Maybe It’s Too Late

I’m drifting higher and higher above the clouds
I may never come down
Maybe it’s too late
Maybe it’s too late
Maybe it’s too late to save myself

The P-15s. John-lead guitar, Corey-lead vocals and guitar, Bruce-drums and vocals, Gordon-bass and background vocals

Here’s a bit of my musical history for you. Maybe It’s Too Late, circa 1980, from my power-pop band The P-15s. When I’m writing a new Rolly Waters mystery, I’ll sometimes mine my musical past and have Rollly write or sing songs which are, of course, my own compositions. I pull from my back catalog for something that fits Rolly’s situation. Such is the case with the above tune when I quoted lyrics from it in The Library chapter of my first book, Black’s Beach Shuffle.

This particular tune was always a bit of an anomaly. Most of my songs at that time had a bright pop-rock feel, while this one invokes a decidedly minor-key moodiness. I’m pretty sure it uses more chords than any song I’ve written before or after. A nice guitar solo from John, which pulls it another direction. Let’s call it The Jam meets Dire Straits.

The other anomaly here is that I’m the lead singer which, depending on your point of view, is a rare treat or an unfortunate mistake. My voice has a certain Ringo-like nasality I’ve never particularly liked but it kind of works on this song. I’m open to either opinion.

Put on my coat as I left the house
It looked like it was going to rain
Found a nickel under my feet
Rolled it into the storm drain

I’m drifting higher and higher above the clouds
I may never come down
Maybe it’s too late
Maybe it’s too late
Maybe it’s too late to save myself

It’s alarming how long it takes to fill my coffee cup
It scares me when things always go my way
I find myself thinking about how fast I drink it up
And wonder how much longer I can stay

I walked and I walked until I couldn’t talk
Until I’d walked it all away
Sometimes I dream just a bit too much
I see colors in the gray.

I’m drifting higher and higher above the clouds
I may never come down
Maybe it’s too late
Maybe it’s too late
Maybe it’s too late to save myself

General Atomics Campus Aerial Photograph 1967

The Hidden Fortress

In an earlier post I talked about my time working at a company called and how it inspired the writing of my first Rolly Waters mystery, Black’s Beach Shuffle. One of the early chapters is titled The Hidden Fortress and describes Rolly’s first visit to the offices of a mysterious internet startup.

Just before they reached Torrey Pines Road, Fender took a right on Atomic Way (named in a time when another technology pushed at the edge of the world’s problems, scaring people to death). Rolly followed. They pulled up to a long metal gate.

I used to drive in here every morning. How could I not put this in a mystery novel?

Although I changed the name of the street, this was basically a description of the last leg of my morning commute when I first started working at In its earliest days the company rented office space at the General Atomics campus, one of the most architecturally distinctive and historically significant buildings in post-WWII San Diego. The building was completed in 1959 and, along with the arrival of the UCSD campus nearby, it signaled the beginning of San Diego’s future as a center of high-tech research and development.

General Atomics campus 1967. Source: City of San Diego Archives

The atomic age has now given way to the biotech era. Torrey Pines Mesa is choked with sleek and imposing buildings bearing the names Pfizer, Novartis, Oranogenesis, Agilent and others. The GA building with its distinctive nucleus-and-electrons themed design is barely visible, but it used to be a regular and remarkable sight when driving through the area. There was little else there and the building stood out as a propitious glimpse of our bright atomic future.

Construction pad for the GA campus, circa 1958, looking across Torrey Pines Mesa to the Pacific Ocean
Source: San Diego History Center

Designed by the architectural firm of Pereira & Luckman, the building reflects the remarkable confluence of architectural modernism and the burgeoning aerospace industry coming together in San Diego in the 1950s and 60s. As partners, Pereira & Luckman also designed the Convair Astronautics campus and General Dynamics headquarters in San Diego, as well as the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport. Separately they were responsible for such projects as the UCSD Central Library, Madison Square Garden and the Los Angeles Zoo.

Possible dedication ceremony? Circa 1960. The speaker is standing on roof of the “electron” ring structure facing back towards the “nucleus” building. Source: San Diego History Center

I never got to work in the “atomic” building as the offices were confined to a drab and crowded outer building added sometime later. But it was fun to see this landmark a little closer up when I arrived each day. And sad that it’s so hidden from sight today. If you’re in San Diego, you can catch a glimpse out the right side of your car by turning off Highway 5 onto Genesee West as you head up towards Torrey Pines Road.

