The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot,
and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
George Carlin

Road Rage

I don’t know if you have noticed this, but some of our fellow drivers can get a little tense out there when things don’t go their way. And if we are somehow connected to that tension, a small percentage of that group will acknowledge our connectedness by giving us a rather passionately delivered one-digit salute. This is occasionally followed by extended and repeated leaning on their car horn and, simultaneously, a desire to get their car as close to ours as possible.

I salute these enraged drivers, but not in a way that you might expect. Rather than employing just one digit, I use my arm in a genial wave that essentially says, “I acknowledge my part in your descent into temporary insanity and take full responsibility with all appropriate apologies and earnest intention never to send you into uncontrolled fits again.” That seems to do the trick, most of the time, and quickly soothes the enraged beast.

I admit I am tempted to return like for like, but do my best to allow these unhinged ones to pass on by with the least further engagement with me.

On occasion, I will notice another driver suddenly racing up from behind, in preparation to engage me in the manner aforementioned about some offense, of which I’m unaware. In these circumstances, at the precise moment that they draw even with me, I hit my brakes just slightly, and they whip by me like a slingshot with little or no engagement.

My aim, frankly, is to give as much courtesy and patience to all my fellow drivers. It seems to me a great opportunity to practice patience, which is a useful skill for other areas of my life, such as parenting. This is also an opportunity to love my neighbor, even when they aren’t being so lovable. Who knows what’s going on in their lives at the moment, so I bless them and move on.

Occasionally, I admit that I too honk at cars next to me and give them a one digit salute. But that’s when I see a really cool classic car cruising along in the slow lane, and the digit I use is my thumb in an upward position.

That always gets a friendly wave back.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find,
knock and it will be opened to you.”
Matthew 7:7

What do you want to be when you grow up?

My maternal grandmother, Vera Hawley McMurrin, lived about a mile away from me, when I was a kid, and was a whiz at math and English. As a young woman, she had been the bookkeeper for her father’s company, The Los Angeles Rock and Gravel Company, founded in 1914. That is also where she met my grandfather, Rulon, in 1916.

Grama, as we called her, was a highly accomplished painter and sculptor too, but where she really excelled was being the best grandmother on the planet. Everyone adored her. She was grandmother even to my cousins on my dad’s side of the family. She personified love and kindness.

When any of us cousins argued with each other, I remember her saying gently, “Now, don’t quarrel,” and somehow that antiquated phrase settled us down. Maybe I should try that on my kids.

Grama lived next door to my aunt and uncle, and often I dropped in to visit her. I remember knocking on her door one day, when I was nine or ten. She answered the door and asked me out of the blue what I wanted to be when I grew up. Without hesitation, I answered, “A writer.” I was as surprised as she at that reply, as I had no idea that I was going to say that, but, in retrospect, I kind of liked the sound of it.

Most of my reading, up to that point, had been comic books, song lyrics and Hardy Boys mysteries. I didn’t give writing much thought after that conversation with Grama, but when I became an English major, I really fell in love with words and books.

I liked that you could say the same thing a thousand different ways. Unlike math, which had only one right answer, words had infinite right answers and possibilities, and I was hooked.

Still, I didn’t consider myself to be a writer, because, as an English major, mostly you read and write about the works and lives of other writers. I thought of writing only in terms of literature, in other words, fiction, and felt no inspiration to write a novel.

But that is when I really learned how to think and communicate verbally and in written form. You could say, I also learned that from being the second youngest of ten cousins. The only way I was going to get my way with most of them was to talk them into it, by using words, not physical power.

Years later, having become a father, our son John asked for bedtime stories, and I began to tell the stories of my life and family. Telling those stories brought out the writer in me. I have the joy of my family to thank for that, from my grandparents through to my children, and, looking forward, to my hoped-for grandchildren.

My grandmother sowed many seeds of love and purpose in me. I will always be grateful for that and for her faith in me.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Love is that condition in which the happiness
of another person is essential to your own.”

Robert Heinlein

The Secret Code

Years ago, all my mom’s relatives had gathered from far and wide for the memorial for her dear Uncle Drew. He was a physician in Los Angeles and always seemed to have a smile on his face and joy in his step. All the kids and the adults loved him.

I remember my dad and I were standing at the bottom of the staircase in Aunt Lucille and Uncle Drew’s beautiful home, talking to my mom’s cousin Keith.

Keith and his wife Jean had driven in from southern Utah to come to the funeral. Dad asked Keith when they were headed back, and Keith’s reply was simply, “She hasn’t said yet.”

