Monday, 30 April 2012

Oakland and Alameda, California

I seem to have so many items and photos that I want to share that, sometimes, I do not know where to go next. So far there has been a chronological order to the blogs but I am now at the place in my story where there are overlaps. This blog is mainly about Oakland, California where my partner lives. Naturally, I have visited there a number of times and the photos attached were taken on more than one of those visits.

Oakland is a large part of the area known as East Bay across San Francisco Bay from the city itself. South from Oakland suburbs stretch cheek-by-jowl from San Leandro to Fremont and then west to San Jose as well as north through Berkeley to Richmond.

While San Francisco is alive and vibrant, Oakland - for the most part - is depressed and the evidence of poverty is noticeable. The prime east-west street through downtown Oakland is Broadway and, underneath that street, is the BART system. If there is a prime downtown intersection I would say that it is 12th Street and Broadway as that is the location of the main bus transfer point in the city. I have waited for a bus at that stop a number of times but have never felt comfortable. Within the past year Ric has been mugged at least three times and at least one of those muggings has occurred near that bus stop.

That being said there is, for me, an 'awe inspiring' spot nearby and a beautiful place about half way between there and where Ric lives.

First, the 'awe spot' which is Jack London Square. Ric took me there on my first visit to see him in the Bay area - it is within walking distance of 12th and Broadway.

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries Oakland was a 'dry' community - no establishments selling alcoholic beverages were allowed. Also, at that time, Oakland was a major seaport and the men who worked on those ships were from countries where there was little or no restrictions upon drinking. To accommodate those men a pub was permitted  near the docks - the First and Last Chance Saloon.

Beneath that saloon are mud flats so, during the 1906 earthquake, the rear of the saloon sank by a few feet giving the interior an interesting ambiance - the floor slants from the front to the rear and, along the bar which goes from the front to the back, pieces of wood have been nailed to it to prevent glasses and bottles from sliding to the end and off onto the floor.

An even bigger curiosity for me was the fact that the young Jack London went there to write and to drink (age limits on the serving of young people were not in place then). Opposite the bar are some tables and one of them is identified as the place where Jack London sat to write his stories. I made sure that I sat there as well!

Out in front of the saloon is a sourdough's cabin, a fountain and a sculpture of one of Jack London's characters - White Fang.

South of the downtown core of Oakland is the beautiful Lake Merritt. It is of a fair size and in the shape of a horseshoe. I have walked around it three or four times and the length of the walk is just under an hour. The following are photos of the lake, nearby buildings and a small bird sanctuary.

                      Dominating the western shore of the lake is the Alameda County Courthouse

Up until a few years ago the East Bay region of California was a part of the Roman Catholic Arch-diocese of San Francisco. However, one of the more recent popes agreed to a petition to create a new diocese for the faithful living across the bay. For a number of years one of the downtown churches in Oakland served as the Diocesan Center but, now, a new cathedral stands along the shore of Lake Merritt.

                                           The new Cathedral Church of Christ the King.

                                            There are a number of fountains in the lake.

                   Much of the land that lies in the center of the 'horseshoe' is a bird sanctuary

Turning the corner to walk along the eastern shore one comes upon a weir where cormorants perch.

            Nearby I took this photo of a reflection of a parish church in the water of the lake.

This is one of my favorite photos - a conference building along the shore with a Roman Catholic parish church behind it and both buildings are reflected by the virtually still water of the lake.

Ric lives about twelve blocks from the lake in an apartment in a 1930s art deco building perched on the side of a hill.

                  Chez Reed (Ric's apartment is the one in the lower right of the photograph)

When Ric first moved away from the house in Concord he joined a workmate, his wife and little daughter in a unit in a new development at the Fruitvale BART Station. This station is between Lake Merritt and Coliseum (that being where the stadium used by the Oakland Athletics and the Oakland Raiders is located). Also Coliseum is the access point for Oakland Airport.

