Archive for May, 2008

The tunnel at Riviera Beach in San Clemente.Freedom is waiting at the end of this tunnel.  Soon it will be June and a lot of people will pass through here on their way to summer; it begins just past the concrete where the sand is hottest.  Sandals will be flicked off and put in a bag or a back pocket.  The biggest decision will be whether to sit to the right or the left.  Lips are licked for the salt that is already there and at the berm, most likely, a wave from family and friends will decide if the day is spent closer to tower four or to lost winds.

 The right or left at the beach today replaces the right or left at the stoplight yesterday.  There are no laptops or schedules other than when the legs and back are too hot to stand it any


                     “…no laptops or schedules…”


 longer.  Then it’s just over the feet, up to the waist or all the way in.  All the way in, arms out, floating down to the coldest water at the bottom and then rising up to the warm top layer.   More salt on the lips, on the teeth, in the eyes, and in the nose as well.  No one really seems to mind and everything is almost dry before sitting back down on a warm towel.


Cranky, worried and upset going into the tunnel and whistling a tune, coming out the other side.  A nap, a good read and a swim or two.  If it’s done right and you think about it, there is no reason why there shouldn’t be light at each end of the tunnel.

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 Bring up “Beach Glass’ in a conversation and you need to be ready.  The husbands’ “hrmphhhhh” and the wives’ “whoaaaaaa” will un-doubtedly  bring out the home collection in jars, boxes and maybe the latest cull from a jeans pocket.  Any novice that lives within 5 miles of the beach will tell you that whites and greens abound, all shades of blue are difficult to find and more likely you’ll find a mermaid than the “holy red”. 


There can’t be a dashboard, a kitchen sill or a bathroom toothbrush drawer that doesn’t have some kind of beach glass on display.  Most of the time it shines nicely in the sun, reminding us that a walk on the beach is just steps away but then there’s Scott and Elsa Harrison of San Clemente that are working hard to make it more than that.


“We were in Hawaii last year” Harrison says, “at this farmer’s market in Kona and I saw this beach glass bracelet…they wanted a ton for it and as I looked at it I thought I could do way better than that”


For the last year or so Harrison estimates he and Elsa spend about 20 hours a week hunting, drilling and assembling the beach glass into bracelets with pure silver wire.  Friends were naturally the first recipients and it seems that the Harrisons won’t have a shortage of friends to supply their unique, one of a kind bracelets.  Right now he has 3 designs: the “twist”, the “bangle” and the “bead”.    


We took our dog for a walk to Riviera on Memorial Day and spied the Harrisons from our usual spot on the old log next to tower four.  They moved back and fourth up the beach right at the shore line, intent on mining their molten sandy prize.  We watched them for a good 45 minutes before I couldn’t stand it any longer and made my way to ask what was up.


He showed me his technique with a homemade rake and basket tool and we philosophized on the finer points of beach glass hunting.  Elsa came by on a return sweep and showed me the product of their efforts.  At one point in the beginning of my conversation with Harrison I realized I knew him.  I explained to Elsa that we had gone to Concordia Elementary and hadn’t seen each other since we graduated from San Clemente High School in 1982.


Elsa stood back looking at Harrison as if it were the first time she had seen him.


“Wow, you’re old…and you look just like a triton with that rake….well you look like him in every way except for the abs…”she said playfully, smiling and laughing widely.


Harrison looked at her and pretended to jibe her with his beach glass rake, adding a “hardy harr harr” before giving up.  Elsa was already in the sand with one hand, another few morsels of glass for the project and Harrison, a little jealous, was right after her to see the score. 


You can call Harrison at home and talk to him about the “Sea Glass Designs” bracelets he has for sale.  Bracelets are $45= USD each and you might ask about his tye-dye t-shirts and sarongs for summer.


Scott and Elsa Harrison  949-361-9862



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Memorial Day 2004 at Fort Rosecrans Military Cemetery Point Loma In the late 1960’s and up until the mid 1970’s in Southern Orange county there was a heavy military, especially Marine, presence as a result of the US involvement in Vietnam.  It was not uncommon to find Marines woven into every aspect of our lives and as children growing up we were not lost on where these men had been or where they were going.  We saw them in military dress and as civilians, even though as civilians their distinctive haircuts and bearing set them apart. 

 A child’s world is much closer, immediate and in focus; it’s more visceral, although they don’t know what it means yet.  Perhaps it’s because children are that much closer to the ground or they don’t have that omnipresent crush of bills to pay, jobs and bosses to appease, spouses to please and even children to raise


On errands with my mother I saw them coming and going through the downtown bars and pawnshops, in line at the bus station, at church, at the barber and on the beach enjoying the ocean and the sand on our side of the Pacific one last time.  We saw them with their strange tattoos; snarling tigers, crossed swords, hissing snakes, Marine Corp emblems and naked girls in curvy poses. We saw the convoys of trucks and jeeps on the road up close as we passed in their inevitably long, slow moving line.  These were serious men with serious faces and a serious job to do.


