November 11, 2008

Happy Birthday, Route 66

It’s been a very good day.

But first things first: Happy birthday, Route 66! Today is the 82nd anniversary of the Mother Road’s commissioning, which took place on November 11, 1926. To duly celebrate the occasion, I pulled out my Old Smoky’s 66 mug (purchased in Williams, Arizona, a favorite Mother Road town) for the first cup of joe.

We’ve had a good run these past five days. On Friday, one of my greatest evenings ever took place when I gave an author’s talk and book signing at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. As part of the city’s “First Fridays Art Walk,” the Steinbeck was kind enough to host a “premiere reception” for Route 66 Railway. Attendance was much bigger than expected – nearly 100 people showed up through the evening! After speaking about the book, its messages and how it came to be (sprinkled with a few stories, including the infamous “reservation tale”), the crowd kept things going with another 30 minutes of questions. The Steinbeck’s supply sold out well before the talk was done, and we all had a grand time sharing memories of the Mother Road and its railway companion.

El does his best George Plimpton . . . hey, the crowd is still awake. (Kathryn Lawrence photos)

Today, with the Steinbeck rush still palpable, today’s agenda included a meeting at our “neighborhood” Borders, 20-something miles away in Sand City, near Monterey. Unfortunately, while Salinas is John Steinbeck's boyhood home, we have only a mall-encrusted B. Dalton to serve as the town’s chief bookseller. (Our other literary refuge is the Steinbeck Center bookstore, of course.)

At Borders I met with buyer Gail Larson and showed her a copy of R66R. Happily, she loved the book and is placing an order for 10 copies. We checked out the “travel narrative” section, where she plans to display the books (showcasing the “local author” angle, of course). It’s an important breakthrough into the mainstream bookseller market, and hopefully the first of many major locations. In an act of divine providence, Laura was off work for Veterans’ Day, and got to share in the success (after all, she did write a mean neon sidebar).

If that wasn’t enough, today Tim Lincecum—our favorite flame-throwing pitcher for the Giants and the salvation of a tough 2008 season—won the Cy Young Award!

Finally, just when I thought the day couldn’t get better, TrekMovie and Entertainment Weekly debuted the first image of the redesigned U.S.S. Enterprise for next year’s Star Trek movie (coming to theaters May 2009). What. A. Beauty. Gotta catch the trailer this weekend with Bond.

Every once in a while life fires on all cylinders, and a perfect day needs to be savored because we don’t know when the next will arrive.

Today was one of those.

October 21, 2008

They're Here

I'm happy to say that Route 66 Railway has arrived.

Ten advance copies reached Los Angeles on October 2, and LARHF overnighted a copy to Lawrence Manor, arriving Oct. 4. The big shipment arrived at the Port of LA last weekend, not a moment too soon. This Friday, we'll drive down to the LARHF offices to make a major pick-up. On Sunday, we'll have the first signing party in Redlands, debuting the book to family, friends and members of the community. LARHF has updated their website and orders are now being taken at the online store, HERE.

It's hard to describe the feelings of the last few weeks . . . "surreal" is a commonly heard word these days. What matters most, of course, is that Tien Wah Press did a fantastic job. The books look beautiful, as good as I'd hoped. So far, our lone copy has racked up some serious "show-off" mileage!

For those who live in or near Central California, you're invited to a signing reception on Friday evening, November 7 at the National Steinbeck Center in Oldtown Salinas. I couldn't think of a better setting for a book with a chapter titled "The Ghost of Tom Joad." See for details.

Oh, and to those who have read this at the 66rails blog . . . sorry for the double post, but it's big news! :-)

A sample page spread, from the opening of the New Mexico chapter.

September 18, 2008

Book Signings, Laura's Blog and Our Night with Omar

A sample from Route 66 Railway: The opening page spread for the history chapter, with images from Gordon Glattenberg (right) and Howard Ande (left).

