Category Archives: USA

Florida 2012: Coastal Dune Lakes


Right behind some of the stunning beaches of Florida’s Walton County are some small lakes called “coastal dune lakes.”  Apparently, this type of lake –- created by natural coastal sand dunes that act as dams to hold back freshwater streams – exists in only a handful of places in the world.  They have partial and intermittent connections to the Gulf, so they’re a mix of salt and fresh water.  Surrounding the Florida lakes (and covering thousands of square miles of the panhandle) are tall, spindly “tropical” pine trees (slash and longleaf pines).  Around the lakeshore and in just the right light, they somehow look like a taller, watery version of the African acacia trees on the Serengeti.

Last week, I found myself wandering around some of these lakes a couple of mornings in the twilight before a 5:45a.m. sunrise (I’m great fun to vacation with!).  Yes, my feet did get wet.  I kept wishing for a boat or fisherman or animal of some sort (or even one of my still-sleeping nieces) to provide a real focal point for these pictures, but alas I had to make do with the striking views of the lakes, trees and morning sky.


Hooray for Hollywood!?!


On my flight to LA recently, I was reading a book which, coincidentally, mentioned some research about living in California. It’s a great book, by the way: Thinking Fast & Slow. I swear it will make you wiser, happier, and richer. The author is a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics. I know he’s wise, and I’ll bet he’s also happy and rich.

According to the “California” research, most Americans believe they would be happier if they lived in California.  But the same research found that there is no perceptible difference (on average) between the happiness of Californians and that of other Americans – California’s climatic advantages get lots of attention, but they are not important determinants of actual happiness for most people.  The lessons?  (a) People often forecast poorly the extent to which something will actually make them happy (or unhappy); and (b) “Nothing in life is as important (in terms of making you happy or unhappy) as you think it will be when you are specifically thinking about it.”  The lesson also applies to new cars, lost loves, having kids, amputations, and the outcomes of presidential elections or sports championships.


My friends Roger and Kathy Willard may be an exception to that California study.  They were not at all convinced they’d be happier in Tinseltown when “work” took them there four years ago, but they seem to be thriving.  Roger and Kathy were both friends of mine at Arthur Andersen when I worked there (in OKC) in the 1980s, both were in my wedding in 1992, and then the two of them got married and moved to Houston and lived 2 blocks from me for about 8 years.  They are two of the most hard-working, smart, sensible people I know.  If I had a big business to manage and you told me I had to pick a married couple to run it, they’re my hands-down pick.

Roger was my “boss”, mentor and hero when I was a new CPA in Oklahoma (in a prior life/millenium); he became a partner at Andersen before its post-Enron demise.  Nowadays he travels the earth doing acquisitions for a global engineering firm, then enjoys that sunny SoCal weather by golfing on the weekends year-round.  Kathy’s job is the reason they moved to L.A.  She’s the CFO of LiveNation (they own Ticketmaster and the House of Blues, for example, and run concert tours for people like Madonna, the Eagles and U2).   One dubious claim to fame is that when Charlie Sheen drank “tiger blood” and waved a machete at the paparazzi, he was standing on Kathy’s private office balcony.  A much-more-impressive claim to fame is that Billboard Magazine lists her at #3 in its Women In Music list of the most powerful women in the industry.  Another magazine listed her as one of three global “CFOs to Watch” in 2012.  That’s pretty damn impressive!

Roger and Kathy were nice enough to host me in their home for a few days while I was in LA.  (I threatened to become their own private Kato Kaelin).  Roger took me to Venice Beach one evening – that’s where I took a lot of these pictures (including the not-so-glamorous “sleeping bag” picture).  That’s Roger in the white top and sunglasses (and with Catwoman.  That’s NOT him in the red shorts).  That’s Kathy in front of the Beverly Hills sign.  Did I forget to mention that she’s also a hottie?  I followed her to work one morning and made her pose for me in front of that sign, which is about two blocks from her office (the Hollywood sign on the hillside would have been more fitting, but it wasn’t on her path to work.).


Full-Scale Retreat (Santa Barbara 2012)

I have been with the same law firm – Gibbs & Bruns, LLP — my entire career.  A big tradition of the firm is its annual “retreat,” in which all the lawyers and their spouses/dates go somewhere cool for 3-4 days and just hang out and have fun.  No work; no meetings.  Needless to say:  it’s great for morale.  In 19 years I never missed one.   I was honored that, despite my current mostly-retired “Of Counsel” affiliation these days, I got to join the crowd in Santa Barbara for this year’s retreat.  As always, it was a great experience with friends and colleagues set against the backdrop of a fun destination.  A huge thanks to my now-former partners for still letting me come along!

Apparently, the recent departure of the Firm’s big-tightwad former Managing Partner (yours truly) resulted in an upgrade of the retreat budget.  The Biltmore in Santa Barbara is a paragon of California-style swankiness.  There was a croquet court outside my room, for example, and the hotel’s “beach club” had an Olympic-sized pool.  That Bentley convertible (see picture above) got parked right up front, but the valet parkers (clad in matching argyle sweaters) would put “mere” Mercedes or BMWs discretely behind the hedges.  There’s a part of me that’s never quite comfortable in such places, and another part that finds them hilarious.  Beautiful place,though.

