Tag Archives: Stockton

Lunch out in Stockton

Here we are at the Beach Hut in Stockton.

Here we are at the Beach Hut in Stockton.

Went to the coffeehouse to work for a while today with the girl, then for a walk along the waterfront, and then to the Beach Hut in Stockton for a late lunch. Now were sitting back to watch a couple of videos. … She’s pretty cute, isn’t she!

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Visiting a much-missed home away from home

While I have lived in Stockton the past couple of years, the place I miss – not quite as much as Maine, of course – is Vacaville.

It is the closest thing to home that I have known since moving to California. I spent more than 13 years living and working in Vacaville, positioned along Interstate 80 between Sacramento and San Francisco. That location has made Vacaville a fine commuter community.

But Vacaville – a farming and ranching community and home to two state prisons long before it was a commuter town – is more than a wide spot along the freeway. It is a family-friendly city with parks and events. A fine selection of retail shops are here, too, mostly because of the freeway access. It is not far from recreational opportunities, including Lake Berryessa and Lagoon Valley Regional Park; it is not that far from the Napa wine region, either.

And the city is nestled at the base of California’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Or, at least, I believe they are part of California’s Blue Ridge Mountains. They are beautiful most of the year and when they are not spotted with brush fire.

Vacaville is a place I regretted leaving. I did so for career opportunities, which since have soured and dried up. Vacaville is a place where I would live again if I had the opportunity.

I ventured to Vacaville today, however, not out of nostalgia, but out of desperation. I have run through my Unemployment Insurance benefits and there will not be more coming unless Congress does something to ease the suffering of the 99ers, the long-term unemployed Americans who have gone through their 99 weeks of Unemployment Insurance.

I came to do the unthinkable – cash out an IRA to pay my bills for the next couple of months. I hated doing it; it is just one more sign of personal failure, I suppose. I calculate I will have enough to pay my basic expenses for the next two or three months and still have enough to cover a complete retreat out of California if I still have not found a job in that time.

But at this very moment, I am sitting at a table in the Solano County Library’s Vacaville Town Square branch in the heart of downtown Vacaville. Outside the grand floor-to-ceiling windows are Andrews Park and the CreekWalk. A gray squirrel just ran up the embankment along the walk and jumped into a redwood tree. Just a short distance away, two blue jays swept up the creek and into a conifer. People have been walking back and forth since I sat down and up on the hill at Great Wonders Playground, children are playing.

Great Wonders was built many years ago with volunteer labor and donations. It was burned down a short time later due to negligence. Volunteers rebuilt the place even better than it was before.

That sort of community spirit – building a playground and then rebuilding it just short few weeks later – is what I miss about Maine and what I miss about Vacaville.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 274

You don’t see this very often – a guy just walked into the coffeehouse wearing a derby. Yep, derby hat, T-shirt, shorts, gloves and running shoes. If you hadn’t heard, Stockton is the fashion capital of, well, nowhere.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 273

Yesterday, I spotted a guy walking down my street playing a banjo. Today, a guy with a faux buffalo head hat – complete with antlers – just walked by the coffeehouse. There really is something in the Stockton water. It might be booze.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

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Crossing fingers after phone interview marred by no bars, technical problem

I had a fairly good telephone job interview this morning, despite equipment problems on both ends.

And despite me stumbling over some of the questions.

Some of the problems started this morning when I tumbled out of bed and checked my cellular phone to make sure that it had charged overnight. I was immediately troubled to see no bars, not one.

“OK, don’t panic,” I said to myself, of course, leaving out here the expletives. “I’ll just whip up some congee, grab a shower, and check the bars again. Perhaps a T-Mobile tower is down or something and it will take a bit of time to get it up again. If all else fails, I’ll make a run to Starbucks, troll for a cell signal, and pirate some Wifi. And just sit in my CRV for the interview.”

Yes, I do sometimes have extended conversations with myself.

Congee, check.

Shower and shave, check.

Car keys, check.

Laptop and cell phone, check and check.

Cell phone bars, not so check. Still no bars.

So, off I went for the Starbucks. As I drove closer, I checked the bars and the signal seem to be coming in strong. Great!