THE BOOK: It's just come off the presses, and I should see a set of completed pages this Monday to approve. The dust jacket showed up last week and is dazzling. We're so close! Advance copies are to be shipped from Singapore on Sept. 25 (cross your fingers), and the bulk shipment is scheduled (cross them again) to arrive at LARHF in mid October. For more info, check out the book site at and read the author's shameless blog.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: If you live near Central California or the Bay Area, the first big signing event will be at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas on Friday, November 7, from 5 to 8 p.m. It's part of the Oldtown Salinas First Fridays Art Walk, and the center will be open to tour.

Omar Vizquel, future Hall of Fame shortstop and art star.

LAURA's RX: My wife debuted her new blog, "Prescription for Fun," and the latest post is about a grand evening we had in San Francisco on September 4. Caldwell Snyder Gallery held a reception for Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel, and during the course of the evening, we met and took pictures with Omar, Rich Aurilia, Peter McGowan, Brian Sabean, and best of all, broadcaster Mike Krukow. Plus Laura and I were interviewed for a Giants pre-game show, which should run this coming week. Check out the photos at her new blog, HERE.

El hangs with broadcaster/former pitcher Mike Krukow at the reception.

THANKS, BUT NO THANKS: For those who recall the accident last December, Costco sent us a membership renewal. Uh, we'll pass.

September 11, 2008

Remembering September 11

Interfaith healing service, San Jose, 9/14/01

How many Americans stopped to watch the news this morning? How many went to work, spent the day in meetings, kept tabs on Wall Street . . . how many gave the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks a passing glance, then went back to life as usual? Of course the country can't grind to a halt, but why is there no real pause? People seem all too willing to push this terrible date out of our minds.

We were at a "back-to-school" event at Monte Vista Christian last night, where we made the rounds of all Kat's classrooms, following her daily schedule. (Of course the periods were a LOT shorter, but we still had to hurry between bells!) When we arrived at Mr. Gott's Social Studies classroom, rows of huge black and white September 11 photos were laid out on the long tables. As we sat, the image that faced me was of a lone man against one of the towers, falling to his death. He had a graceful pose . . . one leg straight, the other knee bent, almost like a dancer. I couldn't stop staring.

Mr. Gott asked us not to reveal what we saw to the kids. When they walked into class this morning, they were greeted by those images posted across the walls; black velvet draped the door and the areas not covered by photographs. It turns out Kat was transfixed by the same image that held my gaze last night. But all the images are powerful. They speak of a moment we never expected, and will never forget. Thankfully no major attacks have happened since (for that we should thank our government, politics aside). But we know it's a matter of time before it happens again.

Watching the news today, and reading anniversary stories in the LA Times and elsewhere, caused me to think back to when it all happened. I pulled out a few slides I'd shot on the day of the attacks, back when I worked for the San Jose Downtown Association. That morning, as Dan Rather's radio voice told us the World Trade Center was no more, I arrived at Gilroy and hopped on a northbound Caltrain. I should have driven home instead, but by the time sanity prevailed it was too late. During lunch we walked around downtown in a daze, and picked up an extra edition of the Mercury News (remember extras?). I don't remember taking the photo of the newspaper carrier, but I bought a paper.

Three days later, San Jose held a midday inter-faith service that brought people together in a way I'd never seen before. A row of patriotic ladies caught my eye (top), and I was able to snap a few pictures while trying not to be crass. The day's Mercury News also captured the feeling of the week (look, a newspaper selling for 35 cents!).

Today Kat, Laura and I talked about 9/11/01, and Kat told us what she recalled from seeing that day as a six-year old. We talked about the towers, the people that jumped, the Pentagon attack, and the sacrifice of the NYPD, NYFD and Flight 93. We did our best to keep the memories alive of the Americans who were lost seven years ago. I hope others did too. As I write this, we're watching a History Channel special that is flooding us with memories. Footage from 9/11 should be required viewing every year, so we never forget. We owe that much to those who lost everything.

