Sunday, February 28, 2010

Harpin' Boontling

3239 - 3570 (13634 - 13965)

Today I decided not to follow the coast so as to avoid getting snarled in the Bay area (Cheri loves San Francisco, so we will visit together some other time).

There are many famous attractions in Monterey, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row amongst them, but I went the natural route. I covered part of the famous 17-Mile Drive, passing the Pebble Beach golf courses to see Bird Rock, replete with seals, sea lions, pelicans and cormorants.

As I passed through Seaside, California, I spotted this Vietnamese restaurant and could not help but laugh. Apparently the owners know they somehow slipped one past English censors; their motto is..."It's Pho King delicious!"

I blue highwayed into farm country, where these Californians are obviously very proud of their cash crops. For instance, Castroville, California is the Artichoke Capital of the World. Here I am at the World's Largest Artichoke, at a restaurant/vegetable stand in Castroville. I stand by the sign that advertised Fried Artichoke Hearts. While many believe that frying anything makes it better, I can't imagine it doing much for the artichoke.

Up the road I arrived in the Garlic Capital of the World, Gilroy, California. Signs abounded for items like Pickled Garlic, Garlic Juice, and even Garlic Ice Cream. Only seemed natural to stop at Garlic World and see the World's Longest Garlic Braid. I saw an appropriate T-shirt there: "May the Stink Be With You."

I ended up up missing San Francisco altogether, going instead through Oakland. It felt a bit odd being on interstate again, and I was consequently happy to return to Route 101 north of the Bay. Looking back, I should have at least gone over the Golden Gate Bridge.

In Santa Rosa, I made a stop at the Charles Schultz Museum. The Peanuts were a favorite of the Jones family; I had dozens of Peanuts books as a youngster. Here there were a multitude of statues of Peanuts characters around; this one of Snoopy on park bench (easy for posing) is outside the Warm Puppy Cafe, across the street from the museum at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena (supposedly Schultz ate here all the time on the way to his studio). No beer, so the Warm Puppy will not be in competition with the Happy Puppy.

The Museum was fabulous. I most enjoyed the Tile Mural covering an entire wall of their Great Hall and featuring an image of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. It is composed of 3,588 Peanuts comic strip images printed on individual 2- by 8-inch ceramic tiles. Charlie Brown and Lucy stand out because of the use of strips with black backgronds.

Looks like they had some left over tiles, because there were even some in the rest room!

I was in wine country; there were grapes growing everywhere. But as we all know well, I am a beer guy. I was headed on Route 128 for Boonville, California, home of both the Anderson Valley Brewing Company and an area that had their own distinct dialect.

Boonville, in the Anderson Valley, is in the middle of nowhere. Well, if it isn't, it's nearby. It is so removed that in the 1880s, some of the Anderson Valley children created a few slang words to use in their private conversations, both for their own amusement, and to confound anyone who might overhear them harpin’ (talking). They created new words as they went, trying to shark (stump) their companions. Over time the vocabulary grew, as did the number of people familiar with it. Eventually, every resident of the valley had at least some knowledge of Boontling (Boonville Language), as the lingo came to be called.

I stopped at the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, hoping to hear some Boontling. Lisa, the gal pulling beer, only knew a few terms, and unfortunately their chief engineer and Boontling expert was not there on Sundays. But here he is in a Boontling MP3 Sample.

On the Anderson Valley Brewing Company labels they have this bear with antlers. I bit, asking "So what's the story with the bear with antlers?"

"Oh, it's not a bear with antlers," said Lisa. "It is a cross between a bear and a deer. Which makes it a..."

I thought a moment. Then it hit me. "A beer...," I said, groaning.

"Yes! The Legendary Boonville Beer!"

The picture of me with the stuffed Boonville Beer at the bar turned out poorly, so you get this one instead. She is far better eye candy than me, anyway!

Oh, the beer... I enjoyed their signature Boont Amber Ale (Boont = Boonville). Or in Boontling, it was bahl hornin' (good drinking).

Back on twisty, turny little Route 128, I really felt like I was in the boonies (maybe Boonville is where that term comes from, or vice versa). The trees created a tunnel effect that was a bit disconcerting as I worked my way back up to the coast. Or maybe I am just becoming a codgy kimmer (old man)...

I arrived on to the Pacific Coast Highway at dusk. It was great to rejoin the ocean. I noted that the terrain seemed more rocky here. Maybe it was just because I was much closer than in Big Sur.

I made my way through Mendicino to my final destination of Fort Bragg, California. It became a multi-beer tasting day, as Fort Bragg is home to the fine North Coast Brewing Company.

