Friday, February 19, 2016

Paradise Under the Power Lines.



My earliest memory as a child growing up in Covina was when Dad and I picked up Mom and my brother Scott at the hospital after his birth. We were in the good old ’61 Chevy Impala, no seat belts back then. I probably remember this trip because we had to stop at a grade crossing somewhere to let a train pass.

I have spent all but thirteen of my years here in Southern California.  My desire to move out is not due to any one thing, just a conglomeration of lots of little things. I suppose my childhood was idyllic, by most standards at least. With three brothers and my oldest sister Patty (my younger sister Mary was born in the Bay Area) packed into a 900 square foot house in the San Gabriel Valley, I still managed to find plenty of time to myself, riding my bike across the street, hoping for the Pacific Electric San Bernardino Local to come ambling by, wishing the “Wig-Wag” signal at Vincent Avenue would activate (that crossing is now a Metrolink line, with trains whisking by at 79MPH) That was the high point of my day.

Things quieted down at night when I would sit out on the front lawn and wait for the Helms Bakery truck to come by with fresh goodies, and maybe a birthday cake my Mom ordered the week before. Other times I would sit and watch the glow of the wildfires high in the San Gabriel mountain range. Funny thing; the smog was so bad in those days, even though we practically lived at the foot of the mountains, I didn’t know they were there until I was 10 years old. In fact, some days were so bad you couldn’t see the traffic light a block from our house.  At least the air pollution has gotten better, the noise pollution, not so much.

Dad moved us en masse north to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1976, to continue his career with Caltrans on the new Antioch Bridge project. I spent 13 semi-blissful years going to high school, then college, eventually moving myself up to Tuolumne County, where I met my wonderful wife Rita. We were married in 1988 on Presidents Day weekend in bucolic Sonora, CA. Rita’s job with the construction company then took us to Rhode Island, where she was an engineer on the new Jamestown Bridge construction. I thought New England would be akin to a Walt Whitman poem. Unfortunately, the state was pretty much paved from one end to the other. I waited until May for spring to come, being used to the trees getting their leaves by March. I pleaded with my Dad to get Rita a job with Caltrans so I could come back to my beloved California. After twenty minutes on the phone with Sacramento, she had that job, in charge of construction on the east end of the new I-105 freeway in, you guessed it, Los Angeles County!

By happenstance we settled in the far eastern reaches of the County, in Lakewood, in a condo where you could literally walk out your front door, take twenty steps, and be in Orange County. Rita’s office was in Cerritos, a former dairy city that is in LA County but seems to acts like it is in Orange County. Lakewood turned out to be a good choice in the beginning. By 1990 we had purchased one of the cookie-cutter houses using my overtime pay, and moved in. Houses in this part of Lakewood are separated by a scant 15 feet. Privacy is not part of the bargain.  

In Rhode Island I couldn’t land any kind of a real job. After we moved to LA, thanks to some good friends, I was employed in the entertainment industry, where I stayed for the next 15 years. I was planning on living in So Cal for 3-4 years, and, assuming Rita could get a promotion or a transfer, move back up to around the Sacramento area. Fate intervened. Twenty-six years later, here we are, still in Lakewood.

Don’t get me wrong, Lakewood isn’t a bad place, it’s just not where I would choose to live the rest of my life. Conveniences abound, but as we know, conveniences come with a price. Living three minutes from an In-N-Out Burger has certainly had consequences.

In our little house, nestled next to the San Gabriel River (paved) under the buzzing high tension wires, things started out great. Our new neighbors threw a pizza “block party” for us when we moved in, we all quickly got to know each other, and everyone on the cul-de-sac had had started a young family. When new people moved in they came over and introduced themselves. The city hosted Rita’s Girl Scout troop for a decade, and there was a real sense of community here. Now most of the kids have grown up and moved out. There are neighbors that have lived in close proximity to us for upwards of ten years that I have never spoken a word to. New neighbors tend to be inconsiderate; they have loud parties well into the wee hours. New people don’t seem to have a sense of place or a sense of community, but they sure have a sense of entitlement. This place is for the young, and we aren’t that any more.

