Thursday, June 1, 2017

11 Years in the City of Angels

At age 30, I moved to southern California. After 11 years of excitement and turmoil, I escaped Hotel California and embarked on a new life. During my journey through La La Land, I encountered many famous celebrities along the way.

"I've always been famous, it's just no one knew it yet." Lady Gaga

I had been working as a computer programmer and project leader for a fortune 300 company in downtown Minneapolis. We had completed a major order entry & inventory system and the next phase of the project was to present this new system to various plants around the country. One of the plants I was sent to was in Redondo Beach, California, in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

I was in a relationship with one of my co-workers on my project team who had been recently divorced. She decided to take some vacation time and travel to California with me during my assignment. We both interviewed for jobs while staying in the L.A. area. I accepted a job as a senior systems analyst for a large banking computer division just off of Wilshire Boulevard, near downtown L.A. and my future ex-wife accepted a job as a programmer/analysis at a large HMO outfit in L. A., near Griffith Park.

When we got back to Minneapolis, we submitted our resignations. A couple of weeks later, I drove to Los Angeles from Minneapolis with my future ex-wife at my side. We rented a motel room on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and started looking for a place to rent, reasonably close to our respective new work locations.

Our second day there, we went walking around the area near our motel. We went into a furniture store, checking out some items we may need in our next rental place, which we expected to find soon. That became our first encounter with a known movie & TV actor.

There was a guy in the store making a bit of a commotion, sort of doing humorous bits for anyone who bothered to notice. I recognized him right away. It was Ron Carey, a comedic actor who had been in many movies and TV shows, most notably as a cast member of the Barney Miller Show.

My future ex-wife and I soon rented an A-frame house, on the side of a hill on Woodrow Wilson Drive in the Hollywood hills, alongside a few other similar A-frames, overlooking the San Fernando Valley, a fairly easy drive to our respective jobs near the Hollywood Freeway.

The neighbor on one side was a NYC playwright working on a live-stage project. He had a piano in the main room and we could occasionally hear him working out musical numbers on it.

The neighbor on the other side was actor, Gary Wood, whom I had seen many times on TV roles, usually playing a bad guy. Like many working minor actors, he needed a part-time gig to keep up the cash flow and sold boxes of meat to friends and neighbors, including me. He'd buy the boxes wholesale and sell retail at $20 per box.

One night when Gary Wood was throwing a party next door, someone knocked loudly on our door. I opened the door to be greeted by another working character actor, Charles Dierkop, who had been in many movies and TV shows (over 110 actor credits). He famously played "Flat Nose Curley" in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and was a regular cast member of Police Woman. He had been an invited guest to Gary Wood's party, so I pointed him next door.

In the house directly across the small, narrow canyon from our A-frame was singer-songwriter, Danny O'Keefe (Goodtime Charlie's Got the Blues). I wandered over to his place one night & met him -- very nice guy.

Just around the corner from us was an up-and-coming unknown actor, Harrison Ford, who went on to fame & fortune as Indiana Jones and many other major roles.

After a couple of weeks of settling into our new jobs, I went jogging along some of the hills in our area, fascinated by the scenery and homes. I had made my way to the other side of Mulholland Drive and onto a side road, when a car careened swiftly around the curve in the road ahead of me. As I recall, it was a yellow Porsche. The driver looked extremely angry as he glared at me and continued past me out of sight. My first thought was the he was mad at joggers (me), but I quickly suspected he was either mad at someone else or perhaps psyching himself for a role. Actors sometimes get into character prior to being in front of a camera. It was Jack Nicholson.

After a couple of months, my future ex-wife decided to return to Minnesota to help her mother who had become quite ill and I found a better job closer to the A-frame, writing computer programs for a small company rather than being a bored fixture in a cubicle among dozens of cubicles, continually attending meetings.

The new job only had about a dozen employees, including a few key-punchers, a couple of marketing-sales people, a couple of production people and a couple of programmers. The owner and CEO was an accountant. We created computer software (accounting, inventory, payroll, account payable & receivable, etc.) for restaurant chains and other outfits. It was quite dynamic, always new clients and new software innovations -- a good environment for me, writing computer code and keeping busy.

The company rented time on Warner Bros. computer where we also had a working office area on the studio lot. Our main office was a half block away, on the other side of the Los Angeles River (a concrete drainage ditch), on the second floor of a 3-story office building owned by Henry Winkler. It was a short walk over the main entrance of Warner Bros. Studio, where I (or a production staffer) would bring job streams (IBM cards) and magnetic tapes over to the computer building on the studio lot and submit computer  jobs, then bring the output (printed reports & updated tapes) back to the main office.

