Monday, December 26, 2011

More Notable People I’ve Met

After Putzi Frandl, the celebrity I’ve been best acquainted with, and the only other one I would call a friend, is James Whitmore.  When I moved to Mammoth in ’81 one of my Forest Service co-workers was Jim’s son Danny.  Danny’s aunt, Louise Klaassen (Jim's sister-in-law), also worked for the Forest Service there.  Through the two of them I met Jim and spent a fair amount of time with him.

Both of you boys have also often met him.  In fact he “baby-sat” both of you at least once that I can remember.  We were at some function in Bishop and Jim was also there.  This would have been about 2002.  I took both of you outside as you were both getting a bit antsy and needed some exercise.  Jim was also outside, smoking his pipe.  Jim and I talked for a while and then I remembered something that required me to go inside for a few minutes.  Jim agreed to keep an eye on you two while I was gone.

Jim always enjoyed seeing you two and he often commented how wonderful children were and said that he hoped that I would always treasure both of you as much as he treasured his children.  I told him that I would do my best.

I often teased Danny when he, Jim & I were together.  Danny also has two boys, but neither are named James, and I would say to Jim that even though Danny didn’t name his boys after him, at least I had (of course my friendship the Jim had nothing to do with us picking the name James for our first-born, but it was fun teasing Danny).


William Kelley is another friend from my Mammoth days.  I met him through his daughter Moira, who was a Mammoth local and friend.  Bill was a Hollywood writer who won an Oscar for the screenplay of the Harrison Ford movie Witness.

I remember watching the Oscar Awards show on TV that year and the feeling that I had hearing my friend’s name called out as the winner and seeing him giving his acceptance speech.

Bill was also a novelist.  I really enjoyed his book Gemini, and A Servant of Slaves: the Life of Henriette Delille is non-fiction and very interesting.

A few months ago, I discovered that Moira lived in Davis for much of the time we’ve lived here.  Unfortunately, I did not make this discovery until several years after she had moved.


Andy Mill is another person I met via skiing.  He was America’s premier downhiller for much of the 1970’s.  I met him at a US Ski Coaches Association clinic at Mammoth shortly after his retirement from competition.  I was really impressed with his skiing – I’d skied with a lot of fantastic skiers over the years, but there was a power and smoothness in Andy’s skiing that was impressive. 

I was also impressed by the relationship Andy had with the coach running the clinic, Harald Schoenhaar.  Harald had been the US Ski Team’s Head Coach for a number years during Andy's time on the team and the warmth of their relationship was evident.  There was a great deal of mutual trust and the respect between them was obvious.

I ran into him again a few years later at Breckenridge, Colorado and rode up the chair with him.  After I reminded him where we met I was surprised that he remembered me.

Andy later got into the news when he was married to Chris Evert, the tennis champ.


Shortly after I moved to California in ’74 I met a number of people from southern California.  Once I was visiting a friend and her family down there and I got talking to the "Lady of the House" and found that she had been in the Navy during WWII and had been an aircraft mechanic.  She showed me a picture of herself working on a Douglas Dauntless dive-bomber.  This really surprised and impressed me, and I mentioned that I was very interested in aviation.

She said, “Oh, if you like planes, you should meet Lloyd.  He lives just across the street (Sunburst in Northridge).  He used to be the president of Boeing and designed the PT-17, one of the US’s primary pilot training planes in WWII.”  Many people just call this plane a "Stearman."

So she walked me across the street and I met Lloyd Stearman.  Mr. Stearman was very pleasant and we had a nice, short talk as he wasn’t in good health.  That was the only time I spoke with him as he died a few months later.


Andrea Mead Lawrence, a double Gold Medal winner in skiing at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, is another acquaintance from Mammoth.  I met her through Jim Whitmore’s wife Nancy, who was the sister of my good friend and co-worker Louise Klaassen.

Nancy and Andrea became good friends when they met in Mammoth as they had similar backgrounds growing up back east and then moved west.  They started the Mono County Democrats Club together and Andrea was often at Nancy’s house when Louise and I visited.

I was one of the few people, Andrea told me, in Mammoth who had been to her home town of Rutland, Vermont.


