Phil's Ramblings and Musings

(as of 27 April 2024)

A key ingredient of this story is missing: the beginning. From 1996, when I started these musings, I started with 1964, when I graduated from high school. But now, in 2022, I have been gathering my recollections through simple memories, plus the words of my mother in her postcards and in my baby book, and even telegrams from my father to my mother when he was still in the U.S. Army in California, and mom was in Madison, Wisconsin.

That was in March 1945. Mom and dad were living in Davis, California. V.E. Day, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and V.J. Day all happened, then mom took the train from Davis to Chicago (California Zephyr?), then to Madison (Chicago and NW "400"?) in November, and I was born in Madison General Hospital in December.

1945 through September 1964 coming soon...

I matriculated at the University of Wisconsin in 1964, with a declared major of chemical engineering. Before the fall semester was complete, I realized that was not a good fit for me. Spring semester 1965 found me taking Geology 101 with Doc Loudon, and my search for a future path was over. I spent the summer of 1965 as the field assistant to Lloyd Furer, who was doing field studies of the "Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous sediments of the Thrust Belt of Western Wyoming and Eastern Idaho." We left Madison on June 18th and returned in early August.

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Here's my Notebook of that summer of total immersion (revised 5/23/22):
notebook_PTF_Wyoming-1965-r7 ( PDF, new window)


And here are the haiku entries, day by day. for those 46 days: 1965to2021-haiku-only (PDF, new window)

I was hooked. There was no way I could be happy in a city, especially east of the Mississippi River. So, in February 1967 I left Wisconsin to pursue a career as a Nuclear Weapons Technician (a clean bomb is a happy bomb!) under the tutelage of Uncle Sam's Air Force.

After being stationed in Texas, Colorado, Delaware and British Columbia (my "overseas" assignment), I got sent to Grand Forks, North Dakota. I liked No. Dak. so much, I stayed there for another two years after I got out of the Air Force to finish my Bachelors' Degree.

In the Air Force, I truly treated that time as an adventure. I didn't get assigned to duty off the North American continent, but I drove my 1967 Plymouth Barracuda more than 150,000 miles between September 1967 and August 1973. In addition to driving all over the continent, I tried something I heard about from some of the more adventurous of my fellow airmen, "Space-A" - in other words flying on military cargo planes from one base to another. In July of 1968, I took the plunge. I signed out on leave after midnight from my fighter squadron at Dover AFB in Delaware and drove 111 miles to McGuire AFB, New Jersey, and walked into the passenger terminal. I told the person behind the counter that I wanted to go to Hawaii to visit my sister. He told me that I could be on my way to Travis AFB in California at 0900 hours aboard an empty C-141 cargo plane. He told me to be ready at 0700, about four hours later. And I was off "into the wild blue yonder." I have an expanded description of this adventure on a separate page here:

Waikiki Moon
Space-A 1968

While I was stationed in British Columbia, I learned to ski. By my third winter on Vancouver Island, I was invited to join the volunteer ski patrol at Forbidden Plateau Ski Area, sixteen miles from my home. I began teaching myself to ski in December 1969, just before my 24th birthday. Simple physics. Newton's Laws. Keep my center of mass vertically above the ski edges. Loaner skis (wood) and boots (leather lace-ups). This skis had been in the crawl space under a friend's home next to tidal water. The skis snapped like rotten twigs on my first run down the hill, which was an attention-getter...

Since I had paid a whole four dollars for a daily lift ticket, I went to the ski rental booth. After they got though laughing at my ancient leather boots, they fixed me up with newer boots and modern skis, and I was off. I taught myself via watching other people to see what worked for them and what didn't. By the end of the day, I was graduating from the "outhouse crouch" (snowplow turns) to something a little short of a stem Christie (my interpretation, anyway). After leaving the ski hill, I stopped at the Sport Shop in downtown Courtenay and bought new skis and boots, so I'd be able to ski the next day.

