La Salina TURF WARS

La Salina TURF WARS

It  began with Torrey Pines Gliderport.  Over  many years TP has gone from being a  weedy-sandy launch, to cultivation a putting green launch. A golfer might mistake TP launch for the 19th hole at the famous  Torrey Pines Golf Course located immediately next door. Indeed   the envy of many  worldwide flight park administrators.

Now, click through to La Salina, Baja, where BajaBrent (BB) has lugged up thousands of square feet of room sized carpet over the past 14+ years.  Each an overlay of the aging slabs from the LA Ritz Carlton which first adorned North and South launch back in
1996.*

But BB dreamed of a way to cover the launches in a dramatic, beautiful, resilient and safe ground cover for pilots to enjoy.  But
the concept of “real grass” or sod, was environmentally  forbidden in the arid desert ridge, where even TeamFlyLaSalina member— Rachel the Rattlesnake— had to scrounge for a morning droplet of heaven’s dew.

Meanwhile, for many seasons BajaBrent scoured online for more rugs/carpets to cover  the hillside, but nothing  close to the vision in his
mind’s eye.

Then came the Fifth Annual Fiesta Del Cielo and the First Annual Ensenada Open Paragliding Competition.  It was time to “pimp out” the launches for everyone’s use, enjoyment and most importantly:   SAFETY.  After all, it was possible that the  world’s aviation attention might briefly gaze upon La Salina.  The eclectic mosaic of  trashy remnants was  neither
eye catching or crash worthy.  BajaBrent went online to research his dream:ASTRO-Turf

First, came the eradication of “Boulder-Doom”, the treacherous rim of rock encasing the south end  of north launch, (see this blog):

Second came, the TURF!  BB started googling/ebaying the Astro-turf back in 2005.  He had written many vendors.  MOST wanted $2-$4 for “putting green” style
artificial grass, that didn’t appear to have resiliency to the type of demands
needed for our sport.  He contacted many an offeror, as far away as Miami Beach where one sports bar offered 4000 s.ft. to anyone who would cart away.  He calculated airfare, shipping, etc. and simply couldn’t make the numbers work.  Ditto for Phoenix.  So years went by and nothing sprang forth asa reasonable ASTRO turf option.

When BB set the date for the May 5th Annual fly-in, back in early January, he restarted his search for the ever elusive ASTRO-turf BIG DEAL!!! His vision evolved from dream to action plan in
March when a LA area bankrupt soccer league offered NFL grade ASTRO-turf  at liquidation prices.  This stuff, new, cost substantially more than
the Costco or Home Depot brand outdoor artificial grass. But this vendor,
needed to move their turf, REALLY fast.

BB rounded up TeamFlyLaSalina member Terry Flint (aka
Bullwinkle) and his pickup, and on April 21, the day after the boulders
disappeared, so did BB and Bullwinkle: off to LA!!!

When they ultimately rendezvoused in LA, what they
discovered to was amazing…..10’s of 1000’s of feet of beautiful
ASTRO-turf….ALMOST brand new!  Apparently
the Soccer League had cut a deal on a gigantic facility, placed in new turf,
and within months the deal went south….and the league needed to rip out the
turf.  With a front end loader, backhoe
and semi trailers, they ripped, scooped, transported, then dumped upside down
mounds of turf behind an industrial complex in south LA.  Although the turf was beautiful, it wasn’t
exactly wrapped in nice manageable rolls awaiting our arrival!

To make matters FAR WORSE, what was NOT disclosed in the CL
ads, was that the turf was saturated with fine black rubberized artificial
sand, and banded together with tape strips.
You see when professional ASTRO turf is laid out in stadiums, they lay
it out in 15 foot wide strips that are taped together at the seams, until the
field is covered. Next they take pulverized rubber pellets, made out of
recycled tires, and pour over the entire ASTRO-turf surface.  These pellets—a little grainier than
sand—sift down through the turf to compress the turf to the underlying surface.  The result is that the turf will not move,
albeit budge, even under the pressure/stress of a 300 lb linebacker (or 2, 3,
or 4) upending, tackling, and generally slamming a 250 lb running back, and
then everyone else jumping on!!!!—the turf doesn’t budge!

