Monday, July 31, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 9: La Jolla and The Fury of The Waves

Today Thomas took us out to La Jolla (that's "La Hoya", not "La Jaw-lah").

Apparently La Jolla is one of the richer communities in San Diego, and some of the people there like to refer to themselves as living in "La Jolla", not in "San Diego".

Snobs. (heh heh)

We checked out a bit of the town and then headed for the beach.

And what a beach it was.

We even got to see a couple of seals. Cool stuff.

Then we all changed into our swimming suits and hit the surf.

The waves today were pretty vicious. Strong stuff, but I just kept on charging in there like some big dumb animal and getting smacked down on the sandy ocean floor.

I don't think I've ever had that much fun.

Although I had sand coming out of places I didn't think sand could come out of for a few days afterward.

That, and I had figured I didn't need to slap on much sunscreen, as it was cloudy.

Dumb dumb boy lacking in melanin. Dumb.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 8: 29 and Counting (Up)

Welcome to the last year of your twenties, Dustin.

I turned 29 today.

Weird feeling, really. Celebrating the last year of my twenties back home in the U.S. (first time celebrating a birthday here since 1998 - yikes), yet being in a city where the only people I knew were the twelve students I was chaperoning.

Not exactly a recipe for a fun birthday.

Since it was a Sunday, and all of the students were free, I invited them to join me for brunch out at the Fashion Valley Mall. There was a restaurant I had seen out there that had me interested.

Boudin Bakery (pronunced "Bow-deen"), a San Francisco-based bakery that had clam chowder and bread bowls. Since Japan (at least the Japan I'VE experienced, no guarantee on Tokyo/Osaka/other big cities) is not that aware of the greatness that is the bread bowl, I thought I'd introduce my students to the wonder of the edible bowl.

Not only did they enjoy their brunch, but the little sneaks had made me a birthday card and gave it to me. I really wasn't expecting it, and I'll admit, it made me tear up a bit.

After brunch, everybody went their separate ways, and I headed to the movie theater to catch "Clerks II". Funny, perverse, foul, pretty much everything I've come to expect from a Kevin Smith film. But there was something that surprised me.

It actually had some poignant things to say about growing up, getting older, friendship, and how life and time can change us. Beneath all of the rudeness and crudeness, it was a sweet little film.

Felt sorry for the donkey, though.

So the movie finished, and I headed out into the San Diego afternoon.

What to do...

Sheesh. Guess I'll head back to my apartment and go to bed.



After a bit of personal mental abuse, I decided to catch the trolley to San Ysidro and, for lack of a better phrase, "make a run for the border".

Yep, I made the trek to ol' TJ. Tijuana, that is.

Tijuana was a bit of a shock. A lot more Spanish than I'd ever heard (duh), and a feeling of being way out of my element, something I hadn't felt since I first came to Japan in December of '97.

There was a vague scent of pee, as well. Not to dog on TJ or anything, but that was one of the strongest impressions I had.

Lots of people trying to get me to buy stuff. A few offers to go into the tittie bars and "experience the local flavor". (Well, it's true! I didn't go, though. Scout's honor.)

But it was also a really fun place to check out. I walked around a bit, had a Corona at a bar, found the Hard Rock Cafe, bought a t-shirt and a shot glass, fielded a "Happy Birthday" call from my sis (Thanks, And!), and made my way back.

On my way back, I noticed some jock @$$heads making fun of a little girl who was begging for change. I felt bad, and gave her some of mine.

Big mistake.

All of the sudden, I was surrounded by little kids trying to get change from me. Man, I felt guilty, but the sudden appearance really freaked me out and I pretty much hoofed it back to the border crossing.

Funny thing. To get INTO Mexico, all you have to do is walk through a gate. To get back into the U.S., you go through about every check available except a cavity search. (Okay, not that bad, but the gap was pretty huge.)

I hopped back on the trolley and cruised back up to Old Town, then caught the bus back to University Ave. and my apartment.

Not a bad birthday all around, plus I got to go to Mexico for the first time.

Feliz cumpleanos a mi.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 7: Sea World

Today we met Denise at the International House and then caught the bus to Sea World.

We just let everybody loose on Sea World after we got there, making sure that everyone knew where and when to meet that afternoon. Then The guys and I followed Denise over to the dolphin show.