Our office building was officially in Los Angeles and the Warner Bros. Studio was in Burbank. Outside my office window, I had a nice view of some of Warner Bros. back lots, which included about a half dozen General Lees, the "redneck" automobile used in the TV series Dukes of Hazzard. They probably needed many copies of the same car because of the many stunts they pulled in the series.

I was on the movie studio lot often and bumped into many famous people -- sadly, I was never "discovered" and offered a role in a movie.

“I wish that being famous helped prevent me from being constipated.” Marvin Gaye

One of the very first times I walked onto Warner Bros. Studio lot, I was stopped at the gate by one of the guards. While standing there, in my 3-piece suit and briefcase in hand, an old-time actor named Royal Dano (nearly 200 TV & movie credits) walked onto the lot from the parking area across the street. He smiled at me and said "How are you." I suspect he probably thought I was one of the studio "suits" (producers, studio executives) by the way I was dressed. He was a wonderful actor, playing mostly quirky characters. I always remember him from the 1956 Moby Dick movie, warning Richard Basehart not to sail with Captain Ahab.

The computer building was surrounded by some of the many large sound stages. They were preparing the nearest sound stage for the movie production of "All the President's Men" starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

 A couple of us from the computer building wandered over there and peaked inside. It was a massive layout of the interior of the Washington Post newsroom, configured to actually look much larger than it really was (the magical illusion of Hollywood).

For many days of production at that sound stage, I often noticed a silver-colored Porsche with a Utah license plate parked in a prime spot next to the sound stage. I suspected the car belonged to Robert Redford but never did get a chance to see him.

One day, as I was walking from the guard post entrance of the studio toward the computer building area, there was a man who came walking from around the corner of a sound stage about 60-70 feet away, walking directly toward me with his eyes glaring at me. We were eye-ball to eye-ball because I couldn't stop eyeballing him back. It was Charles Bronson.

Bronson was very stoic, never took his eyes off of me and I never took mine off of him. As he got closer, I was surprised to learn that he was a couple of inches shorter than me (I'm a bit above 5-10). We went eyeball to eyeball until we passed each other and kept going in opposite directions. He had a very impressive look about him, calm and not to be messed with. I instinctively gave him the same look back. Having spent much of my youth in pool halls and my 20s in bars hustling pool, I wasn't going to back down.

Another day, I saw Peter Falk, standing outside of a sound stage, in a tuxedo, smoking a cigarette. A couple of other actors we hanging out with him and smoking too -- probably on break between takes.

Another time, I caught a quick glance of James Garner ducking between two buildings near one of the "old-time Western" streets.

Plus, many minor actors, extras, grips, stage hands and others were always roaming the studio lot every day. It was a very interesting time for me.

One of our production guys who would regularly drive over to the studio to drop off or pick up items in the computer building found a note on his Jeep one day, written by someone who was interested in buying his Jeep. When he called the phone number, it turned out to be actor Chuck Conners (over 130 TV & movie credits, lead role in TV series The Rifleman).

There were a several restaurants across the street from Warner Bros. Studios and in Toluca Lake a couple of blocks away, including the famous Smoke House. I dined in some of these places with my friends or co-workers, where I noticed many movie and TV actors, including Andy Griffith, Jonathon Winters, Angie Dickenson, Bruce Gordon, Dixie Carter, Bing Russell, Ann Jeffries and many other minor players that I recognized but didn't know their name.

In a restaurant across from Warner Bros. Studios, I was having lunch with another one of our programmers when I spotted a guy named John Wright that I had served with in the U.S. Army. I was drafted in 1966 (Vietnam Era) and spent two years (after basic training) as a data processing analyst at Third Army Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. I worked second shift (5 PM to midnight). John was one of the newer guys, from California, about six months after I had been stationed there.

After his 2-year stint in the Army, John returned to his old civilian job as a film editor. He had a nice long chat (old memories & new life). He would later be nominated twice for an Academy Award for motion picture editing of The Hunt for Red October in 1990 and Speed in 1994.

The fellow who owned the company I worked for had a membership at nearby Lakeside Country Club. I had lunch over there a couple of times with him, where I spotted singer-songwriter Mac Davis about to tee off and TV announcer & game show host Dennis James, playing cards in the card room.

