Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Commuter Hell in Seattle

It took me four and a half hours to get home to Edmonds last night. All looked good when I left the office in Redmond at 5 pm. As soon as I got up Avondale Road a short way it started snowing heavily. The traffic was barely moving. It took me two hours just to get to Cottage Lake. I then heard on the radio that Interstate 405 north was totally blocked. I turned around and went back to the office and grabbed my laptop and some files. I checked the traffic map and decided on a 520 bridge west crossing. That worked well. As soon as I got on I-5 northbound, I got off the very first exit at 45th and headed west to Ballard hearing that I-5 from Lake City Way north was not moving. From Ballard I went north via 15th and then Greenwood. Greenwood got more crumbly icy the further north I went until finally at 145th it was a skating rink. Where Greenwood turns into 155th and meets 99, it was Zamboni time, smooth ice on a slight hill. Two Metro buses were off to the side. The young gal in front of me hit her breaks and went sideways. I gently eased to a stop and watched her slide away. Once stopped I noticed that I was very slowly, almost imperceptably sliding. The gal in front of me was cleared out so I let off the breaks and kept on a straight course to the flat. Once on 99 it was OK all the way to Edmonds. I made it home about 9:40 pm. The family was waiting up for me. My wife made me a couple egg burritos …mmmmmm.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Salinas Valley Redux - California Dreamin' Part VIII


I covered my trip northward through the Salinas Valley in Part II. In this last segment of California Dreamin' I'll cover it again, only with a few photos and some additional details.

In Part VII, I had just pulled into Paso Robles on a Wednesday night after traversing up and over the Parkfield Grade. I had one more medical office building to look at in Templeton for a mold assessment, part of my whirl-wind week-long tour of California with sites in San Leandro, Los Gatos, and Manteca. Templeton lies between Paso Robles and Atascadero. I was booked into a Hampton Inn on the southern edge of Paso Robles for Wednesday and Thursday nights. It was a brand new hotel catering to the Central Coast wine tour crowd. With that theme in mind, I picked up a bottle of Castoro Cellars Fume Blanc from the local supermarket along with some other food items to stock in my room's pony fridge.

I met my site contact Thursday morning and went through the small building of medical office suites, mostly vacant. The site contact obviously had more important responsibilities, being the facilities manager at the local hospital, but he was polite and made sure I saw everything I needed. He was a younger good old boy who grew up in Bakersfield, a chunk of Oklahoma dropped into the center of California. He had a real nice rig, a Toyota Tundra in bright metallic blue, lifted and tricked out, and too nice to thrash off road. I was the only consultant (among several disciplines on this project) who had called ahead and scheduled an appointment for a site visit so he gave me some credit for that. My years of doing these things have taught me to head Murphy off wherever you can and confirming site visits is plain old Consulting 101. It surprises me to hear about consultants who just show up expecting to walk through. I couldn't afford any schedule glitches on this week-long tour.

I wrapped up the site visit in about an hour. I supposed I could've made a flight out of Oakland later that day. But the San Leandro draft report was due the following day (Friday) and I would've have lost a precious day driving up to Oakland. I sequestered myself in my room the rest of the day and into the night working on the San Leandro report. I finished it and emailed it off that night.

I didn't get to see much of Paso Robles except for driving around looking for places to eat and buy a latte at anyplace but Starbucks. I vaguely remember Paso Robles from passing through there on family vacations on the way up to Oregon for camping. We stayed in a motel there once. I had a shoebox full of wooly bear caterpillars that my mother allowed me to bring along on the trip or else they would starve. As a kid I always had some captured creatures I would keep like caterpillars, spiders including black widows, and lizards. Caterpillars were most fun because they eventually pupated and emerged as moths or butterflies. As it turned out, the shoebox of caterpillars was left behind outside of the motel room. When I realized we had forgotten the caterpillars we were already well down the road. I think my parents were secretly relieved of having to deal with a box full of caterpillars through a whole family camping trip.

