided for the new reserve who had not quite settled into the firehouse environment, glowed softly. Above the beacon sat the station’s whiteboard, tagged with a series of “To Do’s” and “who left the taco sauce uncovered???” complaints written in different colored dry erase markers. Each shift had their color, but as the ink ran dry, everything was captured in that washed-out red/orange/maybe blue color that showed the effects of being dipped in a glass of (non-potable) water to eke out one more scribble.

Times are tight in this tightly run department.

The night turned to morning, just as surely as Fallon turned into Seth Meyers. In the half-light of dawn, a still-groggy first responder shuffled into the kitchen to begin the daily routine. Perhaps it was the lack of uninterrupted sleep. A half-remembered exchange between Meyers and guest Patton Oswalt had him rustling through grey matter, trying to recall the “Ratatouille” punch line that had the audience roaring. Add to all of this slightly impaired vision; an unintended by-product of the commando-style blue blocker sunglasses donned to aid against the rapidly growing sunlight that sliced through the novelty Smokey The Bear window curtains.

In this almost awake and kind of confused state, an error occurred; A mistake that started a chain of events that still reverberates to this day.

The after-action report laid it all out in clinical fashion. But it was neither clinical or fashionable. But first, the mistake.

One Job

As highly trained, experienced professionals, the ability to multi-task, even under stressful conditions, was a source of pride for all the crew. The relatively simple and routine morning tasks – wake, pee, wash, and brew – required little thought. Of course, mixing up these steps can prove both embarrassing and potentially sickening. This theory was tested- severely tested.

Reach into the container, remove contents. Put contents into the machine. Start machine. Pee again. Wash. Wait for the aroma that shouts “READY!!!”

The shout that eventually came was not what anyone expected.

In a groggy fog, the first responder made a terrible, nearly unimaginable mistake. He went out of sequence, mixed up container one with container two, and accidentally put the coffee beans where the Tide Pod was supposed to go.

Suddenly, the station was flooded with luke-warm latte.

At the same time, The Chief, still agitated from his commute, took his first sip of what he thought was morning coffee. Bubbles flew from his mouth as he attempted to spit out the soap while yelling “Maalooonnneeeeyyyy!!!!!!!!!” All the stain-fighting power of that tiny pod couldn’t clean up the language that flew that fateful morning.

Part Two – A Dank Place   

It didn’t take long for the leak to spread throughout the house. Possessions were submerged. Critical documents were soaked and smeared. Slippers squished, and flip flops floated. It was a mess of epic proportions. A choked expletive escaped from an Engineer as he picked up his latest copy of “Tattoo Today – Heart on My Sleeve.” The colorfully printed pages had fused in a wet wavy clot. Lost for all time were the handwritten notations placed in the margins just hours earlier. Now, there were just runny, swirly lines where thoughtful comments like “cool – I wonder if it will fit in that special place” and “nice, but I like my Keep on Truckin’ guy better” once stood.

Across the hall, the leadership team came together to develop a plan of attack. In an intense brainstorming scrum, ideas were floated and discarded.

“Maybe we can get a sh*tload of donuts to soak up the spill?” “

“No, not donuts – too much sugar. How about rice cakes?”

“Hmmm, maybe, but I think Dan ate the last bag yesterday.”

“Ok, Ok. We need a solution RIGHT NOW!!! Everybody, grab a towel, a mop, an old tee shirt from Pinedorodo 2014, anything that will absorb moisture.”

“Ryan – get the mop. Michael – get the roll of Bounty from under the sink.  Other Michael – put down the tattoo magazine – it’s gone. We need to focus!!!! And for the love of everything holy, somebody call Dan and have him pick up some more rice cakes from Albertsons.”

The crew sprang into action, determined to get the upper hand in the battle of the bilge. Obstacles and impediments were moved to the side, clearing a path that would serve as a bridge from which teams could work. To the left, a shift captain quickly had his crew working to soak up the now-bitter coffee/water. Getting into the spirit of close teamwork, a firefighter began softly whistling; others soon joined her, whistling louder and with more enthusiasm.

B shift, working from the other side of the path, took up the challenge and began their own musical rally cry, substituting humming for whistling. The station filled with whistles and hums, so powerful that nobody heard the loud crackle of the radio.

(A second after-action report determined that everyone thought it was merely the sound of Jiffy Pop being made by an eager-to-please member of the FireSafe Focus group, who had mixed up the meeting dates and showed up in the middle of the mess. Subsequentially, A new procedure was put in place, known as the Shirley Rule, which calls for at least two radios to be equipped with an audible, human-voiced alert yelling “ We ain’t poppin’ so you need to get hoppin’!” to alert the crew to an actual call.)

Thankfully, the radio call was just a message from Dan, letting everyone know that Albertson’s had rice cakes on sale, and he had a coupon. Budget saved!

