July 27, 2017: "I'm afraid I have some bad news…" No good conversation ever begins that way, and so it was for Glenn on June 28 when his boss informed him that his job at the newspaper was being eliminated and the journalism career he had known for nearly three decades was at an end. It was a day we all knew might come eventually, given the declining state of print media in this age of digital everything, but to hear those words on what had been a routine Wednesday afternoon in early summer put a final punctuation mark on nearly 10 years of uncertainty, delayed plans and ruined dreams.
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The surprising announcement came amid the latest round of job cuts at the newspaper that began earlier in June with the dismantling of the copy desk and shipping of print production to a satellite facility in Southern California. But less than a week after the last of those laid-off workers departed came a more stealthy downsizing, with at least eight people let go from several editorial and advertising positions. So while Glenn may not have been prepared to make an exit now, at least he had plenty of company. But whereas several unionized reporters and photographers had to clear out their desks immediately under the terms of their guild contract, non-represented supervisors like Glenn were treated differently. Despite the news that he would no longer have a job, his boss wanted him to continue working through July 14. Glenn rejected that idea and negotiated an earlier departure date: June 30.
You never know how you are going to react in a situation like this. Some face it with anger, resentful at being singled out for termination through no fault of their own, blasting the company on social media, screaming at management or protesting the decision through legal action or otherwise. Many shed tears of sadness for what has been lost — a livelihood, the camaraderie of coworkers, a routine that, no matter how dull it might have been, added stability to their daily lives. And then there is the way Glenn handled it: with brave optimism that whatever waits on the other side has to be better than the hell we've all endured since February 2008, when layoffs at the newspaper became a way of life.
No, this was not totally unexpected. And the way we have adapted to this specter for the past decade has prepared us about as well as might have been possible, short of Glenn finding another job before now. We paid off our mortgage three years ago, paid for Roni's car in cash and held off purchasing a new vehicle for Glenn, avoided going into debt for such things as home renovations and fancy vacations. We socked money away, even in the face of rising health insurance costs, pay cuts and no raises, benefiting from Roni's growing success in her own business. We aren't set for life, but we are set for now.
Although news of Glenn's impending departure spread quickly among his fellow editors, and there were several emailed or telephoned well wishes from them, it was his decision not to go out with a formal farewell event. No lunch, no cake, no round of hugs and handshakes in the office. This was not a celebration of retirement. He worked his normal night shift the rest of that week, and at the end of Friday evening, in the emptiness of the newsroom, he quietly packed his few things into a cardboard box and headed out to the parking lot, leaving behind 29 years of (mostly) pleasant memories.
* * * * *
LENN'S JOB WAS not the only loss we experienced this month. Days earlier, his grandmother Louise Henry suffered a serious heart attack that sent her to the hospital for a few days. Her doctor said she needed an operation to repair a leaky heart valve, but given her 102 years such a procedure carried greater risks than potential rewards. They sent her home to her assisted living facility at Acacia Creek in Union City, where in the wee hours of Sunday morning, June 25, she collapsed and had to be readmitted to ICU at Kaiser Hospital in Fremont. Her prognosis was poor.
On June 27, we learned that our beloved Grandmother and Grammie was dying. The decision was to move her to hospice care, and those who wanted to and were able had a chance to visit her in the hospital and say their final goodbyes. Glenn initially didn't want to go, preferring like Ben to remember her as she was during her 102nd birthday celebration last April at his parents' home in Hayward. But the tug of emotion was too strong to resist, and so that morning we drove to Fremont to see her for what would prove to be the final time.
There we found her surrounded by Glenn's parents, his Aunt Ellen and Uncle Steve, and his sister's husband Tom who smuggled in nachos and a margarita for the patient. She set aside most of the packaged meal the hospital staff had delivered to her and eagerly gulped down the margarita. Having just awakened from a drug-induced sleep, her face lit up when she saw Glenn, eyes sparkling like she was 50 years younger. He sat beside her bed and she held his hand for more than two minutes, not wanting to let go of her eldest grandson. We all sat and visited with her for a couple of hours, appreciating that she still had her sense of humor and was lucid despite the circumstances. She had made peace with her decision to go into hospice, and was facing the end with courage and dignity. Glenn gave her a tearful hug before we left as she told him to remember the good times they had shared together. And he promised her that he always would.
