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20151031_Ski

From 1972 to 1986 I lived in New Zealand. In the winter of 1981, this normally peaceful country was torn asunder by, of all things, a rugby match. The government of the day had allowed the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team, to tour New Zealand. Never have I seen a nation so divided by a single event. — brother against sister, parent against child, Maori tribal members against each other. People talked of nothing else; it was the Simpson trial and the Bush-Gore election rolled into one. After weeks of demonstrations, police baton charges and endless news coverage, we took our family to the mountains for five days of peace.

We settled into the Tekapo Ski Club hut with a congenial bunch of strangers. During the week we never spoke of The Tour and never spoke about not speaking of it. When a jerk from Wellington broke this unspoken vow of silence and weighed in with his opinions, he was promptly and firmly shut up. Instead of national politics, we spoke of the reflection of the Southern Alps in the blue waters of Lake Tekapo, of sunshine and soft snow, of how quickly the children were learning to ski.

Ten years later I spent a week skiing with the National Brotherhood of Skiers at the bi-annual Black Summit in Utah. The 1991 Summit coincided with the War in the Gulf. Although every other topic was thrashed and trashed, although most of us were grabbing snippets of CNN at every chance, although some folks had relatives battling tanks in desert sands, the taboo against talking about the war was every bit as strong as the silence in New Zealand, a decade before. Instead, we talked of the splendor of the Wasatch, the terrors of Jupiter Peak, the pleasures of lunch on the sun-soaked deck of Mid-Mountain Lodge.

I offer both examples as evidence of the holiness of skiing. “Holy,” Webster tells us, is “associated with a divine power; sacred, revered.” Sacred, divine, revered — all describe how I feel about skiing. But what forces lift this sport out of the ordinary and into the realm of the sacred?

The first step to holiness is getting away from the humdrum of ordinary life. And to ski, almost everyone has to leave home. That, alone, sets it apart from croquet and Frisbee.

Not only do you have to leave town to ski, you must go to the mountains. Long before the Sermon on the Mount, even before Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat, mountains have been sacred places. Maybe it’s because you have to struggle (“Climb Every Mountain”) to reach the peak, maybe because they’re the closest thing on Earth to heaven. Whatever the cause, mountains are sacred.

We also have a feeling of holiness about beautiful places. Framed by cerulean sky, green-needled trees and the incredible whiteness of snow, skiing is a pastime of exalted beauty.

But location, no matter how vertiginous and comely, is mere backdrop. I believe it is the sport, itself, that evokes the divine. Ever try to figure your taxes while telemarking? No? How about planning a meeting while running gates? Not that either? One thing that makes skiing extraordinary is that it’s almost impossible to concentrate on anything else while you’re doing it. It is all-consuming; it demands total attention. And not just on how to get through the next turn. Often your focus is the giddy, lightheaded feeling that comes when your turns are round, your skiing effortless and your skis are carving perfect arcs through perfect snow.

One final example. I’m writing these words on September 13, 2001, 48 hours after thousands of Americans were massacred in America. For all these 48 hours I’m wandering between the computer, NPR and CBS. My wife and I do a lot of hugging. We speak to our far-flung daughters three, four times a day. My voice is rough with grief. My heart — my whole body — is weighed down by sorrow. My predominant feeling oscillates between massive hurt and burning rage.

I know two things. Pretty soon, if I’m to stay sane, I’m going to need a break from these feelings. And nothing could give me that respite, that time away from trouble, like skiing. In New Zealand, in Utah, in Vermont; during division, disturbance and war, skiing is holy.

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Shooting travel videos was always something other people did.

For one thing, I’m a word guy, a writer. Visuals are for somebody else.

But that’s hardly the only reason I shied away from shooting. There’s my profound lack of knowledge about how to make movies. The teamwork required to do it. The weight and expense of even a secondhand, third-rate movie camera. Plus the knowhow and expense of editing footage once it’s shot.

And all that was once true. Now it isn’t. Welcome to one of the true wonders of the Digital Age. I’m still a writer, but now I’m a writer who shoots videos. More than sixty of them and counting. Maori carving in New Zealand. Skiing in Alberta. An action-sport competition in San Francisco. Turns out I like visual story telling, too.

But the main differences between then and now are technological. Thanks to advances in gear, I (and you) can learn to shoot, buy the gear and even master the editing process without going broke or going crazy.

I’ve learned my craft at the Apple Store, using their One to One program, which, when you buy a new computer, is yours for $200 for two full years. No further charges required. No tips accepted.

But even if you don’t own a Mac, the Internet is filled with free lessons on the craft of movie making. Vimeo, YouTube’s smaller competitor, offers first-rate instructional videos at Vimeo Video School. No charge.

