Let there be light…

The dark days are gone from the once dimly lit and vaguely foreboding Suisun City waterfront.

The fabled city-by-the-slough now has a lighthouse, an amenity that Suisun City founder Capt. Josiah Wing could only dream about 150 years ago as he helplessly watched lumbering sorghum barges go off course in the darkness and repeatedly slam into waterfront thirst emporiums and mercantile establishments.

(Hence the former nickname of the downtown channel – “Pinball Slough.”)

Today, thanks to a farsighted city council and several soggy citizens who got tired of walking out of Suisun saloons and waking up in San Pablo, a 52-foot beacon now sweeps the treacherous shore.

Think about it, not even San Jose has its own lighthouse. Ditto for Fresno and Barstow …

Ah, how well I remember peering into the darkness from my old Cedar Street apartment as wind and rain whipped the narrow channel and storm-tossed whaling ships were battered to kindling on the rocks before they could safely tie up at the old Sheldon Oil docks.

Every time a marshland maelstrom would roar across the channel in the dark of night, we’d have to put down our drinks, don our slickers and rush to the shore to save a pitifully few survivors, groping frantically in the dark only to find that we’d actually rescued an ill-tempered sturgeon or, perhaps, a wayward city councilman on a waterlogged jet ski.

(Whaddya mean “That’s ridiculous!”? I was there, amigo, and I can tell you it was hell on earth…)

What we would have given for a towering lighthouse when a really big storm – known by old timers as a Soosooon Typhooon – left us at the mercy of the dark and the wind-whipped waters.The lighthouse also is likely to take big bite out of crime along the once notorious waterfront.

I’d venture to say that Suisun City will have considerably fewer pirate problems now that the powerful beam of its new lighthouse is sweeping the channel.

In the old days, when darkness fell on the waterfront like a curtain, all we’d hear of a lightning-like pirate raid would be a few “Arrrr, mateys…” and then the pitiful screams of our women being carried off to San Pablo.

A few wags may opine that the aforementioned womenfolk were actually cheering the pirates on, but in all that darkness, who could tell?

At any rate, you can bet Suisun City Police Chief Ron Forsythe will be spending a lot less of his time knee-deep in the slough holding off waves of blood-thirsty buccaneers with his trusty Walther and rusty cutlass.

Yes, Suisun City’s new lighthouse is what we in the world of municipal boosterism cheerfully refer to as a win-win situation.

Who knows? Maybe even the whaling ships will be docking there again soon, and it just doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

Originally published July 9, 2006

Activities: Don’t ya just love ’em?

Summertime fun just keeps on coming – whether you want it to or not.

Welcome to California 2000, the state where each and every incorporated municipality is required by law to celebrate roughly 70 festivals annually or be forcibly uprooted and dumped in Iowa.


For newcomers to California, the state’s official motto is “Wheeee!”

Whether it’s Suisun City gleefully celebrating the fact that it has water along its waterfront or Castroville paying festive homage to the action-packed artichoke, this is the any-excuse-for-a-festival state.

Unfortunately, California’s endless cavalcade of zany festivals can only do so much before they all begin to seem the same. Eventually, the thrill of face painting, deep-fried zucchini dogs and creaking Tilt-a-Whirls begins to wear thin.

After the 25th face painting, you and the kids are probably looking for some quality time in the nearest shower stall or automated car wash…

(“Daaaaaaad! It won’t come off! It wooooon’t! I’m gonna have Barrrrney on my forehead forrrrever!”)

Festival promoters used to try luring patrons with promises of “Face painting and much, much more!”

Of course, these clever festival fellows never said what “Much, much more!” actually meant and many of us interpreted that to mean “Much, much more face painting!” or, worse, “Much, much more zucchini!”

This year, resourceful promoters changed their tactics by avoiding a lot of detail and simply offering “Activities!” to potential funseekers.

An increasing number of festival promotions, including the painstakingly written press releases we receive here at the newspaper, are trumpeting “kids’ activities” or “fun activities” or good ol’ “family activities” without explaining exactly what any of them might be.