Now for all you sports fans, you know the turf goes nowhere.
It’s not intended to. But then again, when it is removed, it is not done so
with human hands, backs, will or might…its more like a CATEPILLAR heavy duty
front end loader!  Yep that black sand
weighs a ton!  And now there stands
Bullwinkle (BW) and BB gazing at their dream, buried in black death!!!

What’s a couple of Baja-Haitians to do???? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm

BB knows…..LETS GET SOME MEXICANS!  When it comes to hard work, the Mexicans
always  know how to avoid making a hard
job even harder.  And certainly—when it
comes to this type of hard work—can outsmart a lawyer and a tax accountant:
EACH AND EVERY TIME!

So AT 8:00 AM, the next morning, BB sets out to
locate Mexican reinforcements, in  the
City of Angels: SOUTH LA!!!!   Cruising
around industrial street corners and alleyways, BB comes upon a commercial
street corner with a “99Cent” store on one corner and a “Dick’s Liquor” on the
other…and alas in front of the Mercado is a Mexican worker cluster.  When BB pulls up, windows down, blonde locks a
flowing, the Mexicans take notice!  “is
it work? Is it a Guerra? Or is this undercover ICE?”  Alas when BB questions “Quiere
trabajan?”  They figure the deal: it’s a
hippy-looking Guerro with a scheme up his sleeve…and ten offer their services
with everyone speaking in Spanglish…BB speaks this fluently.  $10/hr/man is agreed.

Hector, Pedro, Julio, Rodriguez, and Ole Jaime climb aboard,
and off they go for the 5 minute return trip to the ASTRO bumps.  Bullwinkle is yet to arrive, but BB and the
crew unload and survey the project.  BB
knows he will need all the muscle he can muster, and 5 grown Mexican men look
like they can manage, with or w/o BB (preferably the latter in BBs opinion).

So it’s time to tackle the first 5 yards of  Charger’s stadium!  Yank, pull, tug, grunt, oomph, puff, and
grunt some more….the VW size bump won’t budge. Hack, spit, snort, and BB jumps
in and its grunt, oomph, puff, then an “A JUNTO” GRUNT!  It moves an inch!   They stand erect, then back up and take a
breath! Ole Jaime  and Rodriguez turn and
walk another direction. BB yelps “Espera! Espera!  Adonde Van?”
Jaime waives his hand in the air, and neither looks back!  Now we’re 4!

After about an hour of effort, they manage to tear off a
sheet, 15 x 18’ sheet.  It is turned
upside down, and altogether,they lift an edge and begin shaking out the
insidious black death, that sifts back through the green fiber.  This process is repeated on each side of the
rectangular piece.  BB eventually cuts it
in half, and with 3 of them shaking an edge and BB beating the front with a push
broom, the black death falls to the ground.
When flipped upright, a true prize is admired: the turf is vibrant
emerald green, hardly a mark, and lush, very lush: it’s BEAUTIFUL!!! Over the
course of about 90 minutes, they shake, beat, clean, and roll our first two
slabs: a little under 300 s.ft.  BB would like
10,000 s.ft!  Its a long way to go,
and they only have 2 days to do this.  Only
one thing for certain….BB NEEDS MORE MEXICANS… So  back to DICK’S LIQUOR!

Upon return, Bullwinkle has arrived with his heavy
duty pickup.  He has also picked up
hardware, tackle, brooms , straps and plastic bags.  BB retrieved another 3 Mexicans: Philippi,
Jose, and Raoule. BB already screened them to be ready, willing and able to
work at this project.

They attack another small lump. With the actual increase in
Mexican Power, they process another 300 s/ft in about another hour.  But at this rate, they ain’t goinna get to goal
even at 8hrs/day.  As Bullwinkle takes
off to score lunch for the troop, BB calculates, time, money, meals, and this
deal is getting pricey!

