Monday, July 17, 2006

Back from the Fresno wedding

Back from a quick weekend in Fresno. Drove out Friday, back yesterday. We went to a wedding – daughter-in-law’s niece.

Sitting in church I wondered where brides get these ideas. Is there a book of things to do at a wedding that might sound like great ideas but in reality people just wonder why? It all seemed to flow together, but started over an hour late because the best man’s tuxedo was wrong and he waited until an hour before the service to go pick it up, so had to wait for another one. He was a rather large guy, and so I am sure they needed to sew two jackets together to fit his broad shoulders. And an old church in downtown Fresno with lots of other people and 108f outside and only a struggling swamp cooler inside is not the most comfortable places to wait. But outside was not any better. And it was sunny outside, without even the breeze the cooler tried to produce.

Our son, the uncle, sat in the pew in front of us, wearing his sunglasses and sitting quietly waiting. They were wrap-around glasses but did not wrap enough, I could tell he had his eyes closed and was sleeping. At least he didn’t snore. I thought it to be a great idea, but my wife wouldn’t let me put on my sunglasses. I guess that’s because I would snore.

When the ceremony started there were lots of preliminaries – people marching up the sides and bridesmaids up the aisle and two little girls pulling a paper runner followed by even smaller girls dropping flowers followed finally by the bride with her father. Later when the priest asked ‘who gives this woman’ he fairly jumped up and yelled “I DO” as if surprised and happy to do it but not really wanting to give up his little girl.

Reception afterward. Lots of loud music and dancing and people that evidently hadn’t seen each other in a while and lots of people that see each other a lot. And a dance song that seems to be a follow on to the ‘do what we say’ style, reminiscent of the Macarena thing from a while back. ‘Stomp your left foot, two jumps, turn right . . .” but there was quite a crowd out there enjoying themselves. I had fun watching.

Fresno was rather nice. We drove around a bit to look at neighborhoods, something we like to do when we have time. Downtown Fresno is rather falling apart, at least the southeast section we were in. The church was built around 1920, and since then the 99 and 41 freeways have passed within a few blocks, cutting off areas and helping isolate areas of downtown. Going to the church from our hotel we passed quite a few boarded up or burned houses, found a few streets full of homeless people living in tents, and were really not very impressed. But the outskirts of town were very nice. The population of Fresno is about 460,000. There is a lot of farming around, it’s the raisin capital of the world, and due to water being delivered by canals from the mountain lakes and the Sacramento delta the whole central valley is green. Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks are very close, and there are several rivers flowing down from the mountains. Neighborhoods are a lot greener than Vegas, and there are a lot more trees. The weather is a little milder; it does not usually get so hot, and in the winter it does not drop down near freezing.

Housing costs less than Vegas, unusual for California. I guess the high prices are only along the coast – what would be a $500,000 house in Fresno would probably be $2,000,000 in San Diego and double that in the San Francisco area. And probably $200,000 in Arkansas (or less). And my line, yes, but when you wake up in the morning you would still be in Arkansas. (drum beat). Sorry Arkansas, I know you helped product Bill Clinton, but even he didn’t return and moved to New York.

On the way over we stopped for lunch in the big town of Keene, California. It’s at the freeway off ramp to the Tehachapi Loop, which I wanted to see because I see lots of attempts at reproducing it in my model train magazines.

The Loop is a big spiral, where long trains end up passing over themselves as they go around. I think it's the only place in the US where trains do this.

Total drive time, Freson to Vegas, including stops to eat, hit Starbucks, gas up and watch trains was about eight hours in each direction.

Most of the US is having a heat wave right now. California is no exception, Fresno sure didn’t expect 108. Driving back through Baker yesterday, home of the famous Bun Boy and the world’s tallest thermometer, we looked over to see that it was 128f (53c). The thermometer goes up to 140, so I am sure that wasn’t the highest they have recorded. I wanted to stop, but B was quite happy to keep driving, and keep the air conditioner going. It worked well, but had to be turned off on the northbound hill. There were lots of cars over on the side of the road with hoods up and radiators steaming. They should have read the signs that tell you to turn off the air conditioner because the steep hill causes cars to overheat. Especially when it’s 128 and sunny, but people see it’s 128 and want that air on. I don’t blame them.

We returned to find our pool water rather warm – haven’t opened the pool cover in a week of sun and hot weather, the water is now up to 102f (39c) which is rather warm even for me. Guess I’ll be putting the pump and fountain in there tonight, which should drop it down to 90f or so by tomorrow.

There are some big range fires in southern California. These are east of San Bernardino, and are about 250 miles south of Las Vegas. All last week, and now, we are having unhealthy air alerts, because the prevailing winds are blowing all that smoke up here. The air is hazy, and you can smell the burning. Driving back down the central valley we could not see the mountains around us because the smoke was making everything hazy. It’s fire season out west. All the grass and plants that were growing over the winter during the winter rains are now dried out and ready to burn. That’s the natural cycle, things grown and burn, and the cinders fertilize the earth for next year’s growth. Many plants have evolved for this cycle, and their seeds cannot sprout without the heat from a fire cracking them. Unfortunately with all of the houses people have built out in the formerly open spaces firefighters are now obligated to putting out these fires, at great cost. I think we should just tell those folks, “you can build there, but we are not going to put out any fires burning your way. It’s your choice”.

A few years ago the National Parks Service changed their stance, and decided that since the fire cycle is a natural thing they were not going to put out fires in national parks unless lives were at risk. That stopped a couple of years ago after a big fire in Yellowstone National Park. Visitors the next year were appalled at the black, burned trees and there was such a complaint to congress that the burn decision was changed, and now all fires are extinguished. It costs millions of dollars a year to fight these fires that are out in the middle of nowhere, in mountainous areas with no roads, threatening no one. And quite a few fire fighters die every year out there, when the wind shifts and they are caught in the middle.

Last year was bad, and this year will probably be worse. We are in a multi year drought. And a few years ago the pine bark beetle started hitting trees in California and other western states, killing trees weakened by the low water levels. So with the high temperatures and dead trees there should be quite a few fires this year.

OK, can’t be without at least one picture.

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