Dolphins rule. This was a fun show. Leaps, laughs, and lots of folks getting splashed.

We checked out the shark building, and the arctic building, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

We also caught the Shamu show.

Wow. Orcas, up close and personal. Pictures would have been nice, but the guys and I made it a point to sit where we would get splashed. We also made it a point to buy clownfish hats. But that's another story.

After the Shamu show, I grabbed some (expensive) lunch and checked out a few more places. The starfish pool was neat.

Gotta love penguins. They rock.

Flamingos are pretty cool too.

It seemed like everybody had a pretty good time, but you can tell that there's a bit of a tiredness setting in on the group. I'm not sure how things will turn out, but it could get a lot worse before it gets any better. I'm just going to watch how things play out.

All told, Sea World was fun, but I was kinda bummed that I missed out on all the action back in the Hillcrest area, where I am staying. I think it would have been a great cultural experience for the students as well. Heh heh.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 6: Cabrillo

Today after classes, we all hopped on the bus with our guide Thomas and headed out to the tip of Point Loma and the Cabrillo National Monument.

This is supposedly the location where, in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to set foot on the west coast of North America. Pretty cool place, actually. There's a visitor's center there, and the guy working at the counter showed us some replicas of the armor and weapons that Cabrillo and his crew used. Very informative.

We had a great view of the bay that we'd taken a tour of the day before, and it was pretty cool for all of the students to be able to see the Pacific Ocean from the other side.

"So Japan's all the way across this, huh? Cool."

And we all just stood there looking at the sea.

Senor Cabrillo.

The old Point Loma Lighthouse.

After we finished looking around up at the point, we caught a bus back to Old Town, and then headed out to Mission Beach to join up with some other students from the school for a farewell barbecue party. Good times.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 5: REALLY In The Navy

Today, we took a tour of the San Diego harbor (specifically, the part that is overseen by the US NAVY) and an Aegis-class destroyer, the USS Preble.

[Editor's note: to find out more about how I ended up getting my students a tour of the harbor and an Aegis Class Destroyer, see here and here.]

I got in contact with a person who works on base at the Pacific Fleet Naval Base, and he set us up with the two tours. I got some help from the International House staff in setting up a rental van, complete with driver, to get us back and forth between the different areas we needed to go to.

Once classes finished in the morning, we all had some pizza for lunch before heading out. We went across the bay to Naval Base and got set up to take a harbor tour. The original plan was for all of us to go out on one of those big troop transport ships like you see in the beginning of "Saving Private Ryan", but since we were a small group, they took us out on a different boat.

Same idea...troop transport ship, but this one was a new model. There are only six of them in the entire US Navy, four on the West Coast and two on the East Coast. That's it. Six of 'em. And we got to go out on one. This thing has jet engines instead of propellers, so it is much more maneuverable. It can go up to fifty miles an hour, spin in a circle, move sideways, and lots of other fun stuff.

Which we got to experience.

They took us out into the harbor and showed us the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Nimitz, along with the USS Midway (decommissioned). They took us alongside the other side of the bay where all of the Navy ships were in port.

So we're all strapped in with life preservers on, and one of the crew members tells us that we're going to go out and do "some spins".


"When I tell you to hang on, HANG ON!"

Ummm...yes sir.

So the boat starts speeding up. We're literally flying along on the water. Then our guide tells us we're only going about half speed.




I tell everybody to grab onto the bars on their seats. We're barreling along, when...



The boat comes to an immediate stop, dips into the water a bit, and sends a huge wave splashing over all of us.

The kids were loving it. Hell, so was I.

One of the students says, "One more time!"


Laughter. These guys are having fun. Awesome.

Then we speed up again, and our guide says, "HOLD ON!"

This time, with the immediate stop, the boat does a 180 and sends a huge wave shooting off to the side.

The students' smiles are huge.

We do that two or three more times and then head back to port.

While the boat ride was fun, and seemed a lot like Splash Mountain or some other rollercoaster ride, this new transport ship has a lot of military advantages. The sudden stop/180 is an amazing development.

Next, we headed back across the bay to where the ships were in dock to take a tour of the USS Preble. We got the works. We toured the bridge, the bow of the ship (where I had to translate info about an huge cannon and the four types of missiles in the launching silos), and the war room.

