You Go. I’ll Watch.

June 19, 2007 - Leave a Response

Maybe you saw our “About San Diego” piece debunking the story about the roller coaster at Belmont Park. As legend has it, one day the coaster flew completely off its tracks, sailed across Mission Boulevard, and sent a load of horrified passengers to an unhappy landing at The Jack In The Box across the street. The only problem, of course, is that it never happened. Things like that never really occur. They just haunt the imagination. Especially mine.

Every year at the Del Mar Fair, I manage to somehow stray into the midway zone, and always recoil in horror. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’ve got one of those double seat electric cars that ride on a track and stiffly bang their way into a darkened room with neon skeletons, spooky music, and plumes of steam, man, I’m the first in line. Take a splash ride, no problem. But
I draw the line at anything that twirls, spins, or falls. I could give you the old “been there done that” line. Indeed, I’ve made a carrier landing and take off, accidentally fallen off a cliff, ridden a runaway bus, and had plenty of e-ticket experiences. So why not plunk down a few bucks and take whirl on the vomit vortex? Simple. I’m too scared. I keep thinking about metal fatigue. I size up the grizzled ride operator (they’re always grizzled), looking for tattoos and needle tracks. I imagine him, head-down in an orange jumpsuit, tearfully telling the court that he “only stepped away for a moment to have a smoke”, when the mechanism ran wild.

Friends mock my cowardice. I don’t care. As they scream and hurtle, and ultimately hurl, I salute them from the air-conditioned comfort of the quilting pavilion. In my years, I’ve seen many a concluded fair and festival in the “disassemble” phase. And you know what? All those rides really do come apart! Most of them load onto trucks, the jolly colors of the collapsed “Giant Zipper” looking strange and tacky, moving along in the slow lane at rush hour.

It’s all a matter of preference, of course. The things I like at the Fair would drive almost anybody else nuts. I think those pitch-people selling kitchen knives are a hoot. I love how they talk with a cigarette-and-whiskey kind of drone, even when there’s nobody there to listen.
I think it’s great that you can walk into Pat O’Brien Hall, and in a matter of minutes, buy a 35-hundred dollar oak armoire, see an amazing kitchen mop, become a Christian, and join the Democratic Party. I could spend an hour just looking at those bubbling backyard spas. Some of them are so peppered with shining jets and spigots, they were clearly never meant to be seen without water. I love the gem show, and the furniture built by students, and the curious collections people keep, and the pies and cakes, and the prize pigs in the livestock barn.

Which, by the way, is nowhere near the “Tilt A Whirl”.

* * * * * * IN OTHER NEWS * * * * * *

I’ll see you at the Fair! Sunday, June 24, from 1 to 3. We’ll have pictures and a wheel to spin for prizes. We’ll be at the NBC/Mi San Diego booth. Come on out, say “Hello”, and let’s swap some stories “About San Diego”.

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You Play What?

June 2, 2007 - One Response

There was a time in San Diego when it seemed like everybody was playing it. I guess it was just a craze, but who could know that at the time? All over the county there were racquetball courts. It was a rite of passage for upwardly mobile 20-or-30-somethings. Deals were discussed and contracts agreed to somewhere between the second and third games.
I don’t know why racquetball fell out of popular favor. So much of its root structure was established right here in San Diego. Dr. Bud Muehleisen of La Mesa is even yet considered “The Most Influential Man in Racquetball”. Bob McInerny, a tennis pro from San Diego is the man credited with giving the sport its name. Times were, in the 1970s, you could play at the “Courthouse” on University Avenue not far from Texas Street. There was another racquetball club on India Street. Across the United States, in the 1980s, more then 10-million people played the sport. It is an incredibly easy-to-play workout that affords even ham-fisted klutzes like me a measure of satisfaction.
I was introduced to the sport by a friend named Mike Meagher, a former football player at San Diego State, who owned his own communications company downtown. When he talked about it, I pictured something like a cross between squash and jai alai. It turned out to be a lightning-fast series of volleys and roll-out slams that had me completely seduced from the start.
I loved the game, and the whole San Diego connection to it. It seemed easy enough to master, and healthy enough to be proud of having done so. If you wore eye protection, the worst that could happen was the odd black and blue mark, and I considered that a badge of honor.
But something happened. Racquetball declined in favor of “extreme sports”, a kind of euphemism for things you really should know better than to do. I don’t know what happened to “The Courthouse”. The club on India street became an indoor pistol range.
Today, according to the United States Racquetball Association, 5.6 million people play. But I’ll be hanged if I can find many of them. Mike Meagher passed away a couple of years ago. My friend Tara from work plays with (and often beats) me on odd weekends. Consumer Bob Hansen has a mean backspin in his similar victories. But for the most part, racquetball is a harder sell in San Diego than in the heady days of 20 years ago.
Meantime, I watch television sports coverage of poker games, for crying out loud! The only thing more boring and sedentary than playing poker is watching somebody else do it. The other day ESPN was actually featuring a program where two hulks were trying to see who could throw a tire the greatest distance. It was in a stadium, devoid of people, but when the cameraman inserted a star filter, and audio threw in some heroic music, you could believe, however briefly, that this lame contest somehow mattered.
Seems to me that racquetball has a lot more going for it than a Pirelli-toss, but these days, the courts at my gym remain mostly dark and strangely quiet.