During the break, Philippi, and Hector take inventory of
Terry’s toys.  They look at the hitch on
BBs shiny Exploder (Ford Explorer) and suggest a different plan.  The lumps are gargantuan VW being the
smallest size, and Hummer being closer to the larger size.  Their plan uses a tow strap around the hitch
to yank each corner of the turf away from the rest of the pile, cut, shake, and
roll to size.

Over the course of the next several hours, they perfect the
process.  By the end of the first 8
hours, 4,000 s.ft. are ready to go.  This
story is getting LONGGGGGGGGGGGG….. so I will ramp it up!

The next morning, at 7:00AM BB rents a trailer in San Diego
and drive back to LA.  BB whips around
Dick’s and retrieve half the crew from the day before and three new bees.  They get to the ASTRO bumps by 9:30.  While the crew gets started,BB  decides to
unhitch the tandem rental trailer, himself: no big deal.

Just after BB unhitches, the trailer balances itself on its
four tires.  As he jumps in the Explorer to
pull away, as he turns perpendicular to depart, the tandem starts rolling towards
BB!  He brakes the car, and jump out to
intercept, but it’s already got momentum….SCRRRRRUNCH goes the tongue into the
rear passenger door! @#$%&&!!!
Hector witnessed the comedy from the start and arrived just in time to
divert further damage.  Trailer secured,
BB gazea and sulks at the blue tinted crease in the side of his shiney SUV.  There goes another  500 BUX into this project!

In the middle of the afternoon, they have a total of 6,000
s.ft. processed.  The black death sand
became, 10-12 inches deep across 2,000 sq.ft of asphalt.  At one point, as BB wheeled his  Exploder around and the mid-carriage caught on a lump of turf, the wheels spun, and in spite of 4
wheel drive, the wheels dug their grave.
Even with the thrust of 6 grown men progress was hopeless!  30 minutes later,  AAA cavalry arrived!

The wrecker driver took one look at BBSpredicament, and claimed
there was nothing he could do!  I was in
shock!  He claimed “insurance” and his
boss forbade him from wading his truck into the black quick sand. BB protested,
pleaded then begged! Since when
does the element prevent a driver from rescuing a victim.  Obviously, if I looked like J-Lo he would’ve
risked his wrecker and his life, forget the boss!  But when your BB, if you don’t have cleavage,
a couple Jacksons can move mountains.
Ten minutes later, the Exploder is free!

Day 2 ends with 9000 s.ft ready to go.  They load 2 trailers, one of which, Bullwinkle
takes to his home in Salton Sea.  BB takes
my load of 3000 s.ft to Diego.  We agree
to meet the next morning.  Terry will
travel to Bob Armond’s to score a 3rd trailer, as they do not want to
take a rental over the border.  Armond
graciously weighs in to help the TeamFlyLaSalina .  His trailer has crossed into Mexico and back
many times over the years.

As BB drives back to Diego, he is excited over the “dream
come true” possibility at La Salina.  BUT
he also recognizes that transporting two trailers (and one pickup truck) full
of ASTRO turf over the border may be a problem for Mexican customs.

Over his 14 years, BB has transported all sorts of things
south, with little trouble at the Mexican border.  But it’s not unusual to be pulled into
secondary for closer inspection. The prospect of two trucks, and trailers laden
with fake grass, unless absolutely lucky, would certainly require a visit to
secondary.  Then what?

Plan “A” was to make a run for the border and attempt to “spanglish” through the challenge.  Maybe that and a  little mordida?  Who knows???

“Plan B” was to contact Mexican Tourism in Ensenada and see if they would give me some type of letter authorizing the transport.  If there was some type of necessary tariff, so be it, but BB figured a little “municipal muscle” might move things forward, with a little less scrutiny.  Carlos from
Tourism, through Lucas promised it would be ‘no problema” and would have me a letter the next morning.

Friday morning, April 30th BB again rushes north to LA.  In less than 90 minutes BB has had 4 Mexican help him process an additional 1500 s/ft.  The ASTRO turf processing system has been optimized!  There is now 7000 sf of  turf for Baja.

