Welcome to the Other
Eric Walker’s Web Site!

If you are looking for the web site of that Eric Walker—the film actor—it’s here. I’m one of the other fellows named Eric Walker who populate the internet. (There are quite a few of us, as a simple Google will show; one page claims there are 1,822 of us in the U.S. alone.)

About this Eric Walker

“‘My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character,’ he said matter-of-factly.”

— Bridge of Birds,
Barry Hughart

So just who is this Eric Walker? The “other” Eric Walker? I’m glad you asked (else why would I have put this page here?)

Cartoon: Gritty roadside stand with sign saying Eric’s Fill Dirt and Croissants

I think that what is is always more interesting than what was, but I suppose that if one yields to vanity enough to put up a personal web site, one is obliged to say a few words about who and what one once was. (Try saying that last phrase rapidly five times.)

Well, once upon a time in what seems a world far, far away (“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”), I was an electronics engineer in the aerospace industry; I designed systems for satellites back when putting a satellite in orbit was far from a routine effort. It was exciting work and it was satisfying work, but eventually I walked away from it to go into an earlier love, radio broadcasting. (I had done some at my college’s radio station, and had done both studio and news engineering work at a major New York City station over two summers while in college.)

I did that for a few years, first as a DJ at an East-Coast suburban station (in northern Virgina, the D.C. suburbs, or maybe exurbs), then as its news editor (doing a nightly half-hour newscast that was truly the proverbial one-man-band show: I gathered the wire copy, re-wrote it, downloaded the “actualities”—the drop-in sound bytes—anchored it, and was my own engineer). Later, I also picked up a telephone-talk show there. From that station, I went on to a small but peculiarly famed station, at least famed in some circles: it was one of then only two AM “underground rock” stations in the country. We were the first in the nation to be hand-delivered a copy of the debut album by a young unknown named Elton John.

Then, I once again walked away from a line of work. I had met the lady of my life—you can see her in the photos below—and one fine day we just packed everything into an old VW beetle (shows how much “everything” we had back then) and headed off for the Golden West. We travelled, by design, in a bizarre-looking (on a map) path that took us to most of the scenic attractions of the American southwest. We saw quite a variety of territory—and of people—on that extended jaunt, and I’m glad we did it. (It was the first of what would in time be several such cross-country meanders, all illuminating; I wonder if the little place we always went to in the French Quarter of New Orleans is still there, or at least if it was still there before you-know-what.)

Arriving in San Francisco, where we were to spend most of the next fifteen or so years, we scrounged up whatever work we could find. I ended up at first in another learning experience, a so-called “boiler room”—a place where sad souls grind out hour after hour cold-calling strangers from the telephone book (or, if they promote you, from some list or other that’s supposedly a hair more select than the bare white pages) to try to sell them something, or at least—in this case—to try to sell them an appointment for a live salesman to come sell them something. Apparently I was pretty good at it: I always won the weekly prize, and the outside salesmen used to fight to get my lead slips, because they had a much higher sales conversion rate than the average. If I was better than most, I think it’s because I never lied to people, or tried to hornswoggle them; I thought (and still think) the product we were selling was a good deal for them, and that made it easy. As it happens, the product was meat and I was already a vegetarian, and the weekly prize was a 10-pound box of meats, but my lady had not yet become a vegetarian, so she sure ate well in those days.