On the night of July 4, with fireworks lighting the skies of the Bay Area, Glenn received the call from his mom that Grandmother had passed away. Just a week after we had visited her for the last time, the amazing and loving woman Glenn had shared other Independence Day celebrations with, as well as countless birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings and vacations, was gone. That she had departed amid the bright lights and bombs bursting in air seemed somehow an appropriate tribute to a life well lived. It still is hard to accept. We are all grateful for the many years we had to know and love her. Farewell, Grandmother.
* * * * *
MID THE WHIRLWIND of life changes we experienced that week, Glenn's 52nd birthday on July 1 seemed all but forgotten. Falling the day after his departure from the newspaper, on the same day as the Oakley Cityhood Celebration where Roni had already committed to working a booth for the sanitary district, there was scarcely time for or interest in cake and presents. Yet we still managed to acknowledge the occasion. Ben had the day off work, so we all went to lunch at Cocina Medina restaurant in Antioch, which had reopened just days earlier following a fire that had destroyed its kitchen a few months ago. It was a moment to splurge before starting to get serious about our new financial situation. Glenn even had a margarita, just because he could. After that, it was home to ice cream cupcakes and gifts.
Before the layoff, Glenn had his eyes on a new computer to replace his six-year-old iMac, which has been feeling its age lately. Roni and Ben had made plans to get it for him; they'd already picked out the model at Best Buy and were preparing to purchase it the day he got the bad news from work. Change of plans. Instead of cruising in the computing fast lane for his birthday, Glenn received a selection of books on how to find a compatible new career and freelancing one's writing. Appropriate choices under the circumstances, if perhaps not tops on his wish list.
And while he may not have received the computer he wanted, there was still plenty of Apple in his midst. On Glenn's final day at the office, knowing that he would no longer have use of his company-issued iPhone 6, Roni took him to Best Buy to pick out a cell phone of his own — his first. He got an iPhone 6S, mainly because it was a bit cheaper than the newer models and similar to the one he was losing, which he liked. Roni's goal for him having it so soon was so she would be able to communicate with him from her booth at the cityhood celebration the next day, but the more practical reason is that it's near impossible to live without a cell phone nowadays, and Glenn's access to one the past four years had spoiled him. It is also handy when waiting for potential employers to offer you your next gig.
Meanwhile, unemployment offers a few advantages along with the obvious drawbacks. It was just happenstance that Glenn's job loss coincided with what had been a planned week of vacation the first few days of July, and it was because of that vacation time he was able to leave work earlier rather than later. Although he would have been off anyway, the company made his last official day July 7, enabling him to maintain his health and dental benefits for another month. That will save about $1,000 we would have had to pay through COBRA otherwise. It also freed up a lot of time for other things, such as home repairs, writing projects and a very unexpected opportunity to join a family gathering along the California coast.
* * * * *
ONG BEFORE GRANDMOTHER Henry fell ill, Glenn's folks had booked a week at a vacation home in Sea Ranch, about three hours from us on Highway 1 north of the Bay Area. They had planned to stay there with Glenn's siblings and their families July 8-15, an itinerary that would not have allowed us to participate for more than a couple days at best, given Glenn's need to return to work on July 10. But when Grandmother's failing health became an issue, Glenn's folks feared they wouldn't be able to make the trip they had already paid for, and so they offered the space to us if we wanted to go. If we were initially intrigued, after Glenn lost his job we had nothing to prevent us from joining the fun, so we gladly accepted. The invitation stood even after Grandmother's death freed Glenn's folks to make at least part of their trip. The accommodations would just be a bit more crowded.
We decided to go up July 11, a Tuesday. We might have left days earlier, except that we are in the middle of trying to obtain our passports for our Mexico cruise this fall and had scheduled an appointment for 8:30 that morning at Oakley City Hall to submit our applications. It has been a long, difficult process involving getting certified copies of birth certificates, hunting for lost passport credentials and trying to take our own ID photos. Everything is done by appointment nowadays, so we didn't want to slow the process further by missing this one. We turned in our paperwork and were then free to head out of town.