August 14, 2008

Labor Day Steam in Niles Canyon

If you're a Southern Pacific steam fan, or just dig vintage trains, the Niles Canyon Railway near Fremont is running three days of steam excursions on Labor Day Weekend with 4-6-2 No. 2472, one of the classiest engines in California. Owned and operated by the Golden Gate RR Museum, this handsome Pacific is completely at home in Niles, where she and her sisters used to roam in Espee passenger days. Saturday, August 30 will see a photographer's special with matching Harimann passenger cars, a typical SP consist through the canyon during the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

I was lucky enough to ride the Memorial Day photo train on May 24 (above), and it was a blast. This short canyon is Disneyland for railfans: there are places where the views are unchanged from 100 years ago. An added bonus: the line runs over the original right-of-way of the first transcontinental route, dating back to pre-Central Pacific days . . . some bridge abutments and culverts were completed in 1866 by the first Western Pacific Railroad.

Trains are running Saturday, Sunday and Monday. 2472 will be under steam all three days, but is running on Saturday and Monday only. On Sunday, she'll be on display with a short train next to the Sunol depot while the regular Niles Canyon train operates. For more information or to buy tickets, click HERE.

July 22, 2008

Putting a (Dark) Smile on Our Faces

"Whatever doesn't kill you . . . simply makes you stranger."

Like the great white star of Jaws, a theme announces his arrival . . . a noisy, steadily ascending blare, not unlike an air raid siren or an airplane free-falling to earth. When he's on screen, he dominates The Dark Knight. Batman's greatest villian has truly come to life.

Hannibal Lector. Norman Bates. Colonel Kurtz. Darth Vader. The Joker has joined them in the pantheon of Hollywood's all-time greatest villians.

I'll admit when the name Heath Ledger first crossed the newswires as the latest actor to play the Clown Prince of Crime, I was seriously concerned. Who? That was summer 2006, and he was best known for Brokeback Mountain. Cruel "Jokeback Mountain" jokes ensued. But we Batman Begins fans kept the faith, buoyed by director Chris Nolan and star Christian Bale, who'd brought us back from the bat-nippled abyss of Batman and Robin.

Then the first teaser photos appeared, followed by snippets of dialogue, and finally the Dark Knight trailers in all their glory. The critics were silenced, and July 18, 2008 was circled on the calendar.

The Bat-pod: I gotta get me one of those (Warner Bros. pic)

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen . . . we are tonight's entertainment."
It's been nearly a week since Kat, Jack and I stood in line for our first-ever midnight movie. All I can say is The Dark Knight was worth three years of waiting, three hours in line, and three hours of sleep the next day. In a world where "amazing" and "spectacular" have lost some of their impact, this one deserves the accolades: it's more like a crime thriller and psychological drama than a superhero movie, examining the blurry line between good and evil and the price of heroism. Those of us who grew up with Batman finally have a movie that returns Bruce Wayne to his noir roots, and gets the Joker-Batman relationship right (nothing against Jack Nicholson's portrayal, which we still love, but this is the real deal). And oh yeah, it's a two-hour, 30-minute thrill ride.

The breathless news media want you to believe that Knight's box office records are the result of morbid curiosity for a young actor who left us too soon, but it couldn't be farther from the truth. Of course, Heath Ledger's death tinges the film with sadness (especially during his final scenes with Bale), but we've been waiting for this performance long before the bad news broke. Heath's Joker is a character for the ages . . . it's a tour de force of twisted fun. Plus he does a mean disappearing pen trick.

All that's left is to buy the soundtrack, a thrilling piece of work by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard (starting with the Joker's theme, with its single-note structure twisted and transformed like it was pressed through a Nine Inch Nails filter). Next we need a roadtrip to San Francisco and catch an IMAX show . . . six action scenes were filmed with the giant cameras, including a jaw-dropping chase scene that involves a SWAT truck, a semi, and Batman's Tumbler.

Mainly, I just need to see it again.

Jack who? (WB pic)

July 12, 2008

The Road to Portland

It's been a busy few weeks . . . round three of page proofing for the book is now done; Route 66 Railway has officially been put to bed! Final corrections were sent back Monday morning. This came on the heels of a week reviewing nearly 250+ final images and returning them to the printer with our comments (riveting examples include "slightly less magenta" and "jackrabbit should be grey"). Once I approve the redone proofs, we're on our way to a September release.