I circled the Starbucks in the Miracle Mile in Stockton and head back to my apartment to go over notes before I planned to return to the Starbucks in time for my interview call.

Funny thing, though, as I drove back to the apartment – I started getting more bars. Eureka! A strong signal. Perhaps, just, perhaps, T-Mobile fixed the glitch and I’ll be able to receive the interview in a non-stressful environment sitting at my writing desk in the living room of my apartment.

There I sat for more than an hour going over “20 Most Asked Questions In A Job Interview” – of which, the interviewers would later ask only one of the “20 Most Asked Questions In A Job Interview” – and tried to relax just a bit before my 9:45 a.m. call.

Everything was going well enough when I took another look at my cell phone at 9:30 a.m. and – PANIC! No bars, again! Ugh!

I scooped up my laptop, a notepad, a couple of pens, and my cell phone and headed downstairs to the garage. There I jumped into my CRV, cranked up the engine, and headed – at only slightly excessive speed – to the nearest Starbucks where earlier I had found a strong signal and where I could pirate WiFi. (I say “pirate,” but Starbucks provides free WiFi. Using “pirate” is an attempt at making me more edgy. Did it work?)

I parked in the same spot I had earlier, but the cell signal was at only two bars. I didn’t want an every-other-word experience during the interview. I drove around the block trolling for a stronger signal and found one – very nearly in the same spot I had been before going around the block. Time: 9:44 a.m.

OK, quick drink of water. Pull out the computer for the notes on the “20 Most Asked Questions In A Job Interview.” Pull out the pad of paper to write down the names of the people on the search committee conducting the interview. Go online for a quick check of email.

It was then that the phone rang. I let it ring again, popped open the cell phone, paused – “Hello. … Hello. … Hello!”

Nothing. Great! Well what else can go wrong?

I tried dialing back a couple of times, but all I got was the ear-piercing tone of a fax machine. Great!

OK, don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic … DON’T PANIC!

Oh, wait, the phone’s ringing again.

“Hello. … Hello. … Hello!”

Oh, crap, not again.

One more attempt to call them. More piercing sounds. OK, OK, OK, I’ll shoot an email to the person who arranged the interview. Under the circumstances, maybe – just maybe – we can reschedule the telephone interview.

The email was very nearly set to send when the phone rang one more time. By this time it was five or 10 minutes after the scheduled appointment

OK, don’t panic. Let it ring again.


“Hello, Keith. Sorry for that bit of technical problem …,” said the woman on the other end.

Sheesh, that was close. I’ve been out of work for 20 months now and I cannot afford to miss an interview for any reason.

The half-hour interview went well enough, I think, especially since it took place over the phone as I sat in my CRV with a laptop balanced on my knees.

I stumbled on a few questions. It’s a marketing job and my experience is in straight-up journalism, but several of the interviewers have newspaper experience, so they may have cut me some slack. They gave me verbal feedback and laughed where they should have, so it wasn’t all bad at all.

The job would be with a leader in its field and I think skills I honed as a columnist, opinion page editor, editorialist, and essayist could come in handy. The problem would be in having time to write about all the positive aspects. That’s a bit of a change considering all my work experience is in newspaper where much of the news is not good.

Well, I’m crossing my fingers. It appears it will be about 30 days before I find out if I was selected, so I’ll be patient and continue my search in the meantime.

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Rainfall washes away much – just not memories

Rain showers soaked much of Northern California the other day. It was not enough to cause serious problems beyond localized street flooding, but it was a nice, steady, wet change of pace for a region that regularly sees summertime temperatures above 100 degrees.

The showers washed away dust and soot and grime and brought with it that cleansing smell that comes with the first real rainfall of the year, the smell that reminds us of childhood things. It permeated the air for much of the day.

It was nice.

It was refreshing.

And beyond the gray skies, it was illuminating.

Stockton needs a good washing from time to time. Stockton is a dusty, crusty, musty city and dusty, crusty, musty cities need washing on a regular basis. Otherwise, they turn to dry silt and blow away on the winds of indifference.