Roni liked the idea of turning the drive into a mini road trip, so we made a point of stopping first in Santa Rosa to visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. We are both big fans of the Peanuts comic strips and characters, especially after we themed our Christmas display around them two years ago. It was that Christmas when Glenn said we should one day check out the museum, and our timing now couldn't have been better: the museum was doing an exhibit called "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night," a tribute to Schulz's love of literature and how it had shaped the themes depicted in many of his strips. Being writers and aspiring novelists ourselves, how could we resist?
For those who don't know their Peanuts history, one of Snoopy's many roles in the long-running comic was as a struggling writer penning the Great American Novel. Every one of his works begins with the time-worn words coined in an 1830 work by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton: "It was a dark and stormy night…" The cliche became a running gag for Schulz, who once said that he became a cartoonist because he wasn't good enough to become a writer. And while the pile of prestigious awards he received throughout his career might say otherwise, he always considered himself a simple man with simple talents. Whatever he thought about himself, the legacy he left that is now on display at his museum looms large in American culture and in the community he called home.
The grounds on which the exhibit hall is located is actually two museums, an ice rink and a cafe. The research center is the newest of the three facilities, and the only one requiring an admission fee. Our visit started there with a lecture from one of the volunteer docents who talked about Schulz's life and the characters he created in his strips. Then we had a chance to walk through the "Stormy Night" exhibit and see some of his original pen-and-ink panels, letters he had written while in the military, awards he had won, and tour a replica of his home studio. Then we went outside into the museum's courtyard to see Peanuts-themed sculptures created by local artists. Glenn walked through a labyrinth shaped like Snoopy's head before we walked across the street to tour the old gift shop and check out the upstairs displays there.
Our final stop was at the Snoopy's Home Ice skate rink that is attached to the restaurant, where through windows diners can observe skaters of all skill levels glide around on the ice or see the famed Zamboni machine in action as it lays down a fresh surface on the rink's floor. Any sustaining effects of the doughnuts we'd had for breakfast had long ago worn off, so we ordered a salad and sandwich to tide us over for the rest of the drive. The food was delicious, and Glenn's turkey sandwich came served in a basket lined with paper decorated with, what else, Peanuts cartoon strips. Of course we had to save that.
* * * * *
E ARRIVED AT Sea Ranch in the late afternoon and easily found the vacation house at 87 Spindrift Close, a 3,200-square-foot beauty located on a huge bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Glenn's sister Jennifer was already well settled in, having arrived Saturday with her family, and Glenn's brother Sean had checked in the previous day. We of course got the grand tour, starting with the spacious living room and kitchen with its huge island for food preparation — the kind that instantly made Roni envious. Jennifer then had us pop our heads into the nautical-themed game room where Sean and her husband Tom were engaged in a spirited round of pool. Next we got to see the downstairs master suite where Jenny and Tom were staying, and the huge upstairs guest bedroom that our niece Shannon had claimed pending the arrival of Glenn's parents later in the week. Our quarters was off the living room on the opposite side of the house, an open-plan room with huge picture windows that overlook a meadow and the ocean, and an upstairs loft where Sean and our nephew Allen were staying, separated from our bed by a computer nook and bathroom in the middle of the lower floor.
But the star indoor attraction of the house may be its library, with 16-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling bookcases and an electric pipe organ made entirely from wood that is mounted on the east-facing wall. At the flip of a switch the organ plays a preprogrammed selection of classical music at a volume loud enough to be heard throughout the entire house. That might not make for solitude to contemplate a great book in the comfort of the plush suede leather armchair, but with the music off and the door closed, bathed in the soft amber glow of the room's ceiling-mounted track lights, it became the ideal place to retreat to during our family retreat.
It is in the library that there is an inscription carved in a long wood plaque mounted near the ceiling of the tallest bookcase, illuminated around the clock by a strip of LED lights. Among other things, it bears the name of the home's designer and owner, Barry Elbasani, a noted Berkeley architect responsible for the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in addition to large-scale urban projects in places such as Portland, Ore., Denver, Colo., Phoenix, Ariz., and Milwaukee, Wisc. Elbasani planned the home dubbed Horizon Reach for his family, but he died of brain cancer in 2010, a year before its construction was completed. Knowing this history made us all appreciate the place a little bit more.
