Indigo Spring

Spring becomes indigo in my neighborhood and other parts of San Diego when the Jacaranda trees bloom. They’re the official non-native tree of our city. Below are some photos of this year’s bloom.

Jacaranda mimosifolia was first introduced here by Kate Sessions, our city’s founding botanist and the “Mother of Balboa Park“.

I’m working on a historical mystery (working title The Donkey Boy’s Dilemma) set in San Diego in 1891. One chapter takes place in the 30 acre nursery Kate Sessions leased from the city in what is now Hillcrest. The first Brazilian pepper trees she imported and planted in San Diego provide a valuable clue. Now I’m thinking I might switch the tree to jacarandas (the clues would work either way, with a slight rewrite).

A Walk Along Driscoll’s Wharf

One of the more enjoyable parts of starting a new Rolly Waters book is the research I get to do in my hometown of San Diego. Sometimes I get to investigate places I already know. And sometimes I just happen upon a place that strikes me as great location for scenes in a book. Such was the case when my wife and I discovered Driscoll’s Wharf a few years ago. It quickly became a key location for Ballast Point Breakdown.

Looking into America’s Cup Harbor from Driscoll’s Wharf

Places that are rundown and a little rough looking always attract my attention, especially when there’s a close combination of elements, place where different types of people can intermix. It’s clear when you walk down to the end of Driscoll’s Wharf that the area has seen better days. There have been some improvements since I first visited. The buildings I described as “shambolic grey elephants” now have a fresh coat of paint. The jagged, rusted fence connecting these brick columns has been removed.

Looking out to San Diego Bay from halfway along the wharf. I decided the OTTER boats could be garaged somewhere in here.
Locked gates are always enticing. Harmonica Dan might live on one of these boats.
After seeing a sign like this, you can’t help but start writing a crime novel in your head.
Sportfishing trips leave from the harbor. These carts are brought out when boats come in to collect all the fish, mostly bluefin and albacore.
I couldn’t work lobster traps into the book, but I thought about it.
Rolly gets an Opah burrito from Mitch’s Seafood near Driscoll’s Wharf.
Mitch’s doesn’t actually serve burritos, but they do have great fish tacos.

I took these photos in early March 2020, shortly before the Covid-19 outbreak. Social distancing should be relatively easy to do in the Wharf area if you go for a walk in the area. And Mitch’s is doing takeout orders if you call ahead.

You can see from the map below how Driscoll Wharf abuts part of the US Naval Base on San Diego Bay. The Admiral Kidd Club sits on the point just behind it. Dolphin pens from the Navy’s Marine Mammal program were just offshore near the Harbor Drive bridge, but they moved somewhere else while I was writing the book.

A beer and a book. Always a good combination.

Frankie Miller Sings Sweet

First off, you need to listen to the recording below, of Frankie Miller singing Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues). Go on, I’m not saying anything until you’ve listened to this.

This one of my favorite old-but-new-to-me songs I’ve discovered in the last year. I can’t listen to this one without dancing just a little in my chair. I may have even levitated the first time I heard it. It makes me feel good deep down in my soul. This song was my introduction Frankie Miller.

Like most Americans, I didn’t hear any Frankie Miller on the radio when I was growing up in the 1970s. I was vaguely aware of the name, read a few things about him in Rolling Stone or some such thing, but never actually heard any of his music (and I only had a limited number of $$$ to spend on albums).

So with the advent of streaming, Frankie Miller became one of those artists from the past I wanted to catch up on. Wow, what a singer, with a great soul voice that reminds me simultaneously of Rod Stewart, Paul Rodgers and Sam Cooke. Apparently Stewart and Bob Seger were both big fans.

Something Sweet is from Miller’s High Life album, which was produced by the great Allen Toussaint. You can hear Toussaint’s touch in that loose but funky rhythm section, those tight just right horn parts and the snaky New Orleans piano. Frankie’s voice rides on top like a glass of sweet, smoky bourbon. Three Dog Night took their version of this song into the Top 40, but it sounds dull and clunky in comparison.

Even without breaking big in America, Miller had pretty decent career going before suffering a brain hemorrhage in 1994. Although never breaking through on his own, he wrote a number of songs which were covered by others, including Burn One Down which he co-wrote with Clint Black. At the time of the attack he was putting together a new band with Joe Walsh, Nicky Hopkins and Ian Wallace. It’s a shame we never got to hear how that supergroup might have sounded.

High Life is my favorite Frankie Miller album, but he made several very good ones and there’s always a couple of great tunes even on the lesser ones. If you’re a fan of rock’n’soul music, give Frankie a listen. Below is a Tops of the Pops rendition of his biggest hit – Darling

Clear the Shelves

Take one of these books off my hands and I’ll give $10 to the CDP Covid 19 Response Fund.

58 books gone so far. $580 donated to the COVID-19 Response Fund

Here’s the deal. I’m stuck at home. You’re stuck at home. As I sit here wondering what to do (other than writing more books), I’m also looking at a bunch of old, odd editions of my previous books that stare down at me accusingly from the upper reaches of my office bookcase. I need to get rid of them. And now I’ve got a plan. But I need you. Here’s how it works:

  • You fill out the form below
  • I’ll sign a copy of the book you’ve selected
  • I’ll send the book to you (free shipping!)
  • I’ll donate $10 to the  CDP COVID-19 Response Fund
  • I’ll post a thank you note to you on my Facebook page

I estimate I’ve got 100 or so of these books sitting around. Some are Advance Reader copies. Some are older editions. Some have artwork or copyediting errors that had to be corrected. But all of them are highly readable and have essentially the same content as newer editions. Help me and help those affected by this pandemic by signing up for your free book below.

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A Ship on Dry Land

I always try to use interesting bits of San Diego history in the Rolly Waters mysteries. For Ballast Point Breakdown, I got to include the USS Recruit, which has been a notable presence along San Diego Bay since it was first commissioned by the US Navy in 1949. More than 50,000 recruits trained here on a ship that never sailed. The Recruit is now a California historical landmark and part of Liberty Station, a mixed-use development on the site of the former Naval Training Center San Diego. In BPB, Rolly and a couple of security guards chase down a harmonica-playing transient who manages to elude them all while hiding in the ship.

USS Recruit on Google Maps
USS Recruit at Liberty Station
USS Recruit on Wikipedia

He crossed the street, walked to the bottom of the bridge, and took a shortcut through a stand of trees to get down to the parking lot where he’d left his old Volvo. He stepped out of the trees next to a large structure that looked like a Navy ship. The USS Recruit had served as a training platform for new enlistees at the old Naval Training Center, its top deck and tower fitted with the same rigging and cleats found on more seaworthy vessels. The below decks were empty and hollow. Dubbed the USS Neversail by former recruits, the training ship had been decommissioned years ago, then sold to developers as part of a transfer of Navy land to the city.

When Rolly was ten, his father had taken him on board the Recruit, sharing his memories of boot camp and sea voyages, hoping to pass on his enthusiasm for Navy life to his son. He gave Rolly lessons in rigging, how to tie knots and use the marlinspike, but it hadn’t turned Rolly into a sailor. Their disappointment in each other might have started that day.

From Ballast Point Breakdown, chapter 18, The Ship