That first ski season proved to be the lightest snow year they had seen for a long time, But I was just a 70-mile drive, two-hour ferry ride and 63 mile drive from a new up and coming ski area on the B.C. Mainland called Whistler, where year-round skiing was possible. I went on leave to Colorado in April of 1970 for more skiing and a bonus of the first Earth Day festivities in Denver City Park. I skied at Loveland Basin and on the other side of Loveland Pass at Arapaho Basin, which was awesome! On the way to and from Colorado, I stopped off at several other ski areas.

By the end of my third season of skiing, I had tried out the slopes in B.C., Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, and even a couple in my home state of Wisconsin.

My last big ski trip, just before I transferred 'stateside' to North Dakota, was a jaunt in February and March to Wisconsin and back by way of as many ski areas as possible. The return leg took me to Jackson Hole ski area in Wyoming. I recently found two postcards I had sent to my Mom from Jackson and Idaho. The first one was sent at the end of my day of skiing Jackson Hole, and the second was on a day I had planned to ski at Grand Targhee, on the west side of the Tetons. Mother Nature had other plans, as she often does.
Rendesvous BowlJackson Hole Tram

Here's my 1972 "Avalanche Story" (PDF, new window)

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I graduated from The University of North Dakota with a Geology Degree in 1975. I spent six years in grad school at the University of Calgary and Montana State University with zilch to show for it, but that's another story.

In 1979, both of my grandparents had just died, my mother died of cancer, and finally, on my birthday, my GI Bill and my wife ran out on me. I decided to drop off the face of the earth and/or join the circus. I quit my geological career, for what turned out to be the next 20-plus years.

My REAL education began when I quit being a geologist, and obtained a position as a night auditor at the Holiday Inn of Bozeman, Montana. My first night on duty there I chatted with Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome and all-around philosopher.

And then thing got really surreal, as I served G. Gordon Liddy, Timothy Leary, Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, etc., etc. etc. I met all sorts of creatures of the night.

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But what does this all have to do with education, and how did I wind up in Sunny Southern California, you ask?

I thought I had been around a bit, but when I started working the 'graveyard' shift behind the front desk, I saw and experienced things I never would have believed if I had seen them on "reality" TV.

Two years at the H.I. of Bozeman was enough, I thought, so I moved about a tankful of gas to the northwest along Interstate 90, to Spokane. Spokane was, among other things, a mining town: a center for exploration for uranium, precious metals (silver and gold) and base metals (lead, zinc, copper, etc.). I thought I might resume my geology career. But timing is everything, and I arrived in Spokane the day after the Bunker Hill Mine, the area's biggest, closed down.

A job dropped into my lap as a night auditor at the local Holiday Inn, which I had to snap up, since I wasn't as robust as I am now, and couldn't go more than a week or two without eating.

Spokane was an Air Force town, with Fairchild AFB on the outskirts. The B-52's and KC-135's flying overhead made me somewhat nostalgic for the "good old days" when I was in the Air Force, and things were predictable. Yes, they were predictably screwed up, but they were a known quantity. I found out that there was an Air National Guard unit that had free flights to Hawaii once a month, so I signed up.

It turned out I had signed up to be a Tech Controller, so I got a six months' all-expenses-paid vacation in beautiful Biloxi, Mississippi, where I lived in an apartment on the beach and went to school for six hours a day, studying electronics and communications protocols.

After returning from Air Force Tech School, the Holiday Inn wanted me to go back to my old job as Night Auditor, but I was ready for a change. I wanted to put my newfound communications skills to work, so I took a chances as a salesman for a small two-way radio shop in Spokane.

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Here was my chance to learn about the business world, up on the high wire without a net. I taught myself the vagaries of FCC rules, selling goods and services (business band FM two-way radios, pagers, mobile phones, and repeater service) to businesses of all sizes. I sold these gadgets to farmers, firemen, policemen, military and even sold a mobile phone to a local pimp (installed into a canary-yellow Cadillac El Dorado). My territory was Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, and Western Montana.