With two precious, precocious and driven daughters to raise, the best course was to stay put until they were both out of high school. Why move when your kids can attend the best public high school in the state? This required us to endure the changes our formerly quiet little community has gone through.  Used to be you could just hear taps at sunset, on the bugle, soft and mournful when the flag was being lowered down the street at the Long Beach Naval Hospital. That property is now a shopping mega-center, with a 26 theater multi-plex and thousands of cars going in and out daily. Sheriff helicopters are constantly circling the freeway across from us in Hawaiian Gardens, and every other car turning the corner next to our house is blasting its stereo at or near the pain threshold all hours’ day or night. Unsavory looking persons in dark hooded sweatshirts can be seen meandering up and down the cul-de-sac like the boogie man from stories. The freeway roars 24 hours a day. The 605 (yes I will always say “THE” before freeway numbers) used to get quiet at night, now it isn’t even quiet on Christmas morning. Sirens blare at regular intervals like we live in Midtown Manhattan.

All this came to be too much for me, and I told Rita I wanted to move back to the Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and she graciously went along with it. Lucky for me. Granted, the grass is always greener on the other side, and every place has its problems, but hope springs eternal that the life we make for ourselves in Amador County will be somehow simpler, and a tad quieter. It damn sure will after I install the double-pane windows in the new house.  So long Lakewood, and thanks, you were good to us.

For the most part I am looking forward to closing the Big Iron Gate at our driveway and retiring. The world going by outside can just get on with it, without any interference from me. Thanks to Rita I now have my very own Pacific Electric Wig-Wag signal I can activate whenever I want. Now if I could just get time-traveling Helms Bakery trucks to stop out front every Thursday evening at dusk. - Chris

Magnetic Flagman Co. Wig Wag signal.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Allan Family Year-End Update 2015




As 2015 comes to close, Seasonal Greetings, Merry Christmas, etc. to one and all! We hope this finds everyone happy and prosperous. Another busy, busy year has come and gone for the Allan family here in Lakewood. Highlights follow…

The general scheme of things for Chris and Rita is to move to Northern California next year, to our property in Pine Grove, located in Amador County. To date the barn is now finished; our tiny cabin is almost finished out on the inside, and the shed which will, in the short term, serve as our kitchen is up and ready for build outs. A great deal needs to happen before we can occupy the land, including running permitted underground electrical and water, and get our current house ready for the market.  Target date for the move remains June 30th of next year.

Rita continues to telecommute upstairs for Caltrans. She technically works out of Sacramento so she will be that much closer after the move. Her Girl Scout troop will disband next year, now that Anne and Emily and many other girls in the troop have earned their Gold Awards.  A new skill was learned this year, laying out and mortaring cinder block retaining walls around the upslope sides of the barn. Her projects abound, and she is seldom bored. If she ever is, there is always her trusty Kindle Reader. The next big item for her will be to take the house plans for Pine Grove and redesign the layout to suit her taste.

The life of Chris involves a lot of going back and forth; to drop off Emily at school, to the garage to work on O scale railroad models, and shopping for new and exciting food items that meet the criteria of the new diet Rita and he are on. So far weight has been lost, but not enough as yet. Chris is anxious to get up north and leave Los Angeles County behind. He will work as the advance party to get things ready so that when Rita finally shows up she can get right back to work. The O Scale model railroad is already designed. He will start building upstairs in the barn as soon as they move into the new house. Until then there are no shortage of tasks for Chris.

Anne is working through her sophomore year at San Jose State in the animation program. Her portfolio was reviewed and accepted so she is good to go for another year!  Not much time for her to do much but go to class, do homework, and if she’s lucky, sleep. She is happy when it’s time to come home for a break. Her artwork has come along nicely, and Chris and Rita are wondering where she got that talent from? The summer job was as a counselor at the Long Beach Girl Scout camp. She enjoyed it, most of the time. Anne also got to go to see her favorite people again at an internet convention in Austin, Texas at the end of the summer.