That's right, the war room. The only place where no pictures were allowed.

We were told stuff like, "The person who sits here presses the buttons to launch the missiles you just saw."

And "I don't know what goes on there. Whenever we have war games, they shut the curtain and no one is allowed in or out."

Heavy duty stuff.

At the end of the day, we gave our guide a medallion of our high school as a token of our appreciation. He seemed really thrilled by it.

On the ride back to school, the students came to a realization.

"Sensei, that tour that we just took, that's not something that just anybody can come off the street and do, right?"

"That's right."

"So what we just did, that's a really rare experience?"


"Who got that set up for us?"

"You're looking at him."

"NO. WAY!"


"Thank you, Sensei!"

That felt damn good.

And just in case doing all of that cool stuff didn't make the day complete, that evening I went to the movies.

Nacho Libre.

"I was wondering if you would like to join me in my quarters this night...for some toast."


Funny flick, but it sure would have been nice if the family next to me would have done something to stop their kids from talking...THROUGH THE WHOLE MOVIE. Arrrgh.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 4: Mission Beach

Classes in the morning, and a trip to Mission Beach in the afternoon.

It was, like, totally a California beach, dude. Major wave action.

The students had a great time, between biking along the boardwalk, playing in the ocean (what with it being the opposite side of the Pacific, it was a pretty exciting deal for them), and riding the rides in the adjacent amusement park.

Cool place. Huge beach. Cloudy day. (This was a good thing, as I don't tan. I BURN.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 3: Comics and Katsudon

On time today. That's a good sign.

Today the students got placed into their various classes, and as I suspected, they were divided up between the two lowest levels.

You can only do so much to teach conversation to students, after all.

No activities planned for today, just a free afternoon. One of the students had found mention of a Japanese supermarket in SD, and a bunch of the students planned to go out there. (Geez guys, you're here for 10 days and you're already looking for Japanese food? Sheesh.)

I went along, because I was interested in what this place was like, and I didn't trust those guys not to get lost.

So we hopped on a bus and headed out. After we got off the bus, we managed to wander around lost for about half an hour until we finally found the place. (We were on the wrong side of the highway.)

Quick side note: The International House was really cool, because they provided us with transit passes good for all of the trolleys and all the buses. Of course, this was included in the program fee, so we actually paid for them, but still...

The students went nuts in that supermarket. "Oh look, such-and-such candy!" "Oh look! Such-and-such magazine!" And they were sooooo excited when the girl working the register spoke Japanese to them. Most of them had ramen. I had katsudon,a pork cutlet rice bowl. It was decent.

After that, we caught the bus back to Old Town, and then I hopped on another bus and went to The Comic Gallery, a comic shop recommended to me by former San Diego resident (current Izumo resident) Jason.

I used to be a huge comic book collector, but once I came to Japan on my exchange all those years ago, I lost an entire year's worth of story lines and was unable to follow along once I got back. I pretty much lost interest in buying monthly comics after that. (My focus shifted to trade paperbacks, but that's another story). I still enjoy comics, though, and I figured that San Diego should have an interesting comic book shop or two, so I asked Jason which one he thought I should go to. He sent me there. (They send him a shipment of comics every month.)

Cool little place. I picked up a couple of things and then caught the bus back to Old Town. I walked around, looking for someplace to get dinner. Then I spotted it.

Georgia's Greek Cuisine.

Greek food? Wow! Living in Japan, you forget there are things in the world like Greek food. (I'm not saying that to be's the truth.)

Well, that decided it. I went in and had a nice meal with a nice bottle of Greek beer. (It wasn't bad...) Then it was on the bus and back up to Hillcrest.

Just for the record, let's take a look at San Diego dining versus Muroran. Hmmm...three nights in SD: sushi, Cajun food (HOB), and Greek food. Muroran? Ummm...yakitori?

I think I like being in San Diego.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 2: School's In Session


I'm late.

That's how I woke up this morning.

Somehow, I failed to set my alarm correctly and overslept big time. I catch my bus in a panic and head down to the school to get started chaperoning.

Not the best way to kick off a month-long stint.

Once I got to the school, I met a couple of the other staff members. Richard (The Boss) and Denise (Activities Coordinator).