* * * * *
LENN'S MOM AND dad arrived from the Bay Area on Wednesday afternoon, while the rest of us enjoyed a morning walk down to Black Point Beach, the access to which is about a mile from the house. The area seems to be a natural magnet for fog, and the temperature was in the low to mid-60s our entire visit, about 35 degrees cooler than the inland valley heat we were escaping. Sea Ranch is essentially a series of small villages nestled to the west of Highway 1, interconnected by public and private trails that hug the bluffs above five separate beaches that are maintained by the Sonoma County regional parks system.
Black Point Beach is about as close to a traditional white sand beach as you'll find here, with its mile-long strand peppered with driftwood and seaweed and bordered on either side by towering rock cliffs. There are some small caves to the south that attracted Shannon's attention, and she spent a long time exploring them on her own until safety became a concern with the crashing surf and rising tide. The rest of us hung out on the beach, building sandcastles and taking pictures or exploring the succulents and wildflowers that cling to the rock faces. A few other young people played in the waves while another couple fished with their dog. Roni and Glenn strolled north and checked out the two small waterfalls that are fed off the creeks that run through the meadow above.
It was in one of those creeks that passes along the north boundary of the Horizon Reach property where we later saw a mother deer and her two fawns foraging for food. Sean had brought along his Canon DSLR with its powerful 500mm lens, but he was disappointed to discover that the photos of the deer he thought he'd taken didn't save because he'd forgotten to insert a memory card. The deer would return several times during our stay, and it became a running joke that every time they made an appearance Sean wasn't around to photograph them. The rest of us did manage to get some quite-good closeups of the trio.
As for activities at the house, it seemed there was never enough time to do everything we wanted to do there. Days were spent hiking the trails and visiting the other beaches nearby or a few miles up the road in Gualala. Evenings found us around the dinner table partaking in conversation and the collaborative meals that everyone had a hand in producing — from the barbecued burgers and chicken that Tom prepared on his charcoal grill to the salads that Roni contributed from the raw ingredients we brought with us. We shared bottles of wine, beer and even margaritas that we drank in a toast to our late Grandmother Henry. The large refrigerator was never roomy enough to contain all the items that people brought or bought to share during our stay.
At night, there were long soaks in the hot tub beneath skies so dark that even the faintest stars of the Milky Way were plainly visible. Roni brought along her spotting scope, and Glenn had a ball setting it up for us all to see the moons of Jupiter and distant Saturn with its telltale ring. We enjoyed toasting marshmallows and making s'mores while sitting around the fire pit on the back porch, listening to the pounding surf and watching the fog come in.
We had only planned to spend a couple of nights, departing for home Thursday morning, but we were having such a good time that neither of us wanted to leave. And so we stayed until check-out time on Saturday.
* * * * *
MONG THE MANY memorable moments we took home from Sea Ranch was the tale of a bright yellow frisbee that somehow made its way onto the back roof of Horizon Reach before our arrival. It stood in such contrast to the drab gray wood siding that makes up all the houses here, that we used it as a landmark to find our way back on our initial trail walk. But it was clearly out of place, and Allen became obsessed with the idea of bringing it down. But how?
One afternoon a few of us were relaxing in lounge chairs on the back patio when Allen and Glenn's mom emerged from the house carrying a large green rubber play ball. Allen tried at first to toss the ball on the roof, but he lacked the strength and height to hit his target. So he turned the ball over to his grandmother and stood out in the meadow spotting her while she also attempted to hit the frisbee, without success.
Seeing their struggles, Glenn joined the effort and managed to get the ball near to the yellow disk, but even on the rare occasions when he actually touched it, the frisbee wouldn't budge. Clearly a better tool was needed, something perhaps with a claw or hook on the end. Glenn's mom went off in search of ideas and returned minutes later with a pair of flexible foam noodles that were intended to be used in the spa. She and Jennifer had taped the noodles together to form one long mega noodle that Glenn bent into a crook in an attempt to snare the frisbee. He wobbled with it on a kitchen ladder that his mother tried to steady while Allen told him to move left or right. But the noodle was heavy and difficult to maneuver, and unfortunately the tape didn't hold the two pieces together for very long.