This post began Saturday evening. I'd planned to finish it up Sunday, but Tim Lincecum and the Giants finally gave us an exhilarating (and sorely needed) win. On Monday we saw The Police in concert and Tuesday night was consumed by a 15-inning All-Star Game (with the same sadly predictable outcome -- God, I hate the AL!). As I write this Wednesday evening, we're just 24 hours away from a midnight screening of The Dark Knight. Man, I have waited years for this! Heath Ledger's passing has made the event bittersweet, but I hope to set that aside for two-plus hours when the lights dim at 12:01 a.m.

So before any more time passes, here are some photos from our first vacation in some time: a train ride to Portland, Oregon in late June/early July. The Lawrence family traveled north from Salinas on Amtrak's Coast Starlight, and later flew back [insert 'tired arms' joke]. How fun to jump on a train less than 15 minutes from home, with no security lines . . . no pushy people . . . no need to slip off our shoes . . . and no coach seating. The added bonus: train no. 14 carried a 1956 ex-Santa Fe Hi-level lounge, recently refurbished by Amtrak and looking damn sharp with cushy seats, a nice lunch menu and afternoon wine tasting. Without further rambling:

California is burning, but man, that's some cool lighting along Elkhorn Slough.

Soaking up those Santa Fe vibes.

More wine, Midge? (*yes, it's an inside joke)

We were treated to a two-hour delay in the Cascade Mountains when a UP freight encountered problems. Yes, treated. Unlike flying, falling behind schedule on a train means more train time. And that's always cool. After waiting 40 minutes, our crew decided to back us to a clearing where smokers could be unloaded, not to mention two railfans who needed some Cascade air . . . below is Kat with a snowball on June 26.

More to come soon. Tomorrow, to quote the newest Clown Prince of Crime, it's time to "put a smile on that face."

June 23, 2008

There Goes the Neighborhood

California and the nation are sinking into a sea of foreclosures and auction signs, and Salinas is no exception. A casual drive around our neighborhood reveals dozens of "For Sale" signs, empty houses and dead lawns. It's starting to feel like a ghost town . . . our generation's version of places like Bodie and Ludlow.

When we moved to Salinas in July 2001, fairly-new homes were fetching up to $400,000; at the height of the boom, people were asking for more than $700K! So we rented. For years friends told us to buy now, before prices went completely out of reach. Boy, we're glad we waited. Laura once said that the only way we'd be able to buy would be by "capitalizing on someone else's misery." She was thinking more along the lines of a major earthquake, though, not the collapse of the entire housing market.

Our first real estate venture wasn't entirely successful -- we bought in San Bernardino at the height of the market in 1989, and within a year and a half our home lost 25 percent of its value. We perservered, and 10 years later we were happy to sell for $6,000 more than we originally paid. Perhaps the real estate fairy will smile on us this time. There's something to be said for patience.

The Atlantic, one of my favorite magazines, recently ran an article about America's next slums. They won't be in the inner cities, the writer said; they'll be in the suburbs. During the past decade, urban subdivisions sprawled across the Southwest with little thought to the future. Today, driving past clusters of auction signs, I'd say the future has arrived.

June 9, 2008

Back in Action

After the scary events of last December, and the "winter of our discontent" (see here) . . . it was an immensely happy moment to watch Laura cross the finish line in the Big Sur International Marathon on April 27. OK, she was actually part of a relay team, joining her fellow Monterey County planning managers, but it was still a great achievement. Her approximate time was just over an hour for the 4.2 mile segment.

Where's Laura? Crossing the finish line on Highway 1, of course! Another barrier broken.

Above, the relay team poses for a portrait in Carmel. From left: Jacqueline Onciano, Carl Holm, Mike Novo, and Laura. Below, mementos mark the occasion . . . if the timing works out, she'll be back next year.

April 1, 2008

From Gamers to Goners

Yes, we suck, but this shirt will never get old.