I left Paso Robles Friday morning heading north through the Salinas Valley to catch a flight out of Oakland back to Seattle. I made several stops along the way as I mentioned in Part II.


My first stop was Mission San Miguel Arcangel. Early morning low clouds added grayness and mystery to the mission buildings. The history of the mission includes the tragic murders of the Reed family here in 1848. I walked all around the perimeter of the mission, the gift shop and museum not opening until later in the morning. The church was closed indefinately, undergoing repairs from a December 2003 earthquake. The cracks in the front church wall are readily obvious. The repair operations are much in evidence around the church and associated buildings.

Rios-Caledonia Adobe

Across from Mission San Miguel is the Rios-Caledonia Adobe. I was the only there this morning except for the still slumbering caretaker. I feely walked the grounds without another soul to disturb my thoughts.

Feed Mill

I stopped to photograph an old feed mill in San Miguel. It reminded me of the old CC Stafford feed mill near where I grew up as a boy, the mill already in decay as suburbia grew around it.

Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

My last stop was at Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. The mission sits out in the middle of the Salinas valley lettuce fields, isolated, with no adjacent town or city. I pretty much had the run of the place being the only tourist present. From my readings I recognized one of two marked graves as that of Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga.

Grave of Jose Arrillaga

"As soon as we were informed of the arrival of the gobernador [Arrillaga], Lieutenant Davidov was sent ashore to welcome the company and extend our warmest acknowledgements for the friendly manner in which we had been received. On the following morning, when we expected our visit to be returned, there came two religiosos tendering apologies of the gobernador that, being advanced in years and of feeble constitution, he hoped to be excused from returning the visit, and at the same time requesting Rezanov, with all of the officers, to visit him at the presidio. The invitation was accepted, and we all went to the presidio, where we became acquainted with the gobernador, a venerable looking man of sixty years. He had come a distance of no less than twenty-five German miles, solely for the purpose of showing respect to us and making our stay as agreeable as possible."

Georg von Langsdorff - 1806

Lettuce Field

John Steinbeck describes the essence of California and the Salinas Valley the best in the opening of East of Eden.

"The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in summer - and what trees and seasons smelled like - how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.

I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love. The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding - unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of west and love of east. Where I ever got such an idea I cannot say, unless it could be that the morning came over the peaks of the Gabilans and the night drifted back from the ridges of the Santa Lucias. It may be that the birth and death of the day had some part in my feeling about the two ranges of mountains."

John Steinbeck - East of Eden

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Happy Birthday My Son

Yesterday was my youngest son's eleventh birthday. He's such a wonderful kid - handsome with his loosely curled blonde hair and blue eyes, polite, great vocabulary and a vivid imagination. He had three friends over for a sleepover plus older brother, who managed nicely not to pound or humiliate his little brother in front of his friends. Fun was had by all - electronic games, pizza, soda, pancakes and bacon for breakfast, followed by backyard potato gun fights. Nobody got hurt and nothing got broken.

Parkfield Grade - California Dreamin' Part VII

I had looked over a number of California state road maps at a Barnes & Noble in Tracy. I was exploring a number of ways to get from Manteca to Paso Robles the long way. One map, and only one of the maps I looked at showed a sliver of a road that left Highway 198 just after Coalinga and headed south through Parkfield connecting with Highway 46. Naturally, this was the map I bought.

In Part VI, I had stopped at a BLM pull-out for a leg stretch and snap shots. From there, I headed west again on Highway 198, vigilant for a side road to my left that would take me to Parkfield and beyond. Sooner than I could blink, I spotted a side road with a small sign that read "Parkfield Grade." Well that had to be it so I turned left.
The road traversed over a broad rolling oak-studded plateau, dipped into a couple dry washes, then began twisting and climbing up into the rounded ridges of the central California Coast Ranges. I found a pull-out on the narrow road that afforded a grand view of the plateau I had just crossed. I loved being here. This was the real California with all the sights, smells, and familiarity of growing up and tramping through the golden hills of California. This time of year, they were truly baked to a shimmering gold. Were this March, these hills would be emerald green, teeming with wildflowers and buzzing insects. On this day life slumbers here beneath the withering late summer sun and twisted live oak branches.

