"There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." - President Ronald Reagan.

Buy The Amazon Kindle Store Ebook Edition

Buy The Amazon Kindle Store Ebook Edition
Get the ebook edition here! (Click image.)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Rolling Back The Years: Part Deux

I got a better (slightly) photo of my, uh, "new look."

First, is a photo from the front page of the Los Angeles Daily News from July 2001:

Next, is a recent shot (from March):

And today:

May Sale On "The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan"

Right, Yuu Asakura.

Summertime is approaching, and that means VACATION time!

Starting May 1 through May 31, The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan will be available from me at 20% off the $15.00 cover price. Saving you $3.00!

So, orders postmarked from May 1 through May 31 are only $12.00 plus $2.00 shipping & handling per copy.

Go to the "About The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" link at the top of this page for ordering information. The above sale price supercedes the listed price on the page from May 1-31.

Now's the time to take advantage of this offer!

Walpurgis Night

From Wikipedia:

The festival is named after Saint Walpurga, born in Wessex in 710. She was a niece of Saint Boniface and, according to legend, a daughter of the Saxon prince St. Richard. Together with her brothers she travelled to Franconia, Germany, where she became a nun and lived in the convent of Heidenheim, which was founded by her brother Willibald. Walpurga died on 25 February 779. She is therefore listed in the Roman Martyrology under 25 February. Her relics were transferred on 1 May, and that day carries her name in, for example, the Finnish and Swedish calendar.

Historically the Walpurgisnacht is derived from Pagan spring customs. In the Norse tradition, Walpurgisnacht is considered the "Enclosure of the Fallen". It commemorates the time when Odin died to retrieve the knowledge of the runes, and the night is said to be a time of weakness between the living and the dead. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then. This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day. Due to Walpurga's holy day falling on the same day, her name became associated with the celebrations. Early Christianity had a policy of 'Christianising' pagan festivals so it is no accident that St. Walpurga's day was set to May 1st. Walpurga was honored in the same way that Vikings had celebrated spring and as they spread throughout Europe, the two dates became mixed together and created the Walpurgis Night celebration.

In the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi, a Transylvanian villager states that the night Renfield is heading to Castle Dracula is Walpurgis Night.

Speaking of Lugosi, the "Night on Bald Mountain" portion of 1940's Fantasia takes place on Walpurgis Night (not Halloween, as mistakenly thought). Lugosi performed the body movements for the Disney animators as the demon.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Godzilla Locations Interview

Above, the Wako Department store in Ginza in 2001.

I just completed an email interview with Craig Norris of the University of Tasmania (Australia) on the subject of Godzilla locations.

As you may recall, Mr. Norris and a colleague ordered copies of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan to assist them on their Godzilla research while in Japan this month.

Here is one of the questions, and answer, from the interview:

1. Is there a hierarchy of Godzilla locations? Eg: if you only had two or three locations you could visit what would they be and why?

I don't know if there's a "hierarchy" of Godzilla locations, but there are some that could be considered "iconic" locations. The first I would say would be The Wako Department store in Ginza, Tokyo. That's the building with the clock tower that gets demolished when it gonged the hour in Godzilla's presence. The second one I'd consider "iconic" would be the Kachidoki Bridge on the Sumida River that gets toppled over. Both were from the 1954 movie. The third one would be a toss-up between Osaka Castle in "Godzilla Raids Again" (1955) or the Atami Castle in "King Kong vs. Godzilla" (1962). Those four would be the top of my "must-see" list. I've visited each and think those are most important as they are a mixture of modern Japan and traditional Japan.

Above, the Kachidoki Bridge at the Sumida River in 2005.

I could have also added the National Diet Building, but I thought the Wako Dept. Store building and Kachidoki Bridge left a bigger impression, at least with me.

It will be interesting to see the finished results of their research.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rolling Back The Years...

Went to Supercuts today and was talked into coloring my hair and mustache. I think the mustache is too dark. When I looked into the mirror, I thought I saw Saddam Hussein's ghost. At least the girl said, "We've rolled back your age from 45 to 40!" That sounded great!

Maybe I'll have my "significant other" take a picture of my "new look" to replace the cell phone one above. She noticed that I looked different but couldn't quite figure out why. I told her I got a haircut. But even then she knew something else was different.