After talking for a bit, I headed in to the classroom where my students were waiting.


Wow. I don't think I've ever seen these guys that happy to see me. And WOW were they tanned.

I apologized to the principal, and said hello to a couple of the teachers who were administering a survey. Then the students had to take a test, so the principal and I left the room and talked for a while.

Once the placement test was finished, Jessica took us on a short tour of Old Town. It was REALLY hot, so we kept it short. After the tour, we had a pizza party outside. YES! Pizza!

Once that was finished, the students took off for their various home stay places and I talked with the principal about meeting up for dinner that night.

We met at the Old Town Trolley Station and headed downtown. Since neither of us really knew anything about downtown San Diego, I suggested we go to a place I had spotted while waiting for the trolley the night before: The House Of Blues.

Hell Yeah.

Good food, sweet music, and good beer. Aaah, it's good to be home again. (Even though SD isn't really home, of course.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The San Diego Chronicles - Day 1: I Have Arrived

Up early, out of bed, and on the road to Boise. Gotta get to San Diego. Time for me to start working for my money.

Of course, before I left, I had to get a picture with my good buddy...


We rolled into Boise and picked up Andrea before heading to the airport.

At the airport, we had the usual emotional goodbyes, although I didn't get too teared up because Mom and Dad were planning on coming down to visit me.

A couple of pics at the airport...

Dad and I sporting our new chrome domes, courtesy of a clipper cut the previous night.

Mom and Andrea.

So after a couple of hugs and goodbyes, I went through security, which included a metal detector scan, a partial disassembly of my sandals, a breathalyser test, two vials of blood, signing over my firstborn child, and a complete cavity search. I don't know about you, but I think the blood vials were a little over the top.

Flew Southwest again. Three flights total, one being a changeover in San Jose. When I got in to San Diego, I called my principal, who was already there with our twelve students participating in the language study course. He told me that someone from the school, International House San Diego, would be coming to pick me up.

Ohhhhhkayyyyyyyyy. The only problem is that the airport's a tad crowded, what with the San Diego Comic Con ending today.

Fortunately, Jessica (the staff member) found me pretty easily. I guess since I was the only one in the airport NOT dressed like a Stormtrooper, I was the one that stood out.

Jessica drove me up to the Hillcrest area of San Diego, over to Studio 819, where I would be staying while in the lovely metropolis.

After unpacking my stuff and making a phone call to The Boss (not Springsteen, unfortunately), I caught a bus down to the Old Town Transit Center and met up with him. We decided to catch the trolley downtown to go get some dinner.

After a bit of searching, and asking at a hotel lobby (where the receptionist kindly hooked us up with a coupon for some free stuff at the restaurant she recommended), we headed over to Ra, a sushi restaurant. (Ra. Get it? Ra sushi? HAHAHAHAHA...uh) The Boss wanted to have some Japanese food, so that's what we had. Over some beers and some decent sushi (Decent for San Diego, anyway. I've freaking lived in two of the best places to get sushi in Japan, Shimane and Hokkaido! I found some serious humor in going to a crowded trendy sushi restaurant when the conveyer belt sushi places I go to in Japan taste so much better.), we talked about the work that my chaperoning was going to entail, and he gave me a medicine bag, student info, the chaperone cell phone, a bunch of money (for "group leader expenses", and the return (to Japan) plane tickets.

Dinner was good, and after catching the trolley back to Old Town, I bid The Boss a good night and caught the bus back to Hillcrest.

About the very second I walked into my room, I got a concerned phone call from a host mother. One of my students was really sick (bleaughhh sick) and she wanted to know what to do. Tipsy, tired, and already on the job.

I took care of the situation as best as I could, and called it a night.

Welcome to San Diego, indeed.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 10: The Great Train Ride

Today was the big day. The day of The Great Train Ride.

There's a train line that runs from La Grande out to Enterprise. A private company has been able to buy rights to part of the line, and a few weekends out of every year, they run a tour train along the Wallowa and Grande Ronde Rivers.

It's the Eagle Cap Excursion Train, and it runs from Wallowa to just outside of Elgin.

They're in the process of getting the rights to the last couple of miles into Elgin, and when that happens, they can run trains from Elgin all the way out to Enterprise.