As for teamwork, I either shoot alone—say, when I’m on a snowy mountaintop—or with my wife. That’s the total crew. No focus puller, no best boy, no gaffer.

My camera of choice these days is a Canon 320 HS. It shoots hi-def, slo-mo, outdoors or in. It’s so versatile, it even works in semi-darkness, no lights required. It picks up sound like a much bigger rig, no boom required. It weighs five ounces, no chiropractor required. It costs $200. And it fits in the pocket of my jeans.

As for editing, once you own a computer, it’s free. Free! By contrast, back in 1995, we did some work with a successful videographer who had just paid $50,000 for editing software. Viva la Digital Age.

If you’re thinking of making videos of your own—and I recommend you do—here’s my advice:

  1. Start small. Most of our videos run under three minutes.
  2. Start simple. Use iMovie, not Final Cut Pro. Use a pocket camera, not a Hollywood big-rig.
  3. Start now. Shoot, edit, post to YouTube and Vimeo. Voila—you’re making movies.

To see what we’ve done with a little camera and without fancy gear, check out our YouTube page.

And if you give this video thing a go, let me know.

 

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Take_me_Home

Dear Aunt Tilly,

It’s wonderful that you’re actually doing it — moving from a small town in Vermont to San Francisco. Selling up and starting over. Adventure is you.

But before you sell your Vermont house, I must warn you — buying a home is very different here. Very different.

As your official San Francisco nephew, I feel I must prepare you for that. Here’s how you go about buying a home in San Francisco.

You and half the city’s adult population race to this Sunday afternoon Open House. You fight your way in. If you like the place (or can convince yourself you might like it after heavy renovation), pick up a property statement.

Read the bottom line. Sit down. You aren’t sick; that’s sticker shock. You’re not in Vermont any more.

No, that extra zero is not a mistake. Yes, the price for this fixer-upper, pre-slum, mildew-smelling joint is indeed $899,999. Breathe in; breathe out. Good. Ready to bite the bullet and make your bid?

Not so fast. First, you write your letter.

Dear Ms Seller,

As one practicing Catholic, Sonoma College grad, moderate Democrat to another, let me say how much I love your home. If you would be so munificent as to sell it to me, I promise I will cherish it as you so obviously have.

[Advice: Don’t mention the falling-down roof or the rusted-out bathtub.]

Your beautiful home would mean so much to me and my gainfully employed husband, and, most of all, to our children.

The children! If we don’t get it, they may not survive another winter in the cold, rat-infested flat where we now reside. They already pray for you nightly.

I enclose a photo of the children at prayer.

One more thing: I have a pair of first-class tickets to Maui that we simply cannot use. You would be doing us a great favor if you were to accept and go in our place.

 

Sincerely,

Mother In Need

PS I do hope you liked the flowers.

Next, send a similar letter to the seller’s agent. Only this time, say four first-class tickets.

Now, put in your bid. You were thinking of offering $750,000? Think again. In San Francisco, bids are always higher than the asking price.

Yes, dear Aunt, higher. And the competition is fierce. Better go for $950,000.

Nah, if you really want it, just add thirty percent… which brings us up to $1,169,998 — oh, let’s round up to $1,180,000 just in case someone else has the same idea as you.

That should — but probably won’t — leave the others behind.

Oh, and Auntie —make sure you liquidate your retirement funds and investment accounts. Why? Because without 100% cash, this offer won’t cut it. And don’t even think about getting an inspection.

Welcome to San Francisco.

 

 

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Shaka. Hawaiian hand gesture. Most visible manifestation is the hang-loose salute of the fellowship of surfers. If someone does something good, cool, or righteous; giving them a shaka is a sign of approval or praise. It is mainly used by old school local boyz. “Eh, shaka brah.”

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He’s young and brown, bare-chested and oh-so good looking. He’s been standing on the Waikiki jetty most of the morning, cheering on the other braddahs as they boogie board through the surf. Long hair, deep tan, taut bod, easy laugh — he knows all the shredders, and they all know him. He’s the leader of the hui nalu.

She is white and neat and from Ohio. She has been standing near the end of the jetty for nearly fifteen minutes now, a long-lens camera held carefully in hand. Despite the lengthy lens, though, everything about her says, Not a real shooter. The lens is too light for serious photography. She seems to be looking the wrong way nearly every time somebody locks in on a wave. And she’s too stiff, too unbending, too prim for a photographer.

The two of them are standing ten feet from each other, but they never make contact. Same day, same jetty, different worlds.

