Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Marine Drive




Last weekend, Ed had to work and Noé paced the house like a cat on crack cocaine, so I took him for a drive. Drives with Noé have been our go-to during the trickier parts of Covid. And Marine Drive is our favorite pandemic driving destination.

Tucked into the car, I thought of our many drives on this roadway since Covid hit and the many ways Marine Drive has changed with the times. I realized I’d been trying to outdrive this damn pandemic on this damn road for almost two years.


Noé and I started driving Marine Drive in March 2020 when in-person school and the rest of the world shut down. After morning online classes, we would head to the car. Life then was still very locked down and driving was one of the few things that offered both freedom and safety. We drove east from 33rd Avenue along Marine Drive until we hit Blue Lake, and then we would turn around and head back west on the same road. Marine Drive boasts great views of PDX Airport to the south and the mighty Columbia River to the north. Noé likes watching the planes take off and land at PDX. Amazon and FedEx delivery planes dominated the runways back then. My eyes usually moved to the other side of the road, towards the serenity of the river that divides Oregon from Washington. I’ve always sought out great bodies of water to calm my mind when it is otherwise hitting the red panic button.


Together, we watched the Oregon winter gradually lift from the inside our silver Honda CRV. Blooms formed on the trees lining the river and snow slowly receded from the mountains surrounding us. On clear days we had a view of Mt. Hood, still vanilla with snow. Good ol’ ever-dependable Mt. Hood. Always positioned east in that exact same spot on the horizon. It towered in our windshield as a beacon of certainty among the chaos.


As the temperature warmed into April and May, we pit stopped at Brighton Beach. The beach, near the 33rd Ave turnoff and Salty’s restaurant, is admittedly sketchy. You wouldn’t catch us there anytime after dark. But Noé and I enjoyed playing in the sand and in the small rolling tides, the beach otherwise empty of visitors. We sat on oversized logs dotting the beach and wished into the waters many an overcast spring and fall afternoon. I could read on a blanket and let him wander the beach without worry. It was about the most carefree either of us felt during that stretch of time. I told Noé it was our “secret beach,” even though every Portland teenager had recreated and experimented on that rocky strip of sand since the 1970s.


Noé and I kept driving straight through the Summer of 2020. Our afternoon visits to Brighton Beach turned to morning walks along the shore to avoid sunny masses of bodies and booming music as Covid cases and restrictions eased. We noticed garbage piling up along Marine Drive. And then, a never-ending trail of tents and rusted out RVs and illegal bonfires popped up along the bike trail that runs between the street and the river. Commercial airliners returned to the airport runway. Later that winter, part of the airport parking lot would transform into a gigantic maze of cars — a drive thru vaccine clinic. Ed took Noe (twice) through that very line.


Through 2021, our Marine Drive adventures abated as school and work returned, and life normalized a bit. We headed back to public transportation and theaters and restaurants and other places where we might interact with others. But this winter, we’ve tried to isolate once again in an effort to keep virus transmissions down and school up. And Noé and I  find ourselves Thelma and Louise’ing it back on Marine Drive. On my worst days, I drive and look out at the water and the garbage and wonder how we will ever get ourselves out of this literal and figurative mess.


Two years into this pandemic and the only real certainty is that there will continue to be lots of uncertainty. Will my kids have school today? Is there another, more dangerous variant on the horizon? Will the garbage and recycling pickup come today?


Will Noe and I be driving Marine Drive forever?



Monday, January 3, 2022

In appreciation of male friendship

“Male friends are important to me, and the ones that I love are vitally important. These two guys, I loved.” -- Ben Bradlee, in his memoir A Good Life, on his friendship with Art Buchwald and Ed Williams

The guys in the picture above are Alfredo and Jose, both of whom I met in 2019. I met Alfredo first through a Latino professionals networking event that we’re regulars at (well, at least we were in the Before Times). I followed up and asked if we could have lunch in early 2019, and would ask again every couple of months. Thankfully, he always agreed and we began to hit it off. 


Jose I met through Alfredo in the summer of 2019. Alfredo looped us both into a text thread that has never stopped nearly three years later. As we subsequently met up in person, the chemistry was instant with Jose, and it wasn’t just our common fandom of the Dodgers.


It's been really serendipitous to meet two Latinos who are age peers and with whom I have a lot in common. Whether it was nerding out about baseball, talking about our families (immediate and extended), or providing a space to vent and compare notes on navigating our professional lives, the conversations have been enriching and deep.

