The Politics of a Homeowners Association

This has been a most interesting year so far. I had planned on it being a low key year, and in some ways, it has been as I have had to postpone my scheduled road trip for this year to next year. However, my responsibilities have increased. I realize that it has been over seven months since I posted on my website blog, but in the opening paragraph of that previous post, I noted that an interesting event had occurred in the previous year, having the position of president of the board of my homeowners association being dropped into my lap. The responsibility has been an interesting learning curve.

The concept of a homeowners association can be varied due to the type and number of homes in a neighborhood where an association can be formed. A homeowners association formed among a group of single family homes on individual lots is more of a collective oversight of the general neighborhood with more individual responsibility of private property. However, when the homes are townhomes or condominiums sharing one or more buildings in the community, more responsibility is placed on the legally controlled association to maintain the community, and individual homeowners are required to provide a monthly fee to cover the oversight and maintenance of the shared areas of the community. A covenant limited board of owners from the full group of homeowners are formed to handle the oversight. When I lived in Los Angeles, I owned a townhome in a building of six units, a small number that basically put every owner on the board. Under this situation, our association was more like a tight knit clique that handled the management of our building simply on our own. Yet, my current townhome is one of over one hundred units spread within a small neighborhood community which requires a professional property management company to handle the maintenance of building exteriors, landscape areas, and roadways, as well as the enforcement of the rules from board decisions and oversight of the association founding covenants. Due to the small size of the community, being on the board as an elected representative of the community is basically a volunteer duty, mainly consisting of attending a once-a-month meeting to handle community decisions. However, good board members realize that the responsibility of members are not limited to just the monthly meeting.

Community issues rise up quite often, which require the property management company to seek input from the board members. Some property management companies try to respond to individual owner complaints and requests on their own with very little reporting back to the board members, but other property management companies seek to maintain transparency with the board by keeping them informed of the communications as they come in. The property management company in my association falls into the latter category, which helps the board make more informed decisions when needed. In a way, it also helps the board members to get to know their fellow owners and neighbors, especially in regards to their concerns and needs. It is amazing how this fast-paced digital-oriented modern society has disconnected people from others living next door within communities. However, it is also amazing how this disconnect has created separate perspectives that have formed splits in the views within the community, a smaller version of what is visible in the political discord within and between countries on a global scale. In my position on the board, I have a front row perspective of this subtle division.

The main issue is basically in trying to find and understand the balance, dividing line, and responsibilities between the individual and society. In our situation, the individual is the person, family, or other legal entity that purchased the defined unit within the group community. Under the concept of ownership, the individual should be free to make decisions on how to enjoy and benefit from the property purchased, but is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the property. However, on the social concept of an association, the interconnection of the units and the common property which they all share put a group responsibility on the general maintenance of the buildings and land. The constant question is where the line between social and individual responsibility and ownership lie. Unfortunately, that line is not absolute, but individual perspectives always seek to find that absolute line.

The basic argument is mainly conformity versus individuality. On one side, exterior design should be standard throughout the neighborhood, whereas on the other side, an individual should be free to express themselves within the borders of their property. With townhome associations, since units are interconnected, it is understandable to have the association determine the general color and maintenance of the exterior walls, but it is amazing to see the argument regarding window design conformity. Windows are a pathway from exterior to interior, so the responsibility of maintenance and upgrading is left to the individual owner. However, since windows have an exterior side, there is a sense of design conformity that many feel the association has a right to impose on the individual owner, not just with frame color, but also with design style. Should an owner be forced to have side sliding windows over up and down sliding windows? For some, association conformity rules over individual choice, although for many, the association conformity usually must conform to their own personal view.

Another area of conflict is with landscaping. For one side, the association is there to handle plant and grass maintenance, so they have no reason to get involved with it unless the plants begin to die, which is when they send complaints to the association board about landscape contractor incompetence. However, the other side has an innate avid gardener persona that wants to create and maintain their own exterior garden area. These owners seek a space where individual flower and shrub design is created and controlled by their own views. Over-avid owners seek to impose their design views on common areas beyond their unit in order to assign their own sense of conformity throughout the community, regardless of the cost.

In the end, I see the role in which I have been placed as president of the homeowners association board is to fiscally find the best balance between these sides by listening and guiding owners to find a good level of individual freedom and social acceptance, but I am aware that this level will always change and it will never find full acceptance by all. Still, it is better than accepting one side over the other and encouraging division, something I see on a larger scale in this country and globally.

 

2018 – A Year in Reviewing Indie Books

2019 is here, which means that I survived 2018. Last year was an interesting year. A rash of resignations on my HOA board led to me landing in the president position on the board, taking a bit more of my time. I also had fewer connects from fellow indie authors through my social media campaign. At the same time, I developed another idea for a new book that I outlined and have started to write. All of this led to a lower number of books that I read last year from previous years, only 21 novels and novellas. Going over my reviews for the year, the quality range was quite broad with most ranking at 4 stars, but an equal number of books hitting the high range of 5 stars to the number of books landing in the middle range of 3 stars. A couple of books landed at 3½ stars which stayed at that rank on LibraryThing, but rounded up into the 4 star range on GoodReads and Amazon. Then, there were three books that slid down to the 2 star range. It was an interesting mixture of reads over the past year.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past years postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

Of the four novels that landed in the top 5 star ratings, three of them were from two indie authors whose works I had previously reviewed. Doug J. Cooper’s Crystal Escape completed the four novel sci-fi series with the same level of storytelling as the first three, pushing me to gladly recommend the full series for sci-fi adventure fans. Western historical fiction expert John Rose Putnam’s Face of the Devil and Hang Billy Mulligan engaged me into the late nineteenth century historical adventure of the northern California gold rush days. The one 5 star novel from a new author was Beneath the Silver Rose by T.S. Adrian, which fully engaged the adventure of a medieval fantasy tale, even if it was adult-only erotica.

At the other end of the scale, the three novels that landed in the 2 star zone were basically stories that overplayed their hand, stretching plot devices and missing character connections, from a multi-year future history space fleet sci-fi tale to a couple of psychological horror stories, one with a seemingly unstoppable stalker and the other with a missing child case that upends a couple’s life.

In the 3 star range, three of the four novels were based in the sci-fi and medieval fantasy genres, showing some of the challenges in constructing a solid mythology to back up and support the plot and characters of these highly imaginative worlds, especially when erotic elements are added. The erotic element also interfered in the complicated love story of soulmates finding each other in the fourth 3 star novel. The two 3½ star novels take a step up in finding their base stories, one in a near-future zombie apocalyptic opening tale of a series and the other in an archeological high-adventure story.