The stylist/cutter at Supercuts said, "Your girlfriend will like it!" I replied, "Either that or she'll ask, "What the hell did you do now?!""

Thankfully, she liked it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Meeting The Boss, Etc.

As many who have known me know, I've been working for almost a year and a half for an independent adjuster from out of San Bernardino, California (around 70 miles from L.A.). Funny thing is, although we talk on the phone all the time, we've never met face-to-face.

That is, until noon today. She will be in the area on business and we decided to take the opportunity to meet. We're to meet up at the local Coffee Bean.

I'll post an update after the meeting.

One can usually tell how busy I am by the number of blog posts I put up. This one will be the first in several days. Thankfully, I have been busy with insurance work that has kept me on the road. I also have a "parachute" job of patrolling in Malibu. The independent adjusting business can be very sporatic. One can be overloaded with work or it can slow down to a trickle. It was pretty much dead (as far as I was concerned) from about October of last year until March.

Last night was interesting. One of the residents at a gated community I patrol decided to throw a big party. The residence is not large and there were several hundred college-age and teens showing up. Cars were all over the place. Noting that there was freely-flowing beer there and things were getting out of hand (plus complaints by neighbors), we had to call in the sheriff (the L.A. County Sheriff handles law enforcement in Malibu under contract). Two words will definitely get the cops out: "Underage drinking." They soon got there and busted up the party.

It was interesting to see what the girls who showed up were wearing. The vast majority of them favored black dresses with hemlines just barely below the crotch. Is this the latest fad or something?

One other thing has kept me busy. A gal I met last July popped back up. We had lost touch for a few months and she no longer has the phone number that I programmed into my phone. Well, we're now an item. There's a few things that need to be worked out. I'm taking it slow. This has also kept me busy. With the year beginning in such a crappy way, this has been a most welcome development.

Lately, things have been going good. The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan is doing good, there's plenty of work and I've a new diversion. So I can't complain (it doesn't do any good anyway).

Anyway, I need to prepare breakfast and get ready to meet the boss.

UPDATE: Met the boss and the meeting went well. She is about my age and still an attractive lady. She plans on reducing her time on the road and wants to assign more work in my direction. The meeting couldn't have gone better!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" In Tokyo

As I had mentioned earlier this month, two university professors from Australia ordered copies of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan to assist them on their Godzilla research while in Japan.

One of them, Craig Norris, sent this photo of himself at the Godzilla statue in Hibiya, Tokyo:

This is the message Craig sent along with the photo:

Hi Armand,

Sorry for the delay - waiting for some nice weather over here. Please
find attached a photo of my Godzilla tourism in Tokyo. Please feel
free to use it on your website.


Craig Norris

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Busy Day...

Above, the payoff for a good day's work.

Yesterday (Saturday) was a busy day. It was of the good kind.

I spent most of it in the field handling new claim assignments that I received, starting in the morning. First, I had to make a cold-call on a claimant in Hollywood as we don't have his telephone number to get his statement on an accident. Unfortunately, he was not home.

Per procedure, I left our "cold-call letter" at his door. Maybe he'll give us a call. It doesn't matter to me, I get paid regardless.

Then, I had to go to El Monte to take statements from a couple who were involved in an accident in which the California Highway Patrol were unable to make a determination on who was at fault. The couple, of Chinese descent, made good witnesses on their own behalf. All we do is take their version and present it to the insurance company we work for and let them decide on liability. Also, I had to take photos of their vehicle damages. It is one of those claims where each side blames the other (each claims the other merged into their lane and hit their vehicle).

After this, I headed back to the San Fernando Valley. It was relatively smooth sailing until I got into The Valley and U.S. 101 was congested. I got off the freeway and took the surface streets home. The surface streets also had heavy traffic. It is getting worse and worse to drive in Los Angeles. It used to be that the weekends were easier to drive in instead of the work week days. Not anymore. I think the weekends are worse. It's a good thing I know a lot of shortcuts.

After unloading my equipment, I had to head over to the bank. One ditsy woman almost backed into me as I was walking to the bank from my car.

It is just plain and simple, there's too many people in Los Angeles.