The complex is quite pretty and it is one block from 'Little Mexico' and a small supermarket which was fun to shop in. One morning I went to prepare my breakfast but there were no eggs in the refrigerator so I walked up to the little Mexican supermarket. I could not locate any eggs so I spoke to a middle-aged woman who was stocking shelves. I knew that she was of Mexican origin so I spoke in my very limited Spanish - "Senora, los ouevos, por favor?" Immediately she took me to where the eggs were to be found. Back at the apartment I proudly told Ric what I had accomplished. He looked at me with a look of horror and said, "Love, I wonder how you pronounced those words as the Spanish expression for male genitals is very similar to that!" Ooops! 

One evening Ric and I were on his balcony playing cribbage when we were startled by the sound of pistol shots coming from somewhere close by. As it was nearly dark outside we did not leave the balcony which was of a Spanish design with high balustrades which hid us from the view of anybody down below. However, Ric made inquiries the next morning and learned that it was some sort of 'turf tussle'.

To the west of much of Oakland is the city of Alameda - a bedroom suburb of San Francisco and home to a Naval Base. The area to the north end of that island is an older suburb while, to the south, are lovely one story brick houses which abut canals. Also, that area is served by ferries from the Embarcadero in San Francisco. When Ric worked for Lucent Technologies and wished to go into The City after work, he had a 15 minute walk to the ferry slip and twenty minutes on the boat. When he got off the boat there was a BART station about a ten minute walk away.

On a recent trip to see Ric he took me to Crab Cove which a friend had shown him. It is a lovely place. What bemused me were the rodents which seemed to be all over the place. They looked somewhat like squirrels but are obviously some other species.

                                      One of the 'critters' is up on top of the rock on the left.

                                               Two of those rodents are seen in this photo.

                        Ric is standing near a monument to seamen lost during a World War II battle.

Oakland may be, on the surface, a dreary city but - just like in most other places - there is beauty to be found.

Friday, 27 April 2012

A Day in Sacramento

When I visited with Ric in California I found various ways by which to amuse myself while he was at work. Sometimes I took day excursions outside of the Bay area. As I really enjoy train travel, one day I decided to take Amtrak from Richmond to Sacramento.

I had been to Sacramento before then but that had been to the Biannual  Conference of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in the summer of 1985. While there I was so busy with Conference meetings that I did not do the 'tourist thing'. Coming ahead to 2004 I was in California to visit Ric and, while he was working, I looked for ways to amuse myself. One day  I decided that a day trip to the State Capitol would fill the bill.

Amtrak trains are quite comfortable to ride on. While they do stop at other stations along the way, I do not find the ride to be tedious in the least bit. Richmond is the northern terminus of the BART System on the east side of the Bay. It is there where Amtrak and BART share a station complex.

From Richmond Amtrak follows the shoreline of the estuary as it narrows to where the Sacramento River meets salt water. Therefore the scenery is quite pleasant. Once in the river valley the terrain is rather bleak until the line approaches the college town of Davis - there the valley is flat and very fertile so the scenery is lushly green.

The Amtrak Station in Sacramento is adjacent to the city center and very  close to 'Old Sacramento'. This is where the beginnings of the city are located - and they are well preserved.

Quite near the Amtrak Station is a walkway going down under the tracks and emerging on the main street of the original settlement.

                                                    The main street of Old Sacramento

                                                  The view in the opposite direction

I was amused by this tired older 'lady' who was resting her feet outside of a shop.

I spent a few minutes there and then I went for lunch in a nearby restaurant and then wandered along a grand avenue which leads to the State Capitol Building.

The area around the Capitol is a huge rectangular green space. There are beautiful trees and flower beds.

Towards the far end of that park is the very poignant Vietnam War Memorial

The Church Conference was held in July and then I experienced how hot that city can be at the height of summer. However, it is a pretty place - and often in the news - so it is well worth a visit.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


I graduated from Como Lake High School in Coquitlam, B.C. in June of 1954 and, in June or July of 2004, I received a telephone call from one of the women who graduated with me. Her message was that a reunion was being planned  for Saturday, August 14 and would I be able to attend? After conferring with Ric the answer was "Yes!"