Confessions of a Dot Com Boomer

There’s an old axiom for folks working on their first novel – write what you know. It was something I took to heart when working on Black’s Beach Shuffle, the first Rolly Waters mystery.

A lot of elements in the book were based on my musical career. My band played regularly at Patrick’s Pub in the Gaslamp neighborhood of San Diego. The back patio really did smell of old crabs from the restaurant dumpster next door. And one of our drummers really did get mugged after a gig.

But the key plot and characters came from my time working for a company called In the late nineties I had a front row seat to the great dot com boom (And, a few years later, the great dot com bust).

Free lunches! Stock options! 80-hour work weeks! The corporate environment was unlike any I’d experienced before or since. It was simultaneously the most exciting and most harrowing job I’ve ever held. When the company went public I became a millionaire (on paper at least, for a couple of months).

The homepage circa August 2001 (from the Internet Archive)

At 41 years, I was one of the oldest employees working at the company. There were a lot of smart young people I couldn’t compete with for 24-hour energy, but I did have a measure of adult composure going for me that they didn’t. I could separate the wheat from the chaff (there was a lot of chaff). I was put in charge of the multimedia department, a great group of people who churned out interactive CD-ROMS (when those were a thing) like there was no tomorrow. Some of the projects I’m proud of:

  • Design and programming of the first “just-in-time” CD which allowed musicians to sell their own CDs at little to no cost to them. No inventory!
  • Managing the design and production of promotional CD-ROMs, which provided about 80% of the company’s earned income at the time.
Our multimedia team cranked out a lot of these things.
  • Conceptualizing and coordinating the Digital Music Landscape presentation as part of the company’s efforts to educate Congress during the 2000 Senate hearings on The Future of Digital Music.
One of these is now stored somewhere deep in the Congressional Archives

It was fun. For a while. But all good things must come to an end. The company rolled out a new feature that brought down the wrath of the corporate music titans. Before Spotify, before Pandora or iTunes there was, the first online personalized music streaming service. It was, perhaps, too soon for its time. It was also illegal. All five of the major record companies sued. Four of them settled out of court. One of them, Universal Music, took their case to trial. The result? Not only did lose the trial, it was charged with the biggest copyright violation in history. Oops.

Then the wheels of late-stage 20th Century capitalism began to turn. A furtive deal was made. Universal, the same company that would reap millions from the judgement, purchased instead. The executive officers were out. Months later Universal was itself purchased by Vivendi, a French water company (yes, you read that correctly). Such was the craziness of corporate acquisition culture in the early 2000s (remember AOL buying Time-Warner?).

Once the big corporations moved in, the excitement moved on. I was exiled to the wasteland of general project manager, documenting the failure to launch of a dozen once innovative projects in which the larger corporate entity had no interest. The company’s culture of innovation was replaced by the torpor of corporate conservatism. In short, my fun job became dull.

As an antidote to my creative unhappiness I started to write, taking a half-hour at lunch to jot down ideas and scraps of narrative in my trusty composition notebook. Before long I had the beginnings of a novel about an aging musician getting mixed up with a fast-rising Internet startup. It gave me the motivation to move on. I left (just ahead of the layoffs we all knew were coming) and went into teaching. It took a few years to finish that first novel, but I was able to capture some of the craziness of my experience at The story is emotionally true, even if the characters and events are fictional (insert disclaimer here).

Write what you know, indeed.

Where Rolly Waters was born

The Surf Doc of Shores Beach

I’m working on a historical crime novel, set in La Jolla, CA in the nineteen-fifties. In the course of my research I’ve been able to interview some folks who lived here at that time. Here’s a profile of one of them, Dr. Herb McCoy, who turned 100 years old in December 2020.

Herb McCoy first visited La Jolla, California in 1940. His Dartmouth roommate, Francis Fowler III, heir to the Southern Comfort fortune, invited McCoy to join him at the family’s vacation home during summer break. A native New Yorker, Herb was thrilled by the opportunities for physical activity, the sunshine and beaches.

There were other highlights that summer as well. He entered and won the annual La Jolla Rough Water Swim. Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante and Pat O’Brien presented him with his medal and Pathe News filmed the ceremony. Back in New York, his mother exclaimed in surprise, “That’s my Herbie!” when he appeared onscreen in her local theater’s weekly newsreel. Herb dated a dancer that summer, one of “The Dancing Cansinos” performing at the Hotel Coronado. The young woman also acted in movies and would soon be a huge star, better known as Rita Hayworth.