When I lived in Shaver Lake (‘74-‘84) there were a number of celebrities who had vacation homes in the area.  I occasionally saw Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Richard Farnsworth (The Straight Story) around town, but never met either of them.  Pamela Sue Martin, best known for the Nancy Drew Mysteries TV show, also had a home there and I did meet her several times.  She was good friends with acquaintances of mine (in fact, she often stayed with them before buying her own place).

She skied at China Peak fairly often so I would see her around and often spoke briefly to her.  I can’t claim to know her well, but I did not find her very friendly.  She seemed to think very highly of herself, which maybe was justified considering how successful she was at the time.  I don’t think I ever saw her without a cigarette.   She is another actress who I think looks a lot better on the screen than in person.

Once in the summer I went to her home in Shaver Lake to do a fire inspection and issue a burning permit.  A guy met me and I mostly talked to him, although she did participate in the discussion.  She did not act like she remembered me, and we had met many times before.  I guess I should give her the benefit of the doubt as I was wearing my Forest Service uniform, so maybe the context was wrong for her as I’d mostly been in ski clothes during our previous encounters.


In June 1973 I attended the Jackson Hole Summer Racing Camp.  Due to a snow shortage in northwestern Wyoming, it was actually held at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area near Dillon, Colorado.

The Head Coach of the camp was Pepi Steigler, a former Austrian Skier and Olympic medal winner in both the '60 and '64 Olympics.  He was the Ski School Director at Jackson Hole.  It was a 10-day camp and we rotated with different coaches.  I spent two days with him, and talked to him a lot, most as a student to teacher relationship, but we did have adult to adult conversations too (I was 23 and he was about 40).

He was quite affable and modest.  He told me that when he watched film of himself skiing he was never very impressed and always thought he ought to be doing better.

He was, as you'd expect, very knowledgeable about skiing and ski equipment and it was a very enjoyable camp.


Robert Shapiro is the founder of, the online legal documents company.  He was also OJ Simpson's intial attorney during his spat with LA Law after getting in a spot of trouble for murduring his wife.

Shapiro was a friend of a client of mine when I was teaching skiing at Alpine Meadows.  Bill Shaw was an attorney from LA who had once worked for the LA DA, but had left that gone into real estate, in which he had done extraordinarily well (he lived in Beverly Hills between Steven Spielberg and Marvin Davis). 

He took quite a few ski lessons from me and we got on quite well.  One time when he was at Tahoe he brought a friend of his who he had worked with in the DA’s office.  It was Robert Shapiro.  Shapiro had also left the DA’s office and done well.  He was one of the premier defense lawyers in LA.  Shapiro’s son Brent was also with him and during the course of the day I mostly skied with Brent. Bob and Bill would take their own (usually easier) way down the mountain while Brent and I talked the more challenging runs and we’d meet at the chairlift.

About five or six years later I often saw Bob on TV due to his involvement with the OJ case.

Unfortunately, Brent later became heavily involved with drugs and died of an overdose.


Ben Abruzzo was a prominent Albuquerque Real Estate developer when I lived there.  He owned Sandia Peak Ski Area which I worked at in the winter of 73-74.  I often saw him there.  He wasn’t overly-friendly with employees, but he would say hello and I did ride the chairlift with him a time or two.  I skied with his oldest son Richie a fair amount.

Another person who I met at there, but later, during the following summer, was Larry Newman.  Larry was the first person I saw fly a hang-glider.  In fact I talked to him about taking lessons but we could never get our schedules together.

Abruzzo and Newman later became famous as the pilots of the Double Eagle II, the first balloon to cross the Atlantic.


For stories about other notable people I have met, click this link.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mom, Dad & the MAH-TROB-us!

A few years back, Mom and Dad took a trip to Washington, DC. 

One of the first days they were there they’re walking about on the Mall and Mom says to Dad, “What’s a MAH-TROB-us?”

Dad: “I’m not sure.  Why do you ask?”

Mom: “Well, I keep seeing these signs around that say MAH-TROB-us and a phone number to call for more information.”

Dad: “Well, the next time you see one of the signs point it out to me and maybe we can figure it out.”

They continue to walk along and a few minutes later Mom says, “Bill, there’s one of those signs now.  What do you think it means?”

Dad looks were she’s pointing and replies, “Maybe if you pronounced it ‘Met-Row-bus’ it might make sense.”

