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 TrekMovie.com 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.

January 4, 2008

A New Year, a New Blog

For the last few months, 2008 seemed like nothing more than a hazy object in the rear view mirror -- then suddenly it overtook the Lawrence family with a vengeance. For various reasons we've had to stay home more than usual, and a bout of stir-craziness finally pushed me to launch this blog idea. So here I am, writing the first post while one of Central California's biggest rainstorms in years pounds outside. Hopefully the power won't go out before I finish!

Yes, a new blog. The idea has been simmering in my mind for many months, but most of 2007 was devoted to completing my first coffee table book, Route 66 Railway. I've been keeping a blog at the book's official site, 66rails.com, and that will continue as the book moves through design and production to a late spring/early summer release.

But I've been eager for a broader canvas, so it's time to take the plunge. New blogs by friends Dave Styffe and Martin Burwash spurred me to action, as did the journal of photographer and storm-chaser Blair Kooistra.

Photography is at the heart of this journal, but my goal is to cover much more ground, and have some fun too. Trains, movies, music, baseball and roadtrips are all fair game; occasionally I'll post the latest happenings with the Lawrences for our family and friends who we can't see as often as we'd like. It's also a place where I can unleash some observations about life, faith and culture. I guess that's a long way of saying that you'll find plenty of pictures, but anything goes. Feel free to drop in anytime.