Ode to Upper Ridge Road

“The problem with the youth of today’ is that one is no longer part of it.
Salvador Dali

So for the last couple of years, a big part of my job is to think about how ideas connect to one another.  More specifically — how do we teach computers to move beyond treating ideas as mere strings of characters, to treating them as statements about the objects and relationships we see in the world?  How do we teach computers to understand relationships — between people, organizations, and places?  How do we teach computers to reason about the meaning of words — things we take for granted with every act of communication?

Much of this work has focused even more specifically on the basic question of “How can we ‘connect the dots’?” — whether those connections are between scientific observation and theory, between the smokestack on the horizon and that nagging cough you’ve had; or (more recently) between violent intent and action.

To me, they are all interesting “dots,” and finding the connections between them is what makes going to work each day worthwhile.
Given that background, I guess it was inevitable that I’d find fascination in the Nexus application in Facebook.  Nexus allows you to generate a diagram of your social network, showing the connections between the people who you know on Facebook.

Here’s what my graph looks like.  You can click on the picture to get a version with added annotations to depict different parts of my life — the upper right are friends from my extended professional network in the environmental community; the bottom right are my office co-workers and fellow research scientists at the Lab; over in the lower left are two different sets of online fly fishing buddies — one made up mostly of Washington State fishermen (most of whom I’ve taken fishing at one time or another), the other made up of people scattered across three continents and 30+ states, guaranteeing me a warm couch to stay on and a boat to float in no matter where I might want to fish.


In the middle, appropriately enough, are my family members — wife, sons, siblings, cousins, etc.

Linking them to the upper left is my brother, Bill (MHS Class of 1978).

The map of Facebook friendships looks a little like a star map, don’t you think — like the ones in one of my favorite books from my youth, H.A. Rey’s “The Stars,” from which I learned enough of the constellations to be able to find my way through the sky at night.

“Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me”

Everybody is a Star
Sly and the Family Stone

And in the upper left, occupying their own little constellation of memories, are you guys.  The folks I went to school with.

Here’s a close-up of that particular constellation (you can click on it to get a larger view):

Some bright stars, indeed.

Now, point the telescope in the direction of any one of these stars, and you’ll find a whole solar system of memories circling around it.

Indulge in this act of celestial re-creation for too long, though, and time and space can begin to lose their definition….kind of evocative of Dali’s painting “The Persistence of Memory.”

“The difference between a madman and me is that I am not mad.”
Salvador Dali

I love this painting, by the way.  So much so, I even have a necktie depicting it.

A real classy tie, needless to say — reserved for the handful of times in my career when I’ve been able to work Dali into one of my lectures.

A quick aside:  if you think that working Dali into a lecture on finding terrorists doesn’t takes some verbal contortions, give it a try sometime…if only my body were still as  flexible as my gift for bullshit, I’d look like one of Dali’s watches.

Anyway, I digress.  The topic of this post was SUPPOSED to be my childhood friends from Upper Ridge Road.

So look back at the constellation above, with your names on it.  Down in the lower right, connected to my brother Bill, you’ll see a handful of folks that I share a special link with — Linda Stefanini, Les White, Richard (Dick, back then) Nichols….

These are some of the Facebook contingent of the Upper Ridge Road gang.  These are the kids I grew up with.  There were many others — some of whom haven’t really gone online much — but we’ll talk about them momentarily.  First, a little geography lesson.
Upper Ridge Road, in case you haven’t been home for a while, marked the northern part of the eastern boundary of the Mukilteo School District.  In the old days, Upper Ridge ran pretty much due north from Casino Road to Glennwood, which rumbled with the sound of Associated Sand and Gravel trucks all the way down to Mukilteo Boulevard.  That was before the Boeing Freeway cut off Upper Ridge from Casino, and before Associated dug their way through the northern end of Upper Ridge.