Bullwinkle arrives with Armond’s trailer after only 4 hours of sleep.  The crew loads the balance ofturf on Armond’s trailer and BW’s pickup. The team heads south.    By 2:00PM, the team arrives at BB’s home in Cardiff  by the Sea (San Diego).  Knowing that his departure, will be his last time stateside for the next several weeks, BB runs errands while Bullwinkle
naps.

One of the necessary tasks is getting the Tourism letter.  It’s now mid afternoon, but no email or letter.  Secretary Marko Novella, is OK with the letter, and his office faxes over a copy while BB hitches up his trailer to his Exploder. He wakes BW.  Juan Gonzalez has agreed to meet us at the Otay border and escort us across to help negotiate if necessary.  We cross at 5:15.

Sure enough, we are sent straight to secondary.  After back/forth  negotiations, the Mexican Border agents deny us entry.  The Border
Jefe, left at 5.  They don’t buy the Secretary’s letter either.  We are
instructed to return on Monday!!!!  We are then diverted back into the US line of vehicles crossing north.

Upon denial of entry into Mexico, your return to the states, is somewhat facilitated as you join the northbound traffic within 10 cars of the gate.  Once at the gate, however, the US officer does not know of why you are there.  And of course, we have two loaded shipments of rolled fake grass…and of course we are sent to secondary as well.

Secondary inspection at Otay US Customs, is the slowest process known to man! Admittedly our cargo was a little unusual, but BB had all sorts of documentation to verify the transaction.  Never mind, that, you will be required to sit there 2 hours regardless!  And that they did.

At 9:00PM we pulled into Cardiff, again.  Because BW needed to return to Salton Sea, his truckload of turf was unloaded into BB’s front yard.

Bright and early the next morning, BB decided to shoot the border—solo—.  After all, he neededto try to get the turf to La Salina as it was getting close to the events, and he had  a lot of other projects.  If he could get one load down, he could come back later in the day and repeat the process, three times, if necessary.

He got to the border, and just as he started over, the agents were asleep, and he started towards the lane to freedom—just at the last second, the agent jumped up—rushed towards him and sent him to secondary.  Unfortunately, a few agents were working the morning shift.  After
suffering through the same process, and another 2 hours in US secondary, he made it home at 4 in the afternoon…another day wasted! He decided to wait till Monday.

Since BW could no longer help in transport, BB contacted TeamFlyLaSalina member Steve Starwalt. Steve was residing in Rosarito Beach, and since he owned a custom door Maquiladora in TJ, had a truck he could help with.

First thing Monday morning Brent was able to communicate to the Ensenada Tourism Office , and the border agency.  The border agency wanted the Secretary office to “fax” a copy of his letter to them, so that when BB crossed they could compare copies to validate.  By noon, BBwas emailed and confirmed of the fax.

Starwalt and BB left Cardiff at 1 for the Otay border.  This time we proceeded directly tosecondary.  BB went into custom’s office
to present his FM2, passport, letter(s), and email copies.  As to be expected, they never received thefax from tourism, or somehow misplaced it.
They took a look at BB’s copy, and went into the back room.  They had us wait until the Jefe had his lunch.

At 2:30, out popped a young looking agent—dressed in full military formal regalia…reflective aviator sunglasses, white, red, green, and gold sashes. Brass buttons, metallic medals, and rainbow ribbons adorned his chest. He looked like an 18 year old Boy Scout!

He marched to and fro, yakking on his walkie talkie.BB  showed his my papers.  He marched over and examined our merchandise.  Starwalt
stayed outta the fray and off to the side. BB then showed him his
TeamFlyLaSalina jacket which says “Volamos La Baja” he cocked his head, then a big smile broke out!  He Zoroed the papers, waved at the team and goose-stepped back to the building.

In disbelief , Starwalt and BB winced at each other, shook their heads, snickered, jumped in their trucks…as soon as they cleared the gate,
they drove across to the 3, grabbed a cerveza and had a HUGE LAUGH, a multitude of high fives later, and another cerveza and off they headed for La Salina! Viva Mexxico!

The next morning, Ponchi-chita (Francisco) and Enrique woke BB to begin the unload.  First @2000 + s.ft were laid on the beach terrace in front of BBs.  That afternoon, BB and Enrique transported the other  5000+ s.ft to launch.