As I got things going at the sales job, the commissions began to trickle in. But after about six months, my Guard unit called me with the opportunity to go on a military "exercise" in southern Spain for what was supposed to be three weeks. I jumped at the chance to see the world, considering that my only "overseas" duty in the Air Force had been Canada. Well, after getting my shots and my orders, I found that the stay in Spain would be six weeks, not three. Lied to by Uncle Sam. Again. Go fig...

Rota, Spain is a fun place, and I got to take side trips to Sevilla, Malaga, Jerez, and even Tangier, Morocco. But six weeks is a long time to be gone from a job, especially one that pays only on commission. I got back from my Guard "bumming" to find that the business was in upheaval, kind of like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Activity apparently got back to normal after awhile, but finally the business died, and I had gotten myself way deep in debt with no means of support. I had to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, where you pay off your debts a dollar a week for the rest of your life (or so it seemed at the time!). I had to chalk it up as one of life's little lessons.

The Holiday Inn was under new ownership, and they asked me to do a reprise stint as Night Auditor. I was in no position to refuse. During the days, I photographed little leaguers and even did a few weddings and one high school reunion. All these things together helped me get my finances back in order, enough to save up for a one-way bus ticket out of town.

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While in Anchorage, Alaska for a military exercise (in January of 1985), I met a fellow guardsman who owned a mortgage brokerage company in the Tacoma area. He convinced me that I was the sort of person who could be successful as a mortgage loan officer, and I agreed to give it try. So after returning from Anchorage and a second stay in Biloxi for a six-week tech school, followed by a four-week junket to the Philippines, I moved 300 miles west to the rainy side of Washington.

The mortgage brokerage turned out to be every bit as flaky as the communications business, and I saw the danger signs on the horizon. So one Sunday I opened the Sunday paper, and there was the ad with my name on it:

NIGHT AUDITOR

STOUFFER MADISON HOTEL

Another year of graveyard shift, but this time I was away from the public, like Quasimodo, in the accounting department, keeping the mini-mainframe computer running all night while pumping out all sorts of reports. Here began my introduction in earnest to the wonderful world of computing. I bought a Tandy 102 and signed up for CompuServe, which I accessed via my built-in 300-Baud modem.

One of my fellow 'weekend warriors' in the Air National Guard took pity on me and my constant tiredness from working all night as a night auditor, and hired me as a manufacturing engineer at the 'Lazy B' as some wags call that great manufacturer of airplanes in Seattle. He was specifically interested in my USAF experience as a nuclear weapons specialist. It turned out I had been drafted to work on the Stealth Bomber, Ronald Reagan's great WPA project.

Boeing was a wonderful place to learn new "stuff." I got shuffled all over the Puget Sound region: Auburn Fabrication Facility, Kent Space Center, Renton, Plant II, the "Windmill Shop", Metro and the Developmental Center. I also had a temporary assignment in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in August of 1987, to train the local guys in the ways of Boeing. For a time, I was moonlighting within Boeing, working my eight hours at the Black Box, then running up to the other end of Boeing Field to help with the flight test certification of the 747-400 by doing wiring diagrams in CATIA.

While I was in the Seattle area, I took lots of training in computer stuff, both on-hour and off-hour. I took CADAM, CATIA, advanced BASIC, C/C++, Artificial Intelligence using Lisp and Prolog, among others. I even took a class called "Airline Marketing". It was basically preparing salesmen to sell 100+ million dollar toys (what would the commission checks look like?). Fascinating, as Spock said.

stealth divider

Finally, in January of 1989, I was sent to Palmdale, California for final assembly and first flight of the recently-rolled-out B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber. Do you remember that news photo of the three aircraft on the assembly line? My desk was about 50 feet off to your left of the wingtip of the closest one. I got to crawl around inside the aft weapons bay, counting brackets, and inside the fuel tanks for who-knows-why, as you can probably imagine, since it was basically a military operation. Oh, yes, and the reason I was hired, it turned out, was to help develop the rotary launcher and bomb racks, but I only got involved with that a little, since the big push was to get at least one of them flying. And that we did, in July 1989.

