March 30, 2014

These Gums That Bleed

My parents weren't flossers.

They didn't teach me to floss. They were insistent on brushing – though I never wanted to and would often lie to get out of it – a routine that proved enough to keep me cavity-free into my adult years.

But, for lack of flossing, I developed tender, bleeding gums.

At the dentist, I would always spit blood during the rinse routine. I thought this was normal. I thought the post-dentist aching mouth – relieved only by clenching my teeth – was unavoidable. But my delicate pink tissue started running away from the tooth roots they are supposed to protect, an affliction I was able to ignore until my application for the Peace Corps required me to get gum graft surgery to fix it.

I was flossing more then, but not enough. I told my dentist it was every-other day, but it was more like once a week. And it was a trial because when I flossed, my gums bled so much. It was terrifying and messy. I couldn't believe the carnage I was causing inside my own mouth. I bought Extra Soft toothbrushes and tried being more ginger with my gum line, convinced I'd scoured away the flesh, exposing my roots to painful cold water and rogue bits of food.

The gum surgery – through which I suffered during one of my worst bouts of flu ever – was so bad, the recovery so arduous that I actually started paying more attention to my oral care. And I was thinking I was doing a good job, until I had to go back to the dentist, and out I spat the blood, the red-tinged mouthwash swirling in the bowl, little bits of my mouth getting stuck in the drain.

When I moved to LA, my new dentist tried to encourage me to floss more by instructing, "Only floss the teeth you want to keep," assuming that if I wanted to keep all of my teeth, I'd floss them all daily. At the time, I'd gotten so good at flossing, I could say I was doing it every-other day and not be lying. But my gums were still bleeding.

"Are you doing it hard enough?" my dental hygienist asked.

"I don't know, it feels pretty hard. How hard am I supposed to go?"

"Like this," she said, demonstrating and slicing my gum in two between two of my teeth.

"No, I am not doing it that hard," I mumbled, dabbing away the drips of blood with a tissue.

During my last visit last summer, my dentist tried to negotiate with me to figure out how to get me to floss every day. If not the spool of floss in the plastic dispenser, how about the disposable ones? How about a waterpik? 

Since it was really only my bottom row that was a problem, I made a deal with myself that I would floss at least half of my mouth every day. I would leave the floss out on the soap dish so I couldn't forget. I would floss between each tooth, and I would floss them hard. I would not recoil at the bloody bath I would be giving my teeth; I would merely brush and rise it away.

And you know what? After more than six months of being rough on my gums, in a it's-good-for-you tough love sort of way, I'm not bleeding anymore. I'm flossing every day  – mostly, since sometimes I'm running too late or I still manage to forget – and my gums are stronger for it. They can handle the pressure, the friction, and the stress without succumbing. They hold fast to my teeth rather than swelling away from them.

I guess some things perform better when challenged. The same can be true for some people.

Now let's see how they hold up for my dentist appointment next week...

Related Posts:
The Power of No
City Conversations: At the Dentist

Photo Essay: 100 Years of Trona

I first went to Trona two years ago on my way to Death Valley.

I thought all there was there were a few abandoned railcars and the Pinnacles.

Driving north of the Pinnacles, I'd seen big piles of white along Highway 178, and signs for Searles Valley Minerals alongside what looked like a dry lake bed, but otherwise, Trona seemed like a ghost town.

Turns out, there's more to Trona than the Pinnacles, and this year, it turns 100 years old.

Trona has a rich history as a mining town, its primary source being that dry lake, whose natural minerals are abundant enough to create a number of salt compounds and boron products. With the formation of the Searles Valley mineral plant, Trona became – and still is – a company town.

Because of its remote location, Trona relies heavily on rail to export its products.

The Trona Railway Museum features a historic caboose, built and delivered to Trona in 1958.

It was used by the Trona Railway (the short-line railway owned by Searles Valley Minerals) until the early 1980s...

...and was donated and moved to the museum in 1992.

You get to climb up into it...

...and walk through mining history...

...imagining all of the freight that has been hauled...

...the missions its been on...

...the distances it's traveled...

...until it stopped.

Although many of the items inside appear to be non-original but perhaps period-appropriate...

...there remains some authentic-looking paperwork taped to one of the walls...

...and some hardware appears very old, if not original.

The museum also features some rail- and non-rail-related industrial cast-offs... a bag-printer machine...

...used by AP&CC...

...and Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation in Trona.

The museum also includes an intriguing relic of industrial archaeology: an 8" valve used in the Borax Refinery of the Trona Plant.

Manufactured by the Crane Company in 1916, eventually Crane had to discontinue the use of the good luck emblem – which bore a strong resemblance to a swastika  – in the 1930s when the symbol became recognized for an entirely different movement.