Sometimes at work I would drive up Barham Blvd., over the Hollywood Freeway to Studio City, where I would pick up a sandwich at this small "take-out" eatery with about a half dozen tables. One day, Peter Boyle was eating there, looking like a NYC guy out of place in southern California.

When I walked out the door with my egg salad sandwich on pita bread, I spotted actor Telly Savalas, driving a green Cadillac convertible with the top down, as he drove by on Ventura Boulevard.

Another time, I picked up a sandwich at the same place and was walking out of the place, when I noticed this guy sitting alone at a table, waiting for his order to be completed. He had a very familiar look. As I looked at him, he looked at me. I knew him from somewhere but couldn't place it. The way he was looking at me seemed to indicate he also knew me from somewhere but couldn't place it. Rather than strike up a conversation, I kept heading out the door.

As I was driving back to work, I realized that I had seen this guy many times on the University of Minnesota campus when I was in graduate school and had also seen him hanging out in one of the bars (Moby Dick's on Hennepin Ave.) where I regularly shot pool. As time went on, I began to notice this guy in movies and TV episodes. One day, there was an article about him in my University of Minnesota Alumni magazine. His name is Chris Mulkey. He has over 225 TV & movie credits. Coincidently, he started his acting career in southern California about the same time I also moved there, in the mid 1970s.

I eventually bought a home in North Hollywood. It had a swimming pool that cost a couple thousand dollars to get back into becoming a swimming pool.

A few months later, my future ex-wife (Carole) decided to move back to California to be with me. Not long thereafter, we were married.

One weekend while I was channel flipping, I caught a TV show called "Battle of the Network Stars" where TV actors would compete in various events. There was a small audience during one of the events and I immediately spotted a guy in the audience I knew. John Valentino had been one of my roommates, in an off-post apartment shared by four of us who had been drafted, when Valentino and I were in the Army in Atlanta.

I soon tracked Valentino down through one of his brothers who was a lawyer and got back together with him at a restaurant called the Ginger Man in Beverly Hills, owned by actors Patrick Neal and Carroll O'Conner. Valentino, originally from Chicago, now worked for a talent agency and Robert Conrad, who had been in the "Battle of the Network Stars" production, was one of the clients associated with the agency that Valentino represented.

Valentino was living in a penthouse in Brentwood, caretaking the place while the owner, actor Larry Minetti, was busy as a cast member of Magnum P.I. filming in Hawaii. We got together a few times, but we were each busy during those days and each moved of us multiple times, so I lost touch with him.

Over the next couple of years, I studied screenwriting (evening classes) at Sherwood Oaks Experimental College in Hollywood, an outfit that specialized in the motion picture business. The instructors were all top professionals who felt obligated to give something back to the industry that had been so good to them.

  • Maurice Singer (TV producer) -- the business of writing and selling your material.

  • Robert Mundy (editor of a movie industry magazine & film critic) -- foreshadowing and plotting.

  • Sid Field (screenwriter & associate producer for Wolper Productions -- author of SCREENPLAY: THE ART OF SCREENWRITING) -- structure & formula.

  • Robert Getchell (screenwriter -- ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, BOUND FOR GLORY, MOMMIE DEAREST, POINT OF NO RETURN, THE CLIENT and others) -- defining characters and constructing dialogue.

  • Ernest Lehman (legendary screenwriter -- SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, HELLO DOLLY, WEST SIDE STORY, SABRINA, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF and many more) -- a wealth of knowledge & subtle tricks of the trade.

I often also noticed many working actors at Sherwood Oaks too, honing their skills, such as John Amos and Susan Blakely.

Eventually, I hooked up with two professional screenwriters, Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson, who were attempting to put a production staff of screenwriters together.

Peter Bellwood had won an Emmy for co-writing a TV comedy special and had several of his screenplays produced, including HIGHLANDER, HIGHLANDER II, MOUNT ST. HELENS, STEEL, and PHOBIA. Peter has 8 screenwriting credits and 4 actor credits. He has an M.A. in History from Cambridge University in England and came to New York as an actor with Peter Cook's political satire show "The Establishment" and did two national tours of "Beyond the Fringe" with John Cleese and Dudley Moore.

Larry Ferguson won a Golden Globe for the adaptation of THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. He also had a role in the film as the "Chief of the Boat" in the American submarine. His other screenwriting credits include THE PRESIDIO, BEVERLY HILLS COP II, ALIEN III, MASTER AND COMMANDER, many more. Larry has 12 movie screenwriting credits, 3 actor credits, 2 director credits, 2 producer credits and also worked as an uncredited script doctor on several major movies. He has been responsible for movies that have grossed more than a billion dollars.