But once First Flight occurred, everything was anti-climactic: paperwork, ass-covering, "configuration management". Since I was a regular Boeing employee surrounded by "job-shoppers" making at least three times as much as I, it looked attractive to me to try my hand at the contract employment world, working without a net. So I quit my employment with Boeing in August 1989. I took a couple months to see all the National Parks and Monuments in Southern California, and to take in a shuttle landing at Edwards AFB, only 30 miles from my apartment in Lancaster. I distributed resumes to every contract employment agency in the Antelope Valley and Los Angeles and Orange counties. By Thanksgiving I was doubting my wisdom, and by Christmas I was doubting my sanity, having left the comfort of Boeing for the uncertainty of unemployment. I had a few job interviews, at Edwards AFB and in Glendale and Paramount, "down below", as they say in the high desert, but nobody was hiring between Halloween and New Year's Day.

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At last, in January of 1990, a job testing CAD-CAM software sort of fell into my lap, so I moved "down the hill" into the San Fernando Valley.

The six-month contract as a software test engineer lasted 2 and 1/2 years, through several layoffs of permanent employees. But I persisted until I got a card from a recruiter for a nearly-identical job in San Diego - with a raise, no less. So another move was in order, and this time turned out to be the last "Adventure In Moving" experience so far.

In July of 1993 I met a person I thought was "the one" and married her and moved into her family home which we bought from her father. She left the marriage in 2000, but let me keep the house. Very curious...

In San Diego, I was employed at various software jobs, the last of which ended in June of 2002, leaving me free to return to geology full-time, as I have done.

Return to Geology!

I got recruited to be an officer for the San Diego Association of Geologists beginning in January of 2003. It was a four-year commitment, and I was the treasurer for two years, then vice president, then president. As vice president in October 2005, I was responsible for organizing the annual fall field trip - quite an undertaking! It was especially daunting because I had taken on a "part-time" teaching load of seven (7) community-college geology and oceanography classes.

I had finished my master's thesis at SDSU in August of 2004, a mere forty years after beginning my college career. In January 2005, the teaching pieces began to fall into place - I started a part-time gig with Southwestern College in Chula Vista. It began with a lab, then a lecture got added after the start of the semester. A four-week intensive "Earth and Space Science" class was added to my menu during the summer of 2005. Fall saw Grossmont College added to my load: one each geology and oceanography lecture, in addition to five (!) classes at Southwestern. I now deserved the title of "freeway flier" - 20 miles from my house to Grossmont, 20 miles from Grossmont to SWC, and 20 miles back home.

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By the spring of 2009, things had settled down to a dull roar, splitting my time between Southwestern and MiraCosta Colleges. But by summer, it all began to unravel: no summer school assignment for the first time since I resumed teaching in 2005, and Chewy (14-1/2 year old dog) died. Being unemployed during that summer put me into a hole that took me awhile to climb out of.

August 2010: watershed moment - Valentine (cat) died by my side, in her sleep. Time for positive changes. The house I had been living in for seventeen (17!) years went onto the anemic local real-estate market.

Reality check: credit cards were maxed out, couldn't afford the house payments after several re-fi's and I didn't need a 2000-square-foot mortgage prison. I was longing for the "good old days" when I could (almost!) carry everything I needed into my '67 Barracuda as I wandered about North America.

Packing my parachute: storage locker, check; post office box, check; convert home phone number to cell, check; sell and/or give away furniture, dishes, brick-a-brack, check! Amvets loved me...

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Update, 22 June 2012:

After 20 months and 15 days, the sale of the house was completed. All of the remaining earthly belongings were removed from the premises by the 26th at 10:22 AM, and I relinquished the keys and garage door remote to the new owners. It was just a bit shy of nineteen years since I moved into the house "out in left field."

I now live in a 800 square foot apartment less than a mile from the old place. In August I'll be teaching five classes at three local community colleges: MiraCosta, Miramar and Mesa. Life for me seems stable for now...