The water gurgled through the drainpipe just outside an opened balcony door and the sound of raindrops hitting the leaves just beyond was audible. A ping, ping, ping came from the stove vent as the drops crashed onto the vent’s hood on the roof.

Cars splashed by up and down the street. With ample time since the last major rainfall, oil and dirt had built up on the street surface. California drivers very likely had forgotten that the water from first real rainfall of the year loosens that oil and dirt from the street, causing slippery driving conditions.

And many people abandoned outdoor adventures for the comfort of homes and HD televisions and the National Football League or a movie classic.

The rain reminded me of my childhood spent in the North Woods of Maine. Why wouldn’t it? Mark Twain – or someone else – wrote about the weather:

“If don’t like the weather in New England, wait 15 minutes. It’ll change.”

Or something similar, at least.

The point is that New England weather – especially in Maine – is a fickle thing and occasionally a very harsh thing.

In the North Woods of Maine there is plenty of precipitation and there is much time spent bundled up against the weather – rain, sleet, wind, snow, and more snow. As a child growing up in Aroostook County, it seemed that rain came nearly any time of the year, even in winter if it was warm enough to turn snow and ice to sleet and then rain.

Despite being well-suited for the weather, Mainers make a sport of grumbling about it. If it rains too much, it’s bad. If it rains too little, it’s bad. If the wind blows, curses!

But we worked in it and we played in it and the forest grew green because of it. And rivers flowed and lakes rose because of it.

And the National Weather Service and the local weathermen – they were all weathermen then – were slandered and their manhood questioned whether their daily weather prognostications were correct or not.

I recall a childhood memory in which my mother is driving my sister and me north to Eagle Lake or Fort Kent or Saint Francis to visit family. Outside the very bright red Chevrolet Cheville it is raining – the windshield wipers slapping back and forth and the wheels splashing along the roadway. My sister and I are arguing over which of us will be Mom’s “co-pilot” on the trip north, along the way imagining that the car is a plane and the ornamental buttons on the passenger door and dashboard are plane controls.

Truly, neither my sister nor I were “pilots” of any kind; at the time, our young legs could not reach the car’s floorboards.

Later on, in a newer memory, I recall camping on the shores of Perch Pond with the rain coming down hard for what seemed like days. Part of the memory includes playing games in the Cormier’s sprawling family tent, part of it includes being perpetually damp, part of it recalls the thin thudding sound the raindrops made as they hit the canvas tents, part of it recalls the heavy, clinging, soaked clothing.

A memory from about the same time recalls a trip into the woods to pick fiddleheads, raindrops hitting the hood of a windbreaker I wore for the trek into the woods not far from Portage Lake. The forest was drenched. Each step brushing against the ferns and grass and small trees brought an even more thorough drenching, soaking shoes and socks and pant legs and the human legs under those pant legs.

I remember watching the splash the drops made – millions upon millions of them – in the nearby river and the sound of the drops slapping the trees above and the accumulated water tumbling from saturated leaves to the saturated ground beneath. It seemed prehistoric.

Still later, while in high school, we practiced soccer in the rain – and occasionally in the snow. The rain then did not seem to cleanse things, but to make them simply sodden and muddy and heavy from the weight of the water. Soccer shoes and socks became heavy, sweatpants and sweatshirts clung to shivering teen boys, and baseball caps worn in practice and on the sideline in a futile attempt to ward off the rain became soaked. Water and mud and grass stains infused in the clothing and the body by the rainfall.

Other memories of New England rain abound, of course, because rain is so much a part of the history of the place – the forest and the land and the water and the air – and of the people.

But rain washes away dirt and grime and occasionally flushes away things made by man and Mother Nature, but rarely does it wash away memories.

After all, memories are merely refreshed by a good rainfall on a fall day.

Coffeehouse observation No. 207

I’m not sure how this is all going to work out, but I’ve decided to go without coffee today. For those now concerned with their safety, I am currently at Troke Branch Library (Stockton) and will attempt to update my movements so that you all can take the appropriate precautions to avoid contact with a caffeine-free me.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

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Pieces of Maine will turn up just about anywhere

I’m sitting in the Troke Branch Library in Stockton, Calif., using the WiFi for the continuing job search. A guy and a woman just sat down at a nearby table and he is wearing a Bar Harbor sweatshirt. It makes me homesick. Pieces of home turn up just about anywhere.