This morning, we piled into the Kiddmobile with Jamie (a coworker of Dad's) and his wife and headed out to Wallowa. We pulled up to the station, got on the train, and headed straight to the open car, which had no air conditioning but had the best view.

We stayed there the entire trip, which took about six hours.

We headed out from Wallowa, following the Wallowa River through Minam, then turned off and followed the Grande Ronde River (which was significantly lower) up to just outside of Elgin. After switching the trains around and hooking up a few rail cars, we headed back.

It was a nice, relaxing trip that took us through some beautiful countryside. The lunch was pretty good, too.

Here are some pics.

Mom, Dad, and I ridin' the rails.

The engine in all its glory.

Mom, Dad, Jamie, and his wife.

You have no IDEA how hot those ties were. And yes, I AM an idiot.

On the way back, following the Grande Ronde.

Crossing the bridge where the Wallowa and the Grande Ronde Rivers meet.


We drove around a bit more after the train ride finished, and stopped for milkshakes. My cranberry milkshake tasted distinctly of vanilla. I wasn't very happy about that. But the battered mushrooms made up for it (a bit).

After dropping off Jamie and his wife, we headed into La Grande and stopped in at Big Behemoth Mart, where I picked up a pocketwatch and an alarm clock to use down in San Diego, as I would be taking off the next day.

All told, it was a fun day spent with my folks, and a good way to round out The Cove Chronicles.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 9: A Friday in Oregon

Today, Kacey and Grandma Chambers came to Cove.

Grandma Chambers isn't my grandma by blood. I have Grandma Nelson on my Mom's side and Grandma Morgan on my Dad's side. Even so, for as long as I can remember, she's been Grandma Chambers. She and her husband have been friends of Mom and Dad for a really long time, and when we used to go visit them whenever we could.

She's 90 years old and one feisty lady. (My grandmas all tend to be feisty.)

It was really nice of Kacey to bring her up to spend the day with us. It was a surprise for her, as Kacey hadn't told her where they were going. We just hung out and spent the day relaxing and talking. It was a nice change of pace.

While Mom and Grandma hung out at home, Dad, Kacey, and I went out to a winery and vineyard near our place, Gilstrap Brothers Vineyard and Winery.

We took a tour of the place and tasted a few of their wines. I'm not a big fan of wine, but Dad and Kacey are, and I was interested in checking out the lone vineyard/winery in the bustling metropolis of Cove.

As I was wearing my full Red Sox regalia today, I got a dirty look from a dude in a Yankees cap as I left. Fuggedabowtit.

For dinner that night, Mom made some fantastic Swedish meatballs. I realized how much I've missed my Mom's cooking. Damn good stuff.

Oh, and, I umm....I...well, I guess A Tribe Called Quest said it best...

I left my wallet in El Segundo.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 8: Pirates of La Grande

At last...a day in La Grande where I didn't have to DO anything.

So I decided to throw a bike in the back of our truck and catch a ride into La Grande with Mom and Dad. As I mentioned before, although I claim Northeast Oregon as my home now (well...okay, Muroran's my home, get the idea), I'm not that familiar with the area. So I figured that since I had the time, and Mom and Dad had stuff to do at the office today anyway, I should try and get to know La Grande a bit more.

But before I went off exploring, the folks and I headed over to the local bowling alley for the weekly Kiwanis meeting. Mom and Dad had asked me if I would be willing to talk about life in Japan at a Kiwanis meeting while I was home, and I agreed. So that's what I did. It was a fun meeting, and the other Kiwanis members had some really good questions about Japan. Hopefully, I was able to give them some new insights into all things Japanese.

After that, we hurried over to the local movie theater, got the bike out of the truck, and I waved to Mom and Dad as they drove out to the office. Then I ran over and bought a ticket to go see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest". There was a LOT going on in that film. Maybe a bit too much. But Johnny Depp was as awesome as ever as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Two hours later, entertained and ready to explore, I headed out into the hot afternoon streets of La Grande, slapped on my bike helmet, hopped of the bike, and started pedaling.

And stopped about five minutes later in front of a CD shop that I'd never seen before.

I headed in to see what they had, especially since I was looking for a few new CDs that had come out recently. I was pleasantly surprised with what was available. An eclectic collection of music and DVDs that included a lot of minor artists and films. Plus, the guy that ran the store said that it was possible to negotiate some cheaper prices on stuff.