Part Three – Word Spreads

The crews worked valiantly to contain and repair what the flood had wrought. Despite their efforts, the job was just too big, too involved. They needed help, and they needed it quickly.

Surveying the situation, The Chief realized what he had to do. He sighed heavily, took another sip of soapy water, bellowed again, and headed out to his truck.

He turned the key in the ignition, knowing things were about to get even more challenging. He inched his command vehicle forward, looking both left and right before pulling into the busy roadway. No turning back now, he thought to himself. He guided the truck down the winding road, past the Lodge, and towards town. As he turned left on Main Street, a thought jolted him, and he exclaimed, “I hope Dan got the good rice cakes and not that store brand crap.” It was out of his hands; he just had to trust that years of leadership training would lead Captain Dan to the right shelf. And that the coupon was still valid.

The Meeting

Chief pulled into the parking lot of the Vet’s Hall, knowing that the report he was about to give might be shocking and sobering to the regular attendees. He had updated the Board and public many times in his tenure with the department. This one would be different. No amount of slides, no stream of acronyms and codes would provide him cover. He had to let the town know that disaster had struck, and what he was doing about it.

The video was rolling.  Allegiance was pledged. The sheriff’s commander was there to give his readout and immediately sensed that something was wrong. Chief didn’t seem quite himself. He smelled slightly of lukewarm latte and soapsuds. Not an entirely unpleasant combination, the sheriff thought, but not what he had come to expect.

When he was called to present his report, Chief took a minute and found his center, calming himself before striding confidently to the podium. He hadn’t noticed, but a contingent of off-duty members, as well as a few ambulance guys, Jerry McKinnon, and for some reason that kid from the Cookie Crock had filed into the meeting space, standing shoulder to shoulder in support of the Chief, knowing his update might not sit well with some of the usual suspects.

It was a touching sight, though it was a bit distracting to hear a voice loudly whispering “Hey, I can’t see…what’s happening now???” The line separated just enough so that the blocked captain could better see the proceedings.

The Report

The Chief began his report, only to be interrupted by a few shouts of “we can’t hear you, turn the microphone on…not, the button…the other button…” Finally, levels were corrected, and he began.

“Mr. President, members of the board and staff, community and the Cookie Crock guy, I had a prepared presentation, which can be found in the agenda packet. However, I need to pre-empt myself and give you an update on a bit of a problem we experienced at the station.”

And he told them everything. The mistake. The wavy clot of magazines. The bridge, the whistling, and the Jiffy Pop. He spared them nothing. Sensing the moment was near, he told them about the mocha mixup and the bubbles. So many bubbles. In a scene reminiscent of Brando in “Streetcar,” he bellowed, as he had bellowed that very morning, “Maalooonnneeeeyyyy!!!!!!!!!”

The crowd was stunned into silence. They had no idea the Chief had those acting chops. Snatches of excited whispering were heard. “He needs to star in the next Follies!”


From all the chatter rose a solitary, insistent voice. The sound terrifying and chilling, the noise akin to every alarm in the county sounding at once. Everyone froze, except for the Cookie Crock guy, who figured his break was over and he better get back to work.


It could be only one voice, one force of nature that could create such a tsunami of sound. The keeper of all things outrage had spoken.


For once, the usually reliable crowd did not rise in support of the outraged. Instead, the good people of the town put their heads together and started churning out helpful suggestions. It was quite a transformational moment until things got a bit testy when “someone” was reminded that the whole rice cake thing had already been discussed. Beyond that one small flareup, no good ideas surfaced.

No Capes Needed

Amid the discussion, the Chief and his supporters quietly filed out. They got in their vehicles and headed back to the station. They were people of action, and there was work to be done. And Dan should have returned with the rice cakes, and, the gods willing, a box from Dolly’s Donuts would have found its way home.

Sent with great appreciation and affection for Cambria’s Bravest.

Greatest Hits


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Following Public Comment at a local Board meeting is like listening to Stairway To Heaven. You’ve heard it before. There are many interpretations of the words. Somebody will put out a cover version, usually missing a few of the subtle parts. And, invariably, a prophet will warn that leadership has us on a Highway To Hell.

But I listen anyway.



It starts slowly, calmly, serenely.

The lyrics begin; uh, OK…I see…a bit metaphoric….

It continues, becoming a bit tougher to keep up with the story…

and it makes me wonder…

More aggressive now. Drums. Always with the drums.

there’s a bustle in somebody’s hedgerow…

The voice gets higher. More agitated. Still cryptic though.

Wait – a bridge – this could get interesting…

Guitar solo!

More guitar solo, but with counterpoint!

Louder, faster, wilder!!!!

Definitely listening very hard…

Crescendo…then back to calm serenity.

somebody’s buying a something to somewhere…

Head shaking, wondering “what the *&%# did I just listen to???”


A month later it comes back around. OK, I’ll give it one more listen…

The song remains the same.