If you’re a baseball fan, I don’t have to tell you that yesterday was Opening Day, a mini-holiday of sorts. Our Giants and the L.A. Dodgers each kicked off celebrations of 50 years on the West Coast. And what a glorious game: the pitching ace was on the mound . . . the cleanup hitter delivered the death blow (a 2-run homer) in the first inning . . . the shortstop made a dazzling play . . . and the bullpen preserved the shutout with a final score of 5-0.

Oh, wait -- that was the OTHER 50th anniversary team. WE had Barry Zito pitching. WE had the old guys playing. Osama's cave was filled with joy.

Honestly, we realized a few weeks ago that this was going to be a long year . . . but after watching yesterday’s feeble opening, well . . . it’s REALLY going to be a long year. Thank God there were other games last night to cleanse my palette and remind me what real baseball is. Then again, I’ve never laughed as hard at the McCovey Chronicles blog as I did yesterday. The Giants train-wreck/entertainment value is going to be through the roof this year.

It may be time to take John Belushi’s advice in Animal House: “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”

Barry Zito, our $128 million ace, picks out suits during happier times . . . i.e., before opening day 2007. Minutes later, he blew off a group of kids asking for his autograph. Yep, that's our face of the franchise.

March 25, 2008

Altamont's Summit Garage

“This place is worth saving,” says Linda Krhut, owner of the Creative Cave in California’s Altamont Pass.

She’s standing at the shady doorway of the old Summit Garage in Altamont Pass, elevation 741 feet, just a stone’s throw from the abandoned Southern Pacific mainline to Oakland. Beside the empty grade is the former Western Pacific between Oakland and Stockton, now home to ACE commuter trains and Union Pacific freights.

A chance side trip on Altamont Pass Road led me to the Summit Garage, recently dedicated with a “Historic Lincoln Highway” sign. I met Linda while hurrying to get my Ranger out of the path of an oncoming trash truck, who had waited not-so patiently while I blissfully (some would say cluelessly) snapped pictures. Once the refuse truck had moved on, Linda and I struck up a conversation and she invited me in for a quick tour of the garage. Now called the Creative Cave, the place will soon open as an antiques shop. Linda, who’s lived here for three years, will also sell her stained glass and jewelry creations; a few Harleys and old Fords will round out the historic setting . . . although Linda’s old Chrysler (which still runs) does a good job of infusing the garage with proper charm.

Not a train rolled by during my visit, but this was clearly the highlight of my drive to Winterail in Stockton. The train gods rewarded me later with a sunny view of another vintage machine – 1963-built GP30u No. 2442, still proudly wearing AT&SF blue and yellow.

Be sure to visit the Summit Garage when you get a chance . . . I know I’ll be back.

Another classic in Stockton

February 29, 2008

Chasing the Daylight Domeliner

Pacing 1996 and train (see mirror) near San Ardo

Ever since Union Pacific unveiled her at Roseville, California last summer, I've been hoping to catch Southern Pacific "Heritage" diesel no. 1996 on the old SP Coast Line. The planets finally aligned last Saturday, Feb. 23, when UP placed her on the point of a business special from Oakland to West Colton. Railroad forces gave the Daylight-painted engine a bath before departure, and the seven-car train cruised down the Salinas Valley under overcast skies (but no rain, thankfully). And what a pretty train -- three domes, and two cars from SP's old business car fleet -- with former "Espee" biz car Sunset bringing up the rear. I'd recovered from a cold just enough that Kat and I headed out that day for an old-fashioned chase. We met the 1996 South at Aromas, then followed her down the valley to Bradley . . . where we finally turned around to head home. It's been months since we chased a train, and we made the most of it. Below are a few images from a fun day:

The first encounter at Aromas . . . 1996's air horn echoing through the Pajaro Valley

The Coast Line was home to the Daylights, but this classy train fits right into the Salinas Valley. (2 views)

Searchlight signals and emerald hills at Bradley . . . our final runby of the day.

Cover Me

As regular visitors to the 66rails website already know, the Route 66 Railway book has a cover:

It's a screen grab from a PDF, but you get the idea. About 40 pages are done -- roughly one-fourth of the book, but things are moving at a quick pace. I'm heading down to southern California this weekend to meet with the designer and publisher . . . tomorrow I'll visit what remains of the Cajon Pass tunnels before BNSF demolishes them in early March. If you're heading to Winterail on March 8, be sure to stop by the LARHF table, where we'll have sample page spreads to show. Or register HERE for news and updates at the book's website.

