Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

In the Middle of a Perfect Day

After having a great lunch in lovely, historic downtown Clarkdale, AZ,  four of us left the restaurant and headed for the car to make the winding trip home to Prescott through Jerome.

Our spirits were high — and got higher when we saw our energetic waitress follow us through the front door seemingly to come after us.  (Most men on seeing this immediately believe that the waitress has suddenly realized the caliber of person she has just served and has decided to speed after him to learn his many hard-earned secrets!)

Things Turn Toward the South

Our spirits were mildly dashed when she raised up an object and innocently asked,

“Did one of you drop this?”

“Did one of you drop this?”

A Swift Resolution

Our obvious answer was delivered in unison:



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“You Mean It’s Not ‘All About Me’?”

Somehow, Brian Wilson‘s lyrics make more sense to me as I get older.  Whenever I start to monopolize a conversation, I begin to hear some of those lyrics plus some other quotes from my working days.  A couple of favorites come to mind:

“Well, I guess I should’ve kept my mouth shut when I started to brag about my car ….”

Brian Wilson, Don’t Worry, Baby


“So … that’s your take on it — is it, Bill?”

-Unnamed executive

Weed-Whackers Unite!

“Captain, there be weeds here!”

But, I guess it still doesn’t stop me from pontificating at times.  And this morning, I found myself wondering if I should’ve kept my mouth shut when I started to talk about … weed-whacking.

I love my friend, Susan.  Her husband, Mike and I can have a conversation about just about anything — including weed-whacking!

You see, here in Arizona after the monsoon season is in full swing, we take our weed-whacking a bit seriously.  Suddenly, the streets are lined with wildflowers and weeds.  And just as suddenly last week, all conversations  turned to the disposition of weeds:

My neighbor:

“Well, I’d better go borrow-back my weed-whacker from the fire station … I should really  get rid of these weeds before they go to seed.  I may be a little late already!”

Mike (anticipatory expression waning):

“Oh, you only have an electric weed-whacker?  I need to borrow a gas-powered one.”

Sears Salesman:

“Oh, you have the bump-fed electric one?  And it works for you???”

My other neighbor:

(The whirring of a powerful weed-whacker 50 yards in the distance).


Before moving to Arizona, I had no idea that there were so many choices and decisions concerning this whacking business.  I am just a simple city-boy.  To get the job done right, one must consider a number of inter-related options, including but not limited to:

  • Electric, Battery or Gasoline-Powered;
  • String Gauge;
  • Bump or automatic string feed;
  • etc, etc etc.


A Case of Whacker-Envy

I have to admit that after hearing the familiar whirring sound next door earlier this week, I had looked on the resulting absence of weeds with envy.  And, I was further humbled when I compared my neighbor’s whacker to my own.

His was clearly bigger — much bigger!  Just look at that fat red string — clearly more stout than my consumer-grade blue!  And his results were equally more handsome!

A Bit of Perspective?

All of what I have just told you,  I was sharing with Mike when Susan without solicitation and unexpectedly interjected under her breath into the conversation the quote in the title of this blog entry:

“Just listen to  what your life has come to!”

Of course, an emergency room nurse might well take that point of view with impunity, I consoled myself.

Upon Some Cogent Reflection

And  — who knows — I might think longer and deeper about the implications and merits of Susan’s observations on the state of my life … but I really need to whack my weeds before they go to seed!

‘Susan’ at Breakfast


Now, some months later, I must be an experienced [weed] whacker, because I am so confident that I cannot hesitate to volunteer to help out anywhere.  Here, three whackers survey their recent accomplishments with pride:

Weed whackers surveying their ample accomplishments

(I wish that I could say more about the boots being an Arizona fashion statement, but no need to reenforce the obvious).

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Traveling with My Sainted Mother

At 85, it’s getting harder to get Mother out of the house without curb-to-curb service.  She’s pretty spry, but I am learning that as we get older, the specter of a fall  is never too far.

I like to stop at Banning on the way from California to Arizona to get something at Starbucks.  I think that store is one of my favorites in the chain; the space is inviting and the baristas aren’t texting like they do in LA.

This is true, if you can make it into the store, which is ‘guarded’ by a sloping curb that runs from the handicap parking to the back door.  Stepping up to the back door is easy if you know what foot will hit the edge of the curb first, as the height for each foot will be different.  Add to that the sprinkler runoff from the manicured landscaping and the motor oil from the adjacent parking space and you have a brew for a possible disaster.

I let go of Mother for an instant to open the door for her – turned around to help her up the curb just in time to see her hurling toward me like Supergirl.  She hit the curb with her shins before I could do anything about it.

She recounts the incident as an aside at a breakfast chat during a week that I spent introducing her to Arizona country living:

Drinks Taste Better When They Are Complimentary (I Reckon)

I guess she was lucky to end up with skinned knees and some lost pride.  Starbucks was magnanimous and sent mother 5 coupons for complimentary beverages to assuage any lingering misgivings that she may have had about returning, which were enough to treat her family — if she didn’t get a drink for herself.

For the rest of the visit, she preferred to have me make her tea at home.


