In 1989 Mary Ann, the boys and I had moved from Glendale to
Ventura County. This was a major shift. We moved from our old
Spanish three-story home built in 1927, to a single story ranch
house, built in the mid-sixties. It wasn't the house we had
purchased; it was the property. We had five acres nestled into a
north-facing slope of the Oak Ridge range in the Santa Clara
River Valley. The land had been carved out of a Spanish land
grant back before the State was born. We had a sweeping view
from the Pacific Ocean, thirty miles west, to the Mojave Desert,
thirty miles east. We had no neighbors. On the valley side we
overlooked the sometimes-running Santa Clara River from our
lofty plateau. But the mountain view was my favorite, a scene of
complete tranquility, of rising hills and mountains, no roads,
deer, mountain lions, bears, Lynx's, foxes, skunks and possums
walked our property, some more frequently than others. There in
the evenings I would sit looking into the distance at the
plateaus and ridges that towered over us, providing a natural
frontier between us and a small town thirty miles distant.
Cattle grazed on the lush growth in the spring evenings. Quail
raised their young in relative safety of the too-thick-to-hunt
underbrush. Occasionally, in the riverbed on the downslope from
our home we would hear the shooters hunting birds and rabbits
there. But in the hills rising behind us there were only the
sounds of Red-Tailed hawks, quail and coyotes.
By the early 1990's my small business with JPL was facing some
new challenges. Work was a stressful deal. I was uptight and
wanted time away.
Mary Ann, Michael, Kevin and I had been visiting Bahia de Los
Angeles several times a year since we'd spent the summer there
at Las Cuevitas in 1985. But we had not been further down the
peninsula since then.
John called my office at home one morning.
"You coming to lunch today?"
"I'll be down. I've got an early afternoon meeting. Where do we
want to go?"
"How 'bout Pepe's? I'll tell Bill. We'll see you at 11:30."
Pepe's is a personable Mexican restaurant in La Canada. It's a
basic, no-frills place with a no-nonsense mother-daughter team
of waitresses and the best salsa and chips we could find in the
area. It was a JPL lunchtime hangout between the 1960's and the
millennium. So I did my home work, jumped in the shower and at
10:45 walked out the door to drive to La Canada.
Forty-five minutes later I walked in the door of Pepe's. John
and Bill had saved me a place at the table.
"There's a total eclipse of the sun this summer, in August."
John announces. Bill smiles.
"Why do I need to know this?" I ask. The eclipse has been
discussed before. We did, after all, work for JPL.
"I'm surprised you haven't figured this out. Do you know where
the best views will be?"
"Give me the scoop."
"South of the Tropic of Cancer."
Terms like Equator and Tropics have always caused by heart to
stop and the hair on the back of my neck to stand. In my gut,
growing up in Cuernavaca in the '50's, I always, somewhere in my
heart, figured I'd be a gun-runner or some sort of smugler. Here
I was then pushing 50 and stuck in my office shuffling paper.
I ordered iced tea and a carnitas tostada, stuffing a couple
chips and salsa in my mouth and asking John for more
It was beginning to sense from the way they had set me up that
this was going to be a big trip.
"The Cape." John said. "Cabo San Lucas. That's where the best
viewing will be"
It turned out I was right. It was going to be a big trip. Fifty
of us planned for weeks. John and I bought a new boat. Then a
problem came up which was serious enough to conceivably cause us
to cancel the trip. It was unique to the eclipse phenomenon.
The configuration of the peninsula and the lack of a serious
tourist support superstructure caused the Mexicans to worry,
legitimately, about too many travelers rushing to the Cape all
at once. They estimated that hundreds of thousands of tourists
would arrive en masse, all at the end of a thousand-mile-long
baron stretch of land, an open tap flowing freely into a boot.
The one highway that ribbons that entire length is a single lane
and narrow road. It's filled from place to place with potholes.
The supply of gasoline during normal demand is often dwindling
to none. There are a limited number of restaurants, bathrooms,
hotel rooms, parking places, markets campgrounds and RV parks.
"Where would all these people go?" the government cautiously
Mexico decided the way to handle the potential problem was to
issue a special permit which had to be applied for, issued,
received, carried and presented to armed guards by any tourist
passing the 28th parallel at Black Warrior, halfway down the
peninsula. There were many rumors about other checkpoints.
Snarls of confusion reigned for the months before the big event.
We followed the instructions for obtaining the permits and
picked them up at a bureau of Tourism in Tijuana. We felt like
we'd grabbed the gold ring. We had some fifty permits issued to
The organization for this trip was coordinated by John and Bill.
They called others that would be interested and made plans and
set dates. We had a barbeque at our ranch to make final
arrangements. In the pool compound, the guys sucked up beers in
the Jacuzzi while the kids plated darts and pingpong in the rec
room and did cannonballs into the pool and our wives, sitting in
the shade of the vine-covered arbors, made lists of stuff to
bring. It would be, it turned out, a two-week trip. The first
week would be getting to Cabo San Lucas and viewing the eclipse
from its primo location. The second week would be at La Gringa,
always my favorite place on Earth. We fought to get the tourist
permits the Mexican government required for the event, and, a
week before the eclipse, stormed the border in a caravan that
backed up vehicles for miles. As for my family, we were just
To be continued ...