(Keep scrolling!)

Just shows how easy it is to confuse language!

Dad solves a mystery!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My GM Vehicle Experience

I love GM, or at least I want to love GM. My Dad started working there when he was 17, in 1947, running a machine on a subassembly line. He retired as a middle manager in 1989 with a salary in the low six figures. I worked there for five years while going to college from 1968 to 1973. My brother worked summers there from 1983 to 1987. Every new car I had ever bought (seven in total) had been a Chevy. Bona fides established, I will now state that I will never buy another GM product.

Here is a list of GM products that I bought brand new, followed by a list of the difficulties I had with each:

1969 Camaro – Owned it for two years before being sold after an accident.  Generally a pretty good car, but the throttle linkage was misadjusted so that the carburetor would never get to the “full-power” setting and the water pump failed at a pretty low mileage (although I've always suspected that it was damaged in the accident).  

1971 Vega – OK for me, but wanted a bigger car so I sold it to a friend after about two years. Lots of problems for him, including both front fenders rusting completely out in a few years after he bought it.

1973 Camaro – 350 V8 dropped a valve twice, battery failed first year, needed new clutch with very few miles, seatbelt broke and brakes went out suddenly.

1975 Chevy Pickup – intermittent electrical problem unable to fix, running lights would flicker, sometimes going out for long continuous periods.

1978 Chevy Pickup – intermittent electrical problem unable to fix, dash light fuse would trip losing all instrument and interior lights, heater core began to leak into cab.

1981 Chevette – worst vehicle I ever owned – front wheel fell off driving on mountain road the first week (while at dealer to repair this, someone stole the radio which dealer refused to take responsibility for). Weak A/C, overheating problem, incredibly rough running, often jerking down the road in a very embarrassing manner -- spent hundreds of dollars trying to fix this to no avail.

After this Chevette experience, for many years I drove used cars, mostly Toyotas, with few problems.  I did own one other GM vehicle -  1967 Chevy 4WD PU with 327, bought used in 1986.  This was a great vehicle and I wish I still had it.

Then, memory clouded by the passage of time and still feeling loyalty to GM (and having fond memories of the ’67 PU) I bought GM again: 1997 Chevy S-10 pickup – second worst vehicle I ever owned. When brand new the tailgate was missing several bolts and the A/C didn’t work as it was not properly wired. I still own this vehicle, 130,000 miles, it has needed two new transmissions, each about $1,600 (both times it failed when I was far from home or any facilities – each tow was more than $200).  It has never passed California smog without a tune up at about $500 a pop and once needed a new catalytic converter at $1,300. Check Engine light is almost always on. Often runs very rough, especially in wet weather. Heater-A/C fan doesn’t work properly, A/C has been repaired twice for $1,200 each time and is currently not working. Rear view mirror fell off, third-door latch has failed twice and is currently broken, windshield wipers have failed, windshield washer fluid reservoir failed.

My last, and most recent, gripe against GM is the 2009 Obama bailout which protected the unions (source of GM's problems in my opinion) and screwed the salaried employees and stockholders.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Skiing – the Ohio Years

Butler High Ski Club 1967

Valley High - wasn't quite this big in 1968!
Killy Downhill Gold Run Grenoble 1968I
I worked in the ski industry as an instructor, patroller and race coach for 24 years, from 1970 to 1993.  All because someone (I think it might have been Sally Brown, '66) started a High School ski club.

The first time I went skiing was in February 1968 at Valley High Ski Area (now Mad River Mountain), a 300 foot glacial moraine in Central Ohio, with the Butler High School Ski Club.

I had always thought that skiing looked fun, and had wanted to try it.  The 1968 Winter Olympics stoked my interest and I had become a fan of Jean-Claude Killy, the French racer who won three Gold Medals (there were only three skiing events then) at that Olympics.

One interesting thing, I was not the first member of our family to ski, my sister Helen (Class of '70) had gone with the Ski Club a few weeks earlier, but had not enjoyed it and, to the best of my knowledge, never went again.