I had about a couple of hours to kick back and relax before heading off to Malibu for my other job. Tomorrow begins my weekend. But I have to write up the summaries on the two statements and upload the photos and send them and the summaries to our main office in San Bernardino.

If a police report is ready tomorrow in the city of Vernon on another claim, then I will have to go there to pick it up. That's the life of a field adjuster.

It is good that business seems to be increasing. If I had plenty (and reliable) work coming in, I wouldn't have to need the "parachute" job of patrolling Malibu. At least there's nice scenery there.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Dark Shadows Festival

Above, Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins.

This year, The Dark Shadows Festival is presenting "Dark Shadows In The Sun" cast reunion and fan convention July 16-18 at the Burbank Airport Marriott.

The convention will feature Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, John Karlen, Marie Wallace, Jerry Lacy, Roger Davis, Kathleen Cody, Robert Rodan, Chris Pennock, Lisa Richards, Jim Storm, Robert Cobert, Sy Tomashoff and Michael Brockman as guests.

For details, go to www.darkshadowsfestival.com.

As many Rancho readers know, I was critical of the last Dark Shadows Festival that was held at the Burbank Marriott. Hopefully, the organizers took my criticisms constructively and will put on a good show this year.

Daryl F. Gates Dies At 83

Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates has died of bladder cancer at his home in Dana Point, California. He was 83.

Gates served as LAPD police chief from 1978 to 1992, following the L.A. Riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King acquittals.

Gates is credited for the creation of LAPD's S.W.A.T. unit.

Following his retirement, he had is own talk show on KFI-AM.

Liberals didn't like Gates much, but I thought he was a superb police chief.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Massive Fireball Video

King Ghidorah has arrived?

A massive fireball lit up the mid-west's night sky last night:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Old Towne Mall in Torrance

Above, a post card of Old Towne Mall featuring "Keystone Kop" Bruce Bishop.

Back in the early-1970s, indoor shopping malls were the rage. Many were built around the country. This allowed people to shop all year in air conditioned comfort. There was one mall that dared to be different: Old Towne Mall in Torrance, California. 

Old Towne Mall was opened in 1972 on Hawthorne Blvd. and sandwiched in-between 190th Street and Amie Avenue. The interior was designed to look like the turn-of-the-century (that is, around 1900) America. 

There were strolling banjo players, barbershop quartets, an "antique" merry-go-round and a security guard dressed in "Keystone Kop" garb, his name was Bruce Bishop. 

Above, yours truly working at Old Towne Mall in 1972.

At one end (north) of the mall was the food court where customers had a choice of a variety of cuisines including Chinese food, Galvan's Mexican food, Mama Paizano's (or was it Papa Paizano's?) Pizza and many others (I used to hang out with the pizza girls). In the center of the food court was a gazebo where musicians would entertain the diners.

The mall also had a section for artisans, I believe it was called "Artisan Alley." Here, artists using all kinds of mediums (from paintings to metal works) sold their artworks. 

I worked at Old Towne for about a year (1972-1973) in maintenance starting in the summer following my high school graduation. It was the year of the Nixon vs. McGovern presidential campaign and Bruce Bishop (a McGovern supporter) and I (a Nixon-backer) used to banter politics during our breaks.

Unfortunately, Old Towne Mall lasted only a few years as it was not anchored by any major department stores, even though there was a K-Mart store next door, to lure more spenders. 

It was a fun place to work and we had a good crew. One thing we liked to do, before our shift started, was to meet at the mall's donut shop for coffee and fresh-baked donuts. Those were the days!

Neil Armstrong Blasts Obama's Space Policies

Three former Apollo astronauts, including the first man to step foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, blasted President Barack Obama's space policies in a letter obtained by NBS News.

The letter reads:

The United States entered into the challenge of space exploration under President Eisenhower’s first term, however, it was the Soviet Union who excelled in those early years. Under the bold vision of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and with the overwhelming approval of the American people, we rapidly closed the gap in the final third of the 20th century, and became the world leader in space exploration.

When President Obama recently released his budget for NASA, he proposed a slight increase in total funding, substantial research and technology development, an extension of the International Space Station operation until 2020, long range planning for a new but undefined heavy lift rocket and significant funding for the development of commercial access to low earth orbit.