A Blast From The Past

May 9, 2007 - Leave a Response

They were the voices of San Diego.
They had names like Art Way, Ernie Myers and Happy Hare, and there they were, all on an outdoor stage at San Diego State, for a Press Club event called “Blast From The Past”. The idea was to honor some of the legendary figures from San Diego’s golden age of radio.
It was a collection of titanic egos, but then, they’re probably entitled. In the 1950’s and 60’s when most of them were on the air, there were far fewer radio stations, and far less competition from television. They were the media stars of their day, and took this city from a backwater radio town to a high-octane market, just by virtue of their being here.
But they’ve gotten older.
Some of the golden vocal tones have faded with age and infirmity. You wanted them to be strong and vital for just a little while longer, but they’re getting close to 80 (and in one case, 90).
One of the speakers didn’t know where to end, or begin, his acceptance speech. Eventually the uncomfortable audience began clapping of its own accord, and the speaker realized he was done.
Others don’t seem to have missed a beat. Happy Hare sounds like he just came off afternoon “drive”, as the 3 to 6 shift is called. Joe Bauer, Clark Anthony and some of the younger honorees were brilliant.
And quips were fairly flying from the stage. As one speaker dragged on at length, another shouted “Would you hurry up! My prostate’s the size of an avocado, and I gotta pee!”
You wouldn’t have heard that in 1962. Or Shotgun Tom shouting for the “SOB-ingcarillon bells to stop ringing while he was trying to read a Gary Owens tribute to Perry Allen”.
In the end, though, the organizers really pulled together something very special. You hate to say it, but times are changing. The radio business is nothing like it was when these guys were the toast of the town, and I’m not sure when, or if, there will ever be another gathering of so much pure San Diego radio talent. As these legends said “thank you” and essentially “goodbye”, you might have seen a tear or two, at least if you were sitting anywhere near me.

Hey. Aren’t you………

May 1, 2007 - Leave a Response


They say that each of us has a physical double rotating somewhere on this earth. You might be riding on the Coaster one day, and there you see somebody across the aisle who looks just pretty darn much like you.
Sometimes your “double” or “near double” is a well-known person, and that can have unexpected consequences.
A few years ago, I went with a group of friends to Disneyland, a.k.a. “The Happiest Place On Earth”. As I am frightened by roller coasters, these friends hoodwinked me into thinking that “Space Mountain” was an educational exhibit about astronomy. Then I heard the screams.
Anyway, while waiting in line for this cardiac ride, we were spotted by people, who I guessed were somehow connected with the theme park itself. Inexplicably, they escorted us past dozens of palpitating folks and directly into the very next awaiting thrill car. Later something similar happened at The Matterhorn. Smiling employees escorted us to the front of the line.
Odd.
A friend suggested it was because I looked like Michael Eisner, the then CEO of Disney and a genuinely famous fella. I suggested it was because my friend had a cast on one foot. But secretly I hoped he was right.
I’m often mistaken for NBC 7/39 financial guru George Chamberlin. Those who know us at all would never make that mistake. He’s a responsible adult with encyclopedic knowledge of the financial markets, puts and calls, the balance of payments, and the price of eggs. Sometimes, folks don’t wait to find out that I am not he. They simply ask if I have any hot stock tips. I always tell them. “Disney”.
It’s usually George that I mistaken for. But sometimes it’s Gene Cubbison, Bob Hansen, Loren Nancaro or Garrik Utley. Once on the Trolley, a lady zeroed in on me and exclaimed “You’re King Stahlman!” I can sort of see how I might be mistaken for Loren. Or Tim Flannery.
My grandmother had a heck of time keeping our names straight. There were five of us kids. All had first names that began with “K”, so when I was in the process of some misdemeanor, she’d try to call out corrective commands, but often got the K’s jammed up, and was just as likely to call me by my brother’s name.
He’s taller and smarter.
But I look at lot more like Michael Eisner.