At about this time, we came into a small inheritance from a death in the family, and spent a good deal of it in a way that we have always treasured: we took off for Europe. We spent more time planning the trip, maybe a year, than the trip took, though we were over there for between eight and nine months. We went first to London, after a three-day stopover in Iceland, a sadly under-appreciated little wonder of a land. We lived in a bed-sitter in London (this was winter) for a couple of months, during which time, by careful shopping around, we acquired a VW van, already complete with built-in bed, for a reasonable price. (Thereby hangs a tale: the seller thought he was leaving us holding the bag for the then-new, and definitely nontrivial “Value Added Tax” on the thing, but we found a sneaky way to get it out of the country without incurring the tax—another story for the long, cold nights.) Buying such a vehicle was a part of the long-set plans. We used it for some day trips, then eventually drove on out into the west. (But let me not forget to say how, at least back then, wildly cheap good living was in London—rent was modest, it being the touristic off season, and superb entertainments, from symphonies to plays and beyond, were almost risibly inexpensive, as were many excellent little restaurants, especially the Indian restaurants, and we love Indian cookery.) We went on, to put months into a sentence, through the west of England (with a week in a small village on the Exmoor), then ferried to Ireland and made a grand circuit of the Emerald Isle (saw the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin—the great majority of floats and marchers being Americans who flew over for the event: a block of 12-year-old cheerleaders from New Jersey stick in the mind), ferried back and drove up through Wales and Scotland then back down eastern Britain, eventually ferried over to Belgium, then through Luxembourg (another under-appreciated little gem of a land) and Holland up into Denmark, then Sweden, whence we shipped the van off to the U.S. and trained back to Luxembourg and an air flight home, and, eventually, yet another cross-country jaunt back to San Francisco.

It’s hard now to keep in any coherent order all the different things we did and were in those San Francisco (“Don’t call it ’Frisco”) years. After a bit, we drifted into property management. It began when we fell into the job of managing the apartment building we were living in, a so-called “deluxe” building on Telegraph Hill. Before long, the job we were doing compared to past managers caught someone’s eye, and soon I was assistant property manager for an empire of about 3,000 rental units. That was a learning experience, to be sure. As a building manager or property manager, you find out, willy nilly, an awful lot about people’s private lives, and I could tell stories by the hour.

Eventually, I—yes, that’s right—walked away from that. I became a taxicab driver. In that place, at that time, that was a surprisingly remunerative job. The public grossly underestimates the money to be made in “service” jobs; some others that I can say—from contact through the cab driving—are quite high-paying in any major tourist town are doorman at any decent or better hotel, and airport skycap. These people pass their spare time, such little as their jobs allow, discussing with one another their property investments.

A couple of the six cottages of Cottage Row

During this period, before we bought our first home, a Victorian on Bush Street just south of Pacific Heights, we lived in a cottage, on aptly named “Cottage Row“, which you can see in the image at the right (once described as “perhaps the only true mews in America”); if memory is not failing, we lived in the tan cottage in that image (we grabbed the image off the web—it’s not one from our own collection).

At about this time, I became interested in baseball. I had always paid a certain minimal attention to the game as a kid, but I was never a real fan; I’m still not a “fan” of anything but baseball. Having decided to see a few games, as a sort of working man’s theater, I was captivated—perhaps because I was seeing the sport with the fresh eyes of one a virtual stranger to it. My old engineering instincts kicked in, and I began to wonder how the elements of the game combined to affect winning and losing. I decided to see if anyone had written anything about that, and ended up checking out of the main library branch a little book titled Percentage Baseball, by a chap named Earnshaw Cook. If this were one of those magazine biographies, that would be headed The Moment That Changed My Life.