Great news.

But with great news sometimes comes sad news, and this was one of those times.

"So why the discounts?"

"We're going out of business."

Figures. I find an awesome CD and DVD shop in La Grande, and the place is going to close down. Sheesh.

Oh well, I found some CDs and some DVDs that looked interesting, and made my purchase. Then it was back on the bike and out to Dad's office.

Except that it was freaking hot.

So I made a stop at a big behemoth of a store (Hint: It starts with a "W" and ends with an "almart".) and tried to call Mom and Dad.

I got the message "Our hours of operation are..." Wait a sec, how long was I in that shop? I looked at my watch. 5:30? I'd been in there for an hour and a half!


I didn't have Dad's cell phone number, so it looked like instead of having another mile or so to go, I was going to have to bike all the way out to Cove, 15 miles away and uphill. Not so good. So I headed into said behemoth store and goofed off for a bit, looking at a few more DVDs that had caught my eye.

Let's face it...I was stalling. Wait a while longer and then I can call home and have Mom and Dad come and get me.

Then I heard a couple of familiar voices on the other side of the CD display case I was looking at.

Mom and Dad?

Again, figures.

They were the ones that raised me. They should know me the best.

"Dustin, we figured you'd be here. We also saw the bike outside." Yeesh.

So I was saved from melting away into oblivion while pedaling in the scorching heat outside for 15 miles, uphill.

Instead, we all hopped in the truck, stopped by New York Ritchie's for some pizza, and headed on home.

The best part of the day was the fact that I sunburned racing stripes onto my scalp through the air vents (?) in Dad's bike helmet. The danger and tragedy of a buzzcut. Heh.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 7: Nelson Sensei

It seems like I can never get enough of the road when I head back home.

I went to school at Central Washington University, and for four years I called Ellensburg my home. I had been wanting to get back up to Ellensburg and see the old CWU area, and maybe even catch up with some folks from the area.

Today, Dad had to pick up some steel in Toppenish. He said, "Why don't you and Mom come with me, and we'll swing up to Ellensburg first?"


So I made a call up to Nelson Sensei, my Japanese sensei when I went to school there, and asked if we could work out some way to meet up.

He said, "My wife and I will meet you all for lunch. Call me when you get close to Ellensburg."

Again, sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.

Nelson Sensei is an incredible person. He really influenced my life and the path I have taken with it, from pretty much the first day I met him.


September 1996. 9 AM. Language & Lit. Japanese 101.

A big linebacker-built guy with a beard comes strolling through the classroom entrance and starts speaking Japanese at us. I say "at" because none of us had any idea what he was saying. Jaws hit desks throughout the classroom. I remember thinking,
"I have no idea what this guy is saying, but that is cool. I want to be able to do that someday."
As classes continued, I was attracted more and more to the Japanese language because of the pure passion that Sensei had as he taught it. I decided to major in Japanese. I started working as a peer advisor for Japanese students who came over for a short-term exchange. One day, as we passed each other on campus, he called me over and told me,
"Kiddo-kun, you have a very good thing going here. Don't f**k it up."
I honestly think that was the first time a teacher had ever sworn while talking to me. The conviction in what he said, and the way he said it, had a huge effect on me, and I threw myself even more into my studies.

I am very fortunate to have had Nelson Sensei as a teacher. He has not only a passion for teaching, but a passion for learning, and a passion for living. He tends to take his talks in odd directions at times, but the perspectives on life and the information I have been exposed to during my interactions with him have made me realize how lucky I am.

And ten years later, here I am, working at a private high school in Muroran and trying my best to be able to do what Nelson Sensei did in that L&L classroom 10 years ago, and also to not f**k up what I'm doing.


Anyway, we made it up to Ellensburg safely, and after making plans to meet, I stopped by a few offices of some old acquaintances and coworkers before Mom, Dad, and I headed downtown.

We met Nelson Sensei and his wife at the Starlight Cafe and were treated to an excellent lunch that included crab chowder, which was damn good.

After lunch, we had to get back on the road to pick up that stuff for Dad and make a stop through the Tri-Cities before heading home, so we said thank you, and I got a quick photo with Sensei and his wife in front of the restaurant before we took off.