I saw the Marine helicopters at recess from the blacktop of our school’s playground as 20 or 30 in a single flight, passed over on their way from ship to shore, cuddled and hovering within the valleys of their base just south of our elementary school.  Trips south to Vista, where my grandparents lived, we passed through the mid-section of the base and there again from the highway I watched as these men prepared for Vietnam; armored carriers, launched themselves seaborne from ships just off shore and made their may to the landing zone, crashing dramatically  through the surf.  Overhead, flying low and heavy came the fat, wide, drab colored helicopters lending care and support to the men maneuvering on the beach. 


Even at night from our beds, if we listened we could hear the dull throaty recoil of the Howitzers and the popping staccato trill of the heavy machine guns at the practice range.  As children we witnessed, heard and saw all of this and although it was common it did not fail to make an impression everyday.


The Vietnam War ended on my birthday, March 31, 1975; I turned 11 years old that day.  At least that was the official close of hostilities for the US Armed Forces.  The Republic of Vietnam held on for a little while, staggering and bending first on one knee, like a wounded water buffalo, and  then slowly giving up the other three.  We watched on TV, along with everyone else, the final moments of the fall of Saigon and the take over by the Communists from the North.  Fresh from the jungle, the mean Russian made tanks rolled through the tree lined streets of the capital.  We imagined the war was over now, even for us, but wars have a way of living on. 


Two weeks later in mid May, eight or so grey and white USMC bluebird school buses, just like the yellow ones we rode everyday, came rolling through the gates of our little elementary school.  From all that we had seen over the years we might have expected to see Marines in those buses but that was not the case.  There, through the windows and at each seat we could see, as the buses pulled up to the cafeteria and the school office, little black haired children, boys and girls of all sizes; they were not speaking English and they were nothing like us. 


The school faculty lined our classes up on the playground for an assembly and we stood and watched as group by group the new arrivals marched off the buses and onto the playground opposite us.  It was quite an impact to see them dressed as they would have been in school in Vietnam.  They wore white short sleeved shirts that were fine and delicate, almost like a blouse and they had the patch of their school over the left breast.  They wore black linen pants and black sandals that clacked and clattered on the blacktop, keeping pace and time with the Vietnamese they spoke. 


The teachers announced the new arrivals and welcomed them, assigning the appropriate ages to the classrooms that corresponded best for them.  I was impressed by the entire scene that day and even more so when I thought back to what I had seen on the TV only a few weeks before and knowing these new students had come out of it all and were here with us.


I am taller now and with the eyes of an adult I can see if it weren’t for those men that lived, fought and died, it might have been me on that bus, in some other country, far away from my home.


‘History does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid.’ – Dwight D. Eisenhower 




NOTE: This photo was taken 4 years ago on Memorial Day at Fort Rosecrans National Military Cemetery Point Loma, Where my father is buried.

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Cyclists gather at San Clemente Cycles on Sunday morning for a memorial ride in tribute to shop owner John Cuchessi.


Over the past week I had already seen that several websites, from newspapers to cycling teams and a few industry sites, had highlighted the Sunday morning ride from San Clemente Cycles, in honor of Cuchessi.  I knew that there would be a lot of people just because the word of mouth; I went to take some photos and had to keep backing up as people kept coming.  Finally I got the best shot of everyone from the roof. 


Originally, to me, 120 people would have been a lot but then it turned out to be about 350 I would guess.  The motivation for the ride was not only to honor Cuchessi but also to talk about his spiritual side that many may not have known he had. 


The street next to the shop, San Luis Rey, filled up, row by row, of earnest cyclists with a mixed stew of their affiliation to San Clemente Cycles, printed on their jerseys.  Bright, volcanic neon colors everywhere, it was hard to focus on any single one thing except the bright shining faces ready to ride.  Some announcements were made as everyone quieted down and a few spoke of their weekly prayer and fellowship time with Cuchessi on early Thursday mornings at the shop.  It was not easy to hear everything said but there was no doubt about the effect Cuchessi had on everyone that he came across.


A few more announcements through a big Cal-Trans road cone (a very low-tech P/A system) and the group moved together for a group photo behind a banner that read “We Love and Miss You John 5.25.08”.  I think I was supposed to be in the front for the shot but then ended up on the roof.  I could hear my name being called and knew I’d never make it down; everyone was ready to go and anxious.  Now I’ll have to find someone to stitch it all together in Photo shop.


I guess it’s always something and it reminds me of what Cuchessi always used to say.  After one shared personal catastrophe or another he would inevitably comment “Well, Bro…if it’s the worst thing that ever happens to you, you’re pretty lucky”












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Robert Cray at the 11th Annual Doheny Blues Festival last Saturday.