Meanwhile, Jennifer and Roni thoroughly documented the rescue attempt from different angles — Roni on the patio and Jennifer through the non-openable window of the upstairs bedroom. If only there was a way through that glass, the frisbee could be easily plucked from the shingles. But there wasn't, and by now Glenn's dad was getting into the act. Which is always a dangerous thing. He came up with the idea of using the garden hose to spray water on the roof in hopes of floating the frisbee down. But would it be more effective to spray it from the front of the house over the roof peak and have it cascade down the other side to the frisbee? This was starting to resemble a game of "Mousetrap," with each player devising a more elaborate solution to what should have been a simple problem.
But as with all complex challenges, there is usually an obvious answer that someone has overlooked. Ours was discovered on the front second-floor balcony where Sean was lounging in a hammock, blissfully ignorant of the drama taking place on the other side of the house. Here, the roof was low enough to be reachable with the kitchen step ladder, and so Glenn's dad was alerted to it before he could carry out the latest frisbee-freeing scheme. He brought the ladder around to the balcony, hopped up to the roof, and moments later returned with the yellow disk in hand.
Allen got to enjoy a game of catch with his grandparents, and the house escaped the ordeal unharmed.
* * * * *
VEN WITH OUR decision to extend our stay a few days, Saturday morning came all too quickly. Check-out time was 11 a.m., and it must have taken close to three hours to round up everyone's personal items, toss garbage and tidy up a bit. It's amazing how much clutter nine people can generate in less than seven days. No wonder we never want to set foot in our garage at home.
Roni and Glenn found some time to take a walk after breakfast along the bluff trail. We wandered north to see some of the coastal pinnacles we hadn't already observed, taking advantage of the first fog-free morning we'd had during our visit to take well-lit pictures. When everyone was finished packing, we all went out on the back deck for some group photos before final hugs and farewells. We joked about forming a human chain at the entrance to prevent the property management company from renting out this lovely home to anyone else. "Occupy Sea Ranch" would be our slogan. But alas, common sense prevailed and we all departed at the same time, if not all in the same direction.
While the rest of Glenn's folks headed back to the Bay Area, we turned north on Highway 1 and continued on to Point Area, about 40 minutes away. There's a lighthouse there, and we had never seen it. We got to drive onto the grounds, visit the gift shop and take our pictures of the 115-foot-tall tower, although we didn't feel inclined to spend the money for the tour to its cupola. The original tower was constructed in 1870 and stood until the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. It was reconstructed in 1908 and remains a popular tourist attraction.
We had intended to head farther north to Fort Bragg, but five days on the road taking long hikes and touring beaches on little sleep had left us longing for home, so we decided to leave the Fort Bragg visit for another time and took the long drive back down Highway 1. Being the middle of another heatwave, it seemed everyone with a car had driven it to the coast that day to escape the high inland temperatures. We just wanted to stop for some lunch in Bodega Bay and it took us nearly an hour to get through town. The place we had enjoyed some great clam chowder on our trip here nearly three years ago had a line stretching down the block, so instead we got our chowder from the snack bar at the Inn at the Tides on the opposite side of the bay, just thankful to have a few minutes out of the tangle of traffic.
A few hours later we were back in the sauna that is our house, missing mightily the cool ocean breezes of Sea Ranch and looking forward to our next coastal getaway.
* * * * *
F THERE'S ONE thing we haven't been looking forward to, it's the never ending project that seems to be our front yard makeover… and now time is becoming a factor. We got a door hanger notice from the city this week reminding us (and allegedly everyone else in our neighborhood) of landscaping requirements and property maintenance codes. We're probably in violation of at least a half-dozen of them, given the current state of our lawn-less front yard and inadequate parking situation. The door hangers are usually a precursor to formal warnings, so the race is on to finish what we started nearly a year ago.
There has been solid progress on the driveway expansion. We laid most of the full pavers this month, and Glenn has been in the process of cutting fill pieces with his angle grinder, doing a few bricks each day or so. There are more than 160 cuts to make and sand to sweep into the joints before everything is finished and we can move on to the dry creek bed in the middle of the yard and the lawn area adjacent to our neighbors' yard. Given our lack of time and current budget constraints, we may opt to put in real sod instead of the artificial grass we had been planning. It will eventually succumb to inadequate water and gopher problems, but it might just keep the city landscape police off our backs for the time being.