Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

I love Washington DC. Being a history nut, I always enjoy visiting historical sites and monuments. But on my last trip, there was one memorial I wish wasn't needed at all: The Pentagon Memorial honoring the 184 people who lost their lives on 9/11.

We finally got to see it last October. It was our last day of our trip and it was raining pretty heavily. But I didn't even consider skipping it. It's something we needed to see.

It's surprisingly tranquil there considering that it's set against the epicenter of our nation's military. And even though there are roads and freeways nearby, you don't seem to hear anything else other than your feet walking on the gravel.

Each bench represents one of the victims. If the bench is facing towards the Pentagon, it represents one of the victims on the plane. If the bench faces outward from the Pentagon, it represents one of the victims on the ground.

I think the saddest benches were those dedicated to Zoe and Dana Falkenberg, ages 9 and 3 respectively. The Falkenberg sisters were among the youngest of the victims, having been on the plane with their mom and dad.

May all the victims rest in peace.

Remembering 9/11/01

I'll never forget that morning. Like any other work day, my alarm went off to news radio. I quickly realized it was no ordinary work day when I heard the somber announcement that one of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed after a terrorist attack. It couldn't be true, so we dashed off to the living room to see the horrifying reality before our very eyes. A few moments later, tower #2 went down.

Like everyone else that day, I was shocked. I was horrified. I was scared. Hearing that the attackers also crashed a plane into the Pentagon, it made me wonder, what targets on the west coast were going to be hit? Was L.A. to be targeted as well? Surely we wouldn't escape this tragedy. In the end, we all felt the loss.

James near the World Trade Center. (1996)
James near the World Trade Center. (1996)

More than anything, the biggest loss that day was the nearly 3,000 people that died in the World Trade Center, the four planes and the Pentagon. But when I came across these old slides of a visit to New Jersey in 1996, it made me realize how much I miss seeing the World Trade Center. May it always be remembered.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

I Finally Reached Six Digits

I finally reached six digits! No, I'm not talking about the six-figure number most working stiffs hope to reach. In this case, I'm talking about my car's odometer. Yes, after six-and-a-half years of dedicated service, my 2005 Saab 9-3 ("Birgitta") has officially reached 100,000 miles.

Of course it's not as exciting as it was in the old days of analog odometers, when you would see all five of the wheels turn over at once. But still, it's something worth taking a picture of and blogging about (and yes, I stopped the car to take the pictures).

It's only the second time I've personally witnessed a six-figure arrival on my car. The first car I've had that reached that milestone was my first car, the 1981 Honda Civic. But as luck would have it, I inadvertently loaned it to a friend the day it crossed over. I was heartbroken. When my 1989 Plymouth Reliant crossed over, however, I made sure I saw it.

This time it's different though. Why? Because this was the first car I bought brand new — I drove it off the lot myself. So these 100,000 miles were mostly driven by me. Which is why I've not let anyone else drive my car these past couple of days. So here's to you Birgitta for 100,000 great miles, with many more to come!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour to Retire in Southern California

Today NASA announced the museums that were selected as recipients of the three operating space shuttles in its fleet. And I'm happy to report that the Space Shuttle Endeavour is slated to have a permanent home right here in Southern California.

The announcement was made on the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program's first flight (the Columbia, which was destroyed during re-entry in 2003) and the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight (Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's famous 1961 mission). More than 20 locations around the country submitted bids to give a home to one of the retired shuttles.

The Endeavour, which was awarded to Los Angeles' California Science Center, has been used on 24 missions. It has orbited the earth 4,429 times and traveled 103,149,636 miles. It will take its final flight on April 29 (when it will be flown by Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot and critically wounded outside of a grocery store last January).

Endeavour's return to Southern California is a homecoming, since all five space shuttle orbiters were fabricated in Downey, and assembled in Palmdale. And all shuttles were tested at Edwards Air Force Base just outside Palmdale, where 53 of NASA's 133 shuttle missions landed. I'm just glad there's one close enough to visit easily.

As for the others, the Atlantis, which will fly the last planned shuttle mission in June, will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. And the Discovery, which flew its final mission last month, will be displayed at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantily, Virginia, which Tim and I visited when we were in Washington last October.

