As we spend a couple of months or more each year in Greece, we have made it a point to take tours to various destinations in Europe. The tour guide will normally be Greek speaking, a disadvantage for me. On the other hand, it allows me to wander a bit and see what we are visiting instead of having my foot nailed to the floor while the guide drones on about whatever. This year, our tour choice  was Poland.

Day 1: Getting there.

Our Greek home is in Peraia,  a suburb of Thessaloniki. The tours originate from Athens so we have an extra leg. Athens is not my favorite airport. It is crowded, cluttered, clumsy and chaotic. It is certainly not what one would expect of a capitol city.

The tours have been using Aegean Airlines, a company that effectively replaced Olympic. They have a fleet of 60 Airbus A320’s, a crowded model with really tight seat spacing. I endured. I did not enjoy.

Our first destination was Krakow, wherein we found a very hospitable city centered around a plaza filled with restaurants, souvenir vendors and people. This, we found, is characteristic of every Polish city and impresses with the tidiness of streets and everything.

Day 2: The salt mine and the city.


On display in the mine are reminders of what such work meant in the time before mechanization. Some of the wooden machinery is very impressive.

In the morning, we began a descent into the Wielezka salt mine which, though now not operational, must have produced a few cubic miles of rock salt over the course of its more than 600 years of operation. More than just a mine, it contains a variety of sculpture, all in rock salt done by miners, that commemorate saints and kings and more. In all, the mine reaches depths over 1000 ft., and includes 178 miles of shafts and passages. In the course of the tour, you descend hundreds of steps. Wobbly legs are to be expected. The ascent is by elevator,


In the afternoon, we took a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter and the Wawel Castle and Cathedral. The cathedral is typical of the major churches throughout Poland, immense and magnificent.

The Jewish Quarter, by contrast, is very subdued. Prior to World War II, there were an estimated 80,000 Jews in the city. At the end of the war, a mere 7,000 had survived. Since then the Jewish population has virtually vanished. There are a few synagogues and no more than 200 Jews remaining.

This is characteristic of the entire tour. The simplest way to say it is that the Nazis thoroughly trashed Poland, and the Russians were none too careful in their reconquest. At the end of the war with the country mostly in ruins, Poland began a decades long reconstruction that continues to this day. There was more to come.

P1040688Day 3: Into the Heart of Darkness

As it is told, the Nazis originally only intended to force the Jews out of Europe. They considered sending them first to Siberia, but the invasion of Russia ended that. Then Zanzibar was considered. When they realized that it would be too expensive and probably not possible, the most expedient alternative was extermination, something they set about doing with typically Teutonic efficicency.  The Jews were rounded up and shipped to a number of concentration and extermination camps. The best known of these was near the Polish town of Oswciem, called by the Germans, Auschwitz.

These tracks lead through the building to the selection area. As the prisoners descended from their train, a German officer would select those who would live or die.

Much of this camp remains and is now maintained as a tourist destination. It was situated around a set of brick barracks built for the Polish Army. To these were added additional crude wooden barracks to house the thousands of prisoners. The brick barracks and some of the wooden barracks still stand. The Nazis destroyed most of the extermination facilities when they realized that they were about to loose the war and the Russians were approaching. The gas chambers and crematoriums are mostly gone. A sobering display is housed in several of the brick barracks.

It is impossible to comprehend the magnitude of all of this. Auschwitz alone accounted for some 1,500,000 Jews and others. The exhibits recount the treatment of prioners and the processing that sorted the capable from the less so. The latter went directly to the chambers. Those remaining were simply worked to death.

A small assortment of artificial limbs.

The most harrowing part of the exhibits are all the possesions conficated from prisoners as they arrived. There are piles of luggage, shoes, brushes, eyglasses and more.  A large room is filled with human hair shaved from the corpses and sold to the textile industries. All this is only a fraction of what was taken, and that only at Auschwitz.


From the brick barracks, you are lead to the arrival tracks where the selections were made, and then into some of the wooden barracks. On display is a boxcar of the type in which prisoners were shipped to the camps. They would have little or no food or water. With as many as 80 people crammed into one boxcar, a trip that might last as long as ten days resulted in the deaths of many before they ever reached a camp.