The larger 4 star body of works I read had some very entertaining works, from a basic police mystery, a psychological drama of abuse, a sci-fi space flight fantasy adventure, and a graphic superhero team adventure to a family curse paranormal adventure, a 70’s English spy thriller, and a dramatic rebuilding of a shattered romance. The eighth 4 star work was actually a nonfiction how-to book for self-publishing, a book I bought directly from the author at a local book fair in Denver.

It was a good year of reading, and I hope that this year will be just as good. I will also be striving to complete this new dramatic mystery that will live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. At the same time, I hope avid readers will check out the novels I read in 2018 and also check out my self-published novel, Legacy Discovered, and if they purchase and read it, let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

2018 Emmy Voting

Another year has passed, and the voting has ended again. As a member of the Public Relations Peer Group of the Television Academy, I was once again honored to be able to vote in certain categories for the 2018 Emmy Awards for outstanding television programming. The online viewing site for the nominated programs opened up at the beginning of August, and online voting opened up during the last two full weeks of August, closing down on the final Monday of August. The rules for voting remained the same as last year. Academy members were required to view all nominees in a category before voting, but for series or limited series nominees, members only needed to view one episode of the six provided of each nominee in order to vote. Unfortunately, unexpected activity in my homeowners association and a couple of other projects in which I was involved kept me from being able to view nominees in as many categories as I did last year. I was restricted to voting in only four categories this year.

For the Outstanding Reality Competition category, the six nominees were the exact same nominees as last year, CBS’s The Amazing Race, NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, Lifetime’s Project Runway, VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bravo’s Top Chef, and NBC’s The Voice. Some of the nominees had some adjustments that demonstrated considered improvements. In Project Runway, the variation in the models’ sizes may have been a greater challenge to the aspiring designers, but it also showed a broader sense of diversity to the audience. In The Voice, the celebrity judges who compete with each other to get good aspiring singers to take them on as mentors in the competition were given an added button to block a fellow celebrity judge. In Top Chef, the competition took place in Colorado, my current home, and, in one episode, tested the aspiring chefs to create a tasty meal with a campfire on an overnight rugged camp-out. However, the basic concept of these reality competitions as well as RuPaul’s Drag Race focused on a specific skill, while American Ninja Warrior is a straight physical competition of speed, agility, and strength over an elevated obstacle course, but The Amazing Race, still an admitted favorite of mine, provides a global cultural lesson and perspective to the viewing audience, as they watch teams of two race around the world. My vote again went to The Amazing Race.

For Outstanding Television Movie, there were only five nominees, and like last year, one nominee still challenged my definition of a television movie. It was a new episode from the Netflix anthology series, Black Mirror, which focuses on futuristic stories centered within the digital universe. The nominated episode, USS Callister, about an inhibited corporate tech partner who generates digital genetic clones of his co-workers in a “Star Trek” like digital universe to gain superiority over them, was only a few minutes over an hour long, which does not meet my expectation for the length of a television movie. In fact, some of the Outstanding Drama Series episodes were longer than this movie nominee. In addition, unlike the uplifting twist of last year’s nominated Black Mirror episode, USS Callister was a basic good versus evil plot. Fellow HBO nominee, Fahrenheit 451, shares the sci-fi stage as an updated adaptation of the Ray Bradbury literary classic with a genetically digital climactic ending. The other three nominees find their basis connected to actual events. HBO’s The Tale, about a woman documentarian whose short story she wrote as a teenager is found by her mother and sent to her bringing up repressed memories of a sexual encounter with a mentor, begins with a disclaimer that the story is based on actual events experienced by the executive producer and creator of the film. HBO’s Paterno has Al Pacino portraying the famous Penn State head coach during the time when the sexual molestation scandal of his assistant coach reaches its zenith. Flint examines the Michigan city’s water crisis and the women advocates who uncovered the scandal and forced the city and state to take action. It was the positive story of advocacy that encouraged me to vote for Flint.

The Outstanding Comedy Series had eight nominees to view, but only four of the nominees were repeat nominees from last year. ABC’s Modern Family, the series I voted for last year, was not one of those four. The returning nominees were FX’s Atlanta, ABC’s black-ish, HBO’s Silicon Valley, and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Just like last year, Atlanta appeared to me to be more dramatic that comedic, despite its solid themes. The remaining four nominees all have a connection to the entertainment culture. HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s satirical series of Hollywood culture, may not have been nominated last year, but it has been nominated in previous years. HBO’s Barry, Netflix’s GLOW, and Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are new series, so it is an honor for them to be nominated in their premiere season. Barry, a series about a hitman who decides to join an acting class and change his career, and GLOW, a series on hopeful actresses who audition and become female wrestlers, also are based in the Hollywood culture. However, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, set in New York City in the late 50s, enthralled me with the hyper-active, take-care-of-everything young wife and mother out to help her husband become a star comic while raising their young children, who suddenly finds out that her husband was cheating on her when he walks out on them, which leads to her finding herself on a journey that shows she is the better comic talent than he ever was. I voted for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

In the Outstanding Drama Series category, five of the seven nominated series were repeat nominees from last year. However, the two nominees not on last year’s list were not new to Emmy nominations. In fact, one of these two nominees, HBO’s Game of Thrones, has been a constant nominee in past years and has the most nominations in all categories for this year. It was not nominated last year because it did not have a season last year, keeping fans guessing on which characters would survive for some time. Yet, the series hyper-power competition of fantasy medieval kingdoms is a bit too strong for me. FX’s The Americans, a series of a family of Russian spies living undercover in a Washington, DC suburb, had also been nominated in previous seasons and earned its nomination for its final season. The category’s repeat nominees were Netflix’s The Crown, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Netflix’s Stranger Things, NBC’s This Is Us, and HBO’s Westworld. This Is Us continued its strong path of wrapping audiences within its emotional family drama twists, even if it pulled at reality in its way. The Crown still appealed with its historical foundation of the life of Queen Elizabeth. Both The Handmaid’s Tale and Westworld had turned darker in their second season, while Stranger Things still maintained its sci-fi fantasy balance in the retro 80s in its second season. I voted for the balance in Stranger Things.

Once again, my votes last year were not the eventual winners, but I still remain truthful and fair in my considerations. Maybe this year, one of my selections will wind up receiving the Emmy this year during the Primetime Emmy Awards telecast on September 17 at 8pm ET on NBC.