Because of his pledge to Bob Armond-to get his trailer back by Thursday morning—BB decided to postpone the launch turf layout until his return.  For security purposes it was decided to hide rolls on launch until a couple of days before the event.

That afternoon, BB recruited Bullwinkle’s son “Rocky”  (yes now you are getting the rationale for the nickname), to drive his second truck/trailer north, as Starwalt could not do so.  Tuesday afternoon, they headed
north through Otay again.  AGAIN, in spite of no cargo, they were sent to secondary. BB was beginning to look around the compound to see if he could buy a  little house or condo there.  AGAIN they were stuck in customs for another two hours.

Upon leaving customs, Rocky and BB headed north on the 805 due to traffic issues on the 5.  BB was driving his older exploder Jade towing Armond’s trailer and Rocky was driving BB’s newer Exploder pulling the second trailer.

About halfway north, a Chip’s officer pulled BB over and issued him a ticket for NO SEATBELT! BB while wilting in secondary had released his belt and forgotten to rebuckle!

BW was supposed to meet BB at his Cardiff  home the following (Wed) morning to retrieve Armond’s trailer and return it to Palm Springs (where Bob lived).  Apparently BW forgot, and failed to appear the next day.  His cell phone was dead as well.

Thus Wednesday morning BajaBrent arose, attached the trailer and drove the 6 hour round trip.  It wasreally great to see Bob, at his newer place.
It was a bit remote, but Bob seemed very happy.  They shared a beer and a moment of stories as Bob toured BB around the place.  Armond had
some interesting plans including PPG training, desert living and growing date palms!

BB returned to Baja that afternoon. The following Sunday, May 8, Poncho, Enrique and BB returned  to North launch to lay out the turf. Simply said: It looks SPECTACULAR!

Yes, this story was long.  But so was the project.  I felt important to detail the undertaking for others to appreciate the substantial investment of time, resources, and money.

This was not an individual accomplishment, but a team effort by many people, and pilots a few of which deserve honorable mention.

Terry Flint:(Bullwinkle) for help north of the border and a good faith effort to help get the turf to La Salina (he suffered in secondary);

Juan Gonzalez : for his attempt at negotiating us through the Mexican customs on Friday;

Sr. Marko Novello, Secretary of Tourism for Ensenada Baja, (letter to Mexican Customs—it helped );

Steve Starwalt for driving Astro Turf south Monday morning;

“Rocky”Terry’s son for driving the trailer on the return trip north;

Bob Armond, for lending us his trailer;

As many of you know, Bob Armond perished June 3rd in an ultra light accident inJoshua Tree State Park.  He was longtime Baja PPG instructor and resident.  He was a great person, fun guy, and good friend. He will be missed.

Likewise,and unfortunately, Steve Starwalt was seriously injured on North Launch 2 days after we placed the astro turf on the same. Conditions were very strong that afternoon, Steve had a brand new glider, and lined up in the opposite direction that he always used.  Steve is a P-4, a Team pilot at FlyLaSalina, and knows La Salina quite well.  Unfortunately too many wrong things culminated at one time.  He suffered serious head, back, spinal, and knee injuries.  Fortunately he is recovering.  He is walking, talking, and joking as always. He has returned to Seattle to re-cooperate.
He hopes to be flying again within the year.  He will be missed at La Salina!

As a final note, BB personally invested over a hundred hours in the ASTRO turf odyssey not to mention  thousands of dollars in cash; and of course the ancillary “stupidity costs” such as the crease in his car door from the trailer and the seatbelt ticket…and countless personal time in the enhancement of the La Salina launches.

He does not have the benefit of receiving income from the site, except a small amount recovered during the flying events.  He does not expect to earn a profit from the site.   But if some type of fee arrangement is eventually invoked, in which he is a part, please understand that it will be many many many years before THIS investment is recovered, let alone sufficient resources to cover the ongoing investment thathe undertakes to maintain the site year round. Thanks to all of you who understand and support this ongoing endeavor.

With an honorable mention going to Juan Gonzalez who
contributed a fair share  carpet patches
in spring of 2011.

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