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Blood Brothers (and Sisters)

In 1994, after my mom's dear friend was diagnosed with leukemia, feeling helpless, I donated my first pint of blood, at Irwin Memorial Blood Center in San Francisco, so at least someone could benefit from mine.  As you've realized by now, YouHambo is an e-commerce site that's geared toward promoting--in fact, urging--traveling for purposes of making the most of our journey.  Now, just days before donating my 99th pint of blood--after having given over 12 gallons, enough to fill the gas tank of a car--I'm realizing that my prior donations have been given to between 100 - 300 people, which enables them to continue on their journey.

 

Whether the continuation of the recipients' journey is another day on this earth, the ability to finally go home, or the last step in a treatment that will allow them to check off another box on their bucket list, it's a life-affirming realization that something so quick, easy and virtually painless as donating a pint of blood can help so many in critical ways.  And with the widespread crisis shortage of available blood, less than an hour of one's time can save up to three lives.  That's a lot of journeys to help others fulfill.

 

Scared of needles (a common response that I hear when I try to recruit people to join me in donating)?  Nobody likes needles or the prospect of having to get poked with one, but for the past 20+ years, what has worked for me is as simple as (a) not looking when the needle is inserted, and (b) thinking about who might be on the receiving end of that day's donation, and helping share in the discomfort of his or her current health circumstance.

The benefits that come from donating are tremendous, both for the donor and the recipient(s).  Give it a try . . . I'm certain that you'll agree.

http://www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood
 

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Houston, We Have No Problem

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Houston, We Have No Problem

Sometimes the confluence of events creates a circumstance that provides an invaluable opportunity to travel.  That happened to me on a recent weekend.

I have been on a mission to get to all of the stadiums in Major League Baseball, and I had been to 29 thus far in my 42+ years (though 8 of those stadiums had either been replaced [e.g., the Metrodome in Minneapolis] or lost their team [e.g., Olympic Stadium in Montreal]).  After discovering that my lovely bride was going to be taking our two kids to San Diego for a week with friends, it occurred to me that I should take a look at which as-yet-unvisited stadium was home at that time.  And the Houston Astros were going to be home hosting their new in-state rival (following the Astros' recent move from the NL Central to the AL West), the Texas Rangers.  I was going.  Alone.  Just me, my love of the game and the excitement of discovering a new city, a new park, a new fan base and a 3-hour kids' game that has come to take on a mystical level of importance in that it allows me to unburden my mind of the countless stresses that I seem to struggle with on an ongoing basis, and enjoy the simplicity and beauty of the sport.

On my way to LAX late Saturday night, in advance of a 1am flight to Houston, I questioned the wisdom of my plans (as well as how a brief 3-hour, late-night flight constitutes a red eye), but I had bought the airfare and the game ticket.

After arriving at IAH at 6:30am on Sunday, finding 2 more hours of sleep on the floor of an unused airport gate, catching an Uber ride to the park (with the warmest driver from Sudan) and spending 2 more hours killing time doing work at a Subway restaurant table
—the park didn't open until 11:30am, after all—I made my way to Minute Maid Park.

In the center of what can kindly be referred to as a socio-economically challenged area, the park was a structure of beauty that was simply awe inspiring.  So much attention was paid to the exterior of the place—from statues to memorials to commemorative family-gathering areas—that I couldn't wait to see what was inside.

If you haven't been to Houston in July, it is a steamy metropolis, so Minute Maid's retractable roof being closed for the game was a gift to all of us fans.  97 outside, 70 inside.

Attending an out-of-state baseball game alone was an experience that in many ways revived my belief in the kindness of strangers.  I initiated conversations with many people, from the concession stand employee, to the woman who was standing nearby while I was charging my phone, to the 37-years-married couple I sat next to who had driven 6 hours to the game that morning from Louisiana, all of whom could not have been more engaging and friendly.  Starting a conversation with, "I just flew in from Los Angeles for this game . . . what do you like best about this park?" routinely made people question whether I was serious, but after that, they couldn't have been more lovely with their contributions to the conversations.

It is my personal tradition to buy a baseball cap of the home team and to be a fan for that game.  Watching a game through the lens of the locals gives me a deeper sense of what it is to be a local, and the baseball cap is that token takeaway that inevitably carries countless memories of the game and the adventure.

I couldn't have felt more welcome or at home, or excited about the game.  From the exhibits honoring retired greats to the in-door train, there are so many attention-grabbing features of Minute Maid, and that doesn't even touch on the home team, which is suddenly revitalized after years of underachievement and obscurity.  An ideal set of circumstances for this 10-years-old-at-heart, bleary-eyed baseball fanatic who's in town for 12+ hours.

Batter up . . .

 

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California Dreamin'

As you all know, we have focused during our first year on trips far afield.  But I thought this Thursday's blog would be about a simple pleasure close to home:  Will Rogers Beach.

 

Santa Monica Bay isn't Hanalei or Montego, but the beach is wide, the weather ususally great, and the sunset views over Mailbu are terrific.  Our favorite place to set down is Will Rogers Beach, roughly oppposite the Pacific Palisades.  We like to head there on Sunday afternoons, after the heat breaks (if it's summertime) and with a couple of hours lead time before the sun sets.  Our favorite access is at Temescal Canyon.  By mid- to late afternoon, there's tons of parking available, although the family joke is that it seems the parking fees they charge are different every time.

 

Pack yourself a picnic.  We love grabbing a baguette, some fruit, some interesting and chips, and sometimes some hot food, of some sort.  We haven't been disappointed with the various munchies we grabbed from the hot bar at Whole Foods.  [There's a small, convenient Whole Foods on the corner of Wilshire and 5th Street.]  City (or maybe California state) regulations prohibit alcohol on th beach, I am sure.  But . . . a nice bottle of Italian red wine, poured surreptitiously in a beach bag is no trouble.  Or, when it's hot, a cold bottle of vinho verde is perfect.  To the unititiated, vinho verde is a light white wine from Portugal that has the lightest hint of carbonation.  It quenches your thirst, but won't leave you nodding off before the big event. 

 

Bring a bag of sports equipment, too.  We have a big canvas bag permanently packed with a football, some baseballs, baseball gloves, and a soccer ball (the perpetual breeze makes a frisbee more frustrating than fun).   The beach is wide and super soft here.  No bruises as the kids dive for very throw -- imagining they're some sports great they have seen on SportsCenter.

 

And when everyone is full, and a little tired, and the adults are modestly lubricated, watch the sun set behind the mountains on the Malibu coast.  With any luck the day will be a little cloudy, and the sun really puts on a show as it slides behind the mountains and peeks between the clouds.  It gets beautful and quiet, and the big, crowded, traffic-y city seems very far away. 

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