You can also peer through the openings of a 1947 cell door from the jail in Argus, the unincorporated community between the Trona Pinnacles and the unincorporated community of Trona, which together make up the Searles Valley census area. (Stay tuned for photos from the Argus Cemetery...)

In addition to special access to homes and museums (with special extended Sunday hours), the Centennial celebration also provided a peek into the back of Esparza Family Restaurant...

...the former Fox Theater from 1954...

...which closed with the increased prominence of cable TV.

Amazingly, though the front lobby / box office / concession area is now leased as a restaurant, the theater in the back is pretty much preserved, and can still be used for screenings, concerts, and other events.

Finally, the big draw back to Trona for me was the rare ability to tour the Trona plant of Searles Valley Minerals, one of its three locations – and the entire reason for the town's existence.

That plant tour alone was worth the six-hour drive to me, and a good excuse to make a weekend road trip out of it.

Stay tuned for dispatches from inside the plant.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Trona Pinnacles
Celebrating the LA Aqueduct Centennial at The Cascades

March 24, 2014

And Then It Happened

[image redacted]

And there it was.

Two people in costume, facing each other, making a promise of forever.

Spectators on benches.

Photographer poised.

Phone recording video, uploading to Instagram, appearing in my feed.

There it was.

It happened.

I knew it was happening. I just didn't know it was so soon.

It's probably for the best. If I'd found out earlier, if I'd had more time, I probably would've tried to stop it. I would've done something. I would've done something.

But I only had a week. I had a week to collect the pieces of my broken heart. I had a week for the news to set in. I had a week to recover enough to get out of bed and go to work.

And then it happened.

The worst that could happen.

The end of all ends.

The final blow.

The thing beyond all things that should make me give up all hope.


Related Post:
The Worst That Could Happen

March 23, 2014

Photo Essay: The Tiny World of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

I've been to some museums and fairs and festivals that have got old trains on display. And I've ridden a few tiny trains in my day.

But never have I witnessed such a detailed, small scale world of cities, neighborhoods, lifestyles and landscapes as depicted at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

Maybe it's for kids. Maybe it attracts only the most die-hard trainspotters and railway hobbyists. But you don't have to even have ridden a train ever to be able to appreciate the granularity with which the model train enthusiasts and artisans recreate real scenes from real places, at times on a microscopic scale.

The museum is one of the largest indoor model railroad displays in the world...

...and although the individual HO and N scale layouts are among the largest of their type...

...they are tiny reproductions of real world places...

...depicted with incredible detail.

In some cases, cities and towns are built exactly to scale, with buildings, roads, and of course trains in their exact real location in relation to one another...

...real life activities reenacted by tiny people.

In other cases, the model railroad artisans take some creative license...

...placing the right buildings in the right cities, but not exactly replicated in precise detail...

...and perhaps not exactly as it really happened (see: pool-swimming shark).

Even more fascinating are the landscapes...

...particularly those of the San Diego Model Railroad Association...

...which has reproduced the San Diego & Arizona Eastern, an HO scale (1/87th actual size) model of "The Impossible Railroad"...

...which connects San Diego with El Cajon and El Centro.

This is the same railroad that I actually took from Campo, CA...

...through the tunnel to Tecate, MX — a trip that's been suspended because of a fire in Tunnel #3 on the Mexico side.

That trip is when we first heard about the Carrizo Gorge and the Goat Canyon Trestle near Anza-Borrego, a true engineering marvel that now can only be accessed via a jeep trail and strenuous hike (which I have not done yet and for which I would seek an expert companion).

Thanks to the La Mesa Model Railroad Club...

...visitors also get to explore the Tehachapi Pass and witness a train making the Tehachapi Loop, a rare occurrence in real life.

The museum also houses a Toy Train Gallery...

...featuring operating trains of Lionel type 3-rail O gauge...

...full of lights, bells, train whistles, and even smoke.

We were on a special tour that allowed us to go behind the scenes...

...get really close to the models...

...and inspect their every detail from the other side of the glass...

...where the model railroad enthusiasts operate the trains and build the sets.

Some of the landscapes are just made from layers of cardboard and newspaper...

...covered in a thin plaster and some paint...

...while others add chickenwire and other support structures. Some also have trap doors accessible from underneath, so they don't have to walk on top of the displays.

All the tracks are made by hand with tiny, delicate materials.

Extra trains, or new trains waiting to be added to the displays, are housed in storage below...

...though some actually make an unseen journey down there along tracks, looping around to reemerge onto the public display.

Each model railroad club has their own control center, some actually using real equipment from real railroad operations.

I actually had no idea how cool this place would be, but I was with a group and just went along for the ride. I've been to San Diego plenty of times, and it's never occurred to me to go.

But I'm glad I did. Sometimes it's good to just blindly say yes. Sure, why not?