These barracks were a minimal consruction that provided only shelter and no comfort at all. Imagine a half dozen people all crammed onto that shelf without mattress or blankets.

Once you have experienced this place, your perspective must change. Talking of the Holocaust without it is to deal with the abstract. Here at this place is the concrete and undeniable evidence and in overwhelming volume.

Empty canisters of Zyklon B, the poison gas used to kill prisoners en masse.

Is there a lesson for us here? Of course there is. There are many lessons. First and foremost is that in the political discourse of the day, to liken anyone to the monsters who perpetrated the holocaust is reprehensible. To do so trivializes what was done and diminishes the memory of all those vicitms. We would do well to rethink our poisonous politics and begin to restore some to civility to it. I do not say that we would or could repeat that history but the less we appreciate the enormity of it and honor the dead whose ashes are scattered there, the more likely we are to visit our own heart of darkness.

My Yearbook

Let me tell you a story about a yearbook. No, not that yearbook. I will get to that a little further down. This is a tale of mixed identities in a mystery that I have only recently solved. Fear not, there are no villains, skulduggery or even a horse race, just a confusion that lasted for decades.

poly el 68
The Electronics Engineering (EL) class of 1968. I am third row third from right, next to Ed Devine, a veteran like me, who’s promising football career was stopped by a broken ankle. We were a diverse group before diversity became an issue.

I graduated from then California State Polytechnic College ( University) in San Luis Obispo in the awful year of 1968. It was an awful year on the national scene. At least in that school year we could reflect with pride on the fact that we almost beat San Diego State in football. If you know anything about the history of football at Poly, you will understand why that would have been so. But that is a digression.


The “offending yearbook still surprises me.

I still have my senior yearbook, though you will be hard pressed to find me in it. I was active with Poly Royal, a “Country fair on a college campus” the open house that was held at about the time of spring break. I would digress even more to delve into the circumstances of its demise. An annual open house, it was a major undertaking.


Fast forward now a half century and my Electronics Engineering class is invited to a reunion staged by the Electrical Engineering department. (The EL degree was retired some years ago and is now offered as an option in the EE department.) My college room mate and I have stayed in contact all these years, even though we are now almost a continent apart. He contacted me to find out if I was planning to attend and we made plans.

The reunion group, third from right again. My roommate is far left, next to Dr. Don Winger, the one faculty member to make it, and Dan Malone, now an instructor at Poly.

The reunion included a tour of the campus and the annual engineering banquet and great hospitality. I am grateful to school for making this effort. It was superbly enjoyable event, even though few of my classmates attended.


I am sure that I am not the only one who takes a reunion as an excuse to review old yearbooks and whatever other items we might still retain. I was even able to amuse my daughter and her cousin with the fact that I had acted in a Ray Bradbury play in my senior year.

None of this directly addresses the mystery to which I alluded at the outset. The story is this. Though I never made an effort to inform Cal Poly of my occasional changes of address, year after year alumni magazines and newsletters would still find me. Of interest was the “Where are they now?” items which I would peruse with some interest. Then, in one issue about ten years on, I was surprised to read that I was now a 1st Lieutenant in the army stationed in Germany. This was erroneous to say the least and I resolved to inform them of the fact, something I never got around to.

Over the years I puzzled over that error. I recall a classmate remarked about it to me but the mystery remained. The reunion brought me back to my yearbook and finally I realized why that error had been made. It seems that there was a Rob Sexton at Poly during my time there what was a year or two behind me and in a different department. The similarity of our names caused some harried and overworked yearbook editor to assume that we were one and the same and that error was passed on to the alumni and newsletter editors and probably persists to this day. I do not know what happened to Rob or where he might be now. Perhaps he is puzzling over an invitation to participate in an engineering reunion soon.

All this came back to me when the news about Virginia governor Ralph Northam broke. It started with his lamentable comments on the Virginia abortion law but that was shunted aside when it was revealed that he had committed the unforgiveable sin of having done something stupid in his college years. That was where the yearbook came in focus. In his medical school yearbook a picture showed someone in blackface on his page. The fact of its existence was compounded by the ham handed handling by Northam when it came to light.

