Just a berry-picking minute
July 25, 2009
One of the best things about summer in these parts is the wild blackberries you can find growing in abundance all along the Delta. Just about anywhere fresh water comes into contact with fertile land, you will find the border between them growing thick with brambles laden with dark, juicy fruit free for the picking. In July and August, you can grab a bucket or a grocery sack and fill it with enough berries to bake a pie or, in our case, stuff enough in your mouth that you’ll have no room left for pie.
That is about what happened when we took a walk on the Big Break Regional Trail on July 12 to check out the new wastewater treatment plant that is taking shape on the hay fields in northern Oakley. Our mission was to take photos of the construction work, but given that we don’t often get out on the trail, it was hard not to spend at least some of the walk enjoying the flora and fauna that call the area home. It was only a matter of time before we discovered the berries.
July is perhaps a little early for the wild berry crop. There were as many unripe, red berries as there were mature ones. We joked that Ben who had elected to remain at home rather than experience the thrill of discovery that comes with seeing a new $60 million sewage processing facility on the rise would be envious of our trailside dining excursion, being the berry-picking fiend he tends to be on such walks. We walked a few yards, stopped to pluck a few berries, walked a few more yards, took photos of shore birds, plucked some more berries and repeated the process many times, turning what should have been a 15-minute walk into an hourlong juice-stained adventure.
Eventually we got our pictures of the new plant construction, but not before we’d consumed enough berries that the thought of more made us a bit queasy. The various parts of our arms and necks that hadn’t already been sunburned this summer came back a delightful shade of red, thanks to our prolonged sun exposure. We’re thinking if we take another trip along the trail soon that we’ll bring a pail and have a cobbler recipe at the ready for when we get home.
Perhaps the reason we didn’t get sunburned worse on our trail walk was because we had already been nicely toasted three weekends earlier on an unexpected visit to Infineon Raceway. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series was in town the weekend of June 20-21, and Glenn’s company snagged a handful of freebie tickets to give away to employees. Tickets for the Sunday race went quickly, of course, so by the time we contemplated the idea of going to the track and Glenn got his request in, the only tickets left were for Saturday the 20th.
We’d been to Infineon Raceway twice before on NASCAR weekend, but this was the first time we’d ever gone for something other than the Sunday race. We were a little disappointed that we wouldn’t be in the stands to see Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and our other favorite drivers race for the checkers, but at least we’d get to watch the stars practice and the tickets were free. Did we say free? OK, two of ours were free; we had to buy a third one at the gate for Ben. Then we had to figure out a way to get all the seats to be in the same location; ours were located in the main grandstand, and the one they handed us at the gate for Ben was near Turn 3, almost on the other side of the 2-plus mile road course.
After parking way back in the hills and tromping along dirt roads and through weed-covered fields, we finally reached the pathway around the track and found our way to the main grandstand. We located a ticket booth where it became a relatively simple matter to upgrade our seats. That put up in the 14th row of Section K, almost smack dab next to the start-finish line and right in the direct sun on a hazy summer morning. We hadn’t planned to spend more than a couple of hours at the track, just long enough to watch some practice laps, buy some food and souvenirs, and get the flavor of the experience. But we were loving our great seats and wound up sitting in them for most of the first and final practice sessions, taking pictures as the cars flew by.
Toward the end of the final practice we decided to go exploring. We walked out of the grandstand area and toward the garage, where all the teams were working on their cars. We made our way to the entrance of pit road just in time to see the parade of cars coming off the track and heading to the garage. We camped out near the fence with a few other fans in hopes of glimpsing some of the drivers. We saw Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray climb out of their cars near the gas pumps, and nearby we saw Kasey Kahne chatting with members of his crew. Little did we realize that Kasey would go on to win the race the following day, so at least we can say we saw the race winner. We also saw Kyle Busch, or at least a person we believe was Kyle, as he was on a golf cart with his back to us and people were calling his name as the cart departed the security fence near the garage.
Starved after our hike to find our seats, watching the practice sessions and checking out the garage area, we bought lunch from some of the food vendors before starting for the exit. We’d had our fun and didn’t want to stick around another three hours to watch the NASCAR Camping World Series race that was the main attraction of the afternoon. We thought we’d look for some souvenir stands and see what we could find before catching the shuttle bus back to the parking area. While we were standing around trying to read the map and get our bearings, a track employee passed by and asked us if we wanted to sit in on a Q&A session with Kyle Petty that was just getting ready to start. Sure, why not?
We walked next door to the media center and enjoyed the cool indoors while listening for about half an hour to the former driver and now TNT race analyst answer questions from fans. Kyle Petty is pretty much in person everything he comes across as on TV a talkative, knowledgeable, entertaining personality who has remained humble in the shadow of his father’s greatness and his own personal family tragedy suffered with the loss of his son Adam in 2000. Ben got to meet him and get his autograph afterwards.
We picked up a few small souvenirs, although none of us could justify $30 for a T-shirt or a ballcap. Despite our initial free tickets, we still managed to plunk down more than $150 for our excursion, which wound up lasting most of the day. We were thankful that it was Saturday and not Sunday, meaning it took us just a few minutes to get from the parking lot back to the highway instead of the hour-plus it takes on race day. On Sunday we watched the Toyota Save Mart 350 from the comfort of our living room on our plasma TV, thankful to have had our taste of the event and not all the traffic headaches.
The visit to the races was sort of a prelude to our summer vacation. With Ben already off of school until the end of July, Glenn took a week off to celebrate his birthday and the Fourth of July weekend. We didn’t make plans to go anywhere, so the week was spent attending to activities around home. Admittedly, we gave much of our free time to playing on Facebook.