It wasn’t all skinned shins and tea.  Mother found time to play with the dog:

and to do her imitation of Debbie Reynolds‘ role with Albert Brooks in the 1996 feature film, Mother.


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A Man’s Morning
Mike’s wife, Susan was attending a reunion, so Mike and I were able to have a man’s-morning-out. It does not get better than an all-you-can-stand breakfast at the Golden Corral followed by an early movie matinee — the latest James Bond breath-taking, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping thriller “Skyfall.”

In Prescott, the well-done bacon at the Golden Corral breakfast buffet is legendary. So after breakfast, we continued our morning’s agenda with a ‘nothing-can-go-wrong’ attitude.

When we arrived in line at the Harkin’s Theater, I overheard the patrons in front of me say “two seniors for Skyfall.” The ticket-seller replied, “That will be five dollars each.”

Five dollars? (I’m from LA — nothing costs five dollars!)  So I was thrilled to get my ticket and approach the twenty-something ticket-taker inside.

Harkin’s 14 Theaters, Prescott Valley, AZ

A Man’s Mourning

Forgetting for a moment (as most men and four-star generals do) that from her point of view, I look like I should probably be playing Bingo somewhere, I attempted to be clever:

ME (handing the Skyfall ticket to PERKY, the pretty, red-haired ticket-taker)

You, of course can’t relate to this, but one of the good things about getting older is (pause) getting into movies for five bucks!”


“Yes, as a matter of fact I can! Both of my parents are at such an age that they can get in for that price!”

ME (to MIKE)

“I guess she put us in our place.”


“I don’t know …  at least she didn’t say her grandparents!”


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Sometimes, usually unsolicited, a friend will attempt to speed my journey to self-enlightenment:

“You live in Arizona? You must like the Desert!”

I answer,

“Well, there’s the desert, and then there’s Arizona!”

I think I know why I like aspen trees so much — they remind me of the carefree summers of youth. The silver dollar eucalyptus trees would quiver as I looked across the ravine from the back sliding window. My brother and I would play war games amongst those trees and think of all sorts of pastimes during the summer months.

I don’t get back to L.A. as much anymore to see the tall eucalyptus, but Northern Arizona has a great substitute: aspen trees! The quaking leaves and the associated wind noise calm me. So when Mike and Susan said they were going to Flagstaff to see the aspen groves, I will thrilled when the offered to let me tag along.

Although an enthusiastic people portraitist, I took the camera along anyway, hoping to see if I could capture anything close to the way that I knew I was going to feel.

North of flagstaff, we started hiking at about 9,000 ft. Passing through a dark, lush forest we came to a clearing with the San Francisco peaks in the near distance. Mike and Susan stopped to take photos. (I think they were being kind to me by finding an excuse to let me catch my breath).

Mike and Susan stop to let me rest.

We continued to hike up to the stand of yellow color in the top left of the above image. I looked up and realized why they make this trip together every year. See for yourself:


By now we had hiked far enough that Mike said,
“I wonder why we haven’t seen any other hikers in over an hour?”

We were lost, but it didn’t matter. I stood in one place, and did 90 degree turns. And without taking a step, I was able to make the following images:

Flagstaff aspens

90 degrees to the right:

And one more turn:

Hiking in Flagstaff, AZ

Realizing that we had strayed well off the trail, we decided to turn back, with an appetite for lunch and already feeling sore hindquarters. Mike turned to me and said,

“You know why I like to hike to exhaustion so much these days? It helps me to appreciate paved roads and to tolerate occasional traffic.”


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“Now if 6 turned out to be 9 — I don’t mind, I don’t mind!”
Jimi Hendrix

Longing for a good scraping

My sister and I share something in common. We both enjoy going to the dental hygienist. There is something about that scraping feeling gives us a reason to return. Well, I like to go to my dentist in LA, which is a challenge living in Prescott, AZ.   But I try at least every four months to make the trek.

It’s been several months since my last visit, so I thought that I would look  for a local dentist to clean my teeth before I could return to California again.  One day, while leaving Starbucks, I saw the sign:

$59 cleaning and x-ray special

Of course, free would have been better, but at 59 bucks, what could possibly go wrong?   I went in and made an appointment for a week later.   After filling out my forms online, and upon my return I was greeted by a business-attractive receptionist who called me ‘sir.’ I guess we all get older.  She asked me to sign an electronic affirmation of my medical history, and again  for something I wasn’t quite sure about and yet again for the HIPAA (privacy) rules.

Instinctively, I brought a copy of Colleen McCullough’s The October Horse – an 1,100-page tome about Caesar just in case I had to wait longer than usual for my first appointment at an unknown dentist’s office.  But it wasn’t but a moment when the dentist came out– a spry looking man who looked like he should be at the at the local tavern playing darts with a Red Bull in his hand or perhaps conducting a sales meeting at the local General Motors dealer rather than exploring my mouth parts.

“So why are you here?” the dentist asked.

“I want to get my teeth cleaned,” I replied.  “My dentist is in Los Angeles, but I haven’t been there in several months so I would like to get my teeth cleaned today.”