I was sent by the Orange County Register to shoot snapshots of the crowd at the 11th Annual Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point.  I went last Saturday, the 17th, and was really surprised by how many people attended.  I have my press pass and so after some checking I got in and went to work.


The best part of the whole thing was just seeing everyone getting along and having a good time.  I like all types of music and although I wouldn’t pay to get into any venue just to listen to the music like at Doheny, I could appreciate the fact that there is good reason to do it if you are into it. 


There was the usual parade of drunks and those folks that seem to be always out to over ambitiously dress and call attention to themselves but, all in all it was really laid back.  I had been thinking that I was not going to get assigned the shoot and had applied for an independent press pass which the event company never got back to me about.  After seeing the routine, I could see why; they had their hands full and although it wasn’t poorly organized there were some shaggy parts here and there.  I think trying your best counts for a lot and they really tried to pull it off and I think it was a success and getting better every year.


When ever I go on a shoot I really concentrate and so I was not paying too much attention to the music.  Mostly looking through the crowd from the point of view of the performer, I shot people, couples and kids enjoying the music.  When I was done, I sat checking my images to make sure I had my shots and was able to listen to Robert Cray a little bit.  I had never heard of him and really only remember him now as I had to include his name in a photo caption that I sent in. 


He has a great voice with tremendous emotion, in addition to playing the guitar really well.  I think, as he sang the words to his songs, he really meant it and the crowd was into it as well.  At one point his guitar failed and it seems the audio in general did as well.  He just kept on going, doing his thing; the mark of a true professional.  The roadie brought out a new one; he smiled, acknowledged the crowd with a shy smile and continued on as if he was in his own backyard playing just for himself.


I ended up at his website the other day to see if I could find out anymore about him and after looking at his schedule, decided there was nothing more to see.  He is busy all the time and just goes from one gig to another.  I wondered what that must be like and what he is like when he takes a break.  Just another job I guess.





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Well wishers, friends and family of John Cuchessi, who died on Sunday May 18th at the age of 54, have decorated his bicycle shop with flowers, cards and signs in tribute to how much he will be missed.

John Cuchessi died on a ride last Sunday(May 18th) on his way back from Camp Pendleton. 


I got the news through a friend’s text message on my phone as I was working at the shop.  I can’t always hear the phone go off with all the tools and so I check the phone here and there throughout the day.  I felt something tug when I read it and I thought it wasn’t going to be good.  The text didn’t say too much; only that it had been a bike crash.  I called and they said he was at Mission Hospital.  I can see Mission from my shop and said a little prayer as I looked up over the freeway and through the trees to the top floors and the medi-vac pad on top.


I went up to the hospital and he wasn’t there.  My feelings that it was not good increased.  They gave me the number to Saddleback Memorial and I called.


“I’m sorry, how do yo spell the patient’s name?”  The Receptionist said through a hail storm of static and background sounds.


“J-O-H-N…A…C-U-C-H-E-S-S-I .” I spelled it out as simply as I used to when signing checks in his name at the shop for the UPS deliveries when Cuchessi wasn’t there.


She stalled a moment or two and continued.


“What is your realtionship to the patient?” She asked.


My memory wound back instantly to a long time ago when I first met Cuchessi.  How do you get those many memories out of your mouth in the few words she was waiting for?  Like some giant fish waiting to be pulled up onto the deck of the boat I jerked as hard as I could to try and get it out in one effort.


“Long time friend” I blurted.


She stalled again seemingly weighing what I had said.


“Sir…I am going to transfer you to the back…can you hold on?”


“Yes” I said. 


Yes to the transfer and yes to what I already knew would be the worst news.  This is a fish I didn’t want to catch and I imagined Sue sitting somewhere in that hospital and gathering up her memories of the man that was her husband and the father of her son.  I hung up in the middle of wait.  A call into my voice mail confirmed it.  A friend had called and I listened to what I already knew.


“Hey Dave…John’s gone…he died in the ambulance…” 


The message went on but there was nothing more to say.



















NOTE: I am doing a little write up on how I met Cuchessi which I will post here later.  Its almost done but I am deciding whether or not to submit it to a Narrative writing contest, in which case, it can’t be published until the contest is over.  Stay tuned…



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First day of Summer in June of 2007; its ten in the morning at Riviera and not everyone\'s up yet.I live five blocks from the beach and between here and there is where I live.  I’m getting my degree in journalism or some major-minor combo that has something to do with it.  I do freelance photo work and, I enjoy the written word.  I don’t think I have enough time to do a hard news blog and there are others that do it so much better.  In looking around, though, I could see that the fine edge of what goes on in San Clemente and Orange county, was missing.  Well there are several fine edges to every story and here I hope you will find one edge at least that you can set your toes on and get a good look around.

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