My dad was amused by Keith’s answer, as was I, though being unmarried then, I didn’t fully appreciate its meaning.

Years later, while reading in bed, my wonderful wife Liz said aloud, “I’m kind of cold.”

I got up, turned the heat up a bit and got back in bed. It gradually occurred to me that Liz hadn’t asked me to do anything. And I realized that Keith’s reply to my dad those many years ago wasn’t that unusual after all.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Turnabout is fair play.”
Irish Proverb

Prank Calls

Way before caller ID, a kid could while away the hours with relative impunity making prank calls from his parents’ home landline. Now, I know few of my readers ever did such things, but my friends and I did. And my cousin Stephen and I had a few favorite routines.

We liked to call any random number and ask for Dave. Of course, there would be no Dave there. We would take turns calling the same number over the course of a half hour or so and ask for Dave each time. Sometimes, we would disguise our voices. We always ended the series with a final call, in which one of us would identify ourselves as Dave and ask if we had any messages. Yes, hilariously funny, or at least our ten-year-old minds thought so.

We called a random number one day, and a woman answered who somehow thought my cousin Stephen was her son. We couldn’t believe she was falling for this, as Stephen asked her what was for dinner, and she wanted to know what time he would be home, etc.

We called her whenever we made our series of prank calls, and she always thought that Stephen was her son. Her number was easy to remember, as it was just one digit off my home phone number. They were quite chatty together. It wasn’t ’til years later that we realized that she was the one having us on.

But the prank phone call I remember best was when we called the local liquor store. I’m sure that we didn’t ask the man who answered if they had Prince Albert in the can. But whatever we said made him say the words I don’t think I will ever forget.

He simply said, “Officer, this is the call I was telling you about.”

That scared us so badly that we slammed the phone down, and I’m pretty sure we hid under the bed for a while too. And that was the abrupt and heart-pounding finale to our prank phone calls.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Don’t let your dreams be dreams.”
Jack Johnson

A Love of Horses

Aunt Janice had horses in her blood. At five, she pounded six nails into a small stick to make a horse, one nail for the head, four for the legs and, of course, one for the tail. At ten, she advanced to bigger ideas, using a long board for the body, a smaller one for the head and some string for the reins. Then she made herself a herd. Using a card table as her barn, she opened a riding stable at the curb in front of her house. Her sign boldly advertised, “Hobby Horses for Rent.” I doubt she made much money, but she had fun and loved her horses.

When she was thirteen, she got a job at a real stable in Los Angeles, which kept several dozen ponies for children’s parties and weekend rides. The Pony Park was still the site of many birthday parties when I was a kid. She worked there for free for the first year or so, mucking corrals, cleaning the barn and walking little kids around on the ponies, anything to be near horses. Aunt Janice was also a good artist, and what do you think she liked to draw and paint the most? She had a dream of one day having her own horse farm. And she knew you can do anything you want if you keep working at it. And she did.

Every summer, she would go to her Aunt Cora and Uncle Ralph’s ranch with her sister and her parents. She always hoped there would be a pony there for her, but there never was. Even so, she kept dreaming. Aunt Janice worked at the pony track until she was sixteen, gradually earning up to fifty cents an hour, all the while falling more and more in love with horses. You know you love horses if you like the smell of horse manure in the air. I guess I have horses in my blood too, because that smell always makes me feel good.

Later in high school, Aunt Janice and her soon-to-become sister-in-law, Aunt Patsy, bought a matched pair of painted ponies and kept them at Griffith Park, where they could ride in the ring or on the trails nearby. She married Uncle Dale when she was twenty and moved to Georgia, when he went into the Army. She bought another horse named Sailor in Georgia. My cousins, Lynne and Stephen, were born there.

Soon after they returned from Georgia, Uncle Dale passed away. They lived across the street from us, and we were all very sad when that happened. I felt particularly bad for my cousins who lost their father. He was a good uncle and always nice to me. When I was little, I had about twenty-five pictures of Navy ships, kept together by a rubber band. I told Uncle Dale that my dad had been on every one of those ships during the war, and he was kind enough to believe me.

When Aunt Janice met Uncle Gordon and got married, they moved to his house that had a barn and room for horses. She taught all of us cousins to ride in their corral. She knew how to treat horses and if you didn’t do it right, she’d let you have it. I remember she always seemed to have four to six horses there and a couple of ponies. If you want to read a story about the meanest pony I ever met click Twinkle.