I past interesting rock formations composed of ophiolite and serpentine, oceanic crust that was squeezed up by colliding crustal plates. The rocks were covered with a brilliant red lichen.

Climbing further, digger pines appeared, and then the pavement ended. I was sure that I was lost now, having seen only one other vehicle. The road became dirt and gravel yet still well graded enough for my rental car. On I went. I had plenty of gas.
I crested at the county line leaving Fresno County and entering Monterey County. The road, still dirt, wound it's way down. I could see down the to Cholame Valley. I stopped just after the crest for more pictures of vistas and oak trees.
I finally reached valley bottom at the V6 Ranch that later research told me was a bit of a working and guest ranch. From here the road was level and relatively straight, crossing the dry Little Cholame Creek on standard box truss bridges.

I pulled into Parkfield and it might as well have been a ghost town. The inn and restaurant were both closed. I had been looking forward to a lunch stop here. There's a small USGS building and an information board, Parkfield being the locus of earthquake prediction study along the San Andreas fault because of the regularity of earthquake occurrence.
Just south of Parkfield, I stopped at the bridge where every tourist stops, the bridge slightly contorted by the slow creep of the San Andreas fault. One side of the bridge is the Pacific plate and the other is the North American plate. Whichever side you're standing, the opposite side will be moving to your right, assuming you're facing the other side. Therefore, as is well known, the San Andreas fault is a right-lateral strike-slip fault.
My little country road adventure finally came to an end at the intersection with Highway 46 under the low late afternoon sun at the bottom end of Cholame Valley. I stopped for a couple more snapshots before heading on to Paso Robles for the night. It was very near here where James Dean was killed on September 30, 1955 in a head-on collision at the intersection of Highway 46 and Highway 41. I was 6 months old at the time.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dude, what are you reading?

Air travel gives me the time to do pleasure reading, especially if I'm stuck in a middle or aisle seat. I'm baffled by people who can seemingly sit for two hours on an airplane staring off into space. Oh sure, they'll pick up the airline magazine and quickly thumb through. A few people pull out their laptops and catch up on work or play a game. I seldom pull out the laptop except on longer cross-country flights, which for me are rare (last one was February 2004 to the Carolinas, into Charlotte and out Raleigh-Durham). Most of my air travel is western US, with flights under three hours. I'm usually not very chatty and most other people aren't either. Every once in awhile I sit next to an interesting chatterbox. Really, I prefer to read or stare out the window.

So what am I reading now? I just finished up "A World Transformed - Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush" edited by Joshua Paddison. It's a collection of writings from early California explorers and adventurers like Juan Crespi, George Vancouver, and Richard Henry Dana, with Dana being the most interesting. I'm reading now "Bear Flag Rising - The Conquest of California, 1846" by Dale L. Walker. This book is about that short timeframe when Americans began streaming into California as the vangaurd of manifest destiny and Mexico lost control of her far off and neglected territory. The book has a great cast of real characters, the most infamous of course was John Charles Fremont.

I have been reading these books mostly because of my frequent travels to my native state. Sure, I picked up a lot of California history just growing up and going to school there. The history is worth refreshing and expanding, especially the colorful history of California. I so love history.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Couple Days Off

I'm taking a couple days off at the end of the week to recharge. This has been an almost non-stop busy year and I haven't taken much vacation time. The boys are off school for these two days and it's youngest sons birthday, turning 11. He's having some friends over Saturday for a sleepover, where they will "Destroy all Humans" and other fun electronic games.

I managed to push my Renton Phase I, the Silicon Valley parking lot Phase I, and the noise assessment reports out the door. We are also working on a much larger parcel in Silicon Valley that we're already into Phase II subsurface investigation for the usual suspects - gas stations and dry cleaners. I added my site visit findings to the OC Phase I report and sent it down to my colleague in Irvine.

I prepared a proposal for some additional contamination characterization at a Seattle Central District redevelopment project and we got the go-ahead for that. Now I need to schedule the drilling and find staff.

