Monthly Archives: August 2014

Golden State Urbanity: 28 History Books That Get At The Heart of Metropolitan California

Tropics of Meta


For many Americans, the phrase “California history” sounds like an oxymoron. Born out of a Gold Rush and two World Wars, the Golden State, to easterners, has always seemed like the new kid on the block. Californians might have aided in such perceptions, notes the 1970s dean of West Coast literature, Joan Didion. “You might protest that no family has been in Sacramento Valley for anything approaching ‘always,’” she wrote, “But it is characteristic of Californians to speak grandly of the past as if it has simultaneously begun, tabula rasa, and reached a happy ending on the day the wagons started west.” For Didion, such depictions of the past cast melancholy over “those who participate in it,” because underlying the state’s origin story rest a belief that “we had long outlived our finest hour.”[1]

Yet, California with no uncertainty has a long past predating European arrival. In…

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around the harbor

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river odra

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weiner wagon 2   There was vacant land next to my elementary school way back last century  when I was in primary school .  (   Or was it Grammar school ? My friend Joe and I had a discussion about the use of those terms : elementary vs. primary vs. grammar school . )  A Hughes Market grocery store was built there . Now it’s a Ralph’s Market . Most of the space , or half of it at least , is now the parking lot , of course .  But that’s irrelevant to my story , so let’s get on with it .

Another random memory ,  emerging now  from my brain bunker  where I keep them  , uncatalogued , forgotten for decades , came back to light suddenly . I had gone to Berlin , saw a wurst stand , and began , I guess , to ponder wieners ( The name comes from Vienna , by the way , I hear ) . Unknown things trigger memories sometimes . We’ll just leave it at that . I can’t better explain why the memory came  . Doesn’t matter .

Anyway :

One day the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile pulled up and parked on the vacant land next to the school .  The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile ,  a 1930’s idea of one of the Mayers , was a vehicle shaped like a giant hotdog in a bun .  It was driven by   ” Little Oscar” , who  was a little person dressed in a chef’s outfit , traditional high chef’s hat and all .  The nuns ( Corpus Christi Catholic Elementary School  ) took the entire school out to see the Wienermobile .  Why ? How that happened ?  Your guess is as good as mine . Stranger things have happened , I guess . Perhaps . Wienermobile 6

Well , this event was memorable . Who knew there was such a thing ? Who knew that hot dogs were cooked by little happy chefs in high hats ? Who knew ?

When I was a kid I didn’t know much about the world ( Same holds  true now — a little less so ) . From time to time little bits of it would show themselves , surprising things , good or bad things . The Wienermobile was one of the oddest things to come along . Now that I think of it , it’s still an odd piece of the reality puzzle . I know that there are odder things ;  but for a seven-year-old , a Wienermobile with a small chef inside with wiener whistles  for everyone —- that was something !

Yeah , to top it all off , Little Oscar handed out little plastic wiener whistles to every student and we all whistled like crazy out there in the open ,  and then we got to play with the silly things  for a few minutes back in the classroom .   Amazing ! weiner whistle

Wiener whistles are available on eBay . Get a vintage one for $ 3.75 !

There are , evidently , eight Weinermobiles  still in operation . The drivers , recruited from the ranks of college students , are called hotdoggers . A hotdogger blog hides on the world wide web , telling of hotdogger exploits .

I had forgotten all about that old Wienermobile and my wiener whistle ( which probably broke that same day ) , and Little Oscar the happy hot dog chef .  I never missed them , I have to  say ; but ,  it made a nice break  in  that long-ago day  from reading , writing , and arithmetic . weiner wagon chef


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day in berlin

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seabourn legend

The Seabourn Legend docked here at the wharf for a day .  Shuttle busses took the passengers somewhere around town .They saw what they saw .

In the late afternoon the ship sounded a horn . It was leaving . The horn sounded again , a loud deep-toned noise : ” We’re leaving !”

Were you really here , or was it just an illusion ? Did the world change ?  Seabourn Legend ?  A  pretentious name , but  nevertheless  a magnificent vessel  .

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a quieter time

Poland park milena and felek 013     When I was a kid a photographer  used to come to our neighborhood every year with a pony . The idea was to let  kids  sit on the pony and their mommies  would pay to have  a picture taken . There is a picture somewhere of me and my brothers and sisters and a pony on our front lawn . I don’t remember who was up in the saddle . Maybe we all got to take turns , but then , ultimately , one of us is up there forever when the camera shutter snapped . Horse (willie n on city photography horse)

I was reminded of this recently because a friend of mine who is my age posted a picture of himself in New York City up on the back of a pony . I was on the other side of the country at the time .  Maybe by the time his pony picture was taken our pony-photographer had quit . At some point in time he never came around again .

The Fuller Brush man kept coming  around every year , though  . He had a box of brushes and combs .  My mother felt sorry for him and always bought some small item  . It usually seemed to be  a plastic comb , a big white plastic comb. Those combs lasted forever , too , even when you managed to somehow melt the end of them  . There were six of us kids running around the house , so I suppose one of us found a way to melt the end of the Fuller Brush big white  plastic comb . But the thing  was still around for decades , brown melted end and all .

My family  had a plastic pitcher-type thing with a melted- away edge , too .  It was always on the corner of the bathtub so we could use it to pour water over our heads to rinse our hair and wash our backs . I think that one of my sisters has it now and is still using it . That gives it a half-life of about a million years . It may be around long after the  upcoming  nuclear winter ;  the surviving cockroaches will be wondering , no doubt , what they should  do with it .boy 1912 with a hoe

At the risk of sounding like an old guy [I hear Ada saying : You are  an old guy . My friend Ivan , my age too ,  calls the two of us old grey monkeys .  ] ,  I will suggest that life was  simpler when I was a kid . I’m not sure that I had the same perception  when  I was that kid ; but , as an old grey monkey ,  I want to believe for the moment that life was simple then . Let me have that silly thought for a few moments , please . You can share it if you like , if only for a few moments . We could call our short pause from more rational thought a pit stop . Soon enough  we’ll all zoom back  onto the  track  and   into the race  again .
chair repair man

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a girl


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