Aunt Janice and Uncle Gordon eventually moved up to the cabin at Lake Tahoe with most of their kids and all of their horses. I have great memories of riding through the forest up there on horseback. If you ask me, there’s no place more peaceful than riding a trail on the back of a horse.

All the while living up at the cabin, Aunt Janice kept thinking about that horse farm. She hadn’t forgotten her dream, and she would talk about it from time to time. She began to look around for land to build it on and finally settled on forty acres between Reno and Carson City. They bought the land and eventually, Franktown Meadows became one of the finest equestrian centers in the whole country.

And to think, it all started with a little girl who had a couple of sticks, a handful of nails and a dream.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Everything is a once in a lifetime experience.”
Kobi Yamada

Be Safe

One of the most heard phrases of my childhood was, “Be safe and don’t do anything dangerous.” My mom always said that, as I was heading up to my aunt and uncle’s cabin with my grandmother, a few weeks before my mom and dad and my sister would join us.

The cabin was my favorite place on earth, 7 miles up the mountain from Lake Tahoe, with nothing around it but what God put there–pine trees, mountains, lakes and streams, and granite cliffs as large as tall buildings.

My aunt and uncle were adventurers of the first order, living year-round in a beautiful log cabin at 8450 feet. Often there was so much snow in the winter that the only thing showing of the cabin were the roof eaves and the chimney. During such times, they often took their kids to school in a Sno-Cat.

As I look at the above summer photo, taken by Aunt Janice, I realize that my mom actually had good reason to worry. We often did wildly dangerous things, though they didn’t seem so at the time. Upon closer look, there’s not much danger to us in our PJs in the foreground, though you might say there is to my cousin Mike in the background. Mike seems to be holding a Roman Candle firework that was likely intended to be in a stand rather than hand-held. I recall that Mike lit off quite a few fireworks that night, with the national forest in the background and the grownups somewhere in the living room with the rest of us.

Of course, Mike was older, about fourteen in this picture, so he was allowed to do quite a few more things than the rest of us; such as, drive us on the dirt roads all over the place, around the cabin, with 10 kids in the back of the 1929 Model A pickup truck.

We spent many summer days out on the lake, fishing in rowboats, with no life preserver; or, in winter, jumping off the roof, into the snow bank up to our necks.

We often went “stump hunting” in the summer, which was our particular term for looking for firewood across the old highway. We rarely found any actual pieces of firewood on the ground. Uncle Gordon had a box of dynamite and would place a stick under an old tree stump, add the blasting cap and long fuse. We hid behind trees a hundred yards away and knew when the fuse was lit, as he came running for cover.


We ran out and gathered the pieces of stump, strewn about in a 30 to 40-foot radius, often clear on the other side of the tall trees from where they originated.

We rode our mini-bikes wherever we could find a path, or not, no helmet required back then. Heck, there were no seatbelts in most cars or school buses either.

Then, there was the mountain behind the cabin that provided us with local skiing each year. Uncle Gordon built his own rope tow up the mountain, so there were often just 10 or fewer of us skiing over the untracked snow. Sometimes, in big winters, there was so much snow that there was danger of an avalanche. No problem, Uncle Gordon had learned how to “shoot the avalanche,” with multiple small rockets. Yes, they were actual rockets about 2 feet long, with little wings on the tail and a pointy front. They made quite a boom as they hit the top of the mountain a mile or so away, where the avalanche began its roll.

Then, there was the time we were snowed in for two weeks. When it finally stopped snowing, the highway was closed, and remained so for more than 30 days. We couldn’t all ride in the Sno-Cat so we had to walk out 11 miles. It took us 11 or 12 hours into the night, because there was no road to be seen. After quite a few of those hours my sister Mary Ellen, who was about 11 at the time asked, “Uncle Gordon, are we lost?” When we at last arrived at the Glover’s house, about half-way down the mountain we were pretty frozen. We spent an hour or so tightly packed in front of the fireplace, thawing out with cups of steaming hot chocolate clasped in our hands.

It was all wonderful to me. Somehow, we survived, our joyful if sometimes dangerous, adventures up at the cabin. I owe many of my once-in-a-lifetime experiences to Aunt Janice and Uncle Gordon.

So, Happy Fourth of July to you and yours, be safe and remember not to do anything dangerous.

