Column: Charles Phoenix shows slides from near and far

I attend a slide show by (Ontario native, LA resident) Charles Phoenix in Brea, present a few bon mots from the late sportswriter Jim Murray, quote a letter from a peripatetic reader that supports the idea of a borderless Inland Empire column, and offer some bittersweet news from Upland, all in my Friday column.

Incidentally, this is the first of three columns penned before the vacation I’m now enjoying; they’re composed of items either written in recent days/weeks and unused, or in items spun from recent reader emails, or in a few cases, like the Charles Phoenix item, of bits that would not have been written had I not needed copy for these columns. (I was just there for fun but did take a photo, and jotted down one bon mot for possible use; writing a long item as I did was not in my plans.)

I’ll be curious to hear the reaction to these columns: Does it seem like I’m reaching or scraping the bottom of the barrel, or are these three low-key columns as enjoyable, or (horrors) more so, than the ones in which I’m out interviewing folks and trying harder? There is no wrong answer.

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Column: Former developer embraces role at City Hall

Phil Burum (and if that last name rings a bell, he’s Jeff’s brother) left housing development to work for Fontana City Hall as deputy city manager in charge of planning and building. That’s an unusual transition, from the private to the public sector. I sit down with him to hear about his background, why he made this leap and what’s envisioned for the city of 220,000. That’s the subject of my Wednesday column.

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Column: His Riverside meet and greet is (mostly) sweet

The Local History Book Fair last Sunday in Riverside was fun, mildly lucrative from a book-selling standpoint and gratifying, in that after 15 months in the P-E, all during a global pandemic (perhaps you’ve heard of it?), I finally got to meet some random readers. And they were appreciative, albeit with one exception. I write about that and, while I’m on the subject, do something I’ve meant to do for a while, which is to take a few paragraphs to reflect on the expansion of my territory the past couple of years and explain again the how and why of it, as a refresher, a clearer explanation or new information. That’s in my Sunday column.

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Column: 3 IE links to the Spanish flu pandemic

Coronavirus’ death toll in the U.S. recently exceeded the previous worst pandemic, the 1918-19 Spanish flu. Although arguably, the flu was worse given the lower population at the time and the number of young people it struck down. I share the stories of three living people whose families were affected by the flu pandemic in my Wednesday column.

You might be interested to know that this column has been gestating since, gulp, April 2020, when one of these stories was brought to my attention. The other two came along in the months that followed, most recently in July. The death toll reported two weeks ago is what led me to revive this, because suddenly there was a news hook. As with those commercials for Paul Masson wine, I will write no column before its time…

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Reading Log: September 2021

Books acquired: “Always Running,” Luis Rodriguez; “Girlz ‘n the Hood,” Mary Hill-Wagner

Books read: “The Turquoise Lament (Travis McGee #15),” John D. MacDonald; “Surviving in a Ruthless World: Bob Dylan’s Voyage to ‘Infidels,'” Terry Gans; “The Swords of Mars (John Carter #8),” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “Kidnapped,” Robert Louis Stevenson; “Girlz ‘n the Hood,” Mary Hill-Wagner; “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians,” Mark Twain

Here we are in fall. Where did the year go? Although as with 2020, in some respects 2021 can’t pass quickly enough — unless we have reading goals to meet.

I made it through six books in September, four of them fiction — one of them an undisputed classic that you may well have read.

“Turquoise” (1973): More even-keeled (pardon the boat joke) than #14, which was all over the place. Also, at one point (pp. 184-5) MacDonald via McGee prompts his audience to write the real-life board of directors of a Borden phosphate and fertilizer plant in Florida demanding they stop poisoning the air, and good for him. I wonder how many letters they got?

“Surviving” (2020): Well-intentioned amateur scholarship regarding the 1982 Dylan album “Infidels,” from the songwriting to the recording sessions, including songs scratched, sometimes bewilderingly, from the final album. For the committed, the chapters on the evolution of the long-unreleased songs “Blind Willie McTell” and “Foot of Pride” are of interest, but otherwise, this trawl through the BD Archives for material on the “Infidels” period is basically an assemblage of notes and facts. And it really needed an editor.