Although some of these proposals have merit, the accompanying decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating.

America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz (at a price of over 50 million dollars per seat with significant increases expected in the near future) until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves. The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.

It appears that we will have wasted our current ten plus billion dollar investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded.

For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President's plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.

Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.

Neil Armstrong

Commander, Apollo 11

James Lovell

Commander, Apollo 13

Eugene Cernan

Commander, Apollo 17

There's nothing in the letter that I disagree with. Obama is intent on making the United States a second-rate nation.

At Least Things Aren't Dull

This has been an interesting weekend and week (so far).

It all started Saturday afternoon. I was contemplating going to Monsterpalooza on that day, but I had other things to do. It turned out better than I expected as I was reunited with a gal I met last July. We lost contact over the past few months and she no longer has the phone number I had stored in my cell phone.

We had a great reunion and we ended up having lunch together yesterday and hung out most of the afternoon. We caught up on what's been going on in our lives during the past few months (we found we had much in common, painfully so).

Things got interesting at work towards my end of shift Saturday night. At ten o'clock at night, I have to lock up a mobile home community's clubhouse and pool areas. At midnight, I made my last patrol stop there and heard voices coming from the pool area, which includes a jacuzzi. I went over to the gate and found two college-age girls in the jacuzzi. I told them from the gate that the pool area is closed and they have to leave. They got out of the jacuzzi and one of them was minus her bikini top. Ah, Malibu!

I headed off for Monsterpalooza on Sunday and had a great time there. As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my main objective was to meet actor David Hedison. That mission was accomplished.

Sunday night was also interesting as a storm came in and dumped a lot of rain. I had to drive in torrential rain from work down the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu Canyon Road to get back into the San Fernando Valley.

Today has been a day of relaxation (and getting my laundry done). Amber stopped by for her mail and to sign her tax returns. I showed her the David Hedison-autographed book, The Fly At Fifty, and showed her the inveiling scene and the spider web (Help me!) scene from The Fly.

So far, I am enjoying the book. If you are a fan of the original 1958 The Fly movie, make sure you pick up the book by Diane Kachmar and David Goudsward. There's lots of great stuff in it, including the original short story by George Langelaan that was first published in Playboy.

It's back to work tomorrow. At least I'll be in Malibu.

UPDATE (4/14/10): Late this morning I received two claim assignments that took me down to downtown L.A. and the city of Vernon. At least they were close (by about 3-4 miles).

UPDATE (4/16/10): Received a new claim assignment and an expansion of one of the other two I received two days ago. Great to be kept busy!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meeting David Hedison

Above, Armand with David Hedison.

A year ago, I did an email interview with actor David Hedison for G-FAN magazine. I worked out the arrangement with author Diane Kachmar.

In the interview, I covered different movie genres that Hedison appeared in. Most notably, The Lost World, James Bond epics Live and Let Die and License To Kill, the television series Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea and, most importantly, The Fly.

Above, David Hedison as Capt. Lee Crane in "Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea."

Yesterday, I attended the second annual Monsterpalooza show. Besides seeing the show, I had one goal I wanted to accomplish: meeting David Hedison.

When I got to Hedison's table, he was gone. I found out later that he had gone to a neighboring hotel for what he thought would be a "five-minute interview" that turned out to be over an hour long. He was a little annoyed at the time it took and some of the questions that were asked of him. But he laughed it off.

I caught up with him in the foyer of the Marriott's Convention Center and introduced myself. We headed off to his table and chatted about the G-FAN interview. He asked if everyone liked it and I told him that I received a lot of compliments on it.

It is amazing that this white-haired and white-bearded gentleman was Andre Delambre, Lee Crane and Felix Leiter, each of which had jet-black hair. But the voice was unmistakable. That was definitely the voice of David Hedison! Although in his early 80s, his voice did not sound like a voice of an old man's. He had a steady stride and still had a lot of hustle in him!

At his table, I did pick up a copy of Kachmar's book The Fly At Fifty.

Above, "The Fly At Fifty."