Then, the Shaka Kid disappears. He’s gone maybe ten minutes. Miss Ohio continues to wave her camera around, never once smiling at the scene, at the sunny day, at being in Hawaii, at anything. Even if she’s not a serious shooter, she is one serious lady.

Then, suddenly, he’s back. Here are the salient, observable, incontrovertible facts:

  1. He’s carrying a boogie board under his arm
  2. He smells strongly of bakalolo, a.k.a. ganja, grass, weed, dope, marijuana
  3. He crosses himself
  4. He tosses his board off the jetty and into the blue Pacific, a dozen feet below.

Then he dives in after it.

His entry splash reaches the jetty.

And Miss Ohio.

And, ever-so, ever-so slightly, Miss Ohio’s camera.

Suddenly, she’s all animation, all indignation. “Thanks a lot!” she hollers at the water. “Thanks a lot for the warning! Now you’ve got me all wet!”

Note: Miss Ohio is not all wet, at least in the sense that she is using that phrase.

From the blue Pacific, Shaka Kid grins up at her. “Lady,” he says, “you’re at the beach. You’re in Waikiki. What did you expect, a plumeria lei?”

CODA

Most of what you just read, I wrote from my center seat, 14E, on the redeye from Honolulu to the Mainland. My wife was in 14F by the window, and for a while, it looked like we’d got lucky — the aisle seat remained empty.

But when a certified Big Boy filled the cabin door, I knew I was in for a cramped ride. Sure enough, he plumped down next to me, asked for the seatbelt extender, and settled into his seat and a third of mine.

My luck had changed … but, turns out, not exactly as I’d thought.

Through takeoff, safety instructions, beverage service and snack, he smiled pleasantly but remained silent. I dug out my MacBook and began writing “Shaka Kid…” There wasn’t much elbowroom, but I’ve worked in tight conditions before, and I thought my little piece came out pretty well.

Then, without warning, the man on my left spoke. “Don’t call ‘em ‘boarders;’ call ‘em ‘shredders.’”

“What?”

“You called the boogie boarders ‘boarders.’” In Hawaii, we call ‘em ‘shredders.’”

Oh no. Big Boy had just committed three capital offenses at once.

  1. He had read over my shoulder.
  2. He had criticized my writing without invitation.
  3. He had commented on a work in progress.

 

In the world of writing, these are hanging crimes. But there were a couple of mitigating circumstances. For one, he had done so with perfect innocence and in a manner so matter-of-fact, it was almost impossible to take offence. For another, damnit, he was right. I’m a ski writer, and I really don’t know the terms of surfing, much less those of Hawaiian surfing. I turned to him. “Anything else?”

“Yeah. Instead of leader of the pack, make him the leader of the hui nalu. Means the same thing. And say ‘braddah,’ not ‘brother.’”

“Thanks. Oh, and is it a pier that juts out from Waikiki?

“No, a jetty.”

He offered about eight edits, of which I used maybe six. Then he changed my ending. If that seat had remained empty, the piece you’d just read would have ended, “From the blue Pacific, Shaka Kid grins up at her. ‘Lady,’ he says, ‘you’re at the beach. You’re in Waikiki. What did you expect?’”

That’s actually what transpired that day at Waikiki. But heavy-equipment operator, unpaid editor, seatmate and new friend, George Kameahanohanokahaunaniahaleakala “Hano” Cornwell added the plumeria lei, and I thought the story was all the better for it.

Mahalo, George. Come sit beside me any time, braddah.

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Take_me_Home

 

Desperately Seeking Shelter?

Help is just an ebook away

Everyone searching for a house or an apartment in a competitive market knows how vicious that jungle can be.

Jules and Effin Older have hacked through the housing wilderness in New York, New Zealand, and most recently, in hyper-hot San Francisco.

What they discovered will give home-seekers a distinct advantage. Jules has put everything he knows in an ebook, TAKE ME HOME: How to Rent or Buy in a Hot Home Market.

In his words, “What worked for us in San Francisco will work for you in Auckland and Oakland, Sydney and San Jose, Singapore and Shanghai, London and Los Angeles, Honolulu and Hong Kong, DC and NY.”

Jules says, “TAKE ME HOME starts with SHOW, taking you through our rollercoaster ride searching for shelter in San Francisco. Then, the TELL: lessons learned, secret weapons, attitude shifts that will help you in your search. Plus, credit reports, furniture storage, dealing with mood swings, avoiding scams, employing useful websites and a whole lot more. And, yes, if all else fails, pushing the button on The Nuclear Option.”

TAKE ME HOME will cost US$10. It’s now available at the introductory price of $US5 on Amazon and all other platforms.

For a visual taste of the book, check out the Olders’ minimovie of the same name.

 

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