Make what you will of his transgression or his possible attitude or beliefs, these facts are certain. First, the picture shows two individuals, one in blackface and the other in a KKK costume. Neither can be positively identified as Northam nor does any caption identify the two. Such evidence is circumstantial at best and thus cannot -should not- be grounds for his resignation. Nor should anyone be similarly condemned except in extreme cases.

Northam’s handling, on the other hand probably ought to at least raise a few eyebrows. However, he belongs to the Virginia Democrats and, evidently due to the current politics, he remains in office. You may think he should or should not resign. But before you rush to the attack -or defense- you should likely not rely on his yearbook for evidence. Just ask me, I know.

Addendum: This name confusion struck again. On a recent hospital visit, my turn at the X-ray machine was missed because there was another individual with the same last name. They got my turn when the name was called.  What would happen if I had a common name?

Good by, Dave…

The news came as a shock. David L. McDonald, the former CEO of Pelco, had died suddenly.. Last Thursday, January 24, a memorial was held at the Saroyan Theater in Fresno. The service, conducted by former mayor Alan Autry, made a pretty good effort to convey the magnitude of all that Dave had accomplished in his 69 years.

dave mcdolad bee
Dave McDonald with a sculpture of one of his dogs at the time of the dedication of the Miss Winkles Pet Adoption center in Clovis, CA. Fresno Bee photo

I worked for Pelco for seven years, retiring at about the time that the company was sold to Schneider Electric. It was, to put it mildly, a unique experience. It was exceptional because Dave ~ we all knew him as Dave~ used a combination of perks and policies that propelled Pelco to becoming the dominant security camera maker in a highly competitive market.

To begin with, there was the orientation, a legendary experience that every new employee, no matter how high or low, would receive. The orientation was a day long seminar that gave the new recruits a comprehensive overview of the company’s operations. This was not put on by outside trainers, nor delegated to low level subordinates. Instead, each department head spent an hour or so telling and showing just what their departments did and how. Typical of Dave’s policy, at the end of each spiel, a small offering of gift items was handed out to each of us present. This included little things like pens, notepads, etc.

And then Dave entered the room. His role was the wrap-up, giving a thorough overview of the company concluding with the secret weapon of Pelco. You must understand that company organizations are hierarchical in nature. They have to be as someone has to be in charge. Someone has to make the final decision. All too often, this degenerates into a system of buck-passing, pushing decisions ever upward, trying to avoid responsibility for failures.

Dave had a different idea. In his domain. every employee was empowered to make decisions when dealing with customers. That is, if I went on a service call and decided that a camera needed replacement, I would not have to call the office for approval or permission. My only call would be to locate that camera and get it shipped ASAP. This policy gave all of us a sense of responsibility unlike any other business.

There were other policies, two of which were instrumental in building the company’s reputation for service. For one, shipping on the promised delivery date was sacrosanct. Missing a date would bring on a review at the weekly staff meeting by Dave himself. So rigorously was this adhered to that Pelco had a track record of shipping on time better than 99.9% of the time. Interestingly, as onerous as this sin might be, Dave never yelled at or humiliated the responsible parties in any way. The facts were reviewed and then he would simply state that steps must be taken to ensure this would not happen again. No one ever doubted that he was serious.

Along with that policy, repairs were guaranteed a 24-hour turnaround. Send in your broken equipment and it would be repaired and returned in 24 hours. Again, the adherence to this policy bordered on the fanatical. This sometimes meant replacing equipment if the repair solution was elusive, but it built a solid reputation for the company.

The parking lot in front of Pelco. The flag and pole were put in place as a memorial for the 9/11 tragedy. This included a museum displaying items from ground zero , along with first responder equipment and uniforms. As a salute to those men, McDonald had some 1,100 of them brought to Clovis in December of that year for relief and recreation. 