February 3, 2008

A Giant Super Bowl

We’re casual football fans in the Lawrence home, but we always make time to catch the Super Bowl. Often we're paying more attention to the pop culture atmosphere than the game itself. This year I decided to keep a running commentary on the highlights of Super Bowl 42 . . . below is the play-by-play:
Atticus enjoys the game while rooting for the Giants.

3:00 p.m. – Fox ushers in The Big Event with a CGI robot dude that looks awfully similar to one of the “Transformers.” Hmm, wasn’t that a Paramount movie? I smell copyright suit . . .

3:01 –
Ahhh, Joe Buck (a.k.a., “Buckhead”). My old nemesis. At least there’s no Tim McCarver (a.k.a., “Beavis”).

3:13 –
Patriots take the field. History is about to be made. Or not.

3:16 –
A “Sarah Connor Chronicles” ad. Terminators, baby! NOW we’re talking entertainment.

3:19 –
Jordan Sparks, who apparently was a runner-up in American Idol, does a lovely job with the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Jets fly above, people cheer. Here at home, we have Abita beer and chips. Life is good.

3:21 – The first movie ad! Owen Wilson teaches kids about “mind over pain.” Seeing how he attempted suicide last year, I hope the kids aren’t listening too closely.

3:36 –
The first "real" ads! Bud Light delivers a big laugh with a fire-breathing drinker and a singed cat. I’m still not drinking Bud Light. But Laura and I are smitten with the new Audi. We'll take two, please!

3:45 –
NY draws “first blood” (thanks Joe Buck, for that riveting and obvious call). Still, it's nice to see the Giants winning. Wish this was baseball.

3:46 –
It must suck to be Sales Genie, coming after the hilarious Pepsi Max ad.

4:00 –
Patriots take the lead. Now it feels like our Giants.

4:07 – has got to be the nastiest Website we’ll see tonight.

4:30(ish) –
Hey, a train! Pulled by a Budweiser Clydesdale . . . does that count as a remote unit?

4:40 –
Laura is teaching Kat about football. She gets it, but is still more excited about the Prince Caspian ad.

5:00 – Halftime with Tom Petty. We’re reasonably assured of no wardrobe malfunction.

5:26 –
Game resumes. Giants are keeping Brady and the Patriots off-balance.

6:10 –
Giants make a biiig touchdown.

6:39 –
Patriots make a bigger touchdown.

[*Side note - There’s always a moment in our place where the excitement drops noticeably and the game becomes background noise. That isn’t happening this year.]

6:52 –
An amazing Giants catch. Our cheers cleared out the cats.

6:55 –
WOW. Manning and Burress!! They score what will be the final touchdown. Giants lead again with 39 seconds left. Good thing the cats cleared the room.

7:00 (ish) – Giants win!

7:07 –
“What do we do now?” asks one of the Giants players’ wives as they bask amid post-game confetti and media madness. “Just take it all in,” her smiling hubby answers.

After one of the best Super Bowls we’ve ever seen, Laura sums it up: “That was a game worth watching.”

A few non-game stats:

How inspiring was the “NFL True Story” ad for Chester Pitts, the "Oboe Man?" Bridgestone gets the runner-up nod.

Iron Man.

Best ads for a beer that we’ll still never drink:
Bud Light.

Hey, if we close our eyes, we can pretend it’s OUR Giants who just won the big prize. Nah, it still doesn’t work.

January 27, 2008

Signs of Salinas

For a city of nearly 150,000, it's common to hear the people who live in Salinas describe it as a "small town." This sleepy city, our home for the past six and half years, has clung to that small town feeling . . . especially in the revived Oldtown Salinas district, where much of the architecture dates to the childhood of favorite son John Steinbeck. Back in Southern California's "Inland Empire," greedy city councils are selling off the character of our former hometowns as fast as developers can slap bills into their palms. So it's nice to see that some California towns aren't being entirely paved over, or filled with soulless strip malls and lookalike chains. To be fair, Salinas has mowed down plenty of its own historic places--but plenty of individual character remains, if you know where to look.