If he and the woman weren’t in a rather involved conversation, I’d ask to take a photo and post it.

There was another time not long after I first moved to California that I was wearing a T-shirt from an ice cream shop – I forget the name but I believe it was in Saco and the shop was in a railroad Cushman car. The T-shirt had an image of the railroad car and I was wearing it while hiking with friends in the redwoods. A passing hiker said, “Hey, I’ve had ice cream there!”

See, pieces of home turn up just about anywhere.

Ol’ smoke eater, news hound suspects grass fire, finds none

My father was part of the volunteer fire department in Portage when I was a child and I’m pretty sure for a time he was the fire chief, but I could be wrong about that.

He also was in charge of fire protection at the lumber mill where he worked. I remember him running out of the house if the fire whistle in the middle of town sounded or if he received a call from the mill that something or other had caught fire. I also recall going to the mill with him one winter day and him using a frontend loader to mix snow into a waste wood pile that had caught fire by spontaneous combustion.

And given that I spent three summers humping up and down the Sierra Nevada and its foothills breathing in smoke and dirt as part of a firefighting hand crew, it is a bit surprising – at least to me – that I did not make firefighting my life’s work.

In all honesty, however, it sort of was my life’s work since as a reporter I spent much time chasing fire engines and ladder trucks and ambulances while covering cops, crime and chaos.

But I haven’t covered a roadside grassfire or a wildland fire in quite some time.

I was sitting on my balcony the other day reading a Stephen King novel – what Mainer hasn’t read at least one of King’s novels? – when I noticed a rice-paper delicate speck floating into my view. It was the size of a dandruff flake, really.

Then I noticed a dozen or so more drifting over the apartment from the west.

My first thought was “ash” and “fire.” OK, my first two thoughts.

I sniffed the air, but did not detect smoke, so I didn’t panic.

But I did briefly think back to the wind-driven Quail Lakes fire in Stockton during June 2008 in which dozens of families were forced to flee from their homes because of a roadside fire that spread into a condominium complex and a neighborhood, destroying homes and other property. It was truly devastating and I wasn’t planning to go through what those families were forced to endure.

I made a quick mental checklist – computer, change of clothing, get the car out of the gated underground garage – should smoke begin to bellow over the apartment from points west.

I took a quick look out the front door and spotted no browning of the air and smelled no smoke and went back to reading the novel.

More rice-paper ash – my guess was that it had to be from a grass fire perhaps along Interstate 5 that bisects Stockton – floated over the apartment and in to my view. And I noticed a slight browning of the air, even though I could not smell smoke.

I heard no sirens so I figured the fire had to be some distance away, especially since I could not smell smoke.

Giving in to the instincts of the ol’ fire-eater and news hound in me, I decided to hop in the CRV and take a look. After all, if I planned to blog about it, I surely needed to find the fire.

Or not.

I drove around the neighborhood to the west of my apartment for 30 minutes or more and never found fire or smoke. Frankly, Stockton has a pretty good fire department and firefighters are quick to jump on roadside fires. They are not interested in reliving the Quail Lakes fire.

Grass fires don’t normally make it into the local paper. This one didn’t either or I would have added a few more details.

Ah, well, nothing but a couple flakes of ash, a slight browning of the sky, and fruitless evening drive in search of a grass fire. It could have been a much more exciting evening.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 179

Could really use some hot coffee right now. I’m sitting in the Troke Branch Library in Stockton – within view of Exotic Java, no less – and the air conditioning is turned up so high that I’m considering breaking up the furniture to start a bonfire.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

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Maine Stuff in My California Apartment No. 8 … At least, until I consume them

Today’s photos are of a package from home and its contents.