It was arranged that we stay with my younger brother, Dan, and his wife, Karen, at their home in Coquitlam. It had been years since we had last seen each other but we were able to connect soon after I arrived. When Ric's flight from San Francisco arrived, we went on to Dan and Karen's house. Dan and Mom bought that house some thirty years before so I was familiar with it.

I was up early the next morning and sat out on the 'basket porch' drinking a coffee and being entertained by some blue jays who were rather put out that I was sitting where I was and, thus, intimidating them in their begging for handouts.

After we had eaten breakfast, Dan took Ric and I in the car for a tour of the neighborhoods on and around Dawes Hill where we had lived as children. The changes were huge - so many new houses and, yes, new streets that had not existed years before. 

Como Lake High is now a middle school  but the reunion committee had gained permission to use the cafeteria there as a cocktail room. Later we went to a banquet hall not far away for dinner. It was interesting - and great - to meet nearly 40 people a half century after many of us had seen each other. With one exception nobody seemed to be surprised that I had 'come out'. The person who was nonplussed was one of the women who had been quite involved in the church and, now, she belonged to one of the more homophobic ones. However, Ric commented that he noticed a few surprised looks when the others realized the large age difference between the two of us.

I missed a few people so I asked after them only to be told that they had passed away.

One person who was very much there was Emma Wong who had been in my homeroom each year from Grade 2 until Grade 12. We had had an easy rapport with each other while in school and that rapport was still there. Sadly, Emma passed away within a year of the reunion.

Emma is the petite woman on the extreme right of the front row. I remember when we were in Grade 11 or 12 and Emma came to school one day outfitted in a very becoming ensemble. The other girls immediately gathered around to admire it while Emma did the mandatory twirl. And then she said - emphatically -  "And this did NOT come from the Junior Shop!"

 I am the second from the right in the back row.

Mr. Green (Junior High math teacher) and Mr McBay (Grade 9 English teacher) cutting the anniversary cake. 

On the following day, Sunday, Dan drove us to the airport for our return flights - but he took a round about route to get us there so that I could show Ric a bit more of my home area.

The first stop was at the campus of Simon Fraser University on top of Burnaby Mountain.

                  Ric is standing at the west end of the plaza that is the center of the university.

West of the campus is Burnaby Mountain Park and we stopped there for a few minutes. The gardens there are lovely and the view is spectacular!

                                                           The formal gardens

A 'Sister City' to Burnaby is Kushiro , Japan and the latter gave Japanese totem poles to the former.

         The totems which are much different than those of the First Nations People of the West Coast

The plaque which came with the totems.

The drawback to the campus of Simon Fraser University is its remoteness from the rest of the city - but the asset is the incredible view! Ric and Dan are admiring that view.

Looking east to the head of Burrard Inlet and the City of Port Moody. The 'beach area' on the left side of the inlet is actually the refinery community of Ioco - which is an acronym (Imperial Oil Company). Above it is the outer Vancouver suburb of Anmore.

Burrard Inlet continues on towards the left (west) to Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge. The water extending to the north is Indian Arm, the suburb of Deep Cove is on the left side of the photo while another suburb, Belcarrra Park, is directly across the inlet from where I took the photo.  

Alda's husband, Leo, passed away just before I flew to Vancouver for the Homecoming and the memorial - which Alda organized - was held on the Saturday following. Again Ric and I flew to Vancouver only this time we went to the regional airline (Jazz) departure gates and boarded the smaller aircraft for Kamloops.

My niece, Darlene Gibson, met us at the airport and, after stopping for a meal at a Mr. Mike's Steakhouse, we  headed out on the highway for the two hour drive to 100 Miles House. Alda and Leo had purchased a new house in the town which we had to locate - in the dark! - but had little problem in finding it.