* * * * *IN OTHER NEWS * * * * * * *

We got a couple of e-questions about the show, and whether we’re all down at the Station working every Sunday night evening cobbling it together. Actually, we tape the show on Tuesday or Wednesday mornings (sometimes both). The Friday night news segments are generally shot on Thursday. And the Sunday morning news segment is a “classic” from the past files.

On May 20, look for an “About San Diego” Special. Ahead of Legacy Week, we’ll do a profile of Bob Hope and his history with the Carrier U.S.S. Midway, permanently ported now in San Diego.
The Hope estate has been very generous with video of his performances aboard Midway, and we’ll be proud to have the segments shown aboard ship thereafter.

On our story about Charles Hatfield, and his supposed rainmaking adventures in San Diego in 1916, a viewer wrote to tell us that during the record rains we spoke of in 1980 during our “guess the year” segment, stormy weather forced SDSU to postpone an opening-night performance of a theatrical presentation. And what was the title of that play? The Rainmaker.

Rainy Day Musings

April 24, 2007 - Leave a Response

We had a little rain last week. Not much, just a “spritz”, as Bob Dale used to call it.
Not even enough to settle that dusty verbal slam that’s always hurled against us. It’s an old wheeze that goes something like this: “San Diego people don’t know how to drive in the rain”.
Well, I’m not so sure. Is that true? Has anyone ever really examined it with a critical eye?
There are certainly plenty of rainy-day accidents, hundreds of them sometimes. And CHP and Police will always say that the main cause is drivers following too close, and not figuring for greater stopping distance. Fair enough.
But I’ve noticed something and maybe you have too. If we get two days of rain, or three or four, the number of accidents drops dramatically with each successive day. Gosh, if San Diegans don’t know how to drive in the rain, we’re sure quick learners. During El Nino years when San Diego’s rainfall has rivaled, oh say, Portland, do we have more per-capita accidents than they? Also, since most of us came from someplace else, it’s a safe bet a lot of us learned our rainy-day motoring skills there, not here. Did we somehow forget to turn into a skid once we dropped below Latitude 33?
It’s my guess what San Diegans are not very good at, and neither is anybody else for that matter, is driving on oil. When you go weeks, and often months, without a street wash, the blacktop becomes coated with a kind of greasy goo made up of crankcase droppings, exhaust residue, and Michelin bits. If it’s been a dry season, the first rain is going to make everything slicker than butter on a doorknob. On such days we should probably all be carefully inching along at about 10 miles an hour. But then, some tailgater from Toledo would say we don’t know how to drive in the rain.

I’m going to admit something here. I get lost a lot. Hopelessly turned around on Genesee. I mix up Ruffin and Ruffner. If there’s somebody in the car, I’m going to hear about it. “Wait a minute! How can you be lost? Don’t you know everything About San Diego?” Well, not by a long shot. Stories, yes. Some history, sure. Love the place and always have, but I still get lost, and sometimes it’s downright embarrassing.
Last week, for instance, I was attending a presentation at National University. And there I ran into my colleague Peggy Pico. Great! “Let’s grab a quick bite” at an all-night diner known to be “somewhere nearby”. It’s decided she will follow me. Huge mistake! After snaking through residential neighborhoods, past darkened, gated industrial complexes, and what I think may have been a graveyard, we arrived at the diner, which turned out to be only a few hundred yards from our starting point. “Wait a minute”, she said. “Don’t you know everything “Abou…….”.
* * * * * In Other News * * * * * *
Hello to the students at Colegio Ingles in Tijuana who watch “About San Diego!”
On our story about Lanoitan Street in National City. (Lanoitan is National spelled backward), we got an e-mail pointing us to a web page devoted to Lanoitan…cats!

My "Chief of Staff"

April 20, 2007 - Leave a Response

You don’t see his name on the “About San Diego” show credits, but he’s hugely important to how the show looks and flows every week. Rand Levin is this producer’s “Chief Of Staff”. We joke about that, because there really is no “staff” as such.

Rand shoots and edits most of the “About San Diego” segments, and gets all the elements together so that when we go in the studio, everything is there that’s supposed to be there.

He’s also a long-suffering and patient sort of fellow, who somehow knows exactly what you mean when you say “make it better than it is”. He always does.