Emily is finally in her senior year at Whitney High in Cerritos.  As predicted, she is practically running the place. As president of the Drama Club, Team Captain, and a few others, as well as being on the Cross-county and Track & Field teams, she spends most all of the daylight hours at school.  She sang and danced in the schools delightful production of “Mary Poppins” just prior to Thanksgiving, and will be in two additional shows before she graduates. Over the summer she earned her Gold Award by building an 8 foot by 16 foot storage shed on school grounds, to be used for prop and costume storage. Mom and Dad, as well as the rest of the drama kids helped a little. Emily is not quite sure which college she will be attending next year, but Fullerton State in Orange County is a front-runner.

Sadly we lost our beloved dog Missy this year. She was a loyal member of our family and she will always be remembered. After a suitable period of time we will get another dog, but likely not until we are settled up north.

That’s about it for us, again we hope your year was a good one, and if it wasn’t, well, at least it’s almost over now- so hang in there! (FYI- We will send out our new address after we get a PO Box next year.)

All the best,

Chris    Rita     Anne    Emily 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Allan Family Update 2014



Greetings once again to all of our family and friends! We sincerely hope this finds you healthy, happy and prosperous, or at least on the road to a better place.

Another hectic year has come and gone. Time passed in a flurry, and it does not look like things for the Allan’s will slow down any time soon.  Activities and projects continue to keep us busy, which helps to promote “togetherness” as a family!

Anne is now a freshman studying Animation and Illustration at San Jose State University up north. She has her own dorm room and is making new friends; thriving in the creative atmosphere. She is enjoying college and taking to life away from home quite well.  After graduating from Whitney High School this past Spring, she and her sister took a trip to an animation convention in Austin, Texas. This counted as her graduation present. Now that Anne has received her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts, she is a lifetime adult member, and is, at least for now, out of the cookie sales business.

Emily began her Junior year at Whitney this year. She is the president of the Drama Club, and has dazzled us in their first play, “The Curious Savage”, in which she played the lead. She is currently working toward her GS Gold Award to be completed in time to hopefully march as a banner holder in the 2016 Rose Parade. She had a great time in Austin with her sister, just the two of them unsupervised in the Lonestar State.  Emily is enjoying having her own room, and when she has free time, plays Nancy Drew mystery games on the laptop. She is also starting to think about colleges and the possibilities that await her.

Rita is getting the household ready for the big move to Pine Grove in 2016. Twenty-five years of accumulated stuff will have to be dealt with. The barn built at the property up north is slowly filling up, but Rita made great strides flooring the upstairs mezzanine, one square at a time, all 576 square feet this past November! Some furniture can now make its way up there, which will be challenging given the lack of stairs to the upper level. Girl Scouts is still a major focus in Rita’s life, with Emily working toward her final goal, and helping out with a younger troop whose leader is Rita’s cousin. The Caltrans work continues from the upstairs room over the garage thanks to telecommuting, which will also be the case after the move north. Some health issues did crop up for her this year, but she came through with flying colors, and doing much better now.

Chris started the year on a low note after suffering a minor stroke in March. A bit scary to say the least, but he takes it as a wakeup call. Diet and exercise are given more attention, and Chris is much more cognizant of how lucky he is to have a great family and a happy life. The restoration of the steam locomotive in Portola is going into its ninth year, and will hopefully progress a great deal soon.  Chris’ main focus is getting out of LA in a year and a half and finally making the move to Pine Grove. The barn structure he and his friends put up is all but complete. The latest addition is a deck in front at the level of the second floor, built to resemble a railroad trestle. Work will continue on the property in the spring of next year. Building O scale railroad models is also one of his new interests, something he hopes to continue after the move.

Missy continues to slow down, but still enjoys her daily walks with Rita, and lying in her spot in the backyard waiting for gophers to pop up.