Update: As announced during the Emmy Awards that aired on NBC on Monday, September 17, one of the shows I voted for, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for Outstanding Comedy Series, did wind up receiving the Emmy. The other three shows I voted for did not wind up receiving the Emmy. RuPaul’s Drag Race received the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, Black Mirror: USS Callister received the Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, and Game of Thrones received the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. I applaud all of the recipients of this year’s Emmys.

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 4

Here it was the afternoon of the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend and the fifth day of my grand road tour of the Pacific Northwest in which I had experienced the perspective and wonder of four major national parks from Glacier NP in Montana to Washington’s diverse trio of North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier, but after I had exited Mount Rainier National Park, I had attempted to drive southward on a weather-beaten road to reach Mount St. Helens National Monument, a protected environment under the US Forest Service, which was created a few years after the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in May of 1980 had decimated the surrounding area. However, twenty miles down this pot-holed, rocky, and gravel-roughed road, I was suddenly stopped by a sign and roadblock indicating the road beyond was still closed by winter snows. I pulled into a nearby campsite parking area and pulled out the printed computer itinerary I had created for the trip. Within the line details of the route, I noticed that I was supposed to take a southbound local road from another town to the west of the town where I had followed the road sign. The road I was on headed down the eastern side of Mount St. Helens, away from the western entrance where the informative visitor center was located. However, if I drove back up to the main road and tried to find this other unmarked local road, I realized I could find it difficult to stay on course. I could hear my friend’s voice in my head telling me that this is what a GPS app was for. Of course, I could take the main road back to Interstate 5, then drive south to the Mount St. Helens exit, then drive back east to the visitor center, but this would add a couple of hours, if not more, to the day, and it was already the mid-afternoon. I decided that I needed to pass up Mount St. Helens and move on. I had accomplished the main goal of checking off four national parks from my trip bucket list and the remainder of my itinerary was to visit a couple of national monuments on the way back to Colorado.

I put my car through the suffering of going back up the rough twenty miles to the main road and headed for Interstate 5. Once on Interstate 5, I headed south to Portland. I had thought it might be a good idea to drive through downtown Portland, but the earlier delays of the day made me decide to take the 205 bypass around Portland to connect with Interstate 84 and head east to the small town of Pendleton, where I had made my motel reservation.

The next day, Memorial Day, I got up early and headed back onto Interstate 84 towards Idaho. I had commented in part 2 of this multi-part blog post that this trip had another goal of upgrading Idaho on my bucket list. I had first visited Idaho in the spring of my first year of college when I had visited my birthplace of Burns, Oregon, and had taken the bus to Boise to catch a plane back to Los Angeles. This was before I had a decent camera to record my trips. About fifteen years ago, I had driven a half hour through a small corner of southeast Idaho on my way to Jackson, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park without stopping. On this current trip, I had driven through the upper Idaho panhandle between Montana and Washington, but I had stopped to eat dinner in a small Idaho town. Now, I was going to complete the upgrade by visiting the Craters of the Moon National Monument in eastern Idaho, taking pictures of a stark landscape.

Craters of the Moon National Monument is a small protected area of dark rocks, cone hills, and fissures along the Pioneer Mountains. To many, it may look like a stretch of moon landscape, which is how it received its name, but the landscape is really the result of past lava flows in a volcanic fissure. Its proximity to Yellowstone just to the east gave me a wonderful perspective of the volcanic activity lying below this fissure. I walked around a small trail and hiked up a nice black cone to get my pictures before driving on.

Paisley Cone, Craters of the Moon National Monument

I headed south into Utah to reach Brigham City where I had made my motel reservation. Brigham City is also next to an important historical location where east and west rails came together to form America’s first transcontinental railroad, bridging the two coasts. The final connection was done with a golden spike in a bold historical display. I had planned to make a quick stop to check it out. However, as I drove down to Brigham City, the clouds darkened overhead. Since it was getting late in the day, and I wasn’t sure how the site would look in the rain, I headed straight to the motel and checked in for the night. I figured that I would have a chance to slip over first thing in the morning before moving on. However, when I got up the next morning, the clouds were still around and threatening. I was glad to be near the important historical site, but I felt I could pass up this little side trip under the current weather conditions.

I was now on my way to my final stop before heading home, Dinosaur National Monument. The preserved environmental monument straddled over the Utah-Colorado border with most of the land being on the Colorado side. The park is mainly known for the dinosaur fossils that were discovered within the park, making it a very scientific perspective of archeology to explore, so I had planned the itinerary to visit the Colorado side on my way home. However, as I did my research on Dinosaur NM before starting the trip, I discovered that an important dinosaur gallery was on the Utah side, so I added the Utah entrance as well. Now, as I headed east on US 40 coming close to the Utah entrance, I was glad to see the dark clouds staying behind to the west. I turned onto a local road and headed up to the entrance.

I parked next to the visitor center and went in to explore. From the visitor center, a shuttle took me and other visitors up the hill to a building constructed against a quarry wall where loads of dinosaur fossils were visible within the rock. At one spot, visitors were allowed to actually feel the bones in the rock. When visitors were finished viewing the fossils and other exhibits, they had the option of taking the shuttle back or walking the outdoor trail down to the visitor center. Of course, I chose the trail which showed stretches of the geologic strata where the dinosaurs were found. Clam fossils were prevalent and a dinosaur backbone was visible on a rock wall along the way. When I reached the visitor center, I asked one of the park ranger about what fossils I would see on the Colorado side. I was surprised to discover that there were no fossils on display in Colorado. The park was mainly natural views of the canyon created by the Yampa River with recreational activities. Since there was no connecting road within the park, I would have to drive out to the main road, cross the border, and then drive back up to the Colorado entrance. I had thoroughly enjoyed the dinosaur perspective I had just immersed myself in, so I decided that I did not need to visit the Colorado side.

Dinosaur Fossils on Quarry Wall in Quarry Exhibit Hall, Dinosaur National Monument

I headed back through the Colorado Rockies on my way home. It was a glorious way to finish up this road trip. I had accomplished this trip in seven days and seen a lot to increase my perspective. It was a wonderful adventure to experience.

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 3

The first half of my Pacific Northwest road trip had already taken me to two mountain range national parks situated up against the US/Canadian border, from a quick zip into Glacier National Park in Montana to an open crossing through North Cascades National Park Complex in Washington. Now, I was on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, wondering if I should try to slip on a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula that had all of the advanced reservations booked into the afternoon or head back off the island and drive a couple of hours circling around through Seattle and come up into the peninsula from the south in order to visit one of the most diverse and popular national parks, Olympic NP. As I got up early at the motel on a Saturday morning, I decided that it would not take that much time to drive over to the ferry port and just check out my options.