Ric and I are quite different from each other in a number of ways - and one of them is how we spend time while traveling from one place to another. While I love to be looking out of a window, enjoying views, observing towns and villages, reading signposts and the like - Ric prefers to sit in the back seat with a book. While Darlene was driving suddenly Ric looked up from his book and commented on the scent wafting in through the open window - an evergreen tree with a pungent smell. The aroma reminded Ric of a favorite bath salt that he uses so he named the tree! 

Alda's house was bedlam with her and Leo's extended families gathering. While I knew most of Leo's family, years had passed since I had last seen them so introductions had to be made to me as well as to Ric.  One of the people in the group on the front lawn when we walked up from the car was Paul Denis - my youngest sister's son-in-law. Ric had met Teri when we visited Kamloops - but not Paul. As most of the people gathering were strangers to both of them, they spent most of Saturday together at the back of the yard, smoking cigars - and bonding.

The younger people were to camp out in a tent in the back yard but Ric and I stayed with a neighbor down the street.

On Saturday still more people arrived and, among them, were Dan and Karen. This was the first time in many years that we four Lacasse siblings were all together in one place  so we were asked to pose for a photo.

                                                  Dan, Babs, Alda and yours truly

On Sunday we returned to Kamloops in Alda's car and, instead of traveling the longer 'main highway' route, she  took the regional highway 24 through Lone Butte to Little Fort and then south to Kamloops. Ric and I were dropped at the airport. We flew to Vancouver and then separated. I flew back to Toronto while Ric flew home to San Francisco.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Gatorland in Orlando

Northern Florida from the Atlantic to the Panhandle is subject to severe thunderstorms during the warmer months. As these occur most frequently in the afternoons and evenings, air traffic in and out of Orlando Airport is scheduled accordingly.

When Steve and Rani took us to the Kennedy Space Center we drove through constant thunder and lightning on our way back to Cocoa Beach and this continued all through dinner.

Air Canada had only one flight a day from Toronto and back - at least during the summer months - and this was in the morning. By the time that our shuttle from Cocoa Beach to Orlando got us to the latter my flight to Toronto had already departed. Ric was able to fly west on his way to California while Eric was planning to spend a few days in that city (he had rented a car and planned to visit the Kennedy Space Center before returning to Washington State).

Eric and I booked into the same hotel in Orlando so we grabbed some brochures from the rack in the lobby  and pored over them. Disney World did have some appeal but it was one of the more expensive attractions and would be full of families with younger kids. We settled upon Gatorland instead.

It was interesting and colorful once we got past the hokum found at those 'attractions'. We arrived just before the public feeding of the captive alligators so we watched. A couple of employees stood on a balcony like affair and dangled carcasses of slaughtered chickens towards the hungry mouths which were agape down below them. 

Alligators most certainly are NOT polite diners - each was determined to get the dangled piece of chicken before one of its mates got it.

I was bemused by an egret who was hanging around on the fringe. It wanted a piece of that chicken too - but had to be careful or it, - also - would become lunch!

               Watching for a piece of chicken while watching where the 'gators were located!

                            An alligator lazily swimming around - but ever on the alert for food. 

I would guess that patrons do toss tidbits into the water as that 'gator was watching us very expectantly.

                                                       It is/was a pretty place

After watching the alligators being fed we wandered around what, - to all intents and purposes - is a zoo. Towards the rear of the property was an enclosure for the 'grandaddy' of the 'gators.

It seems that everywhere we went we encountered that always hopeful egret.

                                                        "Hey - Please feed a hungry bird!"

There were a number of other exhibits - almost entirely birds. These are fledgling egrets.

                                                                      Two parrots

                                Two more parrots - more colorful than the former shown

                                                   I am not sure what this bird is - a stork?

A while after this trip I was chatting with somebody who had been to Orlando more recently than I had and he told me that this attraction (Gatorland) had been destroyed in a fire.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Bahamas - Freeport and Nassau

Sunday - the day after the trip to the Kennedy Space Center - was also July 4.

As usual, I was up earlier than Ric. First I walked across to the pier to photograph the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.