As I was finished driving for the day, a sampler was in order. The Red Seal Ale and Scrimshaw Pilsner were excellent, but it was the Old Rasputin Stout that was superb. And not just because of the name (my friend Walter Tunis back in high school was nicknamed Rasputin); it is actually award winning (91 Points, Rated "Exceptional"). My fourth in the tasting was the Brother Theolonius Belgian Style Ale. It is named for one of my favorite jazz musicians, Theolonius Monk, and some of the proceeds of its sale go to the Theolonius Monk Institute of Jazz. Coincidentally, Walter was instrumental in introducing me to jazz and to Monk. BTW, it's an unusual beer, very spicy.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to a foray into the Redwood Forest.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Big Tsunami Sur

3016 - 3239 (13411 - 13634)

Today could have been really, well, interesting. Early Saturday morning a devastating 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile, setting off a tsunami which threatened a quarter of the globe. All coastal areas on the Pacific were on high alert. And here I was, right on the coast.

I spent some time on the phone with Cheri, and on the internet, and we decided that since the potential waves would arrive late afternoon, I would travel as planned. By then I would at least be up high, on the cliffs in Big Sur, watching the waves crash in.

Coming out of Lompoc, Bonnie (my GPS voice) took me through some real backroads, with some lovely rural views. This was farm country, despite the hilly terrain.

I was amazed by this hill. The picture does not do it justice. It seemed to be a near vertical incline, and yet there were cows grazing on it. I had no trouble imagining one tumbling down the slope. It gave a whole new meaning to "cow tipping."

Turns out January and February is a great time to experience the monarch butterfly migration. Pismo Beach, California has its own Monarch Butterfly Grove full of eucalyptus trees, located right on Route 1. There were not a huge number there today -- I wondered if they sensed the tsunami? It was certainly worth the stop in my pursuit of wildlife.

I reached the coast, and saw that the danger of tsunamis is nothing new.

As I approached San Simeon, I could not muster any interest in the chief attraction there: Hearst Castle. Publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst told his architect in 1927 that he wanted to built "a little something" here on the California coast. The result was a 165-room Moorish castle with 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways, furnished with Spanish and Italian antiques and art.

But Hearst Castle had no draw for me today, despite my great interest in castles. Maybe it was the idea that I wanted to be higher if indeed a tsunami arrived, or that I did not want to invest the time it would take to throughly enjoy the expansive grounds. But more likely I just wasn't up to traipsing through such oppulence after having so enjoyed the small towns and rural quaintness of blue highways lately. Note the blue sky; that should give away that I did not take this photo today!

Perhaps it was an omen of good tidings when I came upon a series of rainbows. I swear if you squint just right you can see a lepruchain at the end...

Just north of San Simeon was the the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery right on Route 1. The seals are hardly your everyday bathing beauties, but they have a charm all their own. No, they are not dead. In fact, they were belching up a storm; it was quite pungent even at a distance. Though it wasn't much of a distance, as you can see. They certainly were not reacting to any potential natural disaster. If I wanted wildlife, I got it!

I followed Route 1 through Big Sur, where I enjoyed crashing waves, rolling fog, sheer rocky cliffs, and pleasant bends and curves.

Here's a shot looking back on famous Bixby Bridge, built in 1932. I was now high enough to not be concerned about a tsunami carrying me off to sea.

Not that there were not other dangers. For instance, I saw a couple of these signs...

...and later rounded a bend to find they served a real purpose!

I slipped out of the Big Sur area at dusk, taking in a glorious sunset high above the waves. Nope, the tsunami never came. But I sure did enjoy a glorious day out in nature, albeit with spitting rain.

It was after dark when I got to Carmel. I did not see Clint Eastwood. He did not make my day.

I had another free night in an Embassy Suites, this time in Monterey. I smile ironically at the thought that I avoided the trappings of Hearst Castle, but was happy to stay in these impressive digs.

Friday, February 26, 2010

End Route 66, Start Pacific Coast Highway

2743 - 3016 (13138 - 13411)

Today I finished one chapter of my adventure, reaching the terminus of Route 66. But I also opened a new one, my exploration of the Pacific Coast Highway.

As I was leaving Tujunga today, I spotted this sign. On investigation, the restaurant is long gone. I did chuckle at the thought of someone at the restaurant answering the phone, "Poo Ping, can you hold?"