I will always cherish my friendship with Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson, who mentored my screenwriting efforts and became good friends during the few years we were all together in La La Land. Peter now lives in Ojai, California, where he is active in film workshops and occasionally travels back to England on writing assignments. Larry has returned to his home state of Oregon where he occasionally lectures about writing and the meaning of life.

While at home in North Hollywood, I wrote three full-length screenplays (on a typewriter) in my spare time (weekends & evenings) and signed with a literary agency (Writer's West Unlimited of Beverly Hills). The scripts were shopped around, with a few nibbles, but nothing ever sold.

It was a terrific experience and I'm grateful to all those who helped me along the way.

“The best fame is a writer's fame. It's enough to get a table at a good restaurant, but not enough to get you interrupted when you eat.” Fran Lebowitz

Carole and I ate out a couple of times weekly, often trying different places. Once we were having dinner at a place on Moorpark Street near Universal Studios. During the meal, outside of our window only a couple of yards away, a film crew was shooting a scene from the TV series T.J. Hooker. Lead actor William Shatner was in the short scene, basically emerging his police car with one line of dialog. It only took two takes.

We had a late breakfast one morning at a small cafe in Toluca Lake and noticed Dick Van Dyke eating alone at the counter. It's interesting how famous celebrities appear to be "normal" people when you happen to notice them. But in an odd way, they also seem to be in a world of their own, probably due to the attention they attract in public. It's as if they are "acting" in public.

Johnny Grant was a local L.A. TV personality who usually made the presentations when a new star was added to the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk. Carole and I must have bumped into him a half dozen times in various locations.

Carole and I were invited to dinner and a stage play in Hollywood by Dr. Bret Burquest and his wife. Dr. Bret Burquest was a prominent psychiatrist in the Santa Monica area, now retired in North Carolina. A dozen years older than me, his father and my paternal grandfather were brothers whereby my parents named me after him. The dinner was at the Brown Derby, a famous Hollywood landmark.

Carole and I dined once at the original Brown Derby on Wilshire Boulevard when we first arrive in L.A. but we met my cousin at the Brown Derby on Vine Street in Hollywood, where Clark Gable had proposed to Carole Lombard many moons ago.

The play after dinner was a short walk nearby. During the intermission, I noticed that actor Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) was seated in the row behind me, just off to my left.

One night, Carole and I went to see a movie on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. We were quite early so we wandered around the boulevard and noticed there was a bar in an alley on a side street. So we wandered in, sat at the bar and order a couple of drinks.

I noticed a man at the far end of the fairly large horseshoe bar who appeared quite inebriated. I recognized him immediately because he had a small role in one of my all-time favorite movies, Vanishing Point (1971 version). His name is Severn Darden. He has over 120 TV & movie credits and was an original member of Second City in Chicago. In Vanishing Point, he uttered the famous line, "So we are going to free the vipers." while dumping a basket of rattlesnakes onto the desert floor.

I also noticed that Darden and I were the only two males in the place. There were over a couple dozen women, all paired off and making out. It was the first time and last time I have ever been in a lesbian bar.

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” J.M.Barrie

Carole and I had visited the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard a couple of times. It's a venue for stand-up comics, particularly newcomers. One night, Freddie Prince and Richard Prior showed up, unscheduled, and each did a routine for the small crowd. They were both terrific. Prior alternated between hilarious and serious, but it was brilliant.

Carole was working as a systems analyst at Lockheed and I had been promoted to Vice President & General Manager for the software company where I had been working. We were doing okay and decided to buy another house and upgrade a bit. We sold my original house (with pool) and bought a yacht moored at the Channel Islands Marina in Oxnard, in Ventura County, as our new temporary residence until we could find a home to purchase.

We noticed a few recognizable actors in and about the marina area.

Actor Paul Mantee (125 TV & movie credits) was a regular in one of the restaurants.

Actor-folksinger Burl Ives had a boat nearby. He was a very friendly guy and we exchanged greetings and small talk a few times.  Oddly, he was often dressed in a one-peace, bright red, "working" outfit which seemed quite out of place to me.

After about 7 or 8 months living in the hull of a boat and sailing among the Channel Islands off the California coast, we purchased a condominium in Sherman Oaks, one block south of Ventura Boulevard.