The restored Fox Theater has reclaimed its role as the jewel of Oldtown Salinas, especially at night, when its grand neon sign beckons . . . and Charlie Daniels is playing.

Still standing along North Main Street is the Wagon Wheel, a relic of the days before endless chains of Motel 6 and Holiday Inns.

Travelers' Hotel, Oldtown Salinas . . . a cool sign, but don't ask about the AAA rating.

Sun and swirling clouds frame a packing house that continues to remind travelers on Highway 68 of the valley's role as the "Salad Bowl of America."

Roy's Drive-In closed its doors a few years ago when its owner retired. Today the building endures as a Mexican seafood place, complete with a redesigned neon sign.

Animated pins and a neon Martini . . . who's up for a bowl?

January 19, 2008

The Future Begins Again, Hope Restored

The Final Frontier is back. The future is coming this Christmas, and the first Star Trek "teaser" ad is neatly packaged with the monster movie Cloverfield. We hadn't been to the movies since early December, but a teachers' in-service day allowed Kat and I to meet some friends at Salinas' Maya Cinemas yesterday afternoon, 1-18-08.

A quick aside about Cloverfield -- you may want to take some Dramamine first, 'cause the entire flick employs a hand-held camera style. Things are pretty shaky in the first 10 minutes, but thankfully it gets much better as things fall to pieces (literally) in Manhattan. Other than that, it's a scary & fun ride. The effects are seamless and amazing as the monster wreaks havoc through city streets, bridges and toppled skyscrapers.

But back to the Trek teaser.

This is the first real glimpse of a revived franchise. Coming in Christmas, the new movie goes back to the early days of the mythic series, to the first meeting of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. J.J. Abrams of Lost fame is directing, with a screenplay by writers from Lost, Mission Impossible 3, Transformers, and more. These guys are shaking up a series that badly needs it; Trek has been in a five-year hibernation after the last two movies were bland failures, and Enterprise was a good but predictable series. New faces are playing the classic characters, with one notable exception: Leonard Nimoy has been coaxed from retirement (he's a successful photographer these days) to return to his famous role as the elder Spock.

Fan sites had reported that a "teaser" trailer would appear with Cloverfield, so I was eagerly awaiting the ad. It's short, but wow, did it deliver. Beginning with stylish closeups of welders and torches, the view widened to reveal sections of a massive and familiar starship under construction -- accompanied by sound clips of JFK and the 1960s space program. Suddenly the distinctive voice of Leonard Nimoy filled the theater with, "Space . . . the Final Frontier." On cue, the camera panned up to reveal the U.S.S. Enterprise in all her majesty:

What an awe-inspiring, goosebump moment. What I love most is how the trailer connects us to that world -- it's our future, not a galaxy far, far away.

Admittedly Star Wars has occupied my attention for many years, and it'll always have a special place. But my roots as a Trek fan go back to the early '70s, watching reruns as a kid. Then I was hooked by the adventures and cool gadgets -- and the Enterprise, of course -- but eventually my eyes opened to a deeper meaning. Unlike much of today's sci-fi, Star Trek shows a hopeful future, populated by heroes with strength of character. It says things will get better, despite today's headlines . . . we'll put aside our petty differences and reach for the stars.

In a society obsessed with the failures of the human spirit -- political scandals, trashy "celebrities," greed, terrorism, etc. -- Trek is about the achievements. Our culture, and especially our kids, need Star Trek's optimism more than ever.

I'm happy to say that Kathryn and Jack, ages 12 and 16 respectively, were as excited by the trailer as this 41-year old fan. They are the generation that we need to inspire, like those of the 1960s, '70s and '80s. I'm hoping that Trek will shake off its "geek stigma" of the last 10 years, and that the new movie recaptures its adventurous spirit. America, and our world, needs to aim for the stars again.