Luckily for me, David Hedison had three copies of the book left. After he autographed the book, I asked him for the price. He said $40.00. After he said that, I hesitated a second because, minutes before, I donated a dollar for photographing a display in the room and it just dawned on me. That left me exactly $39.00 in cash in my pocket.

Above, the autograph.

He laughed and asked, "Were you surprised at $40.00?" I told him, "Oh no, I've been to a lot of conventions before. Would you take a check?" He said yes. (It would've been no problem anyway, as the convention center has an ATM machine.) I figured it would be around $40 anyway as the price on the book is $21.95 (that's an odd amount) and celebrities charge $10-20 for autographs. This reminds me, I should ask the bank for the original check (they just give print-outs of cleared checks these days) after it clears, so I can have two Hedison autographs.

After I handed him my check, he laughed, "Who do I contact if this bounces?" I reassured him that there's no chance of that (my mom left me with some money after she died in January plus The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan is doing well). After this, we posed for a photo in front of a life-size figure of him as The Fly.

Mission accomplished! I got to meet David Hedison.

To reach David Hedison's website, go here.

Monsterpalooza Also Had Sci-Fi

Monsterpalooza didn't just have horror exhibits on display. Science-fiction was also well-represented at the show.

Here's some examples:

Above, an excellent replica Robby the Robot from "Forbidden Planet."

Above, "The Man From Planet X."

Above, an alien from "Independence Day."

Above, "Return of the Fly" (1959).

Above, another shot of the classic monsters.

Monsterpalooza Highlights

Photos by Armand Vaquer

This year's Monsterpalooza in Burbank was loaded up to the Gill Man's gills of things to see.

Here's some examples:

Above, Elsa Lanchester as the "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935).

Above, Al (David) Hedison as "The Fly" (1958).

Above, Boris Karloff as Ardath Bey from "The Mummy" (1932) in the Museum.

Above, Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. The figure appears to be of Lugosi circa 1948 for "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."

Above, some heads.

More photos to come!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

100,000 Hits! Thanks, All!

100,000 Hits! Thanks, All!

Today marked the point where Armand's Rancho Del Cielo received over 100,000 hits (i.e., viewers) since I started it back in 2008 as a replacement for Armand's Corner of the Net.

I just want to thank all of you who've stopped by for a look. I hope you find this blog entertaining and informative.

Thanks, again!

Monsterpalooza 2010

Above, Frankenstein's monster greets visitors to Monsterpalooza.

The second annual Monsterpalooza show in Burbank appears to be as successful as last year's inaugural event.

Above, a vintage Godzilla toy on display.

No sooner than when I entered the show this morning at the Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention center I was approached by the show's producer, Eliot Brodsky. We chatted for a little while about me possibly doing a discussion presentation on Japan monster movie locations next year. He said that kaiju historian August Ragone had to cancel his appearance and presentation at this weekend's show.

Above, Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man in the Monsterpalooza Museum.

Like last year's show, Monsterpalooza had plenty of cool monster displays throughout the convention center. I was told by Godzilla model kit dealer John Tucky that Saturday's show "got pretty wild."

Above, William Schallert reunited with one of his co-stars.

It was great to see scream-queen actress Michelle Bauer and veteran actor William Schallert (The Man From Planet X, The Patty Duke Show). The highlight for me was meeting actor David Hedison (Live and Let Die, License To Kill, Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, The Fly). I interviewed Hedison last year for G-FAN magazine.

We talked for a while and I picked up a copy of The Fly At Fifty (that David autographed).

Above, David Hedison and I in front of a life-sized figure of him as "The Fly."

Above, not even death could keep Forrest J. Ackerman away from Monsterpalooza. Actually, this isn't Ackerman's skull, but it was animated and spoke with Ackerman's recorded voice.

As I was leaving the show, I noticed that the convention center was really beginning to fill up. If you haven't gone to a Monsterpalooza, do yourself a favor and go to next year's show.

More photos are here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Japan In October?

Above, the Bunkamura, the site of the 2001 Tokyo International Film Festival that I attended.

Planning to go to Japan usually begins with deciding on when to go. What is the best time of the year to go? How will the financial picture be at that time? Will there be any events or holidays in Japan to be mindful of? Etc.?