Bono's Italian Restaurant and Orange Stand in Fontana, California are iconic mainstays of the original Route 66 (now looking frozen in time). I visited here when I came into LA on Wednesday. Apparently this part of the Mother Road was once lined with beautiful citrus groves, almost a mirage-like sight to weary travelers after crossing the Mohave desert. Stands like this Bono Orange dotted the area providing refreshing citrus drinks. People must surely have thought they'd reached paradise. Not exactly paradise any longer.

I crept down to Santa Monica on what remained of Route 66. Contrary to common belief, Route 66 never ran to the coast; it terminated onto what is today the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard in downtown LA. But that busy intersection stinks for taking symbolic photos.

Most consider the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard, a few blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, as the end. That is where you find this plaque dedicating Route 66 as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America.

But wait! In 2009, the Santa Monica Pier was officially named the Western Point of Historic Route 66. A sign was unveiled as the "spiritual" End of the Trail for Route 66.

Santa Monica Pier, by the way, is a great spot to people watch. I felt like I had been there before, as it has been featured as a location in so many films and TV shows.

Getting to the actual end of Route 66 really didn't really matter. "It’s a myth,” said the chairman of the Route 66 Preservation Foundation, “but it is a myth added to all the other myths of Route 66.” Well said. My experiences on the Mother Road were certainly memorable, mixing equal parts scmaltz, nostalgia, and whimsy. I cherish the experience.

I turned north on Ocean Boulevard and began my journey on another legendary route, up the California coast on Route 1 and Route 101, the Pacific Coast Highway. I found myself hugging the Pacific Ocean for the rest of the day.

Being in California, despite it being a raw, gray, and unsettled day, it only seemed natural that I see surfers...

...and, of course, palm trees. This is in Santa Barbara.

I finished the day in Lompoc (where I had a free night at the Embassy Suites). Buckets and buckets of rain.

Hopefully decent weather tomorrow; I am looking forward to Big Sur as I continue up the coast.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Inside LA

2489 - 2743 (12884 - 13138)

Reading about and then visiting tourist stops has its merits, but getting an insider's view of a place is always preferable. Such is the case with my visit to Los Angeles. I am lucky enough to have a high school friend who is part of the LA scene. Richard Eastman has been in LA some ten years now, bound and determined to become a celebrated screenwriter. And he knows the ropes, has made the contacts, presses the right buttons. Now if someone will just buy one of his scripts.

Now Richard is the personification of someone following his passion. For several years he held a job as a paralegal to pay the bills, but it got in the way of his dream. So for a couple of years he has been writing full-time. And living off MasterCard. And now trying not to feel desperate. I admire his dedication and determination.

Richard and I met on Thursday at Irv's Burgers, a West Hollywood institution that on Santa Monica Boulevard (and the tail end of historic Route 66) and a couple of blocks from his apartment. It's a classic hamburger stand, in constant danger of being turned into yet another redundant coffee shop.

There used to be hundreds of joints just like it along Route 66, and Irv's was a favorite hangout of '70s celebs. Linda Ronstadt even featured Irv's on one of her LP covers in her superhottie days (see left).

Locals like Richard formed a vigilante crew, the Burger Brigade, dedicated to defending Irv's from corporate greed. Richard was even interviewed on local TV. Irv's has since was declared a National Historic Place, a true testament to Irv's value in the city and nation's heritage, so it is no longer in danger of disappearing.

The true jewel at Irv's is Sonia (that's her, with Richard). Sonia makes everyone feel like Hollywood royalty. Each customer is greeted with a huge smile and (if you've previously been there) by name; Richard is very well known! It is a true "hole in the wall," but Sonia with a wink promised us a table "with ocean view" (the ocean is 12 miles away). Her family is there to join in on making this one fantastic, welcoming spot.

When the cliché "served with love" is used, here it is legitimate. Each plate has a smiley face and greeting drawn by Sonia. Here is my plate, which reads "For Richard's Last True Friend Ted."

While nothing could top Irv's, Richard and I drove around his neighborhood, and into Beverly Hills. We travelled familar sounding road names like Sunset and Wilshire. Every other building was "this movie scene was shot there" or "Scwab's used to be there" or "Spago was there, but is gone now." One stop was at this gigantic Rocky & Bullwinkle statue on Sunset, at what was once the home of animator Jay Ward (who created Rocky & Bullwinkle). It is now Hollywood Hounds, a doggie daycare. So I guess we will use this as my puppy fix. I am on the left.

We spent some time on the gorgeous grounds of the infamous Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, which is now owned by the city and used for many movie scenes and special events. A recent example: There Will Be Blood. Within these walls Daniel Day Lewis uttered the immortal line "I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!"