 

It is invaluable to have people in your corner who can relate on a number of levels and can keep you honest or offer an encouraging word when it's necessary. But I’m also very grateful we had that time to cultivate the friendship and form a bond of some kind before the pandemic shut everything down. I’m pleased to say the bonds have stayed strong as we navigated these last couple of years.

As I've cultivated these friendships, my mind drifted to Ben Bradlee’s memoir, A Good Life. It is firmly in my wheelhouse because of the cross-section of journalism and history and is a book I reread at least once a year. I even own an audiobook version, read by the man himself, his gravelly voice filling my earbuds or speakers upon every listen.

It’s an engrossing read, thanks to a charismatic central figure who was a giant in his industry and had a direct hand in or close-up vantage point for many moments in post-war American history. (For the non-readers out there, I recommend a recent HBO doc on the man, which basically used his memoir as a script.)

One secondary thread in the book that always fascinated me was his friendship with Art Buchwald and Ed Williams, which is a recurring theme as he weaves through tales of JFK, working at Newsweek, the Watergate scandal, and more. It was a warm, deep and lasting bond between the three of them, and I always wondered what that must be like. Would I ever have an inner circle like that?

It wasn’t until I moved to Portland in the summer of 2018, and started networking and meeting people in the area, that it started to manifest itself. 


I had found my guys, and am very grateful!

I look forward to the time when we’re past this pandemic, whatever that looks like, and I get to see Jose and Alfredo more frequently. Because, yes, to paraphrase Bradlee’s line: these two guys, I love.


Sunday, May 16, 2021

#21



Today is the 21st anniversary of my dad’s death. I wasn’t going to write anything, so many of my friends have suffered their own huge losses and mine isn’t any worse. We’re all going through our own stuff.

I won’t lie, I still feel anger about his death. And I’m especially angry that he left us so young. I’m only a couple years shy of the age that he was when he passed away and everything in my own life feels unfinished. It seems so unfair that he had to endure all the work and the hard of raising five kids through their early years without all of the rewards. He missed the high school and college graduations, the weddings, the grand babies, the career accomplishments. There are times when we are all together as a family and enjoying each other’s company and I find myself fading out of the scene and wanting him to be there with us so much that it physically hurts.

But instead of sharing more anger and heartache, I’m going to share some of the things his death has reinforced to me over the years:

1. Always say I love you. I never get off the phone with my family without saying I love you. This isn’t something we did before my dad died. You just never know the last time you’ll see or talk to your people.

2. Take all the pictures, save all the notes. I have so few photos of my dad and I together since his life happened pre-iPhone and pre-social media. And the only handwritten note I have from him was one he wrote in college to tell me I had overdrawn my bank account and to do better. But man, I sure cherish that note 🤣. I try and take photos with all my people, even if I’m not in the mood. I’ve noticed as I’ve aged that my photos tend to look better to me in the future. Like if I feel like I look frumpy in a photo - give it a good 5-7 years and then I’ll usually think I look pretty good 🤣.

3. Stay close to your siblings, they are your best friends. I will never understand how the same two parents created five such completely different humans, but we’ve all worked to stay close over the years on a foundation of shared grief and trauma. This doesn’t mean we never fight (oh…we do!) but we’re quick to apologize and repair bad feelings.

4. Grief comes in waves, just let them hit you. When my dad died, I figured the grief would last about a year and then I would be done. I will let you in on a secret if you haven’t figured it out yet: The Five Stages of Grief is a complete hoax! I remember thinking often, “if I can get through this first year....” But 21 years and counting, the waves keep hitting, and usually at the most random times. Like the other day I was shopping at Fred Meyer and I passed the men’s sock section and I got all teary-eyed because every year my dad would wake up at the crack of dawn on Black Friday and go buy us all our athletic socks for the year. Surrounded by bins full of white athletic socks, I bawled until the grief slowly passed and soon I just felt thankful that I had a dad who cared about keeping his family in socks.

5. Write the will. For someone who died in their forties and completely unexpectedly, my dad did a great job of “having his affairs in order” and it was such a gift to our family. There were so many more important things to worry about.

6. Love your kids and leave them alone. This one is a work-in-progress. My dad and I clashed a lot, especially during my teen years, and it created a pile of regret when he passed away. My natural way to “love” is to control the situations and people around me and I have to fight that instinct with everything in me. The past year of pandemic life has reinforced this — there was so little I could control, the only thing I could do was love my kids, and be there for the highs and crushing lows of life in lockdown. Loving them and leaving them to their own mistakes and accomplishments has been my lesson of the year.

So, in summary: love your people, save the good stuff, write the will.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Guilty



The boys and I decided to hike this afternoon and as we drove away from the house I turned on NPR. They were announcing that the George Floyd verdict was imminent. 