Right now, I've tentatively decided to go about the time of the 2010 Tokyo International Film Festival. It will be held from October 23 through October 31. The last TIFF I attended was back in 2001, during my first trip to Japan. At that festival, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack was the big draw.

This will also afford me the opportunity to gather more material for possible updated editions of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan.

Depending on screening schedules (and whether or not I can obtain tickets), I might do some quick trips to other areas of Japan.

The other consideration would be how much airfares will be at the time. Already I've checked out several discount airfare websites and the cheapest was $600, and that doesn't includes fees and taxes.

This'll probably be my last Japan trip on my current Passport. I'll have to renew it in 2011. But, I may squeeze in another trip before it expires.

It will be great to be back in Tokyo. I've gone past "withdrawls" since the last trip in 2007.

Odds & Sods

Above, Yuu Asakura. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Completed some necessary "housekeeping" on The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan this morning.

This includes filling more orders and, also, sending in the required materials to the U.S. Copyright Office. The last was something I should've done earlier, but hadn't gotten around to it.

On the upcoming (in 2012) Legendary Pictures Godzilla movie project, there's rumors swirling that a director has been named (he/she might've, but I've seen no official word) and that a title of the movie has been chosen (again, this might be true but nothing official has been announced). Two of the purported titles include Godzilla 2012 and Godzilla 3D. The latter seems to be floating as Godzilla vs. Hedorah director Yoshimitsu Banno is one of the producers behind this project.

We'll just have to wait until Legendary Pictures makes their own announcements concerning title and director.

Monsterpalooza is on this weekend starting today in Burbank. I haven't decided which day I will go as yet, but I am leaning towards Sunday. I was considering getting a table for The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan, but the new job I have has me working weekends, so I can't devote myself to a table fulltime. I am looking into next month's L.A. Comic Book and Sci-Fi Show at the Shrine Auditorium. That's only a one-day event.

Long Day

Yesterday was a long day as I had to go to Moreno Valley and Riverside for the funeral and burial of Denise Geriminsky. It is an eighty-mile trek each way. And after that, I had to go to work in the Malibu area.

The funeral and burial ceremony was well-attended. Mitch and Denise run an auto accessories store in Moreno Valley and involved in car clubs, particularly PT Cruiser car clubs.

There had to have been 50-75 PT Cruisers at the funeral. It made for an impressive funeral procession.

I elected to go ahead of them to Riverside National Cemetery so I could place flowers at my parents' grave. The new headstone had been placed on the grave. I had requested the inscription "Beloved Parents & Grandparents," but apparently the stone is not big enough to accommodate the wording.

This photo was taken by my cell phone:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New JNTO Logo

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has unveiled their new logo (above).

According to their Visit Japan Facebook site, the logo "implies that Japan is the destination with countless cultural and historic interests, encouraging travelers to see Japan as a destination for many visits."

JNTO is a valuable resource in making reservations, obtaining maps and brochures (free) and information on Japan's culture and celebrations.

I've made good use of their Los Angeles office for my visits to Japan.

No Clues Found In New Kopetsky Search

A search today of a wooded area near Kansas City failed to turn up any clues to the disappearance of Kara Kopetsky.

The Kansas City Star reported:

More than 220 officers with law enforcement agencies started an exhaustive examination of a 400-acre area just east of the former Richards-Gebaur airport, near East 155th Street and U.S. 71., about 9 a.m. today. It was over about 1 p.m.

The area has been searched before, “but never a shoulder-to-shoulder grid search,” said FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton.

Kopetsky was last seen at Belton High School on May 4, 2007 by the school's security cameras as she was heading for an exit. A month later, Kelsey Smith of Overland Park, Kansas was abducted from a Target store and found murdered days later near Grandview, Missouri. Her killer is now serving a life sentence.

It is unclear what sparked authorities' interest in the area that led to the search today.

To read the full Star article, go here.

Funeral Photo #1

My mom's services at Riverside National Cemetery in January was a sad occasion, to be sure. But, one couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day.

A few days before, we had a big storm front come through Southern California. This storm dumped plenty of snow on the San Gabriel Mountains. My mom would have enjoyed the view.