The Allan’s wish each of you a happy and prosperous 2015! Please stay in touch if you can, we love to hear from all of you. We look forward to our last full year here in Lakewood, which should fly by in no time!

All the best,

Chris Rita Anne Emily and Missy the Dog


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Allan Family Christmas Update 2013





Greetings to all of our family and friends!  Once again another year has passed us by.  The day to day pace makes time pass quickly to be sure. 

Chris and Rita continue to prepare for the eventual move to Pine Grove, in the foothills east of Sacramento. The barn, which was delivered as a “kit” was finished up and signed off by Amador County in May. Immediately the overflow from Lakewood started filling it up. A good deal of renovation also was done to the tiny cabin we refer to as the “Boat House” due to its diminutive size. With the help of our friend Paul we were able to re-sheet the interior paneling upstairs and down, as well as new flooring in the restroom, shower area and “living room”. Future plans call for an outdoor/indoor kitchen and Tiki Lounge themed using the items generously bestowed upon us by our friends Ed and Diana Mackinson. The move is still scheduled for summer of 2016, after Emily graduates from Whitney High School.

Rita continues to focus on Girl Scout projects. Her girls have started their Gold Award projects, and in some cases, as in Anne’s, they are all but complete. Emily has selected her project and should have it finished in a year or so. At that point the troop will disband. Rita continues to spend her days upstairs developing construction training courses for Caltrans. She has built a foam box for recording voice-overs to be used in her online courses. Emily does a lot of the voice acting which is good practice for a possible future career. Rita also spends most weekends working at a small scrapbooking store in Bellflower, which gives her some hobby income and affords her time to visit with her group of friends.

Chris has more projects under way than he would like to admit. Work sporadically gets done on projects in Pine Grove, the steam locomotive restoration in Portola, the last of the 15” gauge railway equipment, and building components for a future model railway in “O” Scale. He doesn’t have much down time. Add to that taxiing the kids around, cooking meals, food shopping, etc. he is kept quite busy, and time flies by at a frightening pace for him. He and Rita also managed to paint the exterior of the house as well as scrape the last bit of that gaud awful popcorn texture off the ceiling of the living room in Lakewood. A new concrete driveway, poured by a contractor, as well as new plantings by Rita really helped restore some “curb appeal “ to the place, which will hopefully translate into a better price when it comes time to go on the market in a couple of years.

This year Chris and Rita celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, a real milestone! To celebrate, they dined at Lawry’s Prime Rib in Beverly Hills. This restaurant was on Chris’ “LA Bucket List” of things to do before he leaves, so it was a natural choice. The fare was, as you might imagine, quite excellent.

Anne, now a senior in high school, got to sample college life when she attended the California State Summer School for the Arts, at the Cal Arts campus in Santa Clarita. She spent an entire month sleeping in the dorms, and took art classes 6 days a week for a month. The program is quite prestigious, and we are very proud she made it in. All she needs to do is hang in there for another six months and it is off to college, wherever that may be. There are still several options open to her.  Anne’s driving skills are improving, including learning to drive Rita’s Escape with the stick shift. She hope to finally get her license on her 18th birthday next February.



Emily is in her sophomore year at Whitney, and has a full docket of activities as well. She took part in the school’s Fall stage play of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”. Given a meaty role, with many lines to memorize, she did amazing!  She worked a lot of late night rehearsals and gave it her all.  School keeps her busy with many class projects and clubs. Emily has an active social life as well, she always has friends close by which is a blessing.

Missy our Akita dog is slowing down, but still makes it to the dinner table every night. She still has a good deal of energy and enjoys being around the family and getting her hair everywhere she can!
We will continue moving forward, it is our hope that all of you can do the same. As always we wish for you a happy holiday season, and a happy and prosperous 2014. Keep in touch if you can, we always enjoy getting updates from you all!

All the best,

Chris Rita Anne Emily Missy