While there, we saw the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a full-scale test vehicle used for flights in the atmosphere (it was not equipped with a propulsion system, and therefore not ready for spaceflight). Although Enterprise never flew in space, it introduced a new era in space transportation and was the flagship for a fleet of reusable shuttles.

To make room for the Discovery, NASA will be moving the Enterprise test vehicle to the Intrepid museum in New York. But I'm glad I got to see it at the Smithsonian last year before it makes its move to its final home. Yay for California for getting a shuttle!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Got a Wartime Nickel from a Vending Machine

I got a 1944 wartime nickel as change from the soda machine today. You can tell by the tarnished color and the large D over Monticello.
Unlike other Jefferson nickels, which are made up of 75% copper and 25% nickel, these nickels don't actually have any nickel in them. Wartime nickels were instead made up of 56% copper, 9 % manganese, and 35% silver.

At today's silver price of $37.02 an ounce, I calculated this nickel's value to be worth $2.09 on silver value alone. It's like I got paid to drink a Diet Dr. Pepper! :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Sassy New Headshots

As some of you know, I've been expressing interest in auditioning for some local musical theater productions after a 20-year hiatus from the stage. And to really be taken seriously, you need to bring a headshot to the audition — even for the tiny local theater productions I'm aiming for. So I am happy to debut my sassy new headshots.

I researched some headshot photographers, but ended up approaching my photographer friend Ryan Romero. Although shooting actor headshots are not his usual thing — his work consists of gritty portraiture and moody landscapes — he offered to help me out.

We set up a shoot last weekend, and although I'm not usually comfortable in front of the camera, Ryan totally put me at ease. Plus he kept making me laugh with his stories. The lighting Ryan set up was amazing. It kind of makes we wish I had a personal lighting team with me any time I was photographed, like Michael Jackson did.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to handing directors these headshots as I audition. You should have seen the ghetto headshot I crafted myself for my first audition. I think that alone was why I didn't make callbacks (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). :)

If you get a chance, check out Ryan's awesome work at

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brush With Greatness: Elizabeth Taylor

I was saddened to hear about the passing of the great Elizabeth Taylor. She was the last of a generation of movie stars, and a stalwart supporter in the fight against AIDS, even when it wasn't popular. But I most remember her from an encounter I had with her almost 20 years ago.

It was October 11, 1991. I was a student at San Francisco State University, and I had heard Elizabeth Taylor was coming to Macy's in San Francisco's Union Square to promote her new fragrance, White Diamonds. Wild horses couldn't keep me away from this event.

She was appearing at 1:00pm, and I had to skip a class to be there (how often does one get the opportunity to see one of the grand dames of the screen, after all?). Making it an even bigger event was the fact that she had just gotten married with great fanfare. Remember the widely televised celebrity-studded wedding to Larry Fortensky at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch? That was just five days before this.

The store was packed, and even though I got there 1.5 hours early, I was still at least 100 feet away. But I was still electrified the moment she walked into the room. She spoke about White Diamonds for a while, and afterward she answered questions from the audience.

My favorite moment was when someone asked her what she and her new husband did on their wedding night. Liz responded not with any words, but instead with one of the biggest, loudest laughs ever. Seriously, this cackle would put Hillary Clinton to shame.

I too asked her a question (albeit a much less memorable one). I asked her which stars of today she liked the most. Her answer: Michelle Phillips (strangely) and Julia Roberts, who had just dazzled everyone in Pretty Woman the year prior.

After her much-too-short appearance, she left, and so did the crowds. I, on the other hand, beelined to the stage, where I took pictures of her chair and the table she was standing next to during her appearance. That's when I noticed that she had left her drinking straw in her glass of water.

Needless to say I swiped the straw as a souvenir. (Who wouldn't have?!) It even had her lipstick marks on it. In fact, the story of this lucky souvenir hunter made it into the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, in the column of legendary San Francisco newsman Herb Caen, no less.

I kept the straw for many years until I eventually donated it to my friend Tom, who I believe still has it somewhere. Makes me kind of wish I kept it. Oh well. I'll always have the memories. So here's to you Liz, your amazing career, your life well lived, and your drinking straw.