By the end of that summer, Herb McCoy vowed he’d come back to live in La Jolla one day.

But first there was college and medical school, marriage and kids. Now Dr McCoy, he worked on a surgical team at Cornell that performed the first live catheterization. A plushy Park Avenue practice beckoned, but New York was cold, dirty and noisy. He couldn’t stop thinking about California. When his first daughter, an apartment baby, rebelled at having to sit outdoors on a grassy lawn, he decided La Jolla would be good for the family too. In 1950 he joined doctors Dieffenbach and Hellman as a junior partner in their La Jolla office. Later he became chief of medicine at the new Scripps Hospital.

Over the years, Dr McCoy’s patient list included any number of prominent locals and quite a few celebrated visitors. In the early years of the La Jolla Playhouse, he was the organization’s on-call doctor, taking care of Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Jose Ferrer. He became friends with Delmar Davies, escorted Eartha Kitt to opening-night parties and taught Cornell Wilde how to surf.

Surfing became one of Herb’s passions. The doctor with the surfboard sticking up out of his white T-bird convertible became a well-known fixture at local surf spots. Legendary surfer Butch van Artesdale showed up at Herb’s office one day, his head gashed and bleeding from an accident at Windansea Beach down the street. Herb sewed him up and Butch headed right back to the water. On a business trip to Hawaii, Herb met and surfed Waikiki Beach with Duke Kahanamoku (a friend in La Jolla had provided a letter of introduction).

I asked Dr McCoy about some of the well-known writers who lived in La Jolla during the 1950s and 60s, several of whom appear in my novel. He said he’d met Raymond Chandler at a cocktail party once, but felt intimidated by Chandler’s literary reputation and prickly personality.

Another writer featured in my novel is Max Miller of I Cover the Waterfront fame. Miller lived in La Jolla from the 1940s until his death in 1967 and wrote several books about the area. He was a regular participant in the Rough Water Swim in which he proudly and loudly finished in last place every year. Dr McCoy recalled his own fascination with Miller’s practice of covering himself in grease before the swim to protect himself from the cold water.

Helen Geisel, Dr. Seuss’s first wife and collaborator, was one of Dr. McCoy’s patients (as was her husband, on occasion). She worried about her husband’s smoking, but also laughed when confiding to her doctor that her famous husband got nervous around children.

But my favorite story was about Emperor Hirohito’s visit to Scripps Oceanographic Institute in 1975. Unaware of the security precautions in place, Dr McCoy went for his regular morning run along Scripps Beach. He carried a rock in each hand for additional weight training. As he approached the pier that morning, he wondered why the beach seemed so deserted. He got his answer when a helicopter swooped in over head and FBI men confronted him with their guns drawn. Hirohito and his entourage had just started to walk out on the pier when an FBI spotter reported a man headed toward them armed with two hand grenades. Dr McCoy was detained momentarily by the authorities, but his misadventure was memorialized in the next day’s newspaper and in family lore forever.

He’s in great shape for his years, which he credits to a lifetime of regular exercise–surfing, swimming, tennis, running and scuba diving–and to his second wife, Lani. He’s lived in the same house above the Shores neighborhood since the 1960s. Sundays are family Zoom sessions with his kids (seven of them) and their families. Altogether a remarkable story about a kid from New York whose summer vacation 81 years ago changed his whole life.

Honors for Ballast Point Breakdown

Cover Image Ballast Point Breakdown
Available at Bookshop, Amazon and on Kindle

Book awards season is here. Time to celebrate! I’m happy to report that it’s been a good one for me, with Ballast Point Breakdown taking some honors.

First up, BFB was selected as a first place winner in the 2020 CLUE Awards for Suspense and Thriller fiction.

CLUE Award badge

Secondly, BFB was honored with two awards in the 2021 San Diego Book Awards. First, it was named best Published Mystery/Suspense Fiction. And it was also named SDBA’s 2021 Geisel Winner, which is their “best in show” overall award.

If you’ve been reading this blog or my newsletter, you’ll know I’m working on a historical novel that includes Ted “Dr. Seuss” Geisel as a character. You’ll also know that I have some family connections to his work. So it feels especially gratifying to have one of my books honored with an award in his name. Some kind of full circle thing, I guess.

At any rate, it’s always nice to get some recognition for your work. Now back to finishing the next book.