My Mom and The Sis – probably with the fine assistance of nephew Max and niece Sophie – put it together for my birthday, which was a little over a month ago. Procrastination runs in the family. 🙂

But in all fairness to The Sis, she is a wife, mother of two very active children, Max and Sophie, and has a full-time job. She’s busy. My Mom – known as Mems to The Sis’s two very active children – is busy on her own what with grandchildren to spoil, friends to visit, bowling balls to throw, books to read, a dog’s ears to scratch, and box wine to drink.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a lovely surprise. I knew the package was coming and that it might be a while longer, so it truly was a lovely surprise nonetheless. And very much appreciated.

Here’s the package straight from Fryeburg, Maine. Well, perhaps not straight-arrow straight, but close enough.

Yes, that is me using a corkscrew to open the package from home. It was handy and recently had been used, so I knew it worked.

The package from home was waiting for me yesterday when I returned from a day at empresso coffeehouse, the coffeehouse I frequent the most. It is located in Empire Theater on the Miracle Mile in Stockton, Calif., and hence the name of the coffeehouse. I go there for the reasonably priced and reasonably tasty caffeinated beverages, friendly baristas, and WiFi I use for the protracted job search and to keep in touch with personal and professional contacts.

The package from home is opened. Inside were chocolate chip cookies, Bar Harbor Jam Company Maine Wild Blueberry Muffin Mix, Bar Harbor Jam Company Maine Wild Blueberry Jam, Captain Mowatt’s Blue Flame and Captain Mowatt’s Fireberry Sauce. Apparently, my request for “no sugar” went unheeded … again. 

Inside the package from home were three Ziploc bags of chocolate cookies, Bar Harbor Jam Company Maine Wild Blueberry Muffin Mix, Bar Harbor Jam Company Maine Wild Blueberry Jam, Captain Mowatt’s Blue Flame and Captain Mowatt’s Fireberry Sauce. Trust me on this, it is all yummy stuff and I will enjoy it all.

However – and it’s only a small “however” – I have asked several times for no more sugary treats. I’m closer to 50 than I would like and it is getting harder and harder to keep the weight off. The last thing I need is sugary treats.

To Mom and The Sis I thank you.

This is an occasional multipart series of photos of things related to Maine that can be found in Keith Michaud’s California apartment. All photos in this series are shot by and are the property of Keith Michaud.

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Truck driver can’t believe the true direction to Oakdale

I must have a face that at once tells a stranger “hey, he can be trusted” and in the next moment tells the stranger “this guy is off his rocker.”

In the past week or so I have been asked for directions by three strangers. Each time I was in the middle of my walk around Victory Park, which surrounds Haggin Museum, in Stockton. Apparently, my face also tells a stranger “this guy can be interrupted in his futile attempt reduce his waistline, lower his weight, and reclaim healthy ways.”

The first was easy – a family wanted to know where Banner Island Stadium, home of the Stockton Ports, was located. It was merely a matter of telling them to turn around, go back the way they had come, and make a left turn onto Fremont Street that runs along the Stockton Deep Water Channel and to the stadium before running into downtown Stockton.

The third was merely to confirm what a motorist knew.

“Is Harding (Way) that way?” yelled a motorist at a red light pointing northward.

“Yeah,” I yelled back, bobbing my head up and down in affirmation.

Of course, as soon as I walked away, I immediately doubted myself. It forced me to plot out in my mind the street grids in that part of Stockton. I was correct. I think.

But it was the second person to ask for direction that makes me scratch my head, even now.

A tractor trailer rig with a load of lumber pulled up in front of Stockton Fire Station No. 6, which is located in Victory Park. The driver – a fella in his late 50s or early 60s with graying hair and glasses – jumped down from the cab and ran around the front to stop me on my fitness quest.

(I told you that my face must say to strangers that I can be interrupted on my fitness walk.)

“Do know how to get to Oakdale?” he said. “It’s around here isn’t it?”

I told him that I believed that Oakdale was in the next county to the south, about 30 minutes drive. (In fact, it was in the next county and closer to Modesto than to Stockton. Yahoo! Maps has the travel time at nearly 40 minutes.)

He didn’t believe me. He said the map he had showed that it was much closer. I asked to see is map so that I could show him his destination was in fact in the next county.