And Dave knew how to treat customers as well. Equipment training was a definite part of the Pelco experience. Not long before the sale to Schneider, Pelco acquired a private jet, but not for business travel. The jet was first and foremost for bringing customers to Clovis for sales meetings and the like. Annually, Pelco displayed at the security show in Las Vegas. This included a dinner and show and admission was much sought after by attendees. Pelco employees were brought to Las Vegas to get exposure to the industry and to act as hosts at this dinner. Did I say ginormous shrimp? And first class entertainment? I went twice and saw Huey Lewis and the News, and Kenny Rogers, just as an example.

One of my work spaces at Pelco. As the company grew, we moved more than once.

Dave knew how to treat his employees just as well. There were things like the Friday donuts, the monthly department lunches. In the engineering department, when a project was completed, a special lunch was held. There were opportunities to volunteer for many of the charitable events that Pelco staged and sponsored. Fresno will never forget the campaign for Measure Z that helped fund the Chaffee  Zoo. Nor has the Marine Corp forgotten the Toys for Tots donations that Dave promoted. There were the departmental safety gifts, handed out for each quarter that the department had a clean safety record. I still have a very nice thermos, typical of them, and a number of other items. And there were Pelco Bucks, given for various reasons and redeemable at the gift store.

My engineering group on a tour of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in 2007, lead by a certain interesting personality. Sadly Dave McDonald is not the only  one to have passed on. Two of this group have died recently, Dave Toste next to Kopi and Ann Henebury, the blond lady next to me.

All good things come to an end. Businesses are no exception.  In 2007, it was announced that Schneider Electric, a major company in the building integration market, had acquired Pelco. With the change in management came changes in the policies and purpose of Pelco Since then, the plant in Clovis has essentially shut down and perhaps a third or more of the staff let go. The unique experience of Pelco is no more and now Dave is gone. It is a temptation to liken it to a Camelot but I will resist. Even so, it was a far better working experience than any other I have had and I know, judging by the fact that ex-Pelconauts still get together, that many others thought so as well.

Good by, Dave McDonald. May you long be remembered.



Saturday was a fishing day. The FFFC, Fresno Fly Fishers for Conservation, held a monthly outing at Avocado Lake. It is a popular swimming and recreation location and fishing spot. The lake itself was not the target for the day as the Kings River flows right nearby. This stretch of the river is designated as a catch and release area, meaning that any fish caught must be returned to the water, preferably alive. Moreover, only artificial lures may be used -no bait! Trout is the dominant species so it is popular for fly fishing, of which I am a devotee -of sorts. (Another blog will give you an idea of the area. http://www.keepcalmandflyfish.com/2016/12/visit-to-lower-kings-river.html.)

I have been fishing ever since childhood. Kings Canyon was a frequent choice for family outings and we would make our way there once or twice a year from San Francisco, an arduous journey. I remember arriving late at night with the stars shining through the tall trees. Camping in Cedar Grove became a family tradition. My first trip there was in 1946 in old Studebaker sedan. Sadly I do not have pictures from any of those trips though I am certain they still exist.

My father was an ardent fly fisherman but in my earliest days, he provided me a bait casting rod and reel meant for little guys like I was. It was not until my teens that he began to introduce me to the gentle art. I have been fly fishing ever since and greatly prefer it, especially dry flies.

Michael's first fish for 2019
Michael with his first fish of the year, a 20″ beauty taken from the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam.

However, I have been anything but diligent, fishing only infrequently over the years. Until recently. Allow me to introduce my grandson, Michael. How and when he discovered fishing I do not know, but a few years ago, he discovered the FFFC. The club (which you can find at http://www.fresnoflyfishers.org) has for a number of years held a youth academy. The Roger Miller Youth Academy is an annual event during which interested young people are taught the basics of fly fishing and fly tying. Michael applied with the stated purpose of being able go fishing with his grandfather. We have been members ever since. (There is more to the story, but that is for another time.)

This day, however, Michael could not participate. His schoolwork is pretty intense and he has to devote considerable time to it and give it first priority. We did get out earlier this year, with a very satisfying result -for him, at least. For myself, Saturday was quite productive. We found a hole right near our picnic site where a large school of trout were holding. They must have been hungry (I think they were recent transplants) as several of us were able to take (and release) fish. I caught three, the largest about 13″ and a strong fighter. I was not disappointed. It was a very good day.