It was really good to be able to visit with Sensei again. And as much as I hope that I am doing my parents proud, I hope I am doing him proud as well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 6: Seeing The Sights

No rest for the wicked...

Today Mom, Dad, and I took off on a trip up into the hills to the west of La Grande.

We saw a buffalo ranch (that I can't upload the photo for...).

We saw some beautiful mountain scenery on our way through the hills, and even spotted an abandoned gold mine.

We also stopped in Granite, a SMALL town that started out with the mining rush in the late 1800's. Granite...Population: Tire. (If you get that joke, I salute you.)

There was an old graveyard in Granite that looked interesting, so I stopped in a snapped a few photos.

Interesting graves...they listed the cause of death on them. "Died at Birth", "Killed at Golden Monarch Mine", "Died By His Own Hand", "Murdered", "Burned To Death"...Granite doesn't strike me as being the most peaceful of places during its heyday.

Then it was on to Sumpter, where we stopped to check out the Sumpter Valley Dredge.

This thing was HUGE! It scooped up the dirt so people could mine it for gold, and it left huge piles of gravel in its wake.

Like these.

Pretty cool stuff, though.

After stopping for lunch, we proceeded on to John Day so Dad could talk a bit of business with a customer there. Nice folks, they were. On our way out of town, we stopped by the Shoe Tree.

Shoes in the tree, hence the name.

We stopped in McEwen, a stop on the Sumpter Valley Railway.

I wanted to see the trains there.

Interesting little area.

Then we headed back into Baker, where I switched driving duties with Dad (who had been driving all day), and we headed home.

It was a fun trip. I got to spend all day with my folks and get to know the area that I claim to be my home a little better.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 5: Huckleberries

The day after the barbecue, it came time for people to take off for their various hometowns.

Uncle Ray and Aunt Kay left early in the morning to take Grandma Nelson back to Idaho Falls.

Grandma sure is a funny lady. We all love her, though.

After that, it was just the Shake clan and us. They all had to head back to Boise, but before that, we headed up into the hills, near the Eagle Cap Wilderness, to pick some huckleberries.

Bud, our new dog, came along with us, so while everybody else picked huckleberries, I took Bud for a walk.

There was a cool little river I found up walking around. Bud was pretty happy when we found it.

So after hiking around for a while, we turned around and headed back to where everybody was picking.

Here's my cousin Melanie's daughter Maya with her bucket of huckleberries. I think this picture is the ultimate definition of "adorable".

We bid the Shake clan a fond farewell and headed up to take a look at the Eagle Cap Wilderness trailhead. After hiking around a bit, we headed back home.

On the way there, I stopped and snapped some photos of the water line that brings water into Cove and La Grande. It's good water. Ask my Dad. He'll tell you how good it is. He may even bring you a jug full of it, if you're nice.

One more stop before we went home: an old church in Cove that has some cool stained glass windows.

It was a cool little place.

Then it was back home and downstairs to grab a beer and cool off. Now all I need to do is wait for Mom to make some of her huckleberry-raspberry jam from those berries. Oh yeah.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 4: The Party

Sunday, and the big event of the day at the Kidd Family Household...
...was a big ol' barbecue.
People from Dad's office, neighbors, and a whole yardful of relatives. Aunts, uncles, cousins, little babies, coworkers...there were a heckuvalot of people there. On the menu were burgers, hot dogs, chorizos, Mom's spinach dip, Mom's clam dip, pickled asparagus, fruit salad, huckleberry cheesecake...

Basically, the folks pulled out all the stops.

It was a very cool "Welcome Back, Dustin" party.

Grandma Nelson was there.

As was the Czar. Unfortunately, as he had school and Megan had work the next day, they had to boogie out of there around 3 PM. It was damn good to hang out with him again, and we started making plans for him to come down to San Diego and visit.

Andrea and Mark came up that morning with their dog Blue and hung out for a while, but they had to get back home that night to get ready for that rafting trip.

And although he showed up a bit late for the main festivities, Dave made it down from the Tri-Cities too.

Damn good to see him as well.

So all told, I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen for too long, ate a lot of food that I hadn't eaten for too long, and relaxed for the first time in too damn long.

Good times.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 3: Relatives Arrive

Mom and Dad contacted pretty much everybody we knew and invited them to come to the Kidd Family Ranch for a barbecue party on Sunday. The first arrivals were Czar and Megan, but more people started showing up today.