The drive over to the ferry dock turned onto a two lane road that had very little traffic that early in the day. It appeared the port was coming up just to the left, but a center divider wall came up between the two lanes and a sign directed me to head straight for the ferry. About a mile up the road, a sign directed me into a roundabout that led me back to the entrance I had passed earlier. I drove up to the entrance gate and asked the attendant about the possibilities of reservation cancellations, and he informed me that even if I didn’t get on the first ferry, I would probably make the second. I paid and was directed to a center-right lane in the port waiting area behind a couple of cars. As I sat and waited in my car, I noticed more and more cars coming in and lining up in the lanes to the left of me, starting with the farthest left lane. The two farthest right lanes filled up with long vehicles. I suddenly realized that the roundabout spur was to handle a backup of vehicles that usually occurred at the entrance gate. After the ferry arrived and the vehicles in the left and far right lanes had loaded on, there was room for the cars in my lane to board as well. As I discovered, not all of the available space was covered by advance reservation, as the ferry had to leave some space for last minute arrivals. Going early put me in that last minute available space. I got out of the car and went to the top deck to take pictures of the trip over Puget Sound.

View of Puget Sound lighthouse from Port Townsend ferry

Once I drove off the ferry in Port Townsend, I headed straight for Port Angeles, the closest entrance to Olympic National Park. The park covers most of the Olympic Peninsula and is encircled by US 101. The size and diversity of the park is the reason I dedicated this day to just exploring the park at many entrances. I drove to US 101 and turned toward Port Angeles. When I arrived, I stopped at the park’s main visitor center to grab an information pamphlet and check out the gift shop. It was madness inside the center as Memorial Day visitors were lining up for hiking and camping passes, but since I didn’t need a pass, I got out of there quickly with my pamphlet and a deck of cards. Then, I headed into the park toward the Hurricane Ridge overlook, only I did not get too far. About a mile into the park, I suddenly came to the end of a line of cars waiting to move forward. Knowing that my main interest was in the rain forests on the western side and checking the pamphlet, I decided to skip the mountain ridge area and turn back. When I got back to Port Angeles, I went west on US 101 and continued around the park. US 101 entered the park boundary around the northwest corner next to Lake Crescent, where I was able to stop on a couple of overlooks and take pictures of the lake. I drove on as US 101 turned south and traveled along the western side of the park. As soon as I saw the sign to the road to the Hoh Rain Forest entrance, I turned and headed for the prime attraction of Olympic National Park. Suddenly, as I was getting close to the entrance gate, I found myself stopped in another line of cars. The line wasn’t as long as Hurricane Ridge line, but it was not moving. It turned out that the parking area was full, and the park ranger at the entrance gate could not let a car through until a car left the parking area. It took about 45 minutes before I was able to enter through the gate, but in a bit of karma, the open parking space waiting for me was the first one next to the visitor center.

Once I had made my stop at the visitor center, I went out on the short circular Hall of Mosses Trail within the forest. Olympic National Park protects the northernmost rain forests on the planet. The yearly rainfall and high humidity, even in the cooler latitude, created a forest with colorfully green ponds along the roots and hearty mosses draped over limbs. It was a relaxing beautiful hike, and I came to respect the luscious environment. One of my Facebook friends commented on my posting about visiting Olympic NP that I needed to plan more than one day there, and I could see why, but I took in what I could in the time I was there. After I completed my hike, I drove out of the rain forest, giving my parking space to the next person in line at the gate, and headed back to US 101. I had planned to slip into another rain forest entrance in the southwest corner of the park, but as I drove along US 101 up against the Pacific coastline, signs quickly informed me of something that was not evident on general maps, that much of the coastline, even though separate from the main park, was a part of Olympic National Park. I stopped at an overlook parking area at Ruby Beach and headed over to enjoy the northern Pacific coastline, another facet of the diversity of this national park. It was getting late in the day, and I realized that I didn’t need to see the other rain forest, so I headed onward to my motel in Olympia-Tumwater.

Lake Crescent, Hoh Rainforest, and Ruby Beach montage from Olympic National Park

My next day plan was to drive down on Interstate 5, then exit east to Washington’s third national park, Mount Rainier. When I had planned my itinerary, it seemed from the computer map that the southeast entrance would provide me the better views of the epic peak, so I planned to enter on that side and take in the view, then head back out and take a local road down to visit Mount St. Helens National Monument. Now, as I drove east, I passed by the road to the southwest entrance, then further passed by a sign next to a road directing me to Mount St. Helens, until I reached and turned north to the southeast entrance. After I had entered the southeast entrance gate with another car, I checked the information pamphlet I had been given and discovered that there was a road traversing the south side of the park between the two entrances. It was a no-brainer to just travel through the park on this road, observing more of the majestic views of Mount Rainier, then circle back to the road to Mount St. Helens. The views were majestic, including the visitor center midway through where visitors still had a small snow slope to sled under the view of Mount Rainier. I was impressed. I took my pictures, then headed west for the southwest entrance. I soon discovered that my decision to go to the southeast corner was sheer genius, as I passed several miles of cars waiting to enter the southwest gate on my way out.

View at Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Mount Rainier National Park

I circled back to the sign directing me towards Mount St. Helens NM, then turned down the road south. The road had suffered severe winter damage and was full of cracks, potholes, and rough gravel. I suffered over this road for twenty miles, until I came to a sign stating that the road was closed at this point due to remaining winter snows. There was only one way to go, back over the same rocky road for twenty miles.

To be continued…

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 2

I had started this Pacific Northwest road trip with one long day of driving just to get close to my first target, Glacier National Park in Montana. Then, on the next day, having discovered that most of the Going-to-the-Sun Road which traverses the park was still closed because of snow, I was restricted to entering only one side of the park for a short distance, and I chose the western entrance next to Lake McDonald, which proved to be a fine natural representation of the national park. After some hiking and picture taking, I headed back out on the road, going west. I stopped for dinner in the Idaho panhandle, officially raising Idaho’s status on my trip bucket list, then moved on for my overnight stay in Spokane Valley, Washington, raising Washington’s status to an officially visited state. However, it was now time to go deeper into Washington and head for the first of its three national parks, North Cascades National Park.

When I started off from Spokane Valley, I soon left the interstate highway and headed northwest to connect with State Route 20, which is the road that crosses the park. I did not expect to come upon anything of particular interest until I reached the park border, but I was wrong. The route I took came right up to the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. The dam, completed in 1942, is one of the largest power stations in the country, and it was a very impressive sight to experience. I took a few pictures from an overlook, then headed onward.

