Monday, June 14, 2010

"Forty Kilometers in a Leaky Ol' Boat..."

A few final notes from Santa Catalina:

The weekend of our visit was not just our anniversary, but also the annual Catalina Island Flying Fish Festival. Apparently the warm summer water breeds lots of kelp, and the flying fish come into the kelp beds to hide from predators and deposit their eggs. The local version of the species is the California Flying Fish, the largest of the class that can top out at 19 inches long.

We took our role as celebrants of this annual extravaganza of piscine aeronautics very seriously. The first night on the island we took the Flying Fish Boat Tour, an hour-long nighttime passage along the southeast coast using searchlights to stir up and sight the fish. In the end, we saw lots of things jump, but nothing chose to fly. But it was still a good tour, and I liked getting out from the town to see some of the hidden infrastructure of the island (power stations, cargo docks) as well as Seal Rock, which is, strangely enough, a rock that seals sit on. The well-practiced guide got off a couple of prime one-liners as well during the safety talk. “See this life jacket? Take a good look at it It’s the only one we’ve got,” and, “You’ll need to stay in your seat because it’s a fire hazard. If you don’t, I’ll get fired.”

Because the fish suffered a failure to launch, I wasn’t able to get up close and personal with a flying fish until two days later at the Flying Fish Festival Parade. It was a little parade as befits a little town, mostly a fire truck with lights on leading a small collection of decorated golf carts and Mini Coopers down the waterfront. The Lions Club Segway Drill Team was there, as were a bunch of preschooler in costume and a poodle dyed pink with cardboard fins stuck on it’s back. Gill the Flying Fish, the festival mascot, made an appearance, and the parade was topped off by the seven members of the Avalon High School Drama Club singing “The Jet Song” from West Side Story.

There was a street fair going on as well, and I really felt it was incumbent upon me to show my support for the fish. So I bought a nylon flag to wave during the parade, and a young girl who was helping her mother in the booth asked if I wanted to see a real flying fish. I did, so she opened up a cooler that had two flying fish in a bed of ice. It turns out you pick them up by their wings, so I did. It also turns out that if you move it’s wings (actually elongated pectoral fins, if you’re keeping score) back and forth, you can make it’s mouth open and close and it looks like it can talk. It was at this point...making a dead fish talk…that The Bride rightfully shook her head at me and moved further off down the block.


There have been bison on Santa Catalina since a silent film crew brought them over to film a western and never took them off. As a Kansan, bison are nothing new. But I forget that not everyone has seen a bison, let alone a herd of them. So it was amazing to me that when a bison was spotted, the bus tours stop and people spend hours taking pictures of something I’ll quite happily eat.


There’s a building on the island called the Tuna Club. Founded in 1898, the Tuna Club is the oldest fishing club in the United States. The club’s main goals are "to elevate the sport of fishing to its highest possible standard, and for the protection of the game fish of Southern California.
Located on the edge of Avalon Bay, the Tuna Club is a California Historical Landmark and is on the National Registry of Historical Places. Many notable dignitaries and personalities have been members of the Tuna Club, including Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, and Bing Crosby ("

The Tuna Club originally caught my attention because of some outdoor displays of sea life organized by a research branch of the University of Southern California. This is how I got to hold a sea cucumber, and was reassured that the black sand it pooped out into my hand was actually cleaner coming out than it was going in. (They were scientists, so it must be true. I also hear that USC had a financial relationship with a highly recruited octopus and will not be able to participate in the Goldfish Bowl for the next two years.)

Speaking of the Tuna Club, I never got to go inside. So I wonder what actually goes on in there. Is it the kind of place where tuna go after a hard day at the office, a place to kick back, put up your fins, and snack on a mullet? And what do they talk about? “Man, you wouldn’t believe this guy today. Tried to get me with a plastic worm. Plastic! Can you believe it?” Or maybe, “Sorry guys, gotta go. She wants me swim through the kelp and fertilize the eggs again. All 5000 of them. I’m getting too old for this, you know?” And are all tuna welcome, or do the bluefins blackball the yellowfins? Is Charlie a member?

Yep, sometimes I really do think too much.


There’s an advertisement for a restaurant on the island called The Avalon Grille that summarized every stereotype I ever had about Southern California. It features an older man with dyed blond highlights and an open shirt and jacket dining with a much younger slender and well-siliconized woman in a red strapless dress. One can just imagine that he’s thinking “I hope the Viagara works this time,” while she wonders just how creepy it is to sleep with someone older than your Dad.

This reminded me an incident about a year ago, when The Bride (who is significantly younger than me) and I were shopping at the Mall of Millennia in Orlando. She was getting a few odds and ends, and I was whipping out the credit card from time to time to pay for them. As we walked by a series of full-length mirrors, it occurred to me that if one were to look at us, this young well-assembled woman in four-inch heels followed a step or two behind by a slightly stooped older guy, one might take us for the folks in the advert for the Avalon Grille. I pointed this out to her, and asked “Do you think anyone ever thinks you’re just a trophy wife?”

Smiling, she said, “If I was a trophy wife, you’d have a hell of a lot more money.”


On Monday morning we had a very nice walk up to the Wrigley Memorial, a granite and marble structure that overlooks acres of botanical gardens about a mile inland from the Town of Avalon. It was mostly an uphill walk, and so we were both pretty tired when we finally reached the stone staircase at the right side of the edifice. Encouraging each other, we climbed to steps to the top and took in the view. It was only after we turned to make our way back down that we found there were no steps over on the left, only a gentle, undulating slope.

“There’s no steps,” noted The Bride.”

“No,” I said.

“You made me walk up steps.”

(You know how sometimes you can see a problem coming, while also knowing there’s not a silly thing you can do about it? Yeah, this was one of those times.)

“I didn’t know.”




“I’m sorry.”


I’m still working my way out of this one. Might take another trip to fix it. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Jesyca is pretty smart. Her response to the trophy wife was terrific.

    If you were that rich, I might also be retired.