“Swords” (1935): John Carter finally gets to star again in his own series for the first time since Book 3, and the series is the better for it. In fact this might be the most enjoyable entry since Book 3. But I miss his four-armed green buddy Tars Tarkas.

“Kidnapped” (1886): The Jacobite vs. Whig dynamic is hard to parse without a grounding in Scotland history. But the friendship between David Balfour and Alan Breck is easier to understand, and the writing is often vivid and insightful. More complex than “Treasure Island,” but admittedly less fun. I own the book but borrowed an audio version; the narrator had a Scottish accent, adding an aurally authentic element.

“Girlz ‘n the Hood” (2021): Subtitled “A Memoir of Mama in South Central Los Angeles,” this tells the author’s story of growing up with a single mother among 10 siblings during the 1970s and ’80s in varying levels of poverty. Comic stories abound, and some shocking or head-shaking ones too. (Actually, there’s some overlap.) The author lives in Montclair and I read this one before interviewing her for a column. Not bad.

“Huck and Tom” (1989): Twain got 50 pages into a (shocking, anti-Indian) sequel to “Finn” meant to strip away myths about the Old West that he abandoned after realizing he’d painted himself into a corner. An attempt at a light “Finn” sequel, a mystery, was pages from the likely end before Twain dropped it too. A few slight Hannibal pieces round out this collection. Interesting, but, organized as it is around two unfinished novels, hardly satisfying.

I’d rate all these at 3 stars out of 5, except the Dylan book at 2 stars. There wasn’t a clear winner, in other words, although “Kidnapped” and “Swords” were my favorites.

Acquisition of these books ranged in time over 17 years: “Girlz” and “Surviving” came into my hands this year, the first from the author, the second a birthday gift from a friend; “Turquoise” was bought at Goleta’s Paperback Alley in 2019; “Swords” was bought at St. Louis’ Book House in 2011; and the other two were bought at Berkeley’s Moe’s Books in separate visits, “Kidnapped” in 2009 and “Huck” in 2004.

I’m pleased to have knocked them all off my unread list and to have both continued the Mars series and resumed the McGee series. And I read six books, a pace I hope to maintain for the next three months. That would put me at an even 70 books for the year. Goals!

How was your September, readers? Also, have any of you read “Kidnapped” — I have to think one or two of you have — and if so, what did you think, if you remember?

Next month: The return of Tarzan.


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Column: She hung out backstage with Joplin at the Swing

Another Janis Joplin in San Bernardino anecdote has come in, and I like it: A starstruck teen got to hang with her backstage at Swing Auditorium before a 1969 concert. Also, a former Daily Bulletin mainstay has died, a service club for women has an anniversary, a Norco teacher won on “Wheel of Fortune” and four Inland Empire sites make a recommended travel list. All this is in Sunday’s column.

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Column: Montclair writer spins tales about 1970s Compton

Mary Hill-Wagner of Montclair has published a memoir titled “Girlz ‘n the Hood,” which is about her childhood in South L.A. among 10 siblings and the mother who fiercely supported them. It’s kind of wild, sometimes sad, sometimes raucously funny. I read her book and then we had a good conversation about it and her mother for my Wednesday column.

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Meet me in Riverside Oct. 3

The authors listed in the flyer above are slated to sell and sign their local history books from 2 to 4 p.m. this coming Sunday in Riverside, and through the wonders of alphabetization, you’ll find my own name at the top. Will this prove a selling point or a turnoff for Riverside County readers? We’ll see.

Anyway, if you’re reading this and want to meet me, and it’s not too distant a drive for you, hope to see you. And maybe even sell you a book, although that’s hardly a requirement. Plenty of other books for sale too, courtesy of the 19 other authors.

Personally I’m looking forward to face-to-face contact with a couple of authors to whom I’ve spoken by phone, seeing a few familiar faces among the authors and meeting some Riverside-area readers.

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