Returning to the hotel, I stood on the balcony and watched the local 4th of July celebration. We Canadians are proud of our land and our citizenship too - but we do not demonstrate that pride to the extent that our American neighbors celebrate their pride. The spot where they celebrated was out of my direct sight but I could hear the program. A woman had been selected to sing the National Anthem and she had a lovely melodic voice as well as the range needed to reach those high notes.

Through his involvement in a chat room Ric had met a fellow from Whidbey Island , Washington. Eric was a 'workaholic' and had not enjoyed a vacation for some time so Ric talked him into joining us on the cruise to The Bahamas. Eric arrived later that morning and found us at the hotel. Later in the afternoon we - along with a couple of women - were picked up by a shuttle and taken to Port Canaveral and the Carnival  line ship, the SS Fantasy. While not all that large, Port Canaveral was a busy place and our ship was one of three that were leaving in tandem. The other two were a Royal Caribbean ship ("Majesty of the Sea") and one of the Walt Disney ships which was sailing to the Disney Corporation owned island on the Atlantic Ocean (east) side of the Bahamas.  

                                                           Boarding the MS Fantasy

                                                            Mariner of the Seas

                                              Disney Line ship

Our ship was the first to leave port with the other two right behind (so to speak)

This photo was taken from the upper deck of the Fantasy with the Disney ship behind and the Mariner of the Sea exiting the estuary in the left background.

This was the one sailing where the dining room was completely full for dinner. The three of us were seated at the Captain's table. With us were seven members of a family from Illinois and four members of another family from Atlanta.

Also on board was a couple who could be classed as 'beautiful people' (very handsome and smartly dressed) but always drunk. The woman of that couple really liked the matron of the Illinois family and proceeded to make a nuisance of herself until she was told - firmly - to 'get lost'.

One of the crew was a very vivacious woman and she got most of us in the dining room on our feet doing the 'Macarena' . That was a lot of fun.  

                                     The usual 'schmaltz' upon leaving the ship in a Port-of-call

Early the next morning we were docked in Freeport - a very busy place and, from the dockside, not at all romantic. We boarded a British type bus (driver on the right instead of on the left) for the tour. As we left the area of the docks we passed an oil storage tank with a beautiful mural on its side.

Our destination was Port Lucaya towards the eastern side of the island.

                                                         The emblem for Port Lucaya

Alighting from the bus we walked along a boardwalk and pier to a large rectangular 'pond' where we were asked to sit along the inward side with our feet in the water (we had already gone to change rooms to get into our swimsuits). A very personable - and knowledgeable - woman waded out on a platform. Using a 'loudhailer' she spoke about the dolphins and, especially, about Cacique who was on her way to entertain us.

                                                           Cacique and her trainer

The trainer shared a lot of information with us all the while giving 'treats' to the dolphin. In the above photo you can see the people sitting along only one side of that square. Ric and I were sitting near there but around the corner with folk sitting all the way to the end and along the third side. After giving us a lot of information about dolphins and about Cacique in particular, people were invited to enter the pool (via the ladder you can see at the end of that row of people) in groups of six. Each person was called forward in pairs and told to stand near the edge of the platform with enough space between each for Cacique.

I do not swim. The platform we were standing on was three feet below the surface while the bottom of the pool was seventeen feet below that. I was nervous - that is, until I felt one of Cacique's fins snuggled behind my leg so I couldn't have fallen into the deep water if there were an accident. I had been told that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures - and there, for me, was proof!

The 'gimmick' was for each of us to be 'kissed' by Cacique. Our friend, Eric, was taking photos  - and so was a professional photographer. We paid for those photos at the gift shop later.

We were permitted to ask a few questions so, as I noticed scars on the top of Cacique's head, I asked  about them. Trophies from fights within the pod.

I was asking about the scars. The girls who were standing behind Ric were waiting their turn to be 'kissed' The gap in the crowd at the far corner was where we were sitting and to where we returned when we exited the pool.