Uncle Ray and Aunt Kay brought Grandma Nelson up from Idaho Falls.
Uncle Steve, Aunt Barbara, my cousin Melanie and her three munchkins came up from Boise.

Things started to get interesting around the house.

As it was ungodly hot outside, Czar, Megan, and I spent most of the day indoors, although we made a quick trip into town to rent a couple videos.

"Sky High", which was a fairly typical Disney flick, but it had The Bruce in it. Oh, and Kurt Russell.


"Doom", which was a fairly typical video game adaptation, but it had The Rock in it, and the BFG. Heh.

All in all, a relaxed, laid-back day. Good times at home in Cove.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Cove Chronicles - Day 2: Back To Cove

Ever been mistaken for the UPS delivery man?

Neither had I, until today.

I woke up at a normal time, around 6:30 AM, which was a surprise, because the first day after I get back from Japan, I usually wake up around 3 AM, or some other ungodly hour. Not today. That massage really did the trick!

Andrea and Mark were going to be taking off for a week-long river rafting trip down the Salmon River, and Dad had some business stuff to attend to, so we were planning on getting out of there fairly early. Before I left, I figured I should swing by my Aunt Bonnie's house and say hello, as she lives just down the street from Andrea.

The last time I was home, I looked something like this.

Now I was buzzed and sporting a trim beard around my mouth only. I was also wearing a green shirt and some brown shorts. When I rang the doorbell and nobody answered, I turned around to head back to my sister's place. As I was leaving, Aunt Bonnie opened the door and peered out at me, as if she had no idea who I was. (At this point I was still unaware that I looked nothing like I had fifteen months prior.) So I said, "Mornin', Aunt Bonnie!" A look of recognition finally crossed her face. "Dustin? Wow, at first I thought you were the UPS guy."

And didn't all of my relatives find that to be oh so hilarious later on.

After talking with Aunt Bonnie for a bit, I headed back to And's and hopped in the car. After a brief stop in Meridian to get some Krispy Kremes (mmm, doughhhhnuttttss, aragaragagagahhhh), we hit the highway and headed for home.

Beautiful, scenic, rustic, out-of-the-way, tiny, population 600, Cove. Or as I call it, home.

One problem: Cove was about forty degrees hotter than Muroran had been. I'm used to hot weather. Heck, I grew up in Pasco. But this was just ridiculous.

So I just hung out indoors and waited for a phone call.

Around 3 PM, that call came.


Aah, yes. The one, the only, The Czar. He and his girlfriend Megan made the trip down from the greater Seattle area to come and visit little old me.

And as soon as he got to my house, you needed to break out the hip waders. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the BS was flying fast and furious.

Czar and Megan hooked me up with some goodies. A hula girl for my dashboard, a seat cover and steering wheel cover to accent that Hawaiian flavor, a Walk The Line DVD, a t-shirt that I couldn't wear at home, and Girl Scout cookies, including two boxes of Thin Mints. The Girl Scouts over in Japan are total slackers. I've never seen a box of Girl Scout cookies over there, ever. Anyway, I was a happy man.

We talked for a while, then decided to head into town for some dinner and a movie. Dinner was at New York Richie's. Philly Cheesesteaks in all their glory. Damn good. Then off to the center of entertainment for La Grande, Oregon...(cue fanfare)...the movie theater! Where a movie will last a whole TWO WEEKS if you're lucky. We went to see "Superman Returns", a "must-see" as put to me by Czar. Not much of a surprise there. He is a HUGE Superman fan. But hey, it was directed by Bryan Singer AND had Kevin Spacey in it. Plus, it was SUPERMAN! You can't go wrong with Superman!

Impressive flick. Beautifully shot, and Spacey's Lex Luthor was a good villain. Neat twist to the story too. I thought James Marsden was great, too. He never really got to be much more than a stick-in-the-mud as Cyclops in the X-Men movies, so it was good to see that he could do more than stand around and look angry at Hugh Jackman having a much cooler character. (If you want to see a good James Marsden film, check out "Interstate 60".)

After the film, we cruised back home, blew up the inflatable mattress for Czar and Megan, and after a bit more catching up on stuff, called it a day.