Tag Archives: Sacramento

Second Time Around

Our metallic green Pinewood Derby racer didn’t win any races –- in fact, it came in last place in all four heats –- but it really doesn’t matter.

One of the great joys of being a dad is that you get to do kid stuff all over again, and A. and I sure had fun transforming a plain block of wood into a tricked-out sprint car.

As we built our ride together over the course of a few weeks –- planning, picking a style, using dangerous-looking woodworking tools, picking a paint color and then changing our minds –- I couldn’t help but remember a similar experience I had making a car with my stepdad decades ago.

I was in Cub Scouts somewhere around the fourth grade, and he took the lead in making a beautiful metallic purple car. I remember he did most of the building, but I did a lot of sanding. A lot of sanding. He added a motor from a plastic car model kit, and it was full of great details.

On race day, the other scouts marveled at the car and I was very proud. The only problem was that a little bit of the lead we used to weight the car properly was hanging off the bottom, which caused it to drag on the track. While we didn’t win for speed, I remember winning an award for design, and I couldn’t have been happier. It’s one of the best memories I have of my stepdad, spending time with him crafting something important.

I kept that car in mind as A. and I teamed up to build our own entry. We’re new to Cub Scouts this year, and the derby is one of the biggest events of the year.

We gathered with other scouts at a leader’s house weeks before the race, and he bravely let us loose with his tools to shape our cars. A. picked out the design, and I cut out the rough shape. We then used a belt sander to smooth the edges, and A., like me years before, started sanding.

We talked about our plans again and again, and dropped by the scout store to buy a plastic driver (complete with steering wheel), a plastic motor and some cool decals. We also went across town to the hobby shop to get more decals.

The original plan was to paint it metallic blue. But when that paint failed to look good on the primered wood body, we changed our mind and went for green.

The anticipation built up until last Saturday, when we had to turn in our car during the weigh-in at the Elks’ Lodge. We were about 2 grams over the 5-ounce weight limit, which didn’t surprise me given the several layers of paint on the car. I had to drill some holes in the bottom of lighten it up, and soon we were good to go.

When Sunday afternoon’s race finally arrived, we went back to the lodge to find a beautiful aluminum track set up, complete with an electronic timing system. Pack 259 takes the derby seriously, and we couldn’t wait.

I knew we might be in trouble when I saw the other 30 or so cars, many of which were simple, aerodynamic wedges. Our car had a big plastic motor on the top, like my car from years ago, which was sure to create a drag during races.

Sure enough, our car was pretty slow. But unlike some of the other cars, at least it rolled to the finish line on its own.

A. was a little discouraged at first by his finishes. But I told him to wait until the other special awards were given out. Prior to the race, everyone was given a sheet to rank the cars in different categories.

When awards were handed out at Wednesday’s pack meeting, we went home as winners in the categories of best design and most decals. A. had a big grin on his face, much like I must have had during my big race years ago. I couldn’t have been more proud of him.

A. is already planning this next car, this time with a sleek, speedy design. We have plenty of time to mull it over, think about paint and get ready.


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Saturday was my day to chill, and there was no better place to do it than at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco.

It was a little break from all my dad duties at home in Sacramento, and a chance to hit the road on my own for a day to soak in as much good, old-fashioned hillbilly music as I could.

As a little kid in the 70s, I was surrounded by storytelling country music. I heard songs like John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA” and Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road” again and again on the radio.

It’s no surprise that years later I still have a soft spot for songs that tell a good tale, full of fiddles, banjos, geetars and the like.

I was in heaven sitting on the grass in fog-shrouded Golden Gate Park, listening to the old and the more recent all mashed together in a wonderful stew. Every band I heard at this free fest was right up my alley.

Right at the top of the list were the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who add a modern bite to the most old timey stuff. They had the crowd going wild with “Hit’ Em Up Style,” with Rhiannon Giddens telling ladies to get revenge on their cheatin’ men by going on a spending spree. It was the first time I’d heard fiddle and banjo combined with beatboxing, and it was incredibly catchy.

Another rising star is Trombone Shorty, who worked up the audience with the driving jazz funk of “Hurricane Season” and a sweet jam called “Something Beautiful.” Jazz is always extremely cool, and this guy has something grooving and fresh to say.

I stood with my mouth agape for much of Joan Baez’s set, marveling at the legend in front of me and how great she still plays and sounds after decades in the business. She even did a little nasal sendup of Bob Dylan, which had the crowd laughing and cheering. As she finished, thousands in the audience got up on their feet to give her a much-deserved ovation.