But when we weren’t chatting with friends in our virtual communities, we did make time for real-world activities. Glenn even went so far as to make up a list of about 30 goals he hoped to accomplish in the nine days he had off. It was an ambitious list for sure, covering such simple things as mowing the lawn and washing the car to more complex tasks such as repainting the pergola on our back patio. Not even half of the items got tackled, and even fewer got accomplished, but at least the lawn was shorter for a few days and the car received fresh clean spots to attract new dirt.
One of the goals on Glenn’s list was turning 44, which he accomplished on July 1. Another goal was to celebrate the occasion with a walk along the Big Break Regional Trail. (Sometimes it’s good to set achievable goals, even if they are simple.) Glenn and Ben went out for the walk while Roni ran out to get some last-minute birthday goodies. The weather wasn’t impossibly warm for a change, so the walkers managed to stay out for at least a couple of hours, getting foxtails stuck in their socks and shoes while exploring progress at the site of the future Delta Science Center.
By the time they got home, Roni had wrapped all the birthday gifts and was getting a jump on Glenn’s favorite chocolate pudding cake that would be our dessert following a hamburger dinner. Chocolate pudding cake doesn’t support the weight of candles very well, so Roni also baked up a pan of brownies as a stand-in birthday prop. Rather than test Glenn’s lung power with 44 candles, she got a couple of numeral 4’s that she set up side-by-side on their chocolaty base. Glenn made pretty quick work of them. Having put most of our disposable funds into buying Roni’s and Ben’s computers earlier in the year, Glenn’s wish list was pretty simple. He wanted the “Guitar Hero: World Tour” game for the Wii, and Ben obliged him. Ben and Roni also threw in an extra Wiimote and guitar controller so that two people could play the game together. Ben and Glenn had been taking turns on the “Guitar Hero III” game, which came with just one controller.
The gift was a hit all around. The game and the guitar controller were picked up used from Game Stop, so we all admired the thrift involved in the purchase. Everything seemed to work fine, too, although the controller had a whammy bar that was a bit looser than felt comfortable. No problem. Glenn discovered a site online that showed how to tighten up the bar good as new. All it involved was removing a few screws, putting some pipe thread tape around the whammy bar and putting the pieces back together again. But in the end the project turned out to be more like Humpty Dumpty. The pieces didn’t go back together quite as easily as they came apart, and when the controller was reassembled there was a new problem: the bar was indeed tighter, but it didn’t work. Glenn reopened the controller to discover that in the process of fixing the bar, he’d broken a couple of wires on a ribbon cable that would have to be resoldered.
We went down to Radio Shack and picked up a cheapie soldering kit, and Glenn studied videos online to make sure he knew how to do the job properly when he tackled it. With a little practice, they promised, he’d be soldering like a pro in no time. Armed with his newfound knowledge, Glenn set about the task of soldering the broken wires. His was a textbook example of everything not to do when soldering. The solder got stuck to the iron instead of the wires, the joints were brittle, and ultimately the connection didn’t work. For more than a week he tried and failed to repair the controller, and was reaching the point of despair when at last he somehow got the connection to work. A miracle from the soldering gods.
Now we have two working guitar controllers again, but everyone seems to have lost interest in Guitar Hero for the time being and has returned to Facebook. At least we’ll be prepared for when the next urge to be rock stars strikes.
The other thing that happened on Glenn’s birthday was less pleasant, as it was the day the newspaper announced another round of layoffs. We’d already been preparing for pay cuts and some more consolidation of operations, but the layoffs came as a bit of a surprise to everyone. The company hoped to accomplish the staff reductions through voluntary buyouts, and gave until July 8 to apply. Not enough people applied for the program, so we all waited until July 15 to find out how many would be let go involuntarily. That was a mighty unpleasant two weeks. But in the end we survived another round of cuts, and hope that the advertising problems that have plagued the newspaper industry will start to improve soon. We’re under no illusions that times will ever be as good as they were even five years ago. If you want to save the newspaper you love, the secret is to start buying cars and houses again. We’ve got a foreclosed house right next door to us if you want a place to start.
With financial uncertainty staring us in the face yet again, escaping to the simple pleasures of our summer staycation proved all the more important. We focused on doing yard work and engaging in our various online pursuits. On the Fourth of July, we made our annual trek out to the DuPont rail yard to watch the fireworks from afar. Antioch and Oakley had dueling municipal displays going. Oakley, celebrating the 10th anniversary of its incorporation, put on the more impressive show.
Glenn returned to work July 6. Meanwhile, Ben still had about three weeks of his summer vacation left to contemplate the start of the new school year. He’s been spending more time hanging out with friends lately, and has taken an interest in a girl from his school, Hayleigh. He and Hayleigh got together for pizza one weekday afternoon, and plans are for her to come with us when we go to Courtland this weekend for the Delta Pear Fair, and to Sacramento next month when we visit SacAnime. It is perhaps in part because of this friendship that Ben consented to change his hairstyle this month (the other part being that he needs it to look a certain way for the anime character he wants to dress as for cosplay at SacAnime.) He had been letting his hair grow thick and long for more than a year, but he finally gave in to the barber’s shears and got about half of the mane chopped off and styled. The new look has met with favorable reaction, so we’ll see how long he chooses to keep it. At least until the end of August.
On July 16 we waited in line at Freedom High School so Ben could register for his sophomore classes. Having done the exercise last year, we sort of knew what to expect this time around and came prepared to write checks and have photos taken. They herded us through the line like cattle and happily took our $169 for yearbook, P.E. clothes, class picture and whatnot. We left about an hour later with armloads of textbooks that required two of us to carry. Class begins this week, then it will be back to daily routines for all of us.
Glenn, Roni and Ben