My cousin Julie sent me this photo taken that day with the mountains in the background (click on photo to see larger):

More photos will be posted as they come in.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan" Made It To Tokyo!

Above, Yuu Asakura. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Regular "Rancho readers" knew that I was fretting a bit over the recent shipment of The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan so that my pending orders could be filled, particularly those of two Australian university professors who are now in Japan doing some Godzilla research.

Well, I am pleased to report that they received the two copies yesterday in Tokyo and I received this message from one of them:

Hi Armand,

I just received the Guide yesterday. It's brilliant. I've been reading through it and planning the days ahead. Great work putting it together.

Thanks again for all your help in sending it to my collegue and I in Japan.


Dr Craig Norris
Journalism, Media and Communications
University of Tasmania
Hobart, Tasmania

It is a great relief that the copies made it to them on time and that they are pleased with it. It'll be interesting to see how their research goes and how the Guide helped.

As you can see from the above, the professors are from the island of Tasmania, which is a part of Australia. See map below.

Yakatabune Dining Boats

Parked near the bridge on the Sumida River at Asakusa, were these flat-bottom boats called yakatabune ("yakatabune" literally means "roof-shaped boat"). These boats are used for dinner party cruises in which people escape the heat of Tokyo summers on the Sumida River or Tokyo Bay while also dining.

Tokyoites have been doing this for centuries and food is served Japanese-style on floor-level tables on tatami mats. Today, many yakatabune boats now include karaoke and other entertainment.

This looks like fun and I wanted to give it a try during one of my Tokyo visits. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to it.

Transportation In Japan

Above, a Tohoku Shinkansen.

Text and Photos by Armand Vaquer

Going to a country like Japan allows a visitor to experience different modes of transportation.

I'm from Los Angeles, where mass transit is rather limited. I was only a few years old when the last streetcars in L.A. were removed from service. It has been only recently that L.A. opened a subway system and limited train service.

Tokyo, of course, has its elaborate train and subway system. One really doesn't need to own a car in Tokyo as there's a subway station within walking distance virtually anywhere. Tokyo has their bus lines and taxis (I've made good use of the Tokyo taxis). The nice thing about Tokyo's subways is that they are relatively inexpensive to use.

Above, Tokyo Station.

I was able to experience streetcar riding in 2007 when I visited Nagasaki in Kyushu. Riding Nagasaki streetcars was fun and different. It is too bad that the L.A. streetcars are gone (the last was removed from service in 1963). In a way, for me, it was traveling back in time. Nagasaki had old streetcars as well as newer models.

Above, a Nagasaki streetcar.

Of course, no visit to Japan would be complete without a ride on the famous bullet trains (or Shinkansens). If one is going to do a lot of bullet train travel, it would be wise for the traveler to purchase the JR Rail Pass to save a lot of money. (The Monster Movie Fan's Guide To Japan has the history of the bullet trains and detailed information on the JR Rail Pass).

Above, inside a bullet train car.

To date, I've ridden the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Atami, Tokyo to Sendai, Atami to Kyoto, Kyoto to Hiroshima and Tokyo to Fukuoka. The seats are a lot more comfortable than an airliner's. Plus, one gets to see the Japanese countryside along the way.

If one is a train buff, then riding Japan's rails would be an idea vacation destination.

One interesting trip was a flight G-TOUR took in 2004 from Osaka to Tokyo. One would think a short (about an hour) flight would be on a smaller commuter plane (such as Boeing 737), but this flight was on a big Boeing 747 from All Nippon Airways (ANA). It must be cost-effective as the plane had a full load of passengers.

Japan is also a land with many waterways, rivers and lakes. There are boats of all sizes and description in Japan. Since Japan is comprised of islands, large and small, boats and ships are a necessity. The one in the photo below was in Nagasaki.

Above, there are plenty of taxis in Tokyo. This shot in Asakusa contains four taxis.

As I mentioned, there are plenty of taxis in Tokyo as well as in other Japanese cities. There's no need to tip the cab driver when using a taxi in Japan. And, the drivers keep their taxi cars very clean. They even have doilies on the seats!