I rounded out my eight-hour music marination with a set by Jackie Greene, the singer-songwriter who used to play little venues in Sacramento when he was just starting out. He treated us to a very bluesy, stunning version of “Tell Me Mama, Tell Me Right.” I stood near the stage, and it was great to hear many of those in the huge crowd singing along.

I was mostly just glad to see so many folks — old hippies, families, young hipsters — all crowded into the park to hear roots music. I guess a story told well never goes out of fashion.

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I’m feeling pretty much like a zombie today and it’s my own dang fault.

I was up late, or early, today with the the undead at the Crest, watching Bruce Campbell’s furious chainsaw in action in “Evil Dead 2.”

It was all part of the return of the Trash Film Orgy, an annual series of midnight flicks so bad that they’re actually pretty good.

This was a story of boy takes girlfriend to secluded cabin, evil trees meet them both and chainsaw meets zombies. Tanker trucks of fake blood were used in this one, and the dialogue is as wooden as the trees are bad.

Not that anything said on screen matters, since the running commentary from the audience during TFO showings pretty much drowns out what the actors say. What matters is that there was movie carnage, and lots of of it.

The best line is when Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, prepares to battle zombies by readying his chainsaw and sawed-off shotgun.

“Groovy!” he says randomly, to wild shouts of approval from the crowd.

This TFO showing was particularly packed with zombie audience members, thanks largely to the Zombie March that made its way from midtown to the theater earlier in the evening.

Before the theater doors opened, K Street near 10th Street was filled with fans made up as pale, wound-covered living dead. There were zombie kids, zombie cheerleaders and a zombie Hansel and Gretel. (This last pair was later dubbed king and queen of the zombies.)

Once inside, it was people (and zombie) watching at its best. There was a zombie trivia contest in the lobby. Winners got zombie candy. Losers were attacked by lurking zombie minions, who ate the contestant’s brain.

During intermission, El Tigre Diablo, the corniest and horniest luchador movie host in town, had the tough job of judging the contest to name zombie royalty. Not an easy task, with so many glassy-eyed contestants to choose from.

When the fun ended at 3 a.m., I was moving as slow as the walking dead. It ain’t easy staying up that late anymore. The good news is that TFO runs through Aug. 14. I can’t wait for Bruce Lee in “Enter The Dragon” on Aug. 7. I’ll be there, hopped up on caffeine, ready for more trash.

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Out, Damn’d Spiky Balls!

Most of the time, we call them spiky balls.

When I step on one by accident in the dark while walking barefoot in the yard, I call them a string of expletives that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush.

They’re the seed pods of the liquid amber tree, also known as Liquidambar styraciflua.

The trees, which seem to have hatched a diabolical plan to drive us out of our place and take over the world, have a never-ending supply of these things.

The bulk of the pods rain down in the fall, but I think the trees hold back a little, saving some to release from high branches all year round.

The other day, little C. and I raked up a batch off the back lawn, leaving a green-waste can about two-thirds full.

“Bye, bye, spiky balls!” she said as after I tossed a scoop in the trash can.

The balls, which measure about an inch across, are covered in sharp, protruding spikes. They look innoncent enough. But they’re surprisingly tough, easily penetrating the leathery sole of my foot.

I despise these pods, and I know I’m not alone. Liquid amber trees grow all over the Pocket, and probably seemed like a good idea back in the early 70s our neighborhood was built.

The trees do make some pretty nice shade, especially when it’s broiling at 105 degrees on a summer afternoon.

It’s just that the pods drive us nuts. If there was some kind of industry that needed them as fuel, we would be rich.

But for now, we just keep raking. And cussing.

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Star Wars Theater

I never get tired of watching the old-school “Star Wars” flicks, and it’s even more fun when most of the audience is under age 8.

Our front room became a theater the other day, with “Return of the Jedi” as the main attraction.

Seven-year-old A., his 8-year-old amigo L. and little 2-year-old C. lined up on the coach to check out of frozen Hoth and the swamp of Dagobah.

The trio chomped through three bags of microwave popcorn (yikes!) as the battle scenes played out and Yoda tried to teach the ways of the Force to Luke.

The boys took it all pretty seriously. What ship would you fly in? The Millenium Falcon, they both agreed. What character would you be? Both said Luke.