I prepared a proposal for remedial action services for a redevelopment site near downtown Tacoma to address lead contamination in surface soil. When old houses are demolished they usually leave behind traces of lead paint and that's what happened here. This is a soup-to-nuts project - workplan, excavation oversight, sampling, and closure report. We work with the Washington State Department of Ecology through their Voluntary Cleanup Program. We submit a Workplan that spells out how the lead soil will be removed, how and where we'll collect soil samples for analysis, and what criteria we'll use to confirm the site is cleaned up. I did a similar site just two blocks up the hill and obtained a "no further action" determination from Ecology. This new project is essentially the same as the one I did last year.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The OC in One Day

I flew down to John Wayne early Monday morning catching a 6:40 am flight out of SeaTac on Alaska. The line was long at Qdoba so I didn't have time to grab one of their decent breakfast burritos. The Starbucks line was long, too, and I usually try to avoid the homogeneity of Starbucks. So I stopped at Dilettante Chocolates & Mocha Café, across from Starbucks in Pacific Marketplace. I ordered my usual 20-oozer latte and a cranberry scone. The scone was soft and so unsconely uncrumbly. It sucked, but I ate it anyway.

The plane was full and I had a middle seat. At least on Southwest, I can usually score my coveted window seat 20F (or 20A) by checking in on-line and scoring the "A" group boarding pass. At least I got in a lot of pleasure reading over the two hour plus plane ride.

The last time I flew into John Wayne was a few years ago (I can't remember the exact year). It must have been not too long after 9/11 because I recall National Guardsman patrolling the terminal with M-16s.

The site I was visiting for this project was a large industrial/warehouse building located in northern Orange County. It was totally vacant but in its former life had been a carpet factory and most recently occupied by an aerospace company. Other consultants were running around the place, some I knew well, others I was meeting for the first time. I spent the better part of the day working my way around the property from the roof, to the inside, and around the outside. I collected samples of building materials for asbestos analysis, looked for indications of mold growth, stains, spills, and other indications of environmental problems. The place was swiss-cheesed with soil borings, some were hollow-stem auger borings and others were direct-push probe borings. Someone had characterized the site very well. But I had none of the data in hand.

I finally wrapped up my site work around 4:30 pm, finishing with a review and drive around of the surrounding properties. I didn't have enough time to review building permits at the city. I had wanted to finish the day with a walk around Upper Newport Bay, but the days are too short this time of year and when the sun goes down in these southerly southern California latitudes it gets dark quickly. Picture the sun diving into a pool. In Seattle, the sun dives into the pool at a low angle, not quite a belly flop but more a racing dive. In southern California, the sun dives almost straight down.

I was starving having milked that soggy scone for all it was worth for the whole day. I decided to head over to Costa Mesa to see if that sandwich place was still there at 17th and Orange that I used to stop at after a day at the beach (Newport Beach). Sadly it's a dry cleaner now. But Chester Drawers was still there tucked in the corner of that neighborhood shopping center, a great little spot with beer, burgers, dancing, and shuffleboard. The clientele going in was young and beautiful, just like it was 20 years ago when I would hang out there with my Orange County friends. I'm not so young and beautiful anymore, so I grabbed a sandwich from a nearby Panera.

I checked in early for my non-stop flight home to Seattle, which as it turned out was canceled. The ticket agent was having a bad day and so it made me have a bad day. Being nice comes easy for me and it usually results in reciprocating niceness. When people are not nice I can be just as not nice or even more so. Not getting much help from the Miss Not Nice, I went over to another to another ticket agent who was very nice and pleasant, who booked me on a flight stopping in Oakland then on to Seattle.

I had a window seat but it was already nighttime, which did make for beautiful city light views. I sat next to a father and his five year old daughter. She was a delightful and intelligent child. They were returning from a trip to Disneyland.

I finally walked in through the door at home around 12:30 am. I scrounged for a little snack food, crawled into bed, kissed the wife, rolled over and fell asleep.