His response made me believe that the map he had must have been scribbled down on scrap paper by someone else who wasn’t certain of the area or simply didn’t know it.

I assured him that Oakdale was in the next county and that it was about 30 minutes drive away.

“Is that a fire station?” he asked me, pointing to the structure with “Stockton Fire Station No. 6” on the front and a fire engine parked in the driveway. I’m not sure the guy had a solid grasp on the blatantly obvious.

He made his way to the fire station to garner more reliable directions, which I am sure would have confirmed my own directions for the guy.

Here’s the sticking point – why is a truck driver in an unfamiliar area not carrying a map of the area? A truck driver without a map? Doesn’t make much sense to me.

Hope he made it to Oakdale.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 159

A slight bit of weirdness in the coffeehouse the past two days. Yesterday, on my semi-regular fitness walk, I tripped slightly on a cracked sidewalk and a fellow walking out of the park shared a laugh about it and said something such as “Well, I’m not the only one who is not perfect.”

He then proceeded to tell me – for at least five minutes – about the recent surge in crime in the neighborhood surrounding American Legion Park in central Stockton, Calif.

I had never seen the guy before, but I saw him again later at the coffeehouse, which is a pretty healthy walk from American Legion Park.

And then today I went to the bank to deposit a check and spotted a guy in line. I envied him for the nice green tropical shirt he was wearing.

Later in the morning he happened to come into espresso for a beverage.

Just weird that sort of thing happened two days running. I wonder who I might see for the first – and second – time tomorrow.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 133

There’s a guy sitting on the empresso patio and he’s rockin’ out. Big time. Except, there is no music. None. He’s either hyped way, way up on something or … yeah, he’s hyped up on somethin’. … Oh, Stockton, you never fail to entertain.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

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Keith’s ride, Part 7: V-6 under the hood and ready to ride

[This is the sixth of eight or so blog entries on the cars and other vehicles I have driven. It may or may not be of interest. Enjoy. Or not. It’s your choice. – KM]

The Suzuki Sidekick was so underpowered that I called it my golf cart. All it needed was a rack on the back for golf bags and a plastic plate on the steering wheel to hold a score card!

Sure, it was a fairly dependable vehicle, but it was small, the doors sounded hollow when closed, and passengers did not sit high enough when going down the road. And I always had an uncomfortable feeling passing or meeting larger vehicles on the road and occasionally the Sidekick was moved by the gust of wind caused by the passing larger vehicle.

Anyway, I wanted something more. And bigger.

My friend Rick knew this, but he had known me long enough to know of my procrastinating nature – there are times when I put off making a decision to the point that a decision is made for me. Options are limited or eliminated with the passage of time. And I know this. It is not a great characteristic to have, but it is one of mine and I own it.

One weekend day, Rick called me from a local sports bar where his daughter worked and where we occasionally frequented after work. He called me on the ruse of buying me a beer and lunch.

After a couple of burgers and beers, he said something like: “Come on, let’s go get you a new car.”

There was another tent sale going on, this time in the parking lot of the sports bar.

But newspaper jobs, especially those at smaller newspapers, are notorious for paying poorly. The newspaper in Vacaville was no different, so I had little in the way of saved cash that I could use for a down payment and I knew there was not much value in the Sidekick to be used as a trade-in.

But Rick convinced me that we should at least take a look. We wandered around the parking lot for a bit and I kept coming back to a golden 2000 Isuzu Rodeo – the same vehicle as a Honda Passport, but with the Isuzu nameplates instead of Honda emblems. (Isuzu and Honda had made the vehicles in a joint venture, much as were the Suzuki Sidekick and Geo/Chevrolet Tracker.)

A salesman came around and told us that the Rodeo had been used as a commuter vehicle and had quite a few miles, but was in pretty good shape. It was a V-6, such a step up from the Suzuki that I was lured in. But in a pleasant way.

The Rodeo had a V-6, power windows, a nice stereo, AC, power ports in the dash and rear cargo area, and plenty of other features that I never had before in a vehicle.

But paying for it weighed heavily on my mind as we continued to wander around the lot.

Rick and the salesman were able to convince me to have my credit rating checked to see if I qualified for any breaks for financing the vehicle.