As we were toting some of our goods up the elevator from the underground parking garage to our second floor unit (three-floor building), the elevator door opened on the first floor and comedian David Steinberg stepped in. When the elevator stopped on the second floor a few seconds later, Steinberg exited the elevator and turned to his left. Carole and I also exited on the second floor, and turned to our right to our new abode. We later learned that Steinberg had a relative living on the second floor and was probably just visiting.

There were several restaurants within easy walking distance of the condominium. Apparently, many celebrities live in this Sherman Oaks area.

I saw old-time actor Barry Sullivan, seated in the small table (alone) next to my table, in a restaurant just off Ventura Boulevard near the condo, dressed in white shorts, white pull-over shirt and white tennis shoes, as if he were heading somewhere to play tennis after he finished his lunch.

I spotted actor Judd Hirsch pushing a grocery cart in an isle when I was shopping in a nearby supermarket. He was wearing plaid shorts, seemingly out of season, looking like a newcomer to La La Land.

One afternoon, I had to drive Carole to an auto dealership a couple of miles away on Ventura Boulevard to pick up her car that had been repaired. While taking care of the bill in the office area, actor Harry Guardino (125 TV & movie credits) entered the office and stood impatiently behind us, waiting to be served after we paid for the repairs and left.

We went to a nearby restaurant for an evening meal one night. I strolled by a fellow who looked very much like singer Bob Seger, but I wasn't exactly sure it was him. As Carole and I were walking across the large dining area, I noticed a man at a large table in the near corner of the room watching me as I walked all the way to our table on the far side of the room. He was with 4 or 5 other people, seated at the center of the table as if he was in charge of the group.

I soon learned that the guy watching me walk across the room was major movie director Robert Altman (MASH, etc.). After a few drinks, I had planned to say "howdy" to Altman and dazzle him with my potential screen presence on the way out, but unfortunately his table was empty when we headed for the door.

One of the most exciting moments in my life occurred when Carole and I walked across Ventura Boulevard, very close to our condo, to Barone's Pizza restaurant where we occasional had a couple of drinks and walked back home (half a block) carrying a pizza. There was a main dining area and an adjacent room with a row of booths along the far wall with a circular bar in the middle of the room.

Even though there were plenty of empty tables in the dining area, we were led into the adjacent room where we were seated in a booth, next to a corner booth that had four people sharing some drinks --a man and a woman with their backs against the wall and two guys in suits with their backs toward my back in the next booth. Carole sat across from me, where she could see the booth behind me.

Carole and I each had a drink, then ordered a second round of drinks and ordered a pizza to go. While finishing our drinks and waiting for the pizza, Carole leaned over to me and whispered, "That woman keeps staring at you."

Surprise, surprise, when we finally got up to leave, I immediately glanced at the people sitting at the table that had been behind me. It was Natalie Wood and she was still staring at me, as I walked out of the room into the main dining room. I also noticed the man seated next to her was Robert Wagner (her husband) and he was angrily grumbling something into her ear.

Wow, a Hollywood star staring at me. I didn't get a good night sleep for at least a week after that. Perhaps she may have thought I was someone she knew, after all my back was to her the whole time. No matter, my life had reached a new plateau.

After a year or more in Sherman Oaks, Carole and I were each dissatisfied with condo living, which included irritating condominium politics. So we rented a nice A-frame chalet in Topanga, a funky bohemian village between the Pacific Ocean and the San Fernando Valley, in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu. It was closer to where we were both working at the time. I had a computer contract in Woodland Hills, just over the hill from Topanga, and Carole was working at Rocketdyne as a systems analyst in Canoga Park, near Woodland Hills.

My computer-contract office on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills had a window overlooking the parking lot. One afternoon, I spotted character actor Mitchell Ryan (over 135 TV & movie credits) walking into the building and into the dental office next door.

Sometimes on the way from Topanga to Woodland Hills in early afternoons, I would stop at a small sandwich show (no seating) on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, a few blocks south of Ventura Boulevard, and pick up a sandwich for later at work.

Once at the sandwich shop, I was in a short line behind character actor Dub Taylor (over 250 TV & movie credits) and on another occasion in the same shop, I saw legendary singer-actress Jane Powell pick up a sandwich.

I was also standing in the cashier line at a hardware store in Woodland Hills behind actor Geoffrey Lewis on another occasion.

Yes indeed, famous celebrities also eat sandwiches and purchase hardware items.

Carole and I were having some major differences and decided to get a divorce. I agreed to help her purchase a home for herself and we would part ways. Carole found a home she liked in the Toluca Woods area of North Hollywood.