This has got to mean trouble.

“Activity” leaves a lot open to interpretation and, let’s face it, the average beer-fueled California festival fanatic will usually interpret things to the absolute max.

“Yabba-dabba-dooooo!” was not a term coined by Fred Flintstone. Experts (including the bartender at the old Leaky Tiki Tavern in Lake County) believe it was first uttered in the late 1950s by a funloving group of rural zanies who were trying to water ski across Clear Lake on barrel staves. That was their “activity” and they were damned proud of it. It is unknown if any of them survived past 1960.

In Santa Clara County, activity-oriented teens used to climb up on a steep bluff overlooking the sleepy little village of Saratoga and dispose of their least favorite record albums by randomly hurling the discs into the darkness at about 3 o’clock in the morning.

This quickly prompted other “activities” among the townsfolk: turning on lots of lights, cursing in several languages and removing the shattered remnants of “Bobby Rydell’s Greatest Hits” from their rooftops.

I have it on good authority that there’s also a select group of trapshooters near Bodega Bay who delight in an “activity” that involves launching overripe crabs high into the air and then trying to blast them with shotguns.

Yes, here in the Golden State, one man’s chaos may very well be another’s “activity.”

Heads up, amigos – shotgunned shellfish are nothing to trifle with, no matter how festive you’re feeling…

Originally published August 27, 2000


Remember to put the pasta in your chocolate milk

Although the newspaper stripped me of my food editor status and took away my ceremonial wooden spoon several years ago, I’ve continued to walk point for gallant gourmands everywhere.

This is still the column to come to if you’re not a sissy and you’re looking for recipes you won’t find anywhere else. I’m sure you all remember Funky Suisun Saturday Morning and the Damned Car Won’t Start Pasta or, perhaps, the exotic allure of Sweet and Sour Bagel Dogs.

Yes, there are a lot of strange things out there and some of them can be safely eaten most of the time – providing you know the phases of the moon and are familiar with the metric system.

Last week, however, even I had to stop and take a deep breath when a colleague approached me with a slender volume of unique recipes that would challenge even the most adventurous of Solano County’s gourmet chefs.

Not only were the recipes daringly different, they were written by, er, 4-year-olds …

Welcome to Vacaville’s Presbyterian Enrichment Preschool Culinary Academy where the only rule is joyous innovation combined with ingredients that are alternately smashed, dropped, flipped and dumped.

The following recipes were part of a closely guarded Mother’s Day package created at the preschool for pint-sized chefs, but I managed to smuggle a few out for your delectation.

Remember, creativity counts and cooking times may vary – a lot …

Jesse’s Mac and Cheese

First we get the cheese and dump it in the pot. Put cheese in it. Then we cook it on the oven for 28 hours. Then we start eating it. Put something different on my plate.

Robert’s Pizza

You buy it from the store and you cook it like 10 hours I think. When the timer rings it’s done. Then you eat it.

Tate’s Chocolate Milk

Pour chocolate milk in a bowl. Put the pasta in the bowl. And then break the strawberries and put them in the bowl. We stir it up and eat it with chop sticks.

Christina’s Eggs and Bacon

Put the fire on and put the stove on. Then we put the bacon on and cook for 10 hours. Put four eggs in a pan and scramble them with salt and pepper. Put the sausage on the stove and let it cook 5 hours. That’s it and you eat them.

Katherine’s Cookies

You put brown in a bowl and water and mix it up. You put it with milk. Put eggs in, too. With apples. Bake in oven for 1 minute. And then you eat them.

Katie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Smash dough on the table, cook it in the oven for seven minutes. It’s done when the oven beeps. Than I take it out. Eat it.

Joseph’s Pancakes

You use a pan. First you stir it. Cook it on the thing. You burn pancakes. You flip it over one time. Then when they’re done it’s breakfast time. You let them cool off. Then you can eat them. You wipe the butter off with your fork. You cut them with a knife and a fork. You eat it. We have syrup on our plate.

Bon appetit!

Originally published May 28, 2000