When I got on State Route 20, I was surprised not to see any signage regarding miles to the park entrance. I passed by some wide farm plain spreads, then suddenly found myself rising into a pass that led into a sharp valley between snow covered peaks. The road turned into a pass which led to some overlooks where I stopped to take photos. I passed a few tan roadside signs along the way, then passed a more prominent sign that seemed very similar to most national park entrance signs. I was still wondering if I had actually entered the park when I came upon the small town of Newhalem, which had the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center in it. Inside the center, I was informed that I had entered the park much earlier, near the valley with the snow covered peaks. Didn’t I see the entry sign, I was asked? According to the park staff, North Cascades National Park has no entrance fees, so it has no entrance stops. When one includes the small town surrounded by the park, this is very similar to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, which makes sense. Also since State Route 20 is a vital business path when it is cleared of snow, North Cascades NP is also like Smoky Mountain National Park, which also does not charge fees because of the major US route that connects western North Carolina with eastern Tennessee. It was an enlightening visit. I picked up the park pamphlet and drove on, passing many cars coming in from the Seattle side of the park.

Peaks, Pines, and Flows in North Cascades National Park Complex


At the time, I was happy to check off North Cascades NP from my national park bucket list, but later, after I had returned home and had a chance to look at the park pamphlet I had picked up, I noticed an interesting detail. When I was planning the trip and doing basic research on the park, the atlases and maps I had seen of the park had shown a border that resembled an eastward pointing boot, but the pamphlet map showed inner borders within the boot that separated two national recreational areas – Lake Chelan National Recreational Area and Ross Lake National Recreational Area. According to the pamphlet map, the Ross Lake NRA actually surrounded State Route 20 and divided North Cascades NP. Did I actually enter the boundaries of North Cascades National Park? According to the pamphlet, I did not, but rather stayed totally within Ross Lake NRA. In fact, according to the pamphlet map, no vehicle roads ever enter the national park boundaries, meaning one would need to do a major hike in order to enter the actual boundaries of the park. However, the National Park Service website does not separate the two national recreational areas on the Washington state list like it does on the other states list, and reading closely, it talks about the North Cascades National Park Complex, which includes the two national recreational areas. For this reason, I am counting my drive through the park complex as a true visit to North Cascades National Park for my bucket list.

My next target was Olympic National Park, and according to the highlighted line on my computer generated itinerary map, my path would take me over a small connecting bridge to a long vertical island in Puget Sound, then over a longer bridge to the Olympic peninsula. When I had searched for a motel near the park the night before, I noted that my best deal would be on the island, Whidbey Island, and I made the reservation. It turned out to be lucky choice. As I drove onto the island, I began to see signs about using a special three digit phone number to call for reservations on the Port Townsend Ferry. I recognized Port Townsend as the city on the peninsula side of the long bridge on the itinerary, so when I reached the motel, I quickly checked the itinerary printout. Even though the highlighted dotted line looked like a bridge to cross, a single line on the list of route directions confirmed that the dotted line was actually a ferry path, not a bridge, and the route time calculation was based upon reaching and getting on the ferry almost exactly at the time of its departure, a very unlikely occurrence. As I was checking into my room, I mentioned needing to catch the ferry in the morning, and the desk clerk strongly recommended that I make a reservation online, especially since it was the Memorial Day weekend. I took the web address from the clerk and went online as soon as I got to my room, but I quickly discovered that all of the available reservations were booked up until early afternoon. The clerk did feel that a last minute cancellation might be possible on the earlier crossings, but she was not that up on the ferry process. Because of Puget Sound, my only other option to reach Olympic National Park would be to drive back off the island and drive down Interstate 5 through Seattle in order to circle around the south side of the park to get to the west and north entrances of the park, a trek that would cover several hours. So, do I take a chance with the ferry or trek through half of the next day just to get to Olympic National Park? I started to debate it within my mind.

To be continued…

 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 1

When it came to deciding which road trip I should take this year based on my travel bucket lists, my choice was down to two options: a Midwest circuit around Lake Michigan and a broad circuit around the Pacific Northwest. The Midwest trip was designed to visit the last two states in which I had never stepped foot and one of the two states where I had only visited by changing planes in a major airport. It would also add two US national parks to the list I had visited. The Pacific Northwest trip would only visit the other of the two “changing planes” states on my list and upgrade an asterisk-visited state, but would add four US national parks to my visited list. The Midwest trip also appeared to be a simple short trip when I threw in a round-trip airfare to Chicago and the use of a rental car, as opposed to a long mileage trip in my own car from my home in the Denver area. I also had to consider that unlike last year when I had a friend join me on my trip, I was undertaking this trip solo. In the end, I decided to take on the greater challenge with the grand tour around the Pacific Northwest. To add to the challenge, due to other planned commitments, I had to schedule this tour around the heavily traveled Memorial Day weekend.

The first stop on my planned trip was Glacier National Park in Montana. I had experienced Montana fifteen years before during a Rocky Mountain road trip which had included exiting Yellowstone National Park out of the Montana entrance, then traveling eastward to the Little Bighorn National Battlefield; however, Glacier National Park, connected to its Canadian neighbor, Waterton Lake National Park, is basically the premiere tourist spot of Montana and one of the most popular of the US National Parks. Its position in the northwest corner of the state bonds it well with the three national parks on Washington in forming the core of this road trip. In my initial computer mapping, the route programmed me to the western entrance of the park, but the main feature of the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road which goes over the continental divide as it travels between the eastern and western entrances. This led me to plan a longer trip to the eastern entrance in order to drive the entire route to the western entrance. Now, it was time to start the trek to get there.

Based on the computer map calculations, driving moderately in eight hour days, it would take me two days just to drive from the Denver area to the park entrance. Knowing that interstate highway speed limits were higher in the west and deciding that I could drive a longer day, I decided on Butte, Montana, which is only hours from Glacier NP, as the first overnight stopping point. I booked a motel online the night before my start, filled an ice chest with three days of pre-made lunches, then set out north early the next morning. The long drive through Wyoming was basically uneventful, and I made my way into Montana by mid-afternoon. However, a warm day and an emerging front brought heavy thunderstorms as I headed west in Montana. By the time I had reached my motel in Butte, the skies had cleared, and I was looking for a relaxing evening before setting out for my first visit. As I was checking in, I mentioned to the manager about my plans to drive through Glacier National Park on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and he responded that the road is never open before July because of the time it takes to plow out the winter snow. In my room, I went online and confirmed his information on the national park service website. Because this was a standard annual issue for Glacier, it wasn’t even a top alert on the site. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was only open twenty miles in at each entrance. I adjusted my route to head for the western entrance and enjoy Glacier as far as I could go in from that point.