He also keeps me somewhat located in the early 21st century.
I am not, you see, what anybody would call “tech-savvy”. I use the telephone directory to look up numbers, and the dictionary to look up words. At home, I have a stereo turntable, and vinyl discs are still the main source of audio entertainment. For diversion, I fire up the ham radio and beep out morse code. Most of the people who beep back are in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and older. We have some great beeping conversations about President Truman.

At least once every show, I’ll come up against a production brick wall, a picture that won’t match the sound, or a scene that’s just too short for the narration that goes with it. I’ll bring it to Rand.

“Can you fix this with the magic box?”, I’ll ask. Rather than hopelessly try to explain to me what is possible within our editing rooms, we’ve just developed a catch-all shorthand. The “magic box” can either make it better or it can’t. It’s easier on both of us.

I never wanted to be one of those people who was stuck in the past. I love talking about it, and doing shows about it, but I’m really content in the present. Still, there’s an inescapable truth, and I must admit it. I haven’t kept up too well with the technology of….oh, the 1970’s and beyond.
So thank goodness for Rand Levin. He accepts this failing of character on my part with an understanding nod.

And always seems to find a way to “make it better than it is”. * * *

* * * IN OTHER NEWS * * * * * * *

Anybody know? Check out the picture (in your photos “About San Diego”) of a coin issued back during the days of the Horton House Hotel downtown. It has the number 12 1/2 on the reverse. So far, nobody has been able to explain what it might have been used for. A gambling chip?

Catch the train! Many inquiries after the segment on the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum at Campo. They operate vintage trains on most Saturdays and every Sunday at 11 A.M. and 2:30 P.M. Take Interstate 8 and exit Buckman Springs Road. South to Highway 94. Turn Right for a mile and a half and turn left just after you cross the tracks. Adults $15, Kids $5. Have fun!

Bob Hope entertaining on Carrier Midway? He made two appearances aboard Midway. One in the 70s and one in the 80s. If you were there and saw either, I’d love to get in touch with you. Contact me at ken.kramer@nbcuni.com

The ABSD Quiz

April 20, 2007 - Leave a Response

Did you take the “About San Diego” quiz? It’s a multiple-choice quiz of the sort you likely had many times in school.

And if you’re like me, you probably noticed a pattern in those old tests. A pattern you could depend upon if you didn’t have a clue what the actual answer was.

All other things being equal:

  • The answer to the first question will always be “c”.
  • The answer to the second question will always be “a”.
  • If “all of the above” or “none of the above” is offered as a choice two times or less, then it will ALWAYS be the correct answer in each of those cases.
  • If a whole number is offered as a choice, and all the other choices are fractional or decimal, then the correct answer will NEVER be the whole number.
  • With this in mind, I constructed the first of the “About San Diego” quizzes. (now replaced by quiz #2). It was, I’ll admit, a deliberate attempt to go against the grain of your typical multiple-choice test. Successive answers were sometimes the same choice (i.e.. b,b.b.b.b…etc.) There was a “none of the above”, but was not the correct answer.

    It was also a quiz filled with little traps. “Which Balboa Park Building is built in the shape of the figure V-8?”. Automobile Museum, right? No, it’s really the Air And Space Museum.

    Turns out, there’s a down side to trying to be so…um, tricky. People give up on the test halfway through. If you’re taking the quiz, and you don’t get positive feedback, like that little note that pops up every once in a while to announce “correct”, you’re likely to say, “adios, who needs this grief?, I want some affirmation”.

    So I could see it in the statistics. Fewer people even attempted the last few questions after bombing the first couple.

    Colleagues have suggested that in the future, I craft two tests. One for those who, like the challenge, and one for those who are just seeking validation. Truth be told, I’d probably opt for the simpler one myself. I know the first answer will always be “c”.

    IN OTHER NEWS
    It was a great Sunday at Spanish Landing as more than 500 riders showed up for the fourth annual “Ride For Aids” to benefit the UCSD AIDS Research Institute and “Being Alive San Diego”. So many people said “hello” and had nice things to say “About San Diego”. It was an honor to be among you.

    “Hello” to Mrs. Carla Latimer’s 3rd grade class at Miramar Ranch Elementary School, and thanks for the wonderful visit we had to their “About San Diego” History Fair. A really bright group of wonderful kids. It was a real treat, and the cookies were awesome.

    Happy 200th birthday to Louis Rose, San Diego pioneer and the first Jewish settler in San Diego. A couple of hundred young people from several schools gathered in Old Town to learn about him and tour the Robinson-Rose house. Look for a segment about the event on an upcoming “About San Diego”.