Our visit to the mansion did provide us with a fabulous view of the city below on a clear blue day. Richard pointed out that it was a perfect day, and added "You know what? Everyday is like this. And it can get a bit boring."

My day in West Hollywood was anything but boring. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself, Richard.

I had actually arrived in the LA area on Wednesday evening, having travelled in from the Arizona desert. Family friend Martha Houk was kind enough to house me for a couple of nights at her home in Tujunga, near Burbank. Martha recently lost a leg to an infection, but it has not slowed her down! I enjoyed her indominable spirit.

We had a lovely dinner at Taylor's Steakhouse Wednesday night, and enjoyed a night at the theater on Thursday: Kiss Me Kate, a fine performance by the Glendale Centre Theatre.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spring Training

2295 - 2489 (12690 - 12884)

Today I got a glimpse of that baseball lover's pilgrimage: Spring Training. Then I headed back out into the desert via blue highways.

First, a beer report: Last night I dined at the Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery. Sounded good; I figured I would find some good British brew at least. Turns out the Tilted Kilt is a Celtic version of Hooters, a breast-aurant with servers in skimpy tartan kilts and crop tops. The guys (I only saw one) wear black kilts. I tried their in-house brew, the KT Lager. It was not as tasty as the scenery. They may take our decency, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!

Ah, Mariners Spring Training. It was such a respite seeing the fields of manicured green after so much time in the rocky desert. Today was the first day when all players reported. I watched some batting practice; in this photo you can see Mariner newcomer Casey Kotchman batting, with manager Don Wakamatsu (22) behind the cage. Other newcomers Josh Bard (26), Chone Figgins (9), and Milton Bradley (15) wait their turns. Ichiro (with bag) is on the left. He had a huge litany of photographers following him.

Here are my fellow fans watching batting practice. Hope springs eternal. They look a lot like the audience at the Jim Stafford Show I saw in Branson.

Got a big kick out of watching wind sprints just before the players broke for lunch. Ichiro glided along, always effortlessly ahead. Ken Griffey Jr, who was being driven around everywhere in a golf cart, ran a whole half a sprint. But boy, I loved that grin. I noticed particularly Tommy Everidge, a first baseman built like a weekend beer league softballer, struggling with each dash. Somehow I do not see Tommy making the big league club.

Lots of autograph opportunities as the players headed in for lunch. At least with the lesser known players; Ichiro and Griffey were squirrelled away via golf carts while the others walked in. This is newcomer Milton Bradley, who arrived with a bit of a surly reputation from the Cubs. Consequently I figure he is working hard to win over his new fans.

After my baseball fix, I headed back out into the desert, with a final destination of Blythe, California (right on the AZ/CA state line). Sounded desolate, but it had a Hampton Inn with a low point requirement for a free night. Turned out to be worth the trip.

I was really not interested in hitting the interstate, so I took blue highways as far as I could. I might as well have been travelling on the moon (with a few cactus... cactuses... cacti?).

Meep Meep! I was hoping I would see a roadrunner. Or a coyote. Or something from Acme. No such luck.

In passing through the nothing desert town of Hope (basically a combination gas station/country store), I could not help but giggle at Passmore Gas & Propane.

As I headed out of "town," I spotted this sign: "Your Now Beyond Hope." Fun play on words, albeit with poor grammar...

Quartzsite, Arizona, is home of the Quartzsite Yacht Club, despite there being no boats, or water, in sight. It's slogan is "Long Time, No Sea." Gotta have a sense of humor in the desert! You can even buy a membership that is supposedly accepted through reciprocal agreements at other yacht clubs around the world (I did not).

I arrived in Blythe figuring it had little to offer (for instance, notice there is no beer report for tonight!). But I was wrong. I learned of the Blythe Intaglios a few miles outside of town, and thought I might as well check it out.

Turns out intaglios are gigantic figures created by scraping away layers of darker rocks or pebbles to reveal lighter soil. Most likely created by members of Mojave or Quechan tribes, they are no doubt ceremonial, and the process of their creation was possibly by ritual dancing. There are three figures here, from 95 to 171 feet long: one is of a human, another a snake, the third a horse (which would mean it was created after 1540) or a mountain lion (which could date the site to as much as 2,000 years ago).

Way cool. The figures are protected by chain link fence, which was too bad, but you can see tire damage on some. I nabbed this aerial shot from the internet to get the real effect. What I found surprising was there was no advertising about their existence; I would have expected signs out on the highway. I just got lucky.

Tomorrow, into the City of Angels: Los Angeles.