Photo Credit: Janice MacLean

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Truth builds trust.”
Marilyn Suttle

Carl’s Water

Years ago, I had a business deal that I worked on for nearly two years. It looked like we were going to get it, but it was still a bit in question. My partner, on the case, and I met for lunch with our client, Carl, and his partner, Robert, at a nice restaurant.

The restaurant was beautiful and the food was terrific. We were seated at a square table covered with a white tablecloth, with a lovely flower arrangement in the center. My partner sat across from me, and Carl sat to my left, his partner directly across from him.

Things were going well, and I felt good about the meeting, that is, until I noticed that I had been drinking Carl’s water. In my defense, I am left-handed and naturally inclined to reach for a glass with my left hand. Of course, the trouble in doing that is that I repeatedly reached for Carl’s glass.

So, I sat there thinking what to do. I could pretend that I didn’t notice what I was doing and hope that he hadn’t either. The obvious part two to that plan would be to stop drinking his water, or perhaps continue to drink it but move the glass to the right. Or I could tell him and apologize, but, if he hadn’t noticed, then I would be bringing it to his attention needlessly.

I sat there thinking and decided to tell him and apologize, and when I did, I couldn’t tell whether he had noticed or not. But, he forgave me anyway. I did mention my left-handed theory briefly, but kept it short so as not to make it worse by over-explanation.

There are many such challenges being a lefty in a right-handed world. I have told this story to a few friends and learned two methods from my lefty cousin Hawley to avoid this in the future.

Put both of your hands in your lap in the OK gesture and if you look closely, and use your imagination, your left-hand sort of looks like a lower-case b, and your right hand looks like a lower-case d. I must admit that when I have done this, it has sometimes taken me a bit to figure out what I am looking at. This bewilderment can be exacerbated by having a cocktail or two before sitting down at the table. The left-hand b symbolizes the word bread, and the right-hand d symbolizes drink.

Your tablemates may think you have dozed off, as you stare at your lap for no apparent reason. Perhaps easier is to remember the acronym BMW, which of course stands not for Bavarian Motor Works but rather for Bread, Meal, Wine.

I hope this helps you in your own dining experiences; and, if you dine with me, perhaps will help you to overlook my occasionally staring at my lap.

By the way, we got the deal. So honesty clearly is the best policy, regardless of the faux-pas of the moment.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”
Groucho Marx

The Rock Star

My uncle Jack was a contractor, the youngest Eagle Scout in his troop, the mayor of La Canada and one of the finest people I’ve ever known. He built the guesthouse for our family friends around the corner, Dick and Jane Kelsey. Yes, those are their real names. They loved to go out to dinner with my parents, Harry and Mary, and Dan and Cam Gross, also friends from the neighborhood.

Speaking of names, you may have noticed that it seems that nearly everyone in my family is named Mary or John. If you’re keeping score, we have nine Marys, if you count variations, eight Johns, three Harrys and three Sterlings so far. Even Uncle Jack was a John, but because of his gregarious nature all the grownups called him Uncle Chatty.

Anyhow, my cousin John was working for his dad on the guesthouse and came over one day to say hi. When he arrived, I asked him if he knew that that very night was the last of six sold-out nights for Led Zeppelin, at the Forum in Inglewood.

He said he did. And I said, why don’t we go and five minutes later, we were cruising down the 405 in my ’69 Karman Ghia with no tickets but we had a dream.

We got to the concert after it started, and no one else was in the parking lot of 10,000 plus cars, except for one lone scalper with two awesome twenty-dollar tickets. We felt like celebrities, as the ushers led us to the sixth row from the stage, dead center. The concert was terrific, loud and wild!

I need to tell you a little backstory here. You may recall that many of my cousins had Model A Fords that were in various stages of restoration or decay, depending on how you looked at it, and that we took occasional summer trips on back roads in the West, past many farms and ranches, dotted with grazing cattle.

Well, our Model As rolled along at about forty-five miles an hour with no radio, phone or air conditioning. With nothing to do but shoot the breeze, we got a little bored here and there and started looking for diversions. So, we decided to see if we could attract the attention of the cows.

It turns out that is pretty hard to do. Grazing cattle don’t respond to yelling or pounding on the side of the car or the distinctive sound of the Ahooga horn on a Model A Ford. Believe me we tried and nothing worked. Miles and miles of cows just kept chewing the grass and ignoring the monkeys going by in the old cars.

Somehow, I began to think about my friend Todd’s dad, who had been a cameraman at CBS and had a vast collection of old movie shorts. One of these featured Joe E. Brown, a famous comedian who had a distinctive way of saying, “Hey.” He stretched it out, so it was more like, “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey!”