-Elrond L.,

Not living at home since 1988

A high-def version of the trailer is now live on the official movie site -- click HERE to see it. And be sure to check out for breaking news, including an interview with the film's co-writer, who's a regular visitor to the comments section. Be prepared: some fans can be . . . well, rabid. Not unlike railfans.

On the Mend

After a surreal month, things are slowly getting back to normal at the Lawrence home. Thanks to all our friends and family for their support and prayers over the past several weeks (for those unaware, it's a long story involving a Costco food court and a careening Cadillac). The blog will soon resume its usual foolishness.

Costco ends "drive-thru service" pilot project after one evening. Undaunted, patrons still order hot dogs.

January 9, 2008

Bullets and Blue Skies

One of my best Christmas gifts this year was a 20-year old U2 album.

True, I'm easily entertained. But this is different: the occasion was the anniversary release of U2's The Joshua Tree, the album that propelled four Irish guys into the stratosphere and landed them in rock's pantheon beside names like Springsteen, The Who, and Zeppelin. It's been twenty years since I first laid eyes on Anton Corbijn's iconic black and white image of the lads near a lone Joshua in the Mojave, framed by a stark landscape that seems to go on forever. Those pictures helped cement a love for the desert that has lasted decades. The first time I played "Where the Streets Have No Name," it was nearly a religious experience. Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr., explored America from its sunny-eyed optimism to its darkest corners, and by the time "Mothers of the Disappeared" brought things to a close, my musical world would never be the same.

So now it's back, in a remastered CD that makes everything new again. "Streets" is total immersion, more powerful and moving than ever. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" continues as a hymn for our restless hearts, and "Bullet the Blue Sky" simply rains hell on earth (complete with the line that inspired this blog's title). The new box set includes a second disc of cool B-side material, a newly-completed outcast from the original album, "Wave of Sorrow," and a killer booklet of essays and Corbijn pictures.

The real prize, of course, is The Joshua Tree, restored in all its sonic glory, whisking me back to 1987 when I was 21 and the world was still filled with mystery.

Don't get me wrong: I found plenty to love about music in 2007. Bruce and the E Street Band returned with their incredible Magic CD and tour . . . Interpol and Arcade Fire were exciting new discoveries . . . the Eagles released Long Road Out of Eden, their first studio album since 1979 . . . and Zeppelin's remastered Mothership collection continues to assault the walls of both Lawrence vehicles. And as a fan of movie and television music, I was blown away by Bear McCreary, who proved he's one of the greatest composers in TV with his awesome season three score for Battlestar Galactica.

That said, U2 provided the unexpected jewel of 2007, at least for me. Now if Laura will let me pick up that Corbijn hardcover book -- it's a steal at $75, really. Honey? . . . Hellooo . . .

Also, check out this great essay from a die-hard U2 fan who trekked out to the Mojave to find the real Joshua Tree, and his bittersweet discovery.

January 6, 2008

2007 Rogues' Gallery

We're six days into 2008, but I wanted to peek back at the past year before moving on. Over the past few weeks, several folks in the railfan community have posted their best/favorite photos of 2007, and they have shown some terrific stuff . . . so I had to join in. While much of the past year was consumed by the 66 Railway book (just ask my wife), it was a pleasant surprise to find more variety in my photo files than expected.

Without any further hot air, here's a brief gallery of personal favorites:

Road Meets Rail - Glorieta Pass, New Mexico

Artichoke Field Near Castroville, Calif.

Amtrak #11 at San Lucas, Calif.

Chinatown in floodlights, Salinas, Calif.

Atticus resting, home

Santa Fe Legacies, Phoenix, Ariz.

South Shore study, Chicago, Ill.

Otter, Moss Landing, Calif.

En route to our first Bruce concert in Oakland, Calif. (Hand modeling by Kathryn Lawrence)

Laura & Kat watching trains - Salinas Valley Model Railroad

Broadcaster Jon Miller, Tuscon, Ariz.

Union Pacific looking fine - Canyon Siding, Cajon Pass

T-Shirt, Giants Spring Training, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Whew! Thanks for viewing.