                                             The show's over - Cacique's farewell 

From the dolphin entertainment we took the launch back to Port Lucaya and lunch at a wonderful restaurant. We were sitting on the verandah of this large 'house' where we were waited upon. Each of us ordered a 'Bahama Mamma' which was a large beverage  with - naturally - a lot of rum in it. Potent yet delicious - as was the ample serving of food.

An example of the architecture seen in and around Port Lucaya. Very colorful!

Ric had to acquire some cash so he walked through the village and found a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada. One of my commitments is to purchase and mail postcards to a couple of people in Ontario who do not get to travel. I had no idea as to where to find postcards but Ric had found a shop near the bank so I walked there.

I opened the door and walked into a very cluttered shop. To the right of where the postcards were displayed was a huge black woman standing behind a counter. She glanced at me and then came ambling around to where I was demanding a hug - my second 'Bahama Momma' of the day! Ric witnessed that - and the look upon my face - and I thought that he was going to fall over he was laughing so hard!

But then - at Port Lucaya and in Nassau the next day - I laughed at him as he fought off 'hair dressers' who were determined to turn his long hair into a 'Rasta Mon' look.

Our cabin steward did the usual 'decor thing' with the towels - only, this time, it was an elephant.

As on all cruises, there was a 'formal night' at dinner.

When we arose the next morning we were tied up to a wharf in Nassau. Next to us was the Mariner of the Sea which seemed to be tailing us around the northern Caribbean Sea.

Leaving the ship we had to pose for the usual photograph.

The tours which were offered in Nassau were limited to two - a day at the famed casino or a day at the fabled Blue Lagoon, We opted for the latter - as did many of our fellow passengers.

                                                         The Nassau Hotel and Casino

As you may know, The Bahamas consists of many islands often separated by small channels of sea water. From our cruise ship we walked to a nearby pier where we boarded a launch for the half hour trip to the Blue Lagoon. On the way we passed the casino which was erected to resemble a castle.

As we approached the islands where the Blue Lagoon is located an islet a mile or two away was pointed out to us. Those of you who remember the TV sitcom, 'Gilligan's Island' will remember the opening scene behind the credits.

The Blue Lagoon is a body of water that separates two small cays and is in the shape of an 'S'. To me it is an example of what paradise looks like.

When we docked there was the usual tourist camera and photograph which we bought as a souvenir.

                                                                  Eric, myself and Ric

Near where the launch was docked were most of the buildings associated with the resort (recreation room, change rooms, wash rooms, and picnic area). As well as a swim itself there were other choices for activity - including another 'Swim with the Dolphins'. A couple of hundred yards further along was a 'Swim with the Stingrays' thing. Ric regretted not booking himself into that - he inquired but all of the tickets for that morning had been sold.  

                           You can see the shadows of two stingrays below those two children.

I thought that I was in Paradise - and the scenery reminded me of the setting of "South Pacific"(all that was missing was 'Bloody Mary'!)

                                                                 Cocoanut palms

                                                  Ric walking past the 'stingray' exhibit.

                                              In a doorway I spotted a gecko on the wall.

Signs along the walk warned against wading in the pools aside from the Blue Lagoon itself but we did walk into the water which separated where we were from another small island. There were countless small fish swimming in that clear water and the sensation of them bouncing into and off of our legs was good fun.

After a barbecue lunch we went for a dip in the lagoon - a taste of paradise (warm water gently flowing past us). On the side of the islet towards Nassau is Blackbeard's tower - one of a few reputedly erected by that famed pirate. I walked there and climbed the staircase inside.

From the top I looked down upon the lagoon and spotted Ric and Eric cavorting in the water.

               That is Ric who is gesturing in my direction while Eric's back is turned towards me.

One other 'adventure' was Ric challenging me to go with him in a kayak. As a paddler I was hopeless!

                                                           Ric towing the kayak

We were supposed to return to Nassau on the mid-afternoon launch trip but remained until the final one which was almost overcrowded.

A cruise to the Bahamas - a wonderful memory!