We purchased the home and moved in, then began the divorce process. Carole remained in the house and we put it in her name. After five years and two days of wedded bliss, I moved on.

I became a renter once again and found a cozy studio apartment above the garage adjacent the main house, on Woodrow Wilson Drive, very close to Mulholland Drive. It was much farther uphill from the A-frame that Carole and I had originally rented on Woodrow Wilson Drive when we moved to La La Land.

I had a spectacular view from the high hilltop, overlooking Universal Studios back lot area on the other side of the Hollywood Freeway. Among other things, I had a good view of the house in the movie Psycho, where Anthony Perkins liked to dress up as his mother, who was deceased in a rocking chair in the basement, and kill people taking a shower in his motel.

On my daily drive back home from my computer contract with the company where I had once been an employee near Warner Bros. Studios, I often saw actor Tony Danza (50 TV & movie credits, regular cast member of Taxi & Who's the Boss) standing out in front of a house on Woodrow Wilson Drive, a short distance down the hill from my garage studio apartment.

TV personality (several Emmy Awards) and best-selling mystery author, Kelly Lange, lived in a house on Mulholland Drive, next door to my studio apartment. I noticed her in her backyard on occasion with two malamute dogs.

One day, there were many vehicles parked in my driveway. I couldn't drive out until the following day because there were shooting a commercial for Lazy Boy chairs in the main house, with actor (and former football player) Alex Karras who lived nearby with his partner, actress Susan Clark. However, I did manage to wander over to the production catering truck later for a free meal.

I went for a rare jog along Mulholland Drive one fine afternoon, when a guy who was also jogging came up the hill from a side street and was almost alongside of me when he hit Mulholland. We exchanged friendly greetings and jogged side-by-side for a short way until I turned back around and headed back to Woodrow Wilson Drive. The jogger was actor Denny Miller (100 TV & movie credits) who had played the lead role as Tarzan in a feature movie early in his career, a rather physically fit dude.

When my computer project came to an end near Warner Bros. Studio, I secured another computer contract back in Woodland Hills and moved to Topanga once again. I rented a cabin on a mountaintop overlooking some lower hills below and the Pacific Ocean off in the distance.

On my occasional grocery runs down to Topanga Village, I noticed many working actors also shopping at the small grocery store, including Stephen McHattie (rode to the grocery store on a bicycle), Sissy Spacek and Angel Thompson.

Topanga Canyon was home to many actors, artists, writers, musicians and other misfits. I saw writer Harlan Ellison a couple of times in one of the trendy village cafes.

I would occasionally shoot some pool in a little local bar called the Bent Oak (it changed owners and changed names many times). One early afternoon, I noticed a man sitting at the bar alone having a drink and chatting with the bartender. There were only a couple of people there at the time. I later learned that the guy sitting at the bar was writer Hunter S. Thompson, who would become one of my favorite writers in years to come.

"Buy the ticket, take the ride... If it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion." Hunter S. Thompson

After 11 years and a couple of months in La La Land, my consciousness had expanded to a point where I needed to move on and find a new direction in life.

My journey through La La Land was amazing. I got married and divorced, and bumped into many famous celebrities along the way. It wasn't exactly planned that way, but it was definitely a grand experience. Even though I had many ups and downs, I wouldn't change a thing.

After roaming around the desert southwest with an old friend from Minnesota in a camper on a 4X4 pickup truck for a few months, doing some gold prospecting but mostly staring at campfires and gazing at the stars. When my friend returned to Minnesota, I bought a cactus ranch on 6 desert acres in Arizona and spent the next six years hanging out with a couple of dogs and occasionally prospecting for gold. Never found much gold but it was another grand adventure while it lasted

My aging parents from Wisconsin and Minnesota now resided in a retirement village in northern Arkansas, so I moved to the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas to be closer to them and help them out if needed. I taught computer courses at a local college for six years and wrote a weekly newspaper column for seven years.

During the Y2K computer crisis approaching the year 2000, I moved to Memphis and did a 10-month Y2K computer contract in 1998-99.

Then I went back to the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas not far from my parents and bought a home on 8 wooded acres on a dirt road 4 miles from a small town (population 1,500), no neighbors, where I began writing blogs and books.

I now have 12 books in print -- 4 mystery/suspense novels and 8 non-fiction books (containing random topics).

If you're not busy being born, you're busy dying.

Quote for the Day -- The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

Bret Burquest is the author of 12 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and where life is a series of dogs.