I suppose working in a low-paying profession has a way of forcing a person to be frugal and I had worked hard to pay credit card bills on time, even if I could not make much of a dent in the total balance.

Apparently, that diligence had nudged my credit rating up over the years.

“Dude! Do you know what your credit rating is?!” Rick asked me, as the figures started coming in from the major ranking agencies. I didn’t so he told me.

“Is that good?” I replied.

The sales manager and Rick both looked up smiling. Apparently, it was really, really good.

“Man, oh, yeah! It’s good!” Rick said with a bit of excitement.

So, I worked out a payment plan, traded in the Sidekick, and drove away in the Rodeo.

Going from a “golf cart” to a V-6 – the first V-6 I had owned since the Caprice Classic – was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. I no longer had to worry so much about merging into traffic or making it up hills. Driving in the Sierra was a pleasure!

I don’t recall having buyer’s remorse when I bought the Rodeo. If I did, it must have been short-lived and I enjoyed driving around for years in the Rodeo, especially with Hawaiian-print seat covers, as I had in the Suzuki. Driving with Hawaiian-print seat covers is always, always better than driving without them. (If you have to ask “why?” then you simply would not get it.)

Besides being much more comfortable and powerful and enjoyable to drive, the Rodeo also gave me quite a bit more safety. It was larger and heavier, of course, and there were more airbags and other safety gear. A gust of wind from a passing vehicle no longer moved the vehicle.

The Rodeo was my ride when I left The Reporter in Vacaville and started working for The Record in Stockton. I was the opinion page editor at The Reporter when I was hired at The Record to be one of three assistant city editors.

I did not move to Stockton right away; I commuted from Vacaville. I drove on state Highways 113 and 12, both roads notorious for the traffic wrecks – many of them fatal – and a short distance on Interstate 5. Initially, I worked a night shift at The Record, supervising reporters, monitoring the police scanner, dispatching reporters and photographers, and making sure stories were read and flowed to paginators – the people who design and put together the electronic versions of newspaper pages. It was a stressful job when things went hectically and boring otherwise.

Many times I left The Record, lighted a cigar, and drove up I-5 to the Lodi cutoff onto westbound Highway 12, turning off east of Fairfield and Suisun City to northbound Highway 113. The drive home at times was more stressful than the job. Driving on Highways 113 and 12 meant narrow lanes, undulating pavement, semi-blind curves, impatient motorists, and the occasional loose cattle.

After about six months or so, Rick and his wife, Michele, and another former Reporter coworker, James, helped me load a moving van and Rick and I headed eastward with the bulk of my belongings to the apartment I had rented in Stockton.

Stockton has a reputation for being a rough and tumble city. And rightfully so. It is on an inland port, the gateway of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and at the heart of the California Central Valley’s agricultural industry. Stockton is the county seat of San Joaquin County; county seats tend to draw a wide spectrum of people, some for the economic and political opportunities and others for county and state social services.

But I had not enjoyed commuting an hour each way from and to Vacaville. In late 2006, I found an apartment in central Stockton near the University of the Pacific. The apartment had an underground garage in which to park my ride, which made things more comfortable for me on several levels – I no longer needed to commute, which was putting wear and tear on me and the Rodeo, and I could park in a protected garage.

For the next couple of years working for The Record, I generally drove a couple of miles from the underground garage at my apartment to a fenced and patrolled parking lot across the street from The Record. It was a much better situation than commuting from Vacaville.

Along the way, the newspaper industry began to spiral out of control. In an effort to cut costs, there was a newsroom reorganization in which I was essentially demoted. (My feeling about this is not new or unknown; at the time, I told the managing editor that there was no other way to look at what was being done to me except that it was a demotion. He did not offer arguments to the contrary.)

Instead of working nights or days, which I also had done, I was working a modified shift in which I started at 6 a.m. updating the newspaper website content from overnight news, posted business, traffic and weather, went out on spot news, and help out inputting other information for the print and web versions of the newspaper. I also monitored comments left on stories posted on the website.