Book cover image, The Sinister First Baseman

This backgrounding is already a deal longer than I meant to make it. So see it like a bad 1940s movie: scene after scene (black-and-white, of course) overlaid in rapid succession with no sound, save maybe a little theme music for “time passing”. I scrounge up an unpaying position—which I convince them to invent—at a silly little semi-legal FM radio station as their “sports editor”; but that gets me press credentials with the Giants. I hang around long enough to learn a little about baseball clubhouses and press boxes and that sort of thing, cranking out daily 5-minute reports that I daresay no one in the world ever listened to. Eventually, I parlay that into a big step up, a relation with the NPR affiliate in San Francisco; remember, public radio (especially back then) was “intellectual”: athletes sweat, whereas NPR listeners perspire or glow. But I fast-talk about “baseball as a performing art”, and get in. Still unpaid, but I round up a couple of “underwriters”, so it isn’t a dead loss. Best of all, after a year or two of that, someone at the station suggests that I syndicate my daily 5-minute “module” via the NPR satellite system; I do, and it ends up on about 20 stations around the country, nearly half in major markets. Quite a kick. But then, I am taking the analysis part of all this very seriously, doing all kinds of original research (crunching data with a yellow legal pad, a pencil, and a hand calculator—computers were just becoming affordable for the home user). I approach the Giants about a consulting job; we talk, but they Just Don’t Get It. I take a month off and go as a “freelance reporter” to Spring Training—another experience I’ll treasure forever (and it was about the last Spring before Spring Training became highly commercialized and much less informal than it was then). I talk some more with the Giants General Manager (then Tom Haller). Eventually I meet with Bob Lurie, the owner, and eventually I get on board with a contract. When manager Frank Robinson leaves the team, I know my days are numbered, for I was somewhat close with him and it’s almost like politics that way. My contract is terminated, so I cast about for an alternative, and approach the Oakland A’s. History begins. I spend nearly 20 years in close association with the A’s. I won’t say it outright myself, but if you read Alan Schwarz’s fine book The Numbers Game, he puts me squarely at the center of the revolution in baseball that finally became tolerably famous a couple of years ago under the name (from the book of the same title by Michael Lewis) Moneyball. Was I the pebble that started the avalanche? I think so. I know for sure that Billy Beane, Sandy Alderson’s successor as General Manager of the A’s, was awakened, sharply, by a lengthy paper that Sandy asked me to prepare to explain to Billy what the A’s management principles were on player personnel. (One byproduct of all this was the book whose cover you see at the left; Sandy had read it before I made contact with the A’s, and had heard my modules on KQED, so he knew who I was when I called; so does fate work.)

I and my lady in facncy dress formally posing.

Lost in the baseball history is the fact that we eventually moved out of San Francisco, down to a rural area in central California, in the hills above the storied Salinas Valley. We had just plain gotten fed up with the noise and dirt of urban life. I—I, who was raised in New York City, who used to ride the subway home alone at one or two a.m. at age 15, who often remarked that if I can’t see concrete, I itch—I was tired of it all. And so was my lady. So we scouted and scouted and finally found a 160-acre parcel we could afford (it was something of a distress sale), and bought it. We sold our Victorian, at a most fortunate price (lucked into a rich buyer who just had to have that particular house), and built our first self-designed home. It was superb, up on a “hogback” (ridge top) with a view down the San Antonio Valley 20 miles to the lake, and ineffably beautiful sunsets practically every evening (the Pacific Ocean was maybe 25 miles to the west). If I can dig up some of our old photos, I’ll add them here. But after a decade there, we were seeing too much growth in the vicinity, and had gotten thoroughly tired of paying Sacramento fully a third as much as we were sending off to Uncle in Washington; so, we looked and thought and planned, and settled on eastern Washington State, and picked up and moved. From central California, I could easily enough drive into Oakland a few times a year, but that was no longer possible, so (sounding familiar?) I walked out on the baseball thing. (The photo at the right shows us somewhere in this period, at the wedding of some very close friends, which was an excuse to dress up as we rarely do; be aware that I chronically photograph fortunately well while my lady never seems to come out well in pictures—though we were both pulling comic stiff-mug faces for that shot.)

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I overlooked an important, if boring, fact: I and another fellow invented a small new industry—temporary employment for lawyers with other law firms, retrospectively obvious but never before done—and ended up running that for over 20 years (I’ve finally quit doing it). It was dull, it was boring, it was tedious, and I hated it; but it paid the bills, and in some years a bit more.

Up here in Washington, we are settled into what we dearly hope will be our last home, though we each earnestly expect to live for some decades yet. At left is what we more or less look like these days (though she still photographs inadequately and I fortunately).

You can find out a great deal more about where exactly we are, and what it’s like, and what kind of house we live in (our second self-designed one, and though we liked the first well enough, we learned some lessons that have made this second one all we hoped of it) at this mini-site on Owlcroft House; we have followed the fine old tradition of naming our homes: the first was High Boskage House (it was on a bosky ridgetop), and this one is Owlcroft House owing to the many owls that roost on and near our property (we’re down to 40 acres here, but it’s amidst wheat fields so our closest neighbor is a mile away, and there are very few within two or three miles—despite which we’re only 10 minutes’ drive from facilities, including a small hospital).

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