The next day, I reached the western park entrance just before midday. After stopping at the Visitor Center, then taking a short detour, I started driving up the Going-to-the-Sun Road as it bordered on Lake McDonald. I stopped and took photos of the mountain range on the other side of the lake, although clouds did cover some mountain peaks. At the eastern end of the lake, there was a lodge and cabins with parking, which is where the main road was closed to vehicles. However, the Going-to-the-Sun Road was still clear for a distance, so it was opened for exploring bikers and hikers. I was able to hike down the road and pop in the woods for a bit, even meeting a curious deer at one moment, in order to get a sense of the northern mountain environment. I may not have been able to experience the sharp mountain ridges and glacial valleys at the continental divide and center of the park, but I truly savored the natural section I was able to experience. After enjoying the hike and picture taking, I drove back out of the park and headed back south to the interstate, where I turned westward.

Glacier National Park montage from the Lake McDonald area

I crossed into the Idaho panhandle and stopped for dinner. Prior to this moment, I had only consciously experienced Idaho twice. When I first came out to attend UCLA, I used my first spring break to fly up to Oregon in order to see my birthplace. On the way back, I took the bus to Boise and flew back to LA from there. This was before I had a decent camera to properly record any travel. Later, during the Rocky Mountain road trip, I crossed into the southeast corner of Idaho for a half-hour on my way from Salt Lake City to Jackson, Wyoming prior to visiting Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Because it was just a half-hour crossing, I felt this only gave Idaho an asterisk for my more recent travels. Now I had stopped in a town and was actually enjoying a meal in Idaho, finally allowing me to remove the asterisk off my trip bucket list accounting. However, I had more planned for Idaho later in my trip.

Finally, after dinner, I headed on into Washington where I had reserved my night stop in Spokane Valley. The only other time I had been in Washington was when I changed planes in Seattle-Tacoma Airport on my way to a land tour in Alaska sixteen years ago. Now, I was going to truly experience Washington by visiting its national parks over the Memorial Day weekend. My excitement was growing.

To be continued…

 

How Should a National Park Be Defined?

In one of my earliest posts written nearly five years ago, I discussed the various bucket lists I had created as a plan to explore the wonders of our world, gaining a perspective of where we fit within the environment and history of its being. One of those bucket lists was to visit all of the designated United States National Parks. At the time and up to the start of 2018, there were 59 designated national parks managed by the United States National Park System. With last year’s road trip, I am able to mark off 41 of those 59 national parks, and I am planning a northwestern road trip in late spring which will bring me to 4 more national parks. However, the United States Congress, at the urging of a Missouri senator, recently re-designated the Jefferson Expansion National Memorial to the Gateway Arch National Park. President Trump signed the law in February 2018. Now, I have no major quibble over officially renaming Jefferson Expansion to Gateway Arch, even though the metal arch was designed and constructed in the 1960s as a homage to President Thomas Jefferson’s action of the Louisiana Purchase which greatly expanded the US in the early 1800s and led to its eventual growth as the fourth largest country in the world. However, changing its designation from a national memorial to a national park totally upends the true concept of a national park and how it should be perceived. This is an action to which I cannot agree.

Now, the birth of the concept of the national park with Yellowstone did not arise out of any grand plan, as Yellowstone was created as the first national park only because it was not within the borders of a state at the time of its designation by Congress, but was just within US territory. Yosemite was the first park set aside by Congress, but because it was within the borders of the new state of California, it was designated as a California State Park. It was only after California decided to build the Hetch Hetchy dam and reservoir in a northern valley of the park that Yosemite was taken back and re-designated by the US Congress as a National Park, allowing future national parks to be set aside and designated within individual state boundaries. Under the activism of conservationists like Ansel Adams, the concept of a national park developed into the preservation of important natural ecosystems within the US, an idea which has spread globally to many other countries. The range of US national parks stretch from volcanic geysers, mountain ranges, arctic tundra, unique forest regions, major cave systems, deep canyons, low valleys, off-shore islands, and sub-tropical everglades. Visiting these protected environments have become a great means to gain a true perspective of the natural science of the planet on which we live.

Oversight of these national parks are handled by the National Park Service, a division of the Interior Department. This oversight balances the preservation and maintenance of these protected environments with handling the large number of visitors who come to experience and gain perspective from these environments. The National Park Service also oversees a great number of historical sites from battlefields, trails, and forts to memorials, statues, and historical buildings. There are also several national monument sites that were designated by Presidents under the power of the Art and Antiquities Act. Many of these monuments could be considered a valuable natural environment that could place it in the national park designation, but it would require Congress to pass a law re-designating these monuments to national park status. However, probably for the benefit of visitors and a positive campaign touting their oversight, the National Park Service is very prominent is calling all of their 400+ protected sites as national parks. This campaign may be why Congress did not have any issue in re-designating the Gateway Arch from a national memorial to a national park. Like many Americans, the senators and representatives had become blind to the designation concept of a national park.

Now looking through the other designated national parks, some may argue that social and historical constructs had already pervaded the natural identity of a national park. The smallest US national park, Hot Springs National Park, has its borders entering the northern city limits of Hot Springs, Arkansas, in order to take in historical bathhouses that formed a key part in the area’s use of the hot spring water for health reasons. However, the national park was designated mainly to oversee and preserve the naturally heated waters caused by the underground pressures within the surrounding Ozark Mountains. The park boundaries circle within the mountain ridge around the northern neighborhood of Hot Springs where campgrounds have been set aside. In another of the newer national parks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, the park boundaries surround several towns with a few schools and farms inside. When I visited the park eight years ago, I found it interesting to find a home up for sale in one of the towns within the park borders. As I understand, these town sections are not considered to be federal land nor technically part of the park. However, the reason for the designation of a national park was for the oversight and protection of the Cuyahoga River and the surrounding natural environment, since the Cuyahoga River was one of the first heavily polluted rivers that was successfully cleaned up, a major conservation act of nature. So, in comparison, the Gateway Arch is a major human-manufactured metallic structure designed solely as an artistic memorial based on a stretch of landscaped grassy areas along the shore of the Mississippi River next to an ornately domed historic courthouse in the downtown center of St. Louis. Nowhere in this description do I perceive a preservation of any sort of natural ecosystem associated with the concept of a truly designated national park. This was totally a socially grand memorial commemorating an historic era in the United States. It should have stayed a designated national memorial.