Pandemic year note: The boys are still doing CDL and I'm working part-time so Tuesday afternoons are free, and now that the sun is out, I'm not complaining quite as much!

Asher and I talked about the trial as we listened to the NPR commentators in the car. When the judge finally announced the jury's verdict we found ourselves in the middle of a Burgerville drive thru in Gresham still en route to Oxbow Park. We held hands and closed our eyes as we braced for the judge’s words.


“Guilty….guilty….and guilty," he read.


We exhaled pure relief and then pumped our fists out our car windows. Accountability. Not full justice. But a start.


A single detail caught my attention. He had a middle name, which was announced along with his guilt. Derek Michael Chauvin. When he was born into this world, he had a mama who held him with love and cared enough to give him a middle name. Little did she know this little baby would grow up to be the kind of man who knelt on a black man's neck for sport until the life drained out of him, and then used his police duty as a cover for his sadism. This tiny detail...his middle name...shook me to my core. You start fresh. You start full of hope. You start with a middle name from your mama ...


I hiked through the giant trees and bright green fern and along the banks of the Sandy River and looked up at the blue blue sky and enjoyed the company of my two boys. Sons I lovingly gave middle names as I held them in my arms as babies. And I pondered what it all meant and what was to come.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

January 6, 2021

I keep thinking back to my days as a college intern in Senator Wyden's office waa-yy back in 1997. One of my intern duties was to assist with Capitol tours for constituents. I loved the tours because I didn't really get many opportunities to go to the Capitol building, aside from occasionally delivering papers or messages to the Senator or his aides in that pre-smart phone world. There was a holiness to the building. It definitely was not a sinless place, but sacred, nonetheless.

I also thought about the tour itself, which was mostly comprised of witty stories about the Capitol's history: the British torching the building in 1814, President Jackson's attempted assassination in 1835, the infamous "death-by-caning" on the Senate floor when tensions over slavery were at its peak. These anecdotes were always delivered and received with air of "Can you even imagine that happening nowadays?"
I'm embarrassed to admit I never completely considered the trauma and fear that must have accompanied these events before yesterday. And I'm left to wonder, will there be an intern 100 years from now, giving a tour of the Capitol and describing the Great Insurrection of 2021? I kind of hope so, because that would mean our democracy survived.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

2020 Favorites

NonFiction Books
1. Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X Kendi
2. Untamed, Glennon Doyle
3. Shrill, Lindy West
4. How to be an antiracist, Ibram X Kendi
Fiction Books
1. The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen
2. City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert
3. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
4. Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akhtar (still reading)
MR/YA Books
1. Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan
2. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel Firoozeh Dumas
3. Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly
4. New Kid, Jerry Craft (graphic novel)
5. The Stars Beneath our Feet, David Moore
New (to me) Podcasts
1. 1619
2. Nice White Parents
3. The Daily
4. Code Switch
Streaming
1. Mrs. America
2. Orthodox
3. Queens Gambit
4. Soul
5. The Last Dance
Honorary mention: The Crown, S4

Moments
1. Watching Noe's final Unified Basketball game at Grant with a gym packed with supporters, the Pep Band (including Asher), cheerleaders and especially when the Grant students ran down to the court to make a human tunnel for the players during game introductions. (February)
2. Going night kayaking at Wallowa Lake with my sisters and their boys. (July)
3. Our neighborhood's daily 7pm Thank You to Healthworkers (March - June)
4. Biking the trail to Benham Falls with Asher in Bend (October)
5. Waking up to rain at 3am - Ed and I opening up our bedroom windows and laughing and listening and BREATHING fresh air after 2 weeks of wildfire smoke that kept us locked inside. (September)

 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Dodgers won the World Series, and I feel fine


For the last several years after the Dodgers would win their first game of the season, I would turn to anyone who'd listen, usually Jen or maybe my parents via the phone, and proclaim, "This is the year!"

It was always meant as a joke, but deep down I wondered if one of these years I'd ever be right. 

Well, the moment I wondered if I'd ever see again took place on October 27, 2020, at 8:37 p.m., when Julio Urias struck out Willy Adames to secure a 3-1 victory in Game 6 to clinch the World Series for my beloved Dodgers.  

It was the first World Series championship for the Dodgers since 1988, when I was 11 years old and in sixth grade. Because baseball is so meticulous in its record keeping, I was able to calculate precisely how long ago it had been. 

Yes, it was 32 years ago. But the time in between Orel Hershiser striking out Tony Phillips in Game 5 to clinch the 1988 title, and Urias slamming the door on this year's Series? 