They looked just about like this!
I rented skis.  They were wooden, tan color and made by Northland, with Cubco bindings.  I don’t know what kind of boots I wore, but they were buckle boots.  Most of the rental boots were lace-ups, but for whatever reason they gave me ones that buckled – I never skied in lace boots, although I think that virtually all of my friends did.  I really enjoyed the sport and skied one more time that winter, also with the Ski Club, and using essentially the same equipment.

Cable bindings - they didn't release very reliably.
First run on my own skis!
Mount Stonequarry (our front yard) 1968
I graduated from High School that spring and got a job.   One of my first purchases was the first pair of skis I owned.  They were white, 200cm wooden skis with screw-on metal edges and cable bindings made by Ski Persenico (which was later purchased by Spaulding and had much success in racing during the 70’s).  I bought them in the fall of 1968 at Jim Flynn’s Sporting Goods, the store that they had in the Forest Park Plaza on North Main in Dayton.  The boots were leather, with buckles and made by Dolomite.

Head 320, 360 & 800
I skied on those that season.  In the Spring of 1969 I bought a pair of 190cm Head 360’s which was a very popular ski at the time.  I had Tyrolia bindings installed when I bought them at Rike’s in downtown Dayton.  These were the skis I used before my first trip to a big ski mountain, Killington Mountain in Vermont (this was with the Wright State Ski Club in March of 1970).  I sold the Persenico’s to one of my friends, either Rick or Steve.  Later someone cut them so that they were only about 24”-18” long and lots of people skied around on them at Valley High.

Lange Comps - now I was in the big leagues!
Look Nevada's - best binding (IMHO)!
After skiing on the 360’s for a while I became a much better skier and wanted to get new boots.  I decided on Lange Comps which were pretty much the first plastic ski boot.  I bought them just before the 70-71 ski season for $175 ($971 in 2010 dollars).  None of my non-skiing friends could believe that I paid that much for a “pair of shoes!”  My fellow skiers were all jealous that they did not have “Comps.”  When I got my new boots, I also got new bindings, Look Nevada’s which I felt were a superior, and safer, product.  Except for one momentary lapse, I used Look’s for the rest of my skiing career.  And I guess I should add, that I was a full-time skiing professional for over 20 years and never had a leg injury of any sort.

The 70-71 winter was also when I started to work at a Ski area, getting on as a Patroller at Valley High.

VR-17 & Looks
Now, of course, I wanted new skis.  I really wanted Dynamic (a French product, the correct pronunciation is Dee-nah-meek) VR-17’s 207cm GS (this was the ski that Killy used in the ’68 Olympics).  When the Wright Ski Club went to Breckenridge, Colorado at Christmas 1970 I found a used pair for sale, the exact model and length that I wanted, with Look bindings, in excellent condition, and I felt so lucky to get them.

I mostly skied the VR-17’s for a while after that.  My friend, Terry, had been skiing on K2’s for a while and really liked them.  And there was a local shop which sold them and also gave a discount to Ski Patrollers so I bought a pair, the K2 Comp model 200cm slalom and really liked them.

Terry at Breckenridge 12/71
My 1970 K2s on his left
His 1969 K2s on his right.
I skied these skis for most of that season until they were stolen!  Fortunately they were insured – I contacted the shop and they had another pair in stock.  I decided to try a different binding, Gertsch was making a plate binding which had upward toe release. I liked that idea and also thought that removing the ski boot from the release process was good, so I had those bindings installed. This turned out to be a mistake as I could not keep the skis on my feet!  They were constantly pre-releasing and I soon went back to Look.

The stolen skis were recovered a week or two later (a Highway Patrolman saw them in a nearby cornfield).  I won’t go into details, but I suspect that they might have been swiped by a jealous ex!

Anyhow the insurance company reclaimed them and these skis were eventually sold to someone at a ski swap.  They had my name engraved on them, and since I was pretty well-known in the ski community in that part of Ohio, the poor guy who bought them was constantly being harassed for “stealing those skis!”  I believe he actually had the cops called on him once.

Lange Supercomp - Notice how the
ribbing forms the Lange "L"
The next season (72-73) I switched from the Patrol to the Ski School.  I had been using the Lange Comp boots for a good while by now and when Lange came out with a new model – the Supercomp, and made them available to instructors for a very good price, I picked up a pair.  That was the last significant ski purchase I made in Ohio.  The following summer I moved to New Mexico (read about that year here).