Whatever your transportation requirements are in Japan, there's a mode of transportation there to fill your needs.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jimi Hendrix - "Valleys of Neptune"

Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune

Jimi Hendrix has been dead for nearly forty years (the 40th anniversary will be this coming September 18), but more previously-unreleased recordings are being released by the family company, Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.

This album, Valleys of Neptune, consists of twelve studio recordings from 1969, described as "the most tumultuous year of his celebrated life and career." This collection includes the final studio recordings of The Jimi Hendrix Experience (with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums). Those were recorded in the post-Electric Ladyland period.

Tension within the group was beginning to form with Redding dissatisfied with the direction and methods Hendrix was employing. Redding left the band that year.

I have to acknowedge that better versions of some of the songs have already been released. But it is interesting to hear these alternate takes or versions of songs that were probably rejected by the perfectionistic Hendrix.

Three songs came from the JHE sessions at Olympic Studios: "Lover Man," "Sunshine of Your Love," and "Crying Blue Rain" on February 16, 1969.

Other JHE recordings include songs from April 7, 1969 of "Hear My Train A Comin'," "Lullaby For The Summer," and a remake of "Stone Free" (featuring Redding's replacement bassist, Billy Cox).

Other songs include "Bleeding Heart," "Valleys of Neptune," "Mr. Bad Luck," "Ships Passing Through The Night," "Fire" and "Red House." A more energetic version of "Mr. Bad Luck" was released on the Rainbow Bridge soundtrack album in 1971 and recently on South Saturn Delta as "Look Over Yonder."

It is an interesting collection of studio recordings from the 1969 period. For Hendrix enthusiasts, this is a must-have.

Note: The photograph of Jimi Hendrix on the album's cover was taken by Linda McCartney.

The Weekend

Tonight I am enjoying a restful evening at home. I spent most of today taking care of business (my daughter's taxes, picking up my paycheck, paying bills, grocery shopping, etc.). I rewarded myself with a sushi dinner at Crazy Tokyo Sushi. Tomorrow should be more laid back.

The only thing (outside of work) I did on Easter Sunday was to take my daughter Amber to lunch. We had a good time and we also perused CD Trader, where new and used DVDs and CDs can be bought at low cost. While there, I picked up the new Jimi Hendrix album, Valleys of Neptune. I'll write up a review of it later.

I've completed my first full week at the new job in Malibu last night. The scenery is great and I've been able to witness some beautiful sunsets.

Unfortunately, the weekend was marred by a fatal accident on Pacific Coast Highway and Heathercliff Road in Malibu Saturday night.

According to KABC-TV Channel 7 News:

MALIBU, Calif. (KABC) -- A 26-year-old man was behind bars Monday in connection with a weekend crash that killed a 13-year-old girl on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

YouTube image.

A memorial of flowers marks the point on PCH where 13-year-old Emily Rose Shane took her last step. Friends say the teen was a ray of sunshine and always made others laugh. Her older sister Leigh visited the memorial to grieve with friends.

"She's so loved and I know wherever she is I know that she knows everyone loved her so much and her loss is so tragic because she was so young," said Leigh.

Deputies say that Emily had just left a friend's house Saturday at 5:11 p.m. and was walking northbound on the 29000 block of Pacific Coast Highway when she was struck by a blue 2008 four-door Mitsubishi Lancer, driven by 26-year-old Sina Khankhanian of Winnetka.

According to authortities, Khankhanian's car then hit a power pole and overturned after striking the teenager.

A preliminary investigation at the scene suggests that Khankhanian may have deliberately caused his car to crash, but authorities don't think he was aiming at the teenager.

I saw the accident scene shortly after it happened. The police shut down PCH at Heathercliff to conduct their accident investigation and for power company workers to repair the damaged power equipment. The responsible party's vehicle was on its side and looked pretty flattened.

The highway was still shut down when I headed home at 1:00 am. I had to take some side roads to go around the accident site.

Yesterday afternoon, I passed by the site and saw the growing floral memorial for Emily Shane.

It was interesting driving around Malibu. The rainstorm that came in last night sent hundreds of toads on the road. I did my best to avoid squishing any. It was also interesting driving home last night down Malibu Canyon Road in the rain. I was more concerned about rockslides than the road. Fortunately, there were only minor rockslides and those were confined to the opposing side of the road.

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