As for C., she was just taking it all in.

“Who’s that?” she would ask when someone or something new showed up.

Fuzzy little Yoda caught her attention.

“A doggy!” she said, trying to make sense of this wise creature.

The boys asked themselves what they would do if they had the Force at their disposal.

A. said he would lift up a chair.

L. said he would use the Force on his teacher.

I didn’t ask why.

I just sat back and listened Yoda’s deep advice.

“Clear your mind of questions,” he tells Luke.

So true, I thought, vegging out as the movie played on.

“You must unlearn what you have learned,” he says at another point.

Also right on the money, in so many ways. Much can we all learn from this little green critter.

As for the kids, their attention wandered a little toward the end. They were busy making a fort out of the couch cushions. After the credits rolled, A. and L. engaged in a mock lightsaber fight.

Yes, the Force is strong with them.

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Chipmunks Stink It Up In A Good Way

If kids ran the Academy Awards, I think the latest Chipmunks flick would be up for something important.

I love movies of all kinds, but when (and if) I go to the theater these days, it’s usually for kids’ fare.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” was a big hit in the Natomas multiplex where A. and I took it in recently.

Children (and some adults) in the audience were laughing a lot, especially during one particularly thunderous fart joke. In kidland, the Oscar for flatulence would go to this film. It really wasn’t half bad, in that it gave me a good excuse to relax for a long time and munch on a ton of candy.

As for the real Oscars, I’m lagging more than usual in seeing the nominated movies. It’s just part of being a parent of young kids, I guess. I’ve only watched two of the films up for best picture: “Inglourious Basterds” (a guilty pleasure) and “Up” (a beautiful story that won’t win for best movie, but I’m hoping it will get the Oscar for animated feature). And “Avatar”? I know I should see it, but I’m just not too excited yet about the whole blue alien thing. Maybe if the aliens were zombies I might be more motivated.

Judging from the previews we saw before watching the Chipmunks, it looks like there are some pretty decent movies for kids coming our way.

Sneak peeks of “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” (can’t miss with a 007 reference) and “The Karate Kid” (this time with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith) both got thumbs up from the 7-year-old movie critic sitting next to me. We’ll also come back to check out the 3-D “How to Train Your Dragon.”

And, of course, we have to see the next Chipmunks installment, when and if it happens.

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Socks And Shoes

Sometimes just getting little C. to put her socks and shoes on, and keeping them on until we reach our destination, is a major achievement.

It’s an exercise in patience for a dad, a delicate operation that if done incorrectly, results in a piercing wail from a wonderful but very opinionated 2-year-old.

When done correctly, all is calm and everyone is more or less happy. It’s a tricky, Jenga-like puzzle that once mastered is transferable to other problems in the world.

The latest round of the shoe battle happened this morning when C. and I were heading out to do errands. We had big jobs ahead of us: a visit to the farmers’ market and a shopping trip to Bel Air.

Before we left home, I put some clean socks and sensible brown shoes on C. and I thought we were in good shape.

We hadn’t yet left the house and she had other ideas. She wanted her shiny white shoes, the ones with the flowers on the straps. Fine with me, I thought. As long as she has socks and her feet are covered, I’m good.

Yet on the short car ride to the farmers’ market, she changed her mind again. When we arrived, I looked into the back seat. There she sat in her car seat, quite pleased with herself. She had taken off her shoes and socks, placed the shoes back on hear bare feet and then put the socks on her hands as mittens.

Something had to be done, but I had to be careful. Any wrong move could result in a crying fit on her part. I was one thin ice, but I managed to get to her to take the socks off of her hands. It was pretty cold outside, but I opted to let her wear her shoes without socks, just the way she wanted.

We got out stuff at the farmers’ market and made our way to the supermarket. At this point, as she sat in the shopping cart, I realized she had her shoes on the wrong feet.

Should I push my luck? After all, she didn’t seem to be in any pain. She was getting a little cranky, and I had already bribed her with a chocolate chip cookie to keep her calm. Rather than risk a meltdown from her, I decided not to make the risky move of putting the shoes on the correct feet.

Pick your battles, I thought. Taking off her shoes in the middle of this supermarket aisle and making things right just ain’t worth it.

That turned out to be a good move. I’m sure I looked like the world’s worst dad, with a daughter lacking socks and with her shiny, dressy shoes awkwardly sitting on the wrong feet.

But deep down, sometimes I know it’s best just to let things be.

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