Archive for the ‘Weekend Road Trip’ Category

PostHeaderIcon San Francisco Bay, Gilligan Style


Remember Gilligan’s “three-hour tour” that landed he and his fellow castaways on that famous deserted island? Well, last weekend we decided to take our California-vacationing grandson, Tyler, to San Francisco, and part of the excursion was a trip out on the San Francisco Bay. Our own three-hour tour.

I, the adventuresome grandpa that I am, convinced the others to pass on the group of sleek, modern tour boats, opting instead to charter an antique and very much rundown fishing vessel. Honestly, the boat looked like the S.S. Minnow AFTER it had shipwrecked. It was the oldest, most dilapidated boat at the docks, but I absolutely wanted to try it, even though my fellow shipmates, Denene and Tyler, preferred a much newer model with real seats. Our seats, however, were handmade from old planks with cushions fashioned from garbage bags stuffed with foam. Their torn and duct-taped brown vinyl coverings certainly added to the charm.

But, our very able sea captain (above) guided his powerful, nearly 70-year-old boat out and through the San Francisco Bay, quite possibly crossing the paths of the convicts who made that daring escape from Alcatraz.

So, without further ado, have a seat (don’t worry, they’re nailed to the well-worn wooden deck) and join us for our cruise around the Bay.


Once the three of us were settled the captain fired up the engine, fiddled with a few things in the cabin (above) and we were off. Please notice the vast amount of high-tech equipment scattered about. For example…nothing. The brown material in the lower left is a greasy, filthy blanket that’s offered to passengers who can’t quite handle the chilly temps out on the waters around San Francisco. By the way, it was 105 at our house just a few miles away, but people on the Bay wore jackets or hoodies to fend off the cool air (upper 60’s-lower 70’s with cold salt spray).

So off we went, leaving San Francisco in our wake.


Next up…Alcatraz Island, home of, well, Alcatraz.


Please look to your left and you’ll see the area of the island where the boats delivering prisoners docked and unloaded the “cargo.”


Tyler immediately recognized this place and I was impressed, thinking that his schools were teaching detailed history lessons. However, Tyler said he’d not heard of this famous place from his studies. Instead, he’d gained his knowledge of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from a video game he’d played in his younger years. At least the graphics in the game were accurate…


In the lower right corner of the above image you’ll see part of one of the high-end seats. Also pictured is a portion of a blue five-gallon “seasick” bucket. Nothing but 1st class on this cruise!

After passing by Little Alcatraz, the rock that’s stranded many unsuspecting boat captains and their vessels, we headed toward the tiny bridge that towers above the Bay. By the way, the water was so rough our boat was tossed from side-to-side like a limp rag doll. At times we took on water which caused Tyler to panic. Not from a fear of capsizing, though. Instead, his worries were for his mega-expensive tennis shoes.

Once Tyler’s shoes were safe were able to focus on the view ahead.


As we came closer to the Golden Gate Bridge it became clear what a feat it must’ve been to build the massive structure, all while out over the rough waters.



We passed under the bridge, heading toward the open sea and were treated with a sighting of a dolphin (it was too quick to take a photo).





Finally, we turned around and made the journey in reverse, with The City in view across our bow.


A few minutes later we were back at the dock, safe and sound. No shipwrecks and no headhunters.



PostHeaderIcon Discovering Who Killed Kenny is Key to the Perfect Setting

Ah, the mind of a mystery writer. Always contemplating the simpler things in life, like car chases, explosions, and murder.

For me, there’s nothing better than to open a book and instantly feel as if I’ve been transported to another world, and I want the character’s emotions and senses to take me there. I want the black, murky waters of James Lee Burke’s Louisiana swamps to fill my gut with a sense of foreboding. I want to smell the humid southern air after a crab boil, and I want to experience the heartbreak that Dave feels when his wife dies. Those things are important to me as a reader, and they’re even more important to me as a writer. I want readers to see, feel, taste, and hear what I write.

As a reader I also pay a lot of attention to the names assigned to fictional characters and locations. Not only do they give us a bit of insight about the personality of the characters and locations, they also tell us a little bit about the author. Like the town names Hope and Despair that Lee Child used in his book Nothing To Lose. The road leading to Hope was fresh, new, and smooth ( as smooth as the author). The road to Despair was in disrepair, filled with potholes, and was totally worn out. Using those two simple words (Hope and Despair) was brilliant. Lee typed eleven letters and told us a story about two towns that some writers couldn’t have achieved in a dozen pages.

Now, speaking of appropriate settings and naming of towns in crime novels, how about the name in the photo above—Kilkenny Marina? With a quick and minor change we could come up with “Kill Kenny Marina,” and wouldn’t that be a great place to set a story? I suppose we’d need a few facts, first. Like, who’s Kenny? And why do the folks at the marina want to kill him? What exactly does one fish for at Kill Kenny? Hmm…and what, exactly, would our characters use as bait…pieces of Kenny?

A name alone can serve as a great hook. Catchy names can also become a familiar link between fans and their favorite stories/books. Does Harry Potter ring any bells? How about Metropolis (Superman), Bedrock (The Flintstones), Whoville (The Grinch and Horton Hears a Who), and Emerald City (The Wizard of Oz)?

Anyway, Denene and I stumbled across this little jewel of a place—Kilkenny Marina—while exploring the back roads near Savannah, Ga. Instead of hanging a right onto Belle Island Road in Richmond Hill (south of Savannah) I kept straight, and this is the little slice of heaven we found after passing through the narrow opening in a stand of massive live oaks. A perfect setting for a mystery? Perhaps we should find Kenny to ask his opinion of the situation.

By the way, who says you have to die to see the light at the end of the tunnel? As a more practical means of having a peek at “the light,” simply visit Kilkenny Marina a few minutes before sunset and this is what you’ll see on your way out.

*UPDATE –  We never found Kenny, so we assumed the deed had been done prior to our arrival. His disappearance remains a mystery…


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