Update 2016:

I finished my twelfth school year of teaching geology at San Diego County community colleges, Memorial Day, 2016. I thought it was time to call it a day.

I have been receiving Air Force retirement pay and benefits since my 60th birthday, and my full social security since the summer of 2011. My first CalSTRS retirement payment was received July first.

I had to stay away from the teaching game for six months after retirement, which I did... But, I'm back!

I'm now restricted as to how much I can teach in a CalSTRS-covered situation - no more than $45K in California CC earnings in a year (no problem!).

Beginning 3 January 2017, I taught a 4-week "Intercession" online geology course at Miramar College, followed by two more courses when the regular Spring Semester started on the 30th: one was for only 8 weeks, the other was/is a traditional 16-week offering. I had two back-to-back 4-week classes in summer school, which ended on the 27th of July. And then...

ULTIMATE Road Trip (almost)!

Just after the beginning of the fall semester, I drove 2,824 miles north from San Diego to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, for an Association of Earth Sciences (AESE) meeting. The planning for the trip began in early 2017, with the scope of the trip expanding and contracting on at least a weekly basis.

The first iteration was fairly simple: San Diego to Yellowknife via Spokane, Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, back to San Diego via a different route. Total of about 7,000 miles.

Take Two: I would re-visit a few places, such as two of my favorite glaciers: Wenkchemna (at Moraine Lake in Banff N.P.) and Athabaska (Jasper N.P.), both in Alberta. But most of the trip would be Terra Incognita to me, places I should have visited when I lived in Canada from 1969 to 1972, places like Prince Rupert, Whitehorse, Skagway, Dawson City and all way up to Inuvik via the Dempster Highway.

What actually happened: Western U.S. and Canada wild fires were horrendous, covering the continent with smoke as far east as Minnesota. I did not leave San Diego until August 27th and drove straight up to Yellowknife, covering almost 3,000 miles in six days. No B.C. coast, no Skagway, no Yukon or Dempster Highway... The smoke began to appear in Central Utah and became awful through Idaho, Montana and Alberta to the Pease River Region.

But once I got north of the smoke (far northern Alberta), the arrival in Yellowknife was wonderful. Wood Buffalo all over the road, and not many humans! Northern Lights! REALLY old rocks! Congenial hosts at the NWT Geological Survey!

After eleven days in Yellowknife, I continued south and east in Canada, cutting south of the 49th parallel into North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin to visit friends and family. After a few days in Madison and Milwaukee, I drove up through Upper Michigan to Sudbury, Ontario. I enjoyed a day checking out the 'Big Nickel' and the world's second(?) largest impact structure. After visiting a friend in Angus, Ontario, it was on through Ottawa, Montreal, and New Brunswick, all the way to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. In Summerside, P.E.I. I realized that I was merely going through the motions of the journey, and it was no longer fun. I would not be heading across the water from Sydney, N.S. to Newfoundland.

From P.E.I., I headed west through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and across Lake Champlain to New York State. I wanted to visit Niagara County, where my father was from and where we used to visit when I was a child. Niagara Falls, NY was to be the location for our 2018 AESE annual meeting, so I wanted to check it out.

From western New York, it was a somewhat straight path south to North Carolina and Georgia, and back to San Diego on October 15th. The stats: 12,401 miles, 29 states, seven provinces and one Canadian territory, 49 days on the road.

NWT Trip Map

From 15 October 2017 to mid-September 2018 I didn't drive outside the San Diego city limits. I was tired, to say the least.

But in September 2018, I was the Vice President and 'Technical Program Chair' for the AESE Annual Meeting in Niagara Falls. Time for another less-ambitious road trip, only 5,800 miles round-trip. A week in Niagara County, reliving the summer of 1955 - my father had just died, and I was shuffled off to Buffalo (by way of Detroit and Akron). 'Nuff said.