Exactly 11,695 days... and 11 minutes.

In that time, I went to and graduated from prep school, went to and graduated from college, started my journalism career, got married, moved to New York, had two sons, moved to D.C., bought our first house, moved to Seattle, bought our second home, saw my sons become teenagers, watched my father retire from his job after 44 years, turned 40, left the journalism industry, moved to Portland, saw an aunt die, voted in six presidential elections, and lived through a global pandemic.

In short, it had been a while.

*******

When it comes to the Dodgers and me, there was no other way it could've gone. I was born in East L.A., and the house I grew up in, and in which my parents still live, sits five miles from Dodger Stadium. The family that raised me (my mother, father, and two aunts) all fell hard for the Dodgers after emigrating to the U.S. from Mexico. Even before Fernandomania blew up in 1981, they had already lived and died with the Dodgers during the 1977 and 1978 World Series, both losses to the Yankees. My father still curses Reggie Jackson's name.

That 1981 season, more than even 1988, is the common bond for my parents and aunts, and myself. One of my aunts was easily the biggest Fernandomaniac of the family, saving and cutting out all the newspaper clippings she could get her hands on, while also having a big crush on Dusty Baker. My other aunt used to get ulcers over the Astros teams that featured Cesar Cedeno and Jose Cruz. My mom and dad loved the steadiness of the Ron Cey/Bill Russell/Davey Lopes/Steve Garvey infield, and appreciated the stalwart starting pitching the team had with Jerry Reuss, Burt Hooton and, of course, Fernando Valenzuela.


Tons of stories have been written over the years, and there was a tremendous documentary produced about it, but the cultural significance of Fernandomania cannot be overstated. Though my family already rooted for the Dodgers, the floodgates opened when Fernando established himself immediately like he did in 1981. The legacy of that is unquestioned, as close to half of the Dodger fanbase now identifies as Latino. 

Because I was 4 years old in 1981, I only remember slivers of moments. I remember my mom and aunts going crazy in the living room of our house when the Dodgers pulled ahead in the "Blue Monday" game that clinched the pennant that year against Montreal. I also remember my mom taking me to the victory parade after the Dodgers won the World Series. I recall my mom holding me in one arm while she reached out with her other arm to the float with the players to shake one of their hands. 

The 1981 Dodgers, with Fernandomania and a stirring run to the championship, were unquestionably the forever team for my parents and aunts. That whole era made them fans for life. And as a result, the seeds were planted in me.

Like I said, it could really go no other way.


*******

I really do think them raising me to be a Dodger fan was well-intentioned. The team was competitive and fun to watch. And it was a constant that would always be there, year in and year out, providing something to look forward to, and eventually, to commiserate about, no matter where I was living or what I was doing.

The first crushing playoff disappointment that I recall vividly was the 1985 NLCS against the Cardinals. Jack Clark hit a three-run home run with first base open in Game 6 to secure the pennant at Dodger Stadium. It was a day game, and I got home from school (I was in third grade) just in time to see the ninth inning. I cried. 

After two subpar seasons, the magical run of 1988 happened. Fernando dealt with lots of injuries and was eventually left off the playoff roster that year, but Orel Hershiser emerged as the star who carried the team to the title. There was also a dash of magic thanks to Kirk Gibson's heroic home run in Game 1 of the World Series, easily the greatest childhood sports memory I have. I watched the final game on a TV in my parents' bedroom while they hosted a bunch of friends in the living room for a watch party. I quietly jumped off my parents' bed and raised my arms triumphantly as the celebration began. Little did I know how long it would be till the next one...

After 1988, there wasn't tons and tons to cheer about. The Dodgers even went 20 years with one solitary playoff victory (thank you, Lima Time, 2004). Sometimes I wondered if we burned all of our good karma on the 1988 championship, but in reality you can never underestimate the level of incompetency teams fall under sometimes (thank you for nothing, McCourts). But you kept rooting, and hoping that this year would be different, and during the phone calls home, the Dodgers were always a standing item to talk about. When I'd visit L.A., if it was baseball season, I always made sure to get a game or two in.

At some point, probably when the Dodgers reached the NLCS in 2008, I started thinking: I just want to see the Dodgers play in a World Series again. Obviously, I wanted them to go all the way, but it would be fun to have them be one of the last two teams standing. And preferably, I'd love to see it before my family got too much older, so I could enjoy it with them.