The curse of living on a terminal moraine.
As its name suggests, Upper Ridge Road runs along a high ridge, falling off towards Evergreen way on the east side, and into what was then an extensive wooded area on the west.  Each morning the kids in the neighborhood would dutifully trudge up their gravel roads to where they intersected Upper Ridge, where we’d wait for the bus.  I loved the walk to the bus stop, because as I passed Ozie’s house on the right, Sue Stefanini’s on the left, I could look ahead and see the sun coming up over the Cascades, look behind me and see the clouds resting on the Olympics.   What I wouldn’t give for a view like that today.

From the air, Upper Ridge probably looked a little like a fish bone, with little dead-end spur roads running off in either direction (but mostly to the west) from the ridge.  When my parents moved to 78th Pl SW in 1965, I’m sure they felt like they were moving into the wilderness (especially my mom, who had grown up in Manhattan and only left New York City 8 years earlier).  And sure enough, we saw deer, and coyotes, and even a bear (once) in those woods (and sometimes, our yards) over the years.  Much later, when I was about 15, I would follow Merrill and Ring Creek — just a line on the map for much of it’s length — through the abandoned gravel pits and fenced-in back yards, all the way down to salt water, where I emerged from the woods — muddy and nettle-stung and dehydrated, but feeling like Lewis and Clark on reaching the Pacific — just south of where Glennwood intersects the Boulevard.

But this post is not in tribute to Upper Ridge Road, the place — but to the people.  Because lately a bunch of us have been talking about holding a sort of mini-reunion, a get together to celebrate and look back upon the ties that link us all together.

And since there was a whole bunch of us who grew up together through elementary school, junior high, and high school together, there are lots of memories, and lots of ties.

  • like riding around with Ozie Greene and Brad Meacham in Brad’s old Impala, listening to Aerosmith’s “Big 10 Inch (record)” and Thin Lizzie’s “The Boys are Back in Town” — over and over and over again.
  • like riding the bus to Olivia Park (Bus #38, with Busdriver Judy) with Les White in the back singing Creedence Clearwater songs.
  • like being chased through the playground by Darlise Lund in second grade, simultaneously fearing that she might catch me (she claimed she wanted to kiss me!) and hoping she wouldn’t stop chasing.
  • like playing all-night long poker games at Ozie’s house, listening to Al Green records on the stereo and talking about girls.  Maybe that association — between Al Green records and girls — is why the good Reverend Green would supply so much of the soundtrack to my wife and I’s courtship…?
  • playing football down at Apker’s field, across from Darli’s house, and hoping that the Bennett sisters or the Stefanini’s would show up –  because, at some point in our youth, we discovered that it was always more fun to get tackled — or even just chased –  by a girl
  • like riding bikes out in the woods with Dick Nichols and the rest of the guys in the neighborhood.
  • or subverting our chemistry sets to make fireworks over at Doug King’s (Class of 72) house, across the street from John and Janet Jaeger and the Bucholz family.
  • or (and I hope this doesn’t embarrass anyone other than myself), riding the after school activity bus and hoping that Arlene Bopp would be riding it home from band practice — I harbored a horrible, multi-year crush on poor Arlene (who lived on the part of Upper Ridge cut off from the rest by the Boeing Freeway) through all of junior high and most of high school, and never had the nerve to talk to her.  Looking back, I’m sure that crush kept me out of a lot of other entanglements, for which I’m retrospectively grateful.

If I’ve overlooked anybody — like the Alinen brothers, or Kim Turnupseed, or Gemma Bell, or the Whismans….it’s only out of consideration of how far along I’ve already rambled.  And there’s a whole group of folks from the Class of 1976 — Eric Goodrich, Jerry Scheffler, Chuck Foutch — who were in that same basic neighborhood, just a short bike ride away.

These people, and many more, impart a very personal resonance to the words of Herb Caen, a long-time columnist in the San Francisco area:  “I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there.”

As I’ve heard from so many of you, many of the friendships that have lasted over the decades have been the ones that began in the neighborhood — even though “the neighborhood” may have been nothing more than a bus route, or a shared refuge in the woods somewhere…

And for an information junkie like myself, who spends more time looking at computer monitors than at the sky these days, it’s fascinating to watch the constellations emerge from out of that past — like light from distant suns.

So keep on shining.  Out there, somewhere, someone is enjoying the view.

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