I decided to give it a try but threw my own twist into it, so it started out quiet and slowly became super loud. “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYYY!!!”

And to our surprise, every cow in that first field stopped chewing, raised its head and looked up at us. Every cow in every field looked up at us after that.

They didn’t stampede or appear frightened. They had more of a, “What the heck was that?” look on their faces as we passed by. Well, we named it “the cradle call” and had a lot of fun with it, until we were so hoarse we couldn’t speak.

Back at the Led Zeppelin concert, the crowd went wild as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page rocked out on stage. And at the end of a song, cousin John suddenly gave a super loud cradle call. Robert Plant turned around and yelled, “Heeeey!” back at John, in response.

So, next time you’re at a concert and want to get the attention of a rock star, or perhaps get thrown out of the venue altogether, or you’re just out driving through the country and see a herd of grazing cows, well, now you know what to do. And I’m sure you’ll have fun doing it, cause we sure did.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Adventure is not outside man; its within.”
George Eliot

The Road Trip

In the summer of seventy-six, my close friend, Scott McNatt, and I decided to take a little drive from Los Angeles to the Olympic Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, over three thousand miles away. Actually, it turned out to be a lot farther than that, as we took numerous detours along the way, such as Lake Tahoe, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore.

But first, we needed a vehicle we could drive and sleep in, because we didn’t have the money to stay in a motel every night and didn’t want to spend a month sleeping on the ground. We had our dads’ credit cards as backup but wanted to take it easy on them.

Our search revealed a 1955 Chevy Step Van that had previously been a UPS truck. As it was in rough shape, we spent several weeks fixing it up and hand painting it red, white and blue in honor of our country’s 200th birthday. We emblazoned thirteen stars across its massive blue front and a map of the United States on one side to show our route as we progressed. We built out the interior to allow for two fold-out bunks and a refrigerator powered by an occasionally replaced block of ice.

So off we went into the wild blue yonder, or at least up the 101.

Our original itinerary was simply to head north, then east and come back in a month, as we were going to Montreal to compete in the Olympic Games. Sorry, spellcheck. We were going to compete with five hundred thousand other spectators for tickets to the Olympic Games. Common knowledge was that none were available. But what’s an extra several thousand miles to find out?

We had quite an adventure, too much to cover in one post, but three things really stand out:

There is something wonderful about being out on the road on a long trip with nowhere you have to be tonight or tomorrow or the next day. The experience of already being where you are going is exhilarating and takes all the pressure out of the usual drive from, say, Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe.

We broke down five times and that provided the opportunity to appreciate the amazing kindness of total strangers we met along the way. The dad in me must say that not all strangers are kind, no, no, no. But the ones who picked me up hitchhiking for a tow-truck and drove me twenty-two miles out of their way in the middle of nowhere were, and so were many others.

After a while on the road, we didn’t like coming into a big town as there was so much to see in the little towns and where there were no towns at all. A trip with no itinerary really makes you appreciate where you are.

When we arrived in Montreal, we needed a new tire, and the French-Canadian mechanic who helped us suggested that we go to the office of the Montreal Matin, the morning newspaper, and ask if we could tag along with a photographer to the Games. Now this was a ridiculous idea even in 1976, but since we had none better we decided to go for it.

To our surprise, the paper welcomed us, took our picture and wrote a story about our sojourn across the continent to see the Games. We think they splashed it up a bit, though we weren’t quite sure, as it was written in French. But from that moment on, their readers donated tickets for us to see the Games every day we were there, another amazing kindness from strangers.

The paper wrote a follow-up article about the success of their campaign and published our picture again, breakfasting with Jacques and Claudine St. Germain, the reporter and his wife, who had written our story.

Jacques gave us each a Canadian dollar and signed it in French. He told us with a twinkle in his eye, “If you keep this dollar in your wallet, you will always have money.”

I have lost and found that wallet with my Canadian dollar in it twice in the forty-one years since that breakfast. The first time was when I lost it in the parking lot of a hardware store, and it turned up months later and miles away. Only the American cash was gone, but that dollar was still tucked inside. Jacques was right, and I will always remember his kindness and generosity. Click here to see the dollar and a few more photos from our trip.

Oh, and a couple of tips, if you decide to make such a trip, be sure the windshield wiper works on your vehicle, ours never did, though having a nearly vertical windshield helps. And I wouldn’t recommend making the return drive from Montreal to Los Angeles in one sixty-nine hour stretch.