March 2019 - Just completed an experiment in transportation: Amtrak from San Diego to Wisconsin. This coming September's AESE meeting will be in Regina, Saskatchewan. ViaRAIL doesn't serve Regina, so perhaps Amtrak Empire Builder to Minot, ND, then rental car to Saskatchewan? (Short answer: No.)

9 October 2019 (Heather's birthday)
Teaching is done, probably forever. Trip to Regina was completed by car after all... Now focused on reading and writing poetry and prose. Ready for a new start in a new location. No backward steps...
Further, onward!

But wait - there's more!!!
About a month after I posted the comments above, I was offered an 8-week class in the spring semester of 2020, which I accepted.


January through May 2020: Last Gasp and New Beginnings

For this one brief class, I had to reinvent the course from the way I had it set up since about 2008. The cause of this upheaval was my first encounter with Canvas, the replacement for Blackboard.

I had been using Zoom since 2017, when I began using it for real-time face-to-face office hours from anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. Now the whole world is familiar with this wonderful tool. But Canvas required a bit more 'tweaking' after I imported my most recent Blackboard shell into Canvas. Naturally, the students found some of the inconsistencies after the course went live on February 3rd. Murphy's Law, I guess...

The class was originally contracted for February 3 through March 28th, 2020. But COVID-19 happened. It shouldn't have mattered to me at all, as I had been in virtual isolation since September 28, 2019, the day I returned from my trip to Regina, Saskatchewan. When Governor Newsome declared the state in a state of quarantine I was already hunkered down, but now dealing with panicky students. I had 48 students of varied backgrounds and ages ranging from 17 to 40+, some now unemployed from multiple jobs, some living at home with their parents and grandparents.

Fellow faculty members were in full crisis mode, converting their traditional classes to "DE" (distance education). I gave out a lot of advice to students and faculty alike. Everything was in flux, as the administration worked to close the doors of the physical campus, leaving old retired adjunct professors like me to calm down the confused, almost terrified students. But we got 'er done - on May 3rd I submitted the grades to the admissions office. NO F's or Incompletes, all 48 students earned C or better. A great way to close things out after all these years!

For the rest of 2020, I was holed up in my small apartment in 'Tunaville', collecting unemployment of varying amounts, depending on the whims of the politicians in Washington, D.C. and seriously making the transition from geo-teaching to philosophizing. I became reluctant to go out for food and beverage. I gained weight at first, until I got a reading of 249.7 pounds sometime in May (I think), which got my attention. Within a few months, I was down to 222.0, and in February 2021 I was down to 203! The new school year began without me, so I am resigned to being really and truly out to pasture.


2021: Adjusting to the new "normal"...

Realization of my persona: the stage was set for me before I entered Kindergarten in 1951. I was a solitary person, comfortable in my own skin. From the time I was born, and I moved with my parents to Chicago and then Waupaca's Beasley Lake, I had virtually no interaction with children. I was free to wander about in nature from the age of two and a half to five and a half, which I found to be acceptable. Huh! I'll be darned! More epiphanies to come.


Unemployment, State and Federal, ended on September 11, 2021. The money I have saved over the last year and a half is going to be a nice buffer for a rainy day. My two pensions and Social Security will have to sustain me from now on.

2022-23: Making my own new "normal"...

By April 2022, I realized it was time for me to move on. I considered places I hadn't lived before, like Nebraska, Iowa and even Oklahoma, but decided that I really liked a place I had lived before, Denver. Actually 20-some miles from where I had been stationed during 1967, when the Air Force taught me to be a Nuclear Weapons Specialist.


So on May first 2022, I signed a lease on a 2-bedroom condo in the town of Erie, Colorado, an old coal-mining town just east of Boulder, with a view of the Flatirons from my dining room window. In the short time I have been living here, I have been getting all sorts of medical things taken care of: new knees, eyes (cataract surgery), plus vaccinations (flu, RSV, COVID), and wellness checks. Hooray for TriCare and Medicare!

That's All, Folks!

Stay tuned...

Last modified 27 April 2024
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