I spent most of my time hanging out with the crowd rather than roaming the area with my camera.  The pictures above are just around the grounds of the resort.  (Maybe I can get hired on as their full-time live-in resort photographer.  They actually have one, and he’s 85 years old.  Not a bad gig.)  A few of the pictures below are on a hike in the hills above town, or at lunch near the marina.  The couple re-enacting the Corona commercial below are Scott and Stacy Humphries.


There’s one still-pending lawsuit for which I have responsibility.  It’s been “on hold” for over two years pending a judge’s ruling.  Coincidentally, that ruling (a good one for us ) came down while we were on the retreat.  Looks like the case will be reactivated for a trial in Arizona some time in the next year or so, so I may have to dust off a couple of my favorite suits and re-enter the ranks of the grown-up real world for a few months.   Yikes!

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!


I’m proud to say that my first-ever vote for any elected official was for Ronald Reagan in 1984.  I was 19.

I’ve been in the L.A. area the last few days, and went by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.  I didn’t really know what to expect.  There were lots of happy reminders of the economic turnaround that coincided with the Reagan years, and lots of sobering reminders of the Cold War era that was the fortunately-distant backdrop of my childhood.   Among the interesting stuff was  the 1980s version of Air Force One hanging from the rafters in a very-large room of the museum.

For me, though, far and away the coolest thing in this massive jillion-dollar facility was a set of small notecards obscurely encased on the back side of one of the museum kiosks.  They were the typed notes (with handwritten markings) for Reagan’s June 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate.  That’s the speech he gave with his back to the Berlin Wall (in front of bullet-proof glass because East German snipers were routinely stationed up on the wall).   The one where he famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  Gorbachev was the one guy on the planet who could push a button and blow every city in America to smithereens, so you’ve got to acknowledge the nerve it took for Reagan to repeatedly call the Russians out as the “Evil Empire” and “the focus of evil” in our time, then stand there a few feet from the wall and taunt Gorbachev into giving up control of eastern Europe.

For anyone reading this that’s too young to remember, the Wall was not a typical border fence built to keep outsiders out — it was built by the communists to keep their own people from escaping to freedom in the West.

I spent five minutes trying to get a good pictures of those modest little note cards.  Of course the wall actually was torn down a couple of years later, so there’s an oddly-decorated (i.e., the original German graffiti with pink butterflies) segment of the Berlin Wall on the museum grounds as well.


Mardis Gras 2012

It’s Fat Tuesday, and you’ll be relieved to know that I have been successfully evacuated from New Orleans.

Mardis Gras festivities center around parades – usually 3 or 4 parades each day – each of which is put on by a New Orleans area “krewe.”  Krewes are like fraternities for grown-ups (using the latter term loosely).  A little like the Shriners, except that their primary mission is just to throw one great big bash (including a parade) each year.  If this sounds like an odd or shallow mission, bear in mind that the Mardis Gras celebration is arguably the single most important part of the culture and the economy of New Orleans.  Don’t get me wrong:  Mardis Gras is not for the faint of heart.  You’ll see some things you were not expecting to see, and a few things you’d rather not see.  But once you learn to navigate the terrain, you’re part of a unique American and the Southern tradition.


The picture just above is my friend Shane.  Shane is a member of a krewe called Bacchus, which means Shane dons a mask and a goofy costume and rides a parade float, throwing beads.  The Bacchus parade is not quite on the scale of the Rose Parade, but it’s closer than you might think. Each year, he invites 30 or 40 or 50 of his closest friends (mostly couples — a fully-coed and mostly-civilized crowd) to join him in New Orleans.  This was my eighth consecutive year.  Shane always brings a truckload (literally) of those enormous, gaudy, ridiculous strings of beads, so that we can all walk around town handing them out all weekend.  (The stereotype that Mardis Gras beads all go to young ladies who, uh, ‘flash’ for them is 99% incorrect.  The beads go to little kids who come out to see parades, to groups of grandmas in town for the weekend – to pretty much anybody who’ll smile and chat for a bit.)  Shane loves to come across total strangers walking around town with ‘his’ beads on.

Several of the parades have a big gala or “ball” at the end of the parade.  The Bacchus krewe’s ball is a black-tie, long-gown event with about 10,000 guests.  As someone observed this year, it’s like a gigantic tailgate party in tuxedos. The highlight of the ball itself is that the parade actually comes right through the middle of the party – with beads flying everywhere.  The guy in the King costume in the pictures below is Will Ferrell, the comedian; he was the Mardis Gras King of Bacchus.

The Bacchus event is always the Sunday before Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday).  Fat Tuesday, of course, is the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  Ash Wednesday is forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter.  Easter is the first Sunday after the night of first full moon after the first day of Spring (which is usually, but not always, Passover).  So I love it when people ask “When is Bacchus this year?” because I can tell them “It’s the Sunday before the Tuesday that’s just before the Wednesday that’s 40 days (not counting Sundays) before the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring – at about 7:30p.m.

The street scenes in the pictures are mostly Bourbon Street.  The park with the horse statue is Jackson Square (named for then-General and later-President Andrew Jackson, a hero of the Battle of New Orleans). During the parades, I enjoyed taking pictures of the band kids more than anything — so much so that I’m giving those pictures a page of their own.  Obviously, the trumpeter shown in the daylight shot above is no kid – he’s a “pro,” if you can use that term for someone who hangs out in a park and plays the theme from Rocky when somebody throws a dollar in his trumpet case.  Only in New Orleans do the majority of trumpet players pooch their cheeks out like that.