Even with new ownership in 2012, and the emergence of pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the waiting continued. The Dodgers fell two wins short of the World Series in 2013 against the Cardinals (there's that team again!), and then got knocked out in the first round by the Cardinals in 2014 when Kershaw stayed in too long and gave up a three-run home run late in the game (the Jack Clark PTSD bubbled up pretty strongly that day).

The Dodgers continued to make the playoffs, offering more chances to hope but also providing more chances at disappointment and frustration. It didn't help that they would keep losing to the eventual world champion from 2016-2019 (and the eventual National League champion, in the case of the 2015 Mets). One more hit, one more out, one more decision, and would the narrative have been different? 

Speaking specifically about the 2017 World Series against the Astros, I'll just say this: even before the sweet relief of this week, I had pledged to not dwell on it. Though I'll always wonder about Game 5 of that series because of how dramatically Kershaw melted down, the Dodgers lost two games at home, including a gut punch of a Game 7. So I choose not to stew about it. Whatever happened, the principals involved have to live with it and I don't need to pile on.

*******

My father, whenever the Dodgers would inevitably end their season in disappointment in recent years, would always wonder why they couldn't be like THOSE teams that he fell in love with 40 years earlier. Never mind that, like this current era of Dodger squads, those old teams lost back-to-back World Series and had other crushing disappointments before finally breaking through in 1981. Funny how a championship changes your perception of a team. I'm happily learning that this week. 

In fact, I sketched this out recently, and it was eerie some of the similarities I noticed in the eight-season stretch of Dodger baseball between 1974-1981 and the one from 2013-2020.

Just to rattle off a few:

  • My parents' teams featured two managers (Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda), just like this current run (Don Mattingly, Dave Roberts).
  • The old teams won four pennants and one World Series title, this current run features three pennants and one World Series title.
  • Both teams won World Series championships under unusual circumstances -- the 1981 team winning during a strike-interrupted season, the 2020 team winning during a pandemic that required a postseason played at a neutral site with little to no fans in the stands.
  • The clinching game of the World Series for each team featured a young left-hander closing it out with a multiple-inning outing in a Game 6 -- Steve Howe pitching 3.2 innings to beat the Yankees in 1981, and Urias going 2.1 innings to finish off the Rays in 2020.

It's not an exact comparison, to be sure. Comparing eras in baseball is never a clean exercise. And it's pretty apparent that this current group -- with its young core of star players like right fielder Mookie Betts, shortstop Corey Seager, center fielder Cody Bellinger and pitcher Walker Buehler -- is well-positioned to contend for a while, whereas the team that won in 1981 was at the end of its run. The Dodgers missed the playoffs in 1982, and Lopes was the first key player to be jettisoned before that season, with Garvey and Cey leaving before the 1983 season.

But it is a fun coincidence that I now have a version of a Dodgers World Series title that puts an exclamation point to an era and ends a long dry spell (the 1981 team ended a 16-year title drought).

*******

I also love how culturally significant this 2020 team is, a team truly of its city and of its time but with a natural and easy connection to the franchise's proud history. Having a superstar the caliber of Betts and a manager like Dave Roberts feels right for the team of Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella. And having Urias and fellow Mexican pitcher Victor Gonzalez emerge as playoff stalwarts for a team with such a significant Latino fanbase, I can't think of a better legacy for Fernandomania.


Which brings me back to my aunt who was the big Fernando fanatic. She died in the summer of 2018, so unfortunately, her last big memories of the Dodgers involve the 2017 World Series against Houston.

After Urias was one of the many Game 7 heroes in the NLCS with three perfect innings against the Braves to clinch it, I thought how much my tia Cira would have loved seeing Urias pitch. To that point, he was 4-0 in the playoffs with a microscopic earned run average. 

So when it was apparent in Game 6 of the World Series that this game belonged to Urias and he was being tasked with ending it, I made sure to grab a picture of my aunt so that I could hold it and have her there in spirit. And when Urias finished the job, I cried.

This time, they were tears of joy and relief. 

There was also a tinge of sadness, because I would have loved for my aunt to see it. But the rest of my family saw it and savored it. And it's a good thing, too -- my father turns 70 next week, my mother turned 72 in September and my aunt celebrated her 79th birthday in March.

And ultimately, that's where this is all rooted: familia. 

Yes, it's absolutely wonderful to no longer have to say, "the Dodgers haven't won the World Series since 1988." But it's absurdly thrilling to share one more Dodger championship with my family, these well-intentioned fanatics who introduced me to this sport and this team. And to have it come with a flourish in the form of Urias and Gonzalez, and to have it take place in a year where we didn't even think we'd play baseball, it's beyond my wildest dreams.

And for all that, I am grateful that this really was the year