“Your dentist is in Los Angeles? How does that work out for you?”

“I prefer a light touch,” I replied with feigned jocularity.

He chuckled politely.  “Do you have any questions for me?”

“No, I don’t. ”

“Well, you make my job easy; I’ll catch up with you in a little while.  Just wait and  the X-ray technician to be with you soon.”

I cracked open The October Horse and began to read.  In a little while the x-ray technician appeared and led me to a very modern looking x-ray room.  She x-rayed my full face (panorama), made individual tooth x-rays and then took beautiful colors portraits of each tooth individually.

“Oh, my goodness you have good-looking teeth! May I ask how old you are? Oh, that old? — that’s just amazing!”

“You Must Be Diseased!”

Now, over to the dental hygienist’s room for a “diagnosis.”  I should have seen what was coming when I saw the flat-screen monitor integrated into the chair with my x-rays already on the screen. Everything was so modern it was hard to believe.  Before I could say hello, the hygienist entered and began her small talk:

“When was the last time you were at the dentist?”

“About four months ago,” I dutifully responded.

She said, “oh, you must go to the dentist that often because you have periodontal disease.”

I said, “no, not to my knowledge. I just like to go to the dentist.”  I continued to educate, “If it were up to me, I would be in here every week getting my teeth scraped!”

She was not amused.

She examined my teeth calling out the gum depth numbers as they appeared on the screen in front of me (presumably for the doctor to use later).

As I had expected, the dentist entered as if on cue.  Now there were three people in the room behind me.  After a bit of a pitch, he seemed to want the hygienist to brandish a laser beam on my back teeth and then replace my fillings with CAD-CAM-generated plugs that he would design on-the-spot.  (The fillings that he wanted to replace were 4 years old).

We turned as a nice looking man appeared — The dentist continued, “This is your ‘benefits manager.’  He will discuss payment and financing.  And I’ll see you later. But first, we are going to retake some x-rays!”

“Turn it up to 125(%) and Make Him Glow!”

The x-ray tech was unable to get the full molar in frame and asked for help from younger x-ray tech who came bouncing into the room with a rather low cut V-neck smock. She bent over, barely hitting my face with her decolletage. She too was unable to get the right angle.

Then, when I overheard her tell the first tech to turn the power up to 125% (instead of the usual 80%), I had had enough:

“Ladies, STOP!  We are done with the x-rays!”

My Failed Exit Strategy

I should have left the office then, but the ‘benefits manager’ was too quick for me.  He brought me back into the hygienist’s room with 4 spreadsheets.

Sensing what was coming, I immediately asked, “Would you like to give me a shot before you show me the prices?”

“Hey, that’s a good idea!” He continued, “I understand you are self-insured. Well, today I can offer you dental insurance $200 which means that the normal $1000 cleaning will only be $650!” (I’m used to paying about $125 for deep cleaning in LA). “Now as for the other doctor’s recommendations –  replacing your existing fillings, we have this figure:  $3400. Just sign right here and we’ll get started!”

“I think I’ll pass.”

“I’m sorry if the price is more than you can afford”

“It’s not the money!”

“What is it then? Have you seen too many faces today on your first visit to our office?”

Again, trying to be clever, I answered, “It feels like I’ve seen half of Prescott!  And the experience reminds me of the old joke about going to the movie theater: ‘Today it costs nothing to get in, but $20 to get out!’ I am sure that you have my best interests at heart, and that your system works fine for most of your patients, but the momentum for me is just a little more than I was expecting.”

“What do you want?”

“I just wanted my teeth cleaned!”

“Oh, you mean the $59 special for just a regular prophylaxes, the normal cleaning?”


“Oh, I guess that I could still get someone in here to do that for you; just sign right here!  How does that sound?”

“At this point I could take it or leave it.  I’ve been x-rayed twice and preemptively diagnosed by your hygienist.   — I think I’ll just pass so that you can give me the ‘bum’s rush,‘ thanks.”

“Well,” he said recovering swiftly, “I still have to check you out, just sign right here and you’ll be free to go!”

Finding My Way Back Home

I had been in the office for two hours!  I could see on the spreadsheet that had I not been under the protection of the $59 Special, that I might have been on the hook for $600 before anyone had lifted a periodontal scaler to fulfill my initial desire and request:  to clean my teeth!

After the visit, I called my sister to relate my experience.  She quickly answered with a slight sense of helplessness in her voice, “the same thing happened to me!” she said.  “I am still paying for the filling plugs they put in that fell out two years later!”

After commiserating, I got in the car, put on Jimi Hendrix and went home.

“If all the hippies cut off all their hair –

I don’t care.  I don’t care!

Dig: Cuz I’ve got my own world to live through

and I ain’t gonna copy you!”

— Jimi Hendrix, “If 6 was 9

Hendrix’ Axis Bold as Love


I still receive unsolicited emails from this “Modern” Dentistry company reminding me of bogus appointments. 😉


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I have kept a journal for several years on billleyden.com. I will keep the link on that site, but will continue the blog here on WordPress. I will move some of my favorite images and stories as well.


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