Driving to work one morning in 2008, I was stopped at a light at an intersection a half block from the parking lot I used when working at The Record. A Chevrolet Tahoe coming in the opposite direction did not stop at the red light, was T-boned by a vehicle that had the right-of-way, and the Tahoe was spun into my Rodeo.

I remember stiffening and yelling “No, no, no!” as the Tahoe spun around and into my vehicle.

The impact was not severe enough to cause me injury – other than a stiff back – or even to cause the airbags to deploy, but it was enough to destroy my front tire, front bumper, the radiator, and more. It was totaled.

The Tahoe’s driver, who was accompanied by a teen boy and teen girl who I presumed were his children, tried to say that the other vehicle had blown the red light, probably because the other vehicle was a beat up pickup with two passengers who appeared as they had lived a rough life. But I told him no, no, no, that he had blown the red light. He didn’t argue too hard and his insurance eventually more than paid off my Rodeo.

With a little help from a former Reporter coworker, I was able to get a lease on a 2008 Honda CRV, the first ever brand new vehicle I have ever owner/leased.

 Rides of My Life … so far

Part 1: Jeep Commando

Part 2: VW Bug

Part 3: Dodge Duster

Part 4: Chevrolet Caprice Classic

Part 5: Nissan pickup

Part 6: Suzuki Sidekick

Part 7: Isuzu Rodeo

Part 8: Honda CRV


Coffeehouse observation No. 89

I believe it is official: I am a loon magnet. Yet another wingnut stranger just came up to me in the coffeehouse and attempted to engage me in a conversation that was neither short enough nor pleasant enough. This is the third time in about a week or so. … I need to develop a repellant for Stockton’s crazies!

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

Coffeehouse observation No. 70

I’m back in more familiar territory today – empresso on Pacific Avenue in Stockton, CA, USA. It was quiet earlier, then bustling, now quiet again, but it may be building to bustling again. The coffee is good and strong, and beautiful women of all ages frequent the establishment. I’m guessing that has something to do with the draw of the businesses on the Miracle Mile, the adult school down the street, and the proximity to the University of the Pacific and San Joaquin Delta College. Whatever the reason, I don’t mind. In rainy weather lately, I’ve been patronizing Exotic Java because it is next door to the Margaret Troke Branch Library on West Benjamin Holt Drive. (I typically walk to empresso in order to avoid a parking ticket and I don’t like walking in the rain that much. There is free parking at this particular library branch.) Nice baristas at Exotic Java and coffee that hits the spot, but it is a bit less active than empresso, probably because it is a block or two from Pacific Avenue. Oh, but it has a drive-through window, which makes it convenient for motorists. I can recommend both establishments.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

No wonder I’m miserable!

According to a Forbes.com story, the city in which I live is No. 2 on the list of America’s Most Miserable Cities. That may seem like quite a terrible distinction, but Stockton, Calif., was in the No. 1 spot last year, so this is an improvement … I suppose.

And nearby cities of Modesto and Sacramento are on the top-20 list, too.

If it wasn’t winter, I might be on my way to New England to find something a little less, well, miserable. (No New England city made the list. New York and a slew of Midwestern cities were on the list along with Stockton, Modesto and Sacramento.)

The economy, crime and other factors were used to determine the misery of the cities.

Here’s a link to the Forbes story, but be warned that the slideshow is sluggish. Oh, and a warning about the information: The photo used in the slideshow to represent Stockton is a photo of a murder suspect from a different city, not Stockton. At least, that is the photo as of this afternoon. They may change it later, but certainly they should have used a much better photo.

And there is a video about what Stockton is doing to get off the list completely.

Jobless rate down in Maine, but not everywhere

Spotted a story on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network website about how the unemployment rate in Maine had dipped to 8 percent.

That is below the national rate of about 10 percent.

Here in California things are not so good. The statewide unemployment rate is at 12.2 percent and the county in which I live – San Joaquin County – it is at about 16.9 percent unemployment. Yep, that’s twice the rate of Maine.

I’ve linked the MPBN story and the story from The Record, the newspaper in Stockton, about the situation here. (Note: That newspaper will begin charging for content beginning in January so the link very likely will go bad after the new year.)