So how should this affect my bucket list of visiting all of the US National Parks? Even if I were to add the Gateway Arch to the national parks list, I will still be able to check it off as having been visited since it was a part of my Central Plains road trip last year, meaning I still have the same number of national parks left to visit. Of course, I still have my little slideshow of personal images from the national parks I have visited on another page of my website. Should I add a Gateway Arch image I took from my current visit last year to this slideshow? At this time, I will not, as I still do not consider this re-designation to truly fit within the natural concept of a national park.

2017 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

Welcome, 2018! Many of us wonder how we got through 2017. However, despite the angst of the year, I continued to find time to read works from fellow indie authors, racking up 30 novels or novellas. As I go back over my reviews for these works for the year, I find it interesting that my ratings were more centered this year. I wound up only rating one work with a 5 star rating, but before anyone worries about a loss of quality, I also notice that I did not rate any works below a 3 star rating. Beyond the one 5 star rating, the other works were pretty evenly split between the 3 and 4 star level. I rated 15 works at 3 stars, one at 3½ stars, and 13 at 4 stars. The 3½ star work could only maintain the ½ star on LibraryThing, but had to be rounded up to 4 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. I still felt some positive vibes from all of the works I read this year.

Now to reiterate my review standards as I posted over the past three years, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

The one 5 star novel was actually the next novel in Doug J. Cooper’s Crystal Series, Crystal Rebellion. Doug’s introductory novella and two previous novels in the series had also received 5 stars from me, so the complete science fiction series of an artificial intelligence crystal being and its human handlers battling alien invasions can officially qualify as a full 5 star effort. The characters are empathetic and exciting, the plots are well constructed, and the thrills are wonderful. I heartily recommend the series.

Two of the 4 star works were actually quick novellas, one even being closer to a short story looking for a few more equally good stories from the author to form a good anthology of shocking tales. The other novella provided a touching look at the world of autism. The other eleven 4 star works are standard novels that delve into a broad range of genres with a few suspense thrillers ranging from drug conspiracies to corporate secret agents, a couple of science fiction adventures from corrupt enterprises within space wars to an utopian genetic enterprise, two mysteries from a dark serial murder investigation to a dramatic romance seeking redemption within the resolution, a horror tale derived from paranormal religious conflict, a rugged historical drama, and a light comic erotic romance. The 3½ star work was a sports novel about a young golf prodigy and his mentoring by a local golf course pro. The broad range of themes and genres in this group means that many readers will find something in this list that will please their preferences.

In the 3 star list, one book was an anthology of 43 short stories, each story no more than 2 pages in length with the theme of food and murder. Each story was submitted by a different author, which meant that some stories had duplicative plots and ideas, and that not every story hit the mark. However, my 3 star review meant that there definitely were some top gems in the bunch in order to create a decent collection of tales. The other fourteen 3 star works covered a broad range of genres and themes that covered a couple of science fiction tales focused on underground communities and utopian military space action, two time travel fantasies that placed their characters back in the US Civil War and pre-Revolutionary British historical eras, an erotic historical romance in the antebellum South, three YA fantasy stories with magically gifted heroines having to face a little horror and action, a couple of dark murder mysteries that includes some psychic detective work in one of them, a couple of more YA teen tales from a romance after a rescue from danger to a teen against the world survival conflict, an erotic romance between social classes, and a Hollywood tale of four women’s relationships. For some of these novels, the general plot stretches held back some interesting tales, while in the others, the occasional stumble upended a basically strong theme. Still, there is enough in these works to provide a decent story for many a reader.

All in all, it was another good year of enjoying my fellow indie authors, and I hope avid readers will check out these earnest works, while I seek out more for the following year. I also hope that avid readers will check out my novel, Legacy Discovered, and let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

2017 Emmy Voting

The voting has closed. As a member of the Public Relations Peer Group of the Television Academy, I was once again honored to be able to vote in certain categories for the 2017 Emmy Awards for outstanding television programming. The online viewing site for the nominated programs opened up at the beginning of August, and online voting opened up during the last two full weeks of August, closing down on the final Monday of August. Academy members were required to view all nominees in a category before voting, but for series or limited series nominees, members only needed to view one episode of the six provided of each nominee in order to vote. This flexibility allowed me the opportunity to view and vote for six categories this year, two more than I voted on and posted about last year.

For the Outstanding Reality Competition category, five of the six nominations were also nominated for last year’s Emmy Awards. Dancing with the Stars was the only nominee from last year that did not get re-nominated. Instead, RuPaul’s Drag Race was the new nominee for this year. The other nominees were American Ninja Warrior, Project Runway, Top Chef, The Voice, and The Amazing Race. My vote for this category followed the same reasoning and feeling that I had last year. RuPaul’s Drag Race, Project Runway, Top Chef, and The Voice are all judging competitions focused on specific skills, while American Ninja Warrior is a straight physical competition of speed, agility, and strength over an elevated obstacle course, but The Amazing Race, an admitted favorite of mine, provides a global cultural lesson and perspective to the viewing audience, as they watch teams of two race around the world. My vote went to The Amazing Race.

Just like last year, I decided to view and vote in the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. Four of the six nominees were repeat nominees from last year, NBC’s Saturday Night Live, IFC’s Portlandia and Documentary Now, and Comedy Central’s Drunk History. The two new nominees were TruTV’s Billy on the Street and HBO’s Tracey Ullman’s Show. The new nominees definitely provided sharp humor, but I found Billy Eichner to be overly combative at times to the unprepared folks he would stop on the street in his show, and Tracey Ullman’s skits were short, sharp, and not very deep in her show. This led me back to the repeat nominees. This season’s Comedy Central’s Drunk History was represented by an episode where Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway hit, Hamilton, relates the story of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr while drinking whiskey with a friend in his home. The video sketch of his story has two actresses play Hamilton and Burr, which adds to the humor. Clever, but not quite there. Just like last year, Documentary Now was just a touch arcane for my taste. This brought me back to Saturday Night Live, which has soared with audiences this past year with the political narrative occurring within this country, and Portlandia, a much more subtle half-hour series that I have enjoyed over the years. I must admit that Portlandia was not at the top of its game this season, but Saturday Night Live still has its own fluctuations in its live skits. I gave my vote to Portlandia.

