Monday, February 21, 2011

Readin': G-Dog and the Homeboys

After reading Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle, S.J., I wanted to read that book's predecessor, G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles by Celeste Fremon. The first edition was published in 1995. The new edition that I read had been updated with an Introduction and Epilogue by Celeste written in 2008, along with a forward by Tom Brokaw.

Ms. Fremon originally intended to write a simple Sunday magazine article on Greg Boyle. She became so interested in what he was doing, and eventually, so involved in it, that she came to write G-Dog. It is an extraordinary work as it portrays East L. A. Mexican-American gang members, not as the monsters they are characterized as in the news, but as the human beings they are in all their flaws and glory.

It is obvious to me that she gained these people's trust because the interviews in the book are extraordinary. The general structure of the book is a chronology of the work Father Boyle did over 6 years in East L. A.. At the end of many of the chapters there is a break and then a first-person narrative by one of the young men or women she had come to know. These are probably the most heartbreaking parts of the book. They speak with such honesty and in so many cases with so little hope. I found myself wanting to reach out to them to give them the boost up and out that they needed. I also knew that most of what was written happened 15 or more years in the past, so that lots of life had happened to them since then.

In her Epilogue, Ms. Fremon is eloquent and factual about what will work to fix the gang problem. It is not the standard societal response of more prisons and tougher sentencing; all that does is perpetuate the problem. The fix is harder, but so much more worthwhile; it involves making a commitment to work with these people and put in place the structures that will help them to build resilience in their lives. I don't intend to rewrite the book here, it is all very well done and said much more eloquently than I could manage. I found her arguments to be sane, evidence based and profoundly sensible.

I know that a long-term commitment to people is what is needed to help them break cycles of poverty, intergenerational abuse, and long term traumatic stress. I can only hope that more people with the ability to offer help will actually do so. G-Dog and the Homeboys is proof that this approach works, as long as there are structures in place to make it work.

Readin': Two Books by Tarquin Hall

I've recently finished two books by Tarquin Hall, The Case of the Missing Servant, and The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing.The books are mysteries and they share a protagonist, Mr. Vish Puri, founder and managing director of Most Private Investigators Ltd. The stories are set in India. Mr. Puri lives in Delhi, actually what was once a rural suburb that has been swallowed up by the city as it expanded.

Vish Puri, as a private investigator spends most of his time on marriage cases. In India with all its arranged marriages, there is a need, as the society expands, for someone to be able to vet a possible marriage partner. In the past when village life was slower and everyone known, it was easier for families to do it on their own. Now that things have expanded and mixed to a great degree, that is no longer possible. Vish Puri serves that need.

Each of the books sets up a devilishly deceptive case well beyond the standard matrimonial investigation. In each Mr. Puri makes use of the many operatives that he has working for him. They all have interesting nicknames that he has given them; Tubelight, Facecream, Flush, Handbrake, and Door Stop (the lazy office boy).

The country of India and its inhabitants are as much a character in the stories as anything else and it all rings very true. Mr. Puri is of Punjab descent and I am beginning, now that I have finished the second book, to be able to read without constant reference to the glossary for the names of foods, rituals, and small common expressions. In fact, I now know a couple of swear words in Punjab!

In each book, Vish Puri is able to untangle what seems to be an impossibly difficult puzzle with persistence, a remarkable ability to disguise himself, his many operatives, and an extraordinary understanding of human nature. Each book is quite satisfying and stands on its own; no need to have read the first in order to enjoy the second.

The books are relatively recent. I hope that Tarquin Hall is hard at work on a third Vish Puri mystery, as I await it with eager anticipation. Let's hope that Vish has a long run as a character; I quite enjoy him.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Racin': Videos of The Rolex 24 at Daytona

Last weekend, Francis and I journeyed to Daytona Beach, Florida and Daytona Speedway for the 49th running of the annual, season-beginning sports car race. We left Seattle late Thursday night and arrived in Orlando around 7 a.m. on Friday, picked up our rental car and drove about an hour north to Daytona Beach. We spent much time walking around the Speedway which is truly immense. Once you see the videos you'll have an idea of just how huge it is.

On Friday afternoon they held the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, a race for two different classes of cars; Street Touring and Grand Sport (the hotter of the two). The race was either 2.5 or 3 hours long, I can't remember which. I also had not yet remembered that my Flip Mino HD was in the pocket of my vest, so there are no videos of that race.

We checked in at our hotel on the beach in Daytona Beach Shores after the race. It was fantastic. Right on the beach with nothing between us and the sand except for a patio with a hot tub and swimming pool built into it.

Saturday morning the weather was absolutely gorgeous; mid- to high-60s, no clouds and bright blue sky. There was a whole bunch of racing related stuff going on at the track, so we got there around 10 am. Little did Francis know that we wouldn't be leaving for another 13 hours! This was my third time at the Rolex 24, so I knew what a cool phenomenon a 24 hour race is; he had yet to learn.

For a good portion of the day we sat very high in the main grandstands, almost on the Start/Finish line and just 5 or 6 rows under the suites. All of the videos are taken from that vantage point. You can get a sense of just how big the place is when you see the videos. The main NASCAR oval is 2.5 miles around. The Rolex 24 uses all but about 100 yards of the track, but adds a long infield section for a 3.56 mile total lap length.

The first video was shot on Saturday afternoon after a full-course yellow (caution). The field gets all bunched up behind the pace car and as they come off NASCAR Turn 4 and onto the front straight, the pace car dives into pit lane and the field goes roaring by. Turn your sound way up and you'll get a sense of just how loud those suckers are!

The next video is also of a restart, this one taking place on Saturday night after another full course caution. I stayed with the lead car for a long portion of the complete lap so you could get an idea of how fast they are going and how big the track really is (and also how excellent our seats were).

The last video is the most unusual one of the trio. Every year during the running of the Rolex 24 at about 10 or 10:30 p.m. they have a fireworks show. It's not all that long (and I didn't capture the very beginning of it), but it's a pretty high quality show and it's all going on while the racers are screaming by at 160+ miles an hour on the back straight. The shoot the fireworks off from the middle of Lake Lloyd. I don't know if you noticed in the two earlier videos, but there is a lake, a 24 acre lake, along one side of the Daytona infield. When they originally built the track, they dug all the dirt to support the 31 degree banking in turns 1 -4 from the middle of the track. Once they saw the size of the hole, they decided to fill it with water. The lake is actually large enough for them to hold water skiing shows on (and they do). Anyway, the fireworks are cool and just a bit bizarre.

About a half hour later, after 13 hours at the track, Francis and I went back to our hotel and grabbed about 6 hours sleep. Sunday's weather was even better, being a bit warmer and with a bit less breeze. We returned to the track around 8 am after checking out of our hotel and still had 7.5 hours of racing left to watch. We only got to see 6.5 hours of it because we knew that we had to leave enough time to drive to and navigate the Orlando Airport for our 6 pm flight. The Rolex 24 is a cool event. I think Francis may be addicted; I know I am.

The really cool thing is that we get to run on that track in that configuration during One Lap of America 2011 in early May. I'll write more about One Lap in future posts.

These are the things that interest me. If any of them are of interest to you, great. Read along


About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.