There were only five nominees for Outstanding Television Movie, the same number as last year, and the same concerns I presented last year about the changing definition of a television movie continued with this year’s nominations. The concept of a stand-alone long form story was challenged by another episodic tale of the modern version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character in PBS’s Sherlock: Lying Detective. However, just like last year, another nominee was only an hour long, and in this case, it was an episode of an actual Netflix series, Black Mirror. The series is an anthology series, much in the style of The Outer Limits, therefore, each episode could be considered a stand-alone story, just like the episode that was nominated, San Junipero, where two seemingly different young women meet in a California beach town in the 70’s and form a relationship, except we discover that this bonding is actually occurring in a more futuristic digital space. Interesting and well done, but it is still only an hour long movie per its nomination. The other three nominees fit the standard television movie mold, but are unique in their own way. NBC’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love is a rural heartfelt holiday tale of family and church, which is sweet, but basic in its story. The other two HBO nominees are historical based, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Wizard of Lies. In the first film, Oprah Winfrey stars in the story of a researcher who searches for the history and family of the woman whose cancer cells provided the basis for years of ground breaking medical research, while recognition of her contribution was hidden by the medical community that sought to profit from her cells. Robert De Niro stars in the second film as Bernie Madoff, at the time his massive Ponzi scheme was uncovered, revealing the consequences to his family as his crimes destroyed the financial lives of others. There was power in all five nominees, but the lessons of the historical movies moved me more. In the end, the common story of Henrietta Lacks had more depth than the power story of Wall Street baron, Bernie Madoff. I voted for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

A new category which I was able to concentrate on this year was the Outstanding Limited Series category, and there were five nominees representing cable and premium cable. These five nominees are easily divided between the genres of history and mystery. Under mystery, FX’s Fargo and HBO’s Big Little Lies and The Night Of worked their magic with character, suspense, and local flavor. For Fargo, this was the third incarnation of a long form mystery set in the rural northern central plains region, and it had a complex tale of a man who hires a drug-addled criminal to rob his wealthy brother, only to find the criminal getting lost and murdering the father of a small town police chief while robbing the wrong home. The first episode was complex in itself. In Big Little Lies, a person, who is not identified in the opening episode, is murdered at a social party, and as the police interview witnesses, the viewing audience is presented with a story of three women who meet while dropping off their kids at a private elementary school and clash with another mom. This highly enticing mystery tale of high society and status stars a well-known cast with Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern. On the other end of the social scale, The Night Of deals with a young man of Middle Eastern parents who takes his father’s taxi cab in order to go to a friend’s party in mid-Manhattan, but when he gets lost, is distracted by a wild, yet depressed young woman who gets into the cab and tempts him to her apartment for a hook-up. He wakes up a few hours later and finds her dead with knife wounds, but when he runs away, he finds himself through odd coincidence into police hands, but a street lawyer may be his only hope. The intricacy of the opening episode plot with tones of cultural bias was captivating in itself. I find a well-done mystery to be truly entertaining, but a strong perspective of history is also important. FX’s FEUD: Bette and Joan presented a slice of Hollywood history with the back story of the conflict of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the fifties, but pop culture fascination is not enough to overcome a good complex mystery. However, NatGeo’s Genius, which delves into the background biography of Albert Einstein, presents the uplifting of science against the backdrop of two World Wars. Genius got my vote.

In the Outstanding Comedy Series category, six of the seven nominees were repeat nominations from last year. FX’s Atlanta was the new nominee this year in place of Transparent, but I felt that Atlanta had the same flaw that Transparent had for me last year. I just could not see it as a comedy, as its strong serious tone fit it in more as a drama, even if its episodes were only a half hour long. This brought me back to the repeat nominees, ABC’s black-ish and Modern Family, HBO’s Silicon Valley and Veep, and Netflix’s Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. With little variation, the same impressions I had in deciding my vote last year with these six series still came through this year, so even with its aging premise, I voted for the subtlety and broader perspective of Modern Family.

The last category I committed to this year, a category I felt I did not have time to view and judge last year, was Outstanding Drama Series. Of the seven nominees in the category this year, five were in their premiere season, which means they were not repeat nominations, an amazing tribute to new creativity in the industry. Another interesting point which demonstrates the direction of video viewing is that four of the seven nominees are original streaming series, available solely via Internet. I knew this was going to be an interesting category to judge. The two series that were not in their first season was AMC’s Better Call Saul and NetFlix’s House of Cards. Better Call Saul, a spin-off of the earlier celebrated series, Breaking Bad, was in its second season and definitely maintained a dark noir tone, but its slow plot structure made it difficult to pick up where the story was going. House of Cards, after several seasons, was deep into the political machinations of President Underwood’s administration, which felt very intense in the current political environment, but the current storyline appeared to be more forced. In the new series nominees, network television was only represented by NBC’s This Is Us, which had already become the most popular new series of the season with its very emotional family drama twists, but I felt that it had to stretch reality at points to gain maximum pain and heart. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale‘s apocalyptic dystopian society message had helped Hulu’s reputation in competing with leader Netflix, but its storyline message was deliberate in its dark tone. Netflix’s The Crown appealed to my interest in history, as it is based on the modern reign of Queen Elizabeth starting from her ascendance to the British throne just before World War II, but its revelations was just a bit shy of the power I felt with Netflix’s Stranger Things and HBO’s Westworld. I had become intrigued by Stranger Things with the positive feedback it had gotten when it first was released, so I took advantage of bingeing the entire season during the nomination period around June. I was amazed at the blending of childhood bonding and coming of age themes within a sci-fi cross-dimensional monster scare-fest buttressed by a government science lab conspiracy set in the retro historical time of the 1980’s when phones had to actually be dialed to make a call. Perhaps it was a sign that while I was watching the episode where Winona Ryder’s character has strung up lights to try and communicate with her missing son and the lights began to flicker, my power went out in my home for a half hour. However, when I watched the first episode of Westworld on the Academy online platform, the series reboot of the classic 70’s movie intrigued me with its more in-depth mystery and character structure of human-design artificial intelligence robots in a Wild West story-immersion theme park starting to uncover independent consciences within their programming, so I committed to watching the other five episodes provided. After viewing these episodes, I was torn for a moment between Stranger Things and Westworld, but I gave the edge to Stranger Things and put in my vote.

Last year, none of my votes wound up for the eventual recipient of the Emmy, but maybe this year, some of my reasoning will match with my fellow academy members. I will see when the Emmy Awards are given on Sunday, September 17.

Update: As announced during the Emmy Awards that aired on CBS on Sunday, September 17, the shows I voted for in all six categories did not wind up receiving the Emmy. The Voice repeated in receiving the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, Saturday Night Live received the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, Black Mirror: San Junipero received the Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, Big Little Lies received the Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series, Veep repeated in receiving the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, and The Handmaid’s Tale received the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. I applaud the recipients of this year’s Emmys.