Our ears were buzzing; our backs tightening. Road tripping in a two-seat roadster has its merits, but bombing down the interstate at 75 mph is not one of them. With the clock approaching 7 p.m., three-plus hours of driving still ahead of us, and a desert thunderstorm threatening, we decided stopping for the night made sense. With a strong cell signal on I-40 outside Needles, CA, Judy perused the upcoming options.
The lone Marriott property (it’s our go-to chain) in Kingman, AZ was sold out, but the Best Western in Needles looked promising. It cost a little more than we thought we should pay, but it received good ratings on Trip Advisor and looked like the best among the limited choices. She booked the room.
A half hour later we pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of the two-story motor lodge that looked just like the thousands that dot the interstates across the country. We ducked in and on our request Diana recommended River City Pizza Company about a quarter of a mile down the road.
The room, like the rest of the motel, was just like thousands of motel rooms that dot the country … a king bed, two nightstands, a small table with a pair of chairs, a low dresser, microwave, fridge and standard bath. The furniture was dated and a bit worn, but the bed was crisply made and the carpet clean. The air conditioner hummed softly and blew fresh, cold air — a bonus since they can often be loud and musty.
We called in an order for pizza, grabbed some ice from the machine off the lobby and poured the last of our pre-made cocktails (brought from home) into the plastic cups near the sink.
We toasted the joys of getting off the road when you’re hungry and tired just as the pizza arrived — fresh, hot and really good! We celebrated the little things, thankful to be off the road as the winds picked up and the storm hit.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes taking a break makes the journey even better.
Santa Ana winds blowin’ hot from the north, we were born to ride.
I grew up in Los Angeles. Okay, technically, I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, but was still in the confines of the City of Los Angeles. I spent most of my life there. It’s where I went to college — undergrad at USC (Fight On!) and Pepperdine for my MBA. It’s where I worked for a good chunk of my life at PR firms and corporations downtown, in the Fairfax District, and near LAX and Westwood. It’s where I lived … the Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley, Redondo Beach, San Pedro, and the Hollywood Hills for a short time.
I take it all for granted.
Having not lived there for nearly two decades, I find countless reasons to trash it. We visit often (or at least we did until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived), as my mother still lives there. I find myself constantly complaining … the crowds, the smog, traffic, gas prices, taxes … all seem a bit too much. Oh, and did I mention the traffic?
And yet …
And yet there remains a certain allure, an appeal to Los Angeles that transcends its faults. Every time Judy and I watch a movie that was filmed there, I constantly point out landmarks (to her considerable annoyment). I talk of the good times there, like when my buddies and I drove to Century City three times over a two week period in 1977 just so we could experience Star Wars in Dolby surround sound. The sailing trophy I won in Huntington Harbor in 1974 still adorns my display case. We proudly display vestiges of my Alma Mater and engage in serious trash talk with my Ohio State Buckeye and Oregon Duck-loving neighbors during football season. I taught Judy to sail in Marina Del Rey during one of our first visits there together.
And, during these difficult times, I tell the positive stories of communities coming together in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, just as the nation did in the wake of 9/11, and communities around the world do following natural disasters of various sorts.
Recently, our granddaughter proclaimed she wanted us to take her to Los Angeles next year for her 10th Birthday “Trip With the Grands” (her older brother opted for some Arizona desert adventures). Whether she’ll still want to do that a year from now remains to be seen, but it was a reminder that, despite my trash talk, L.A. is in my blood.
So for those who want to go there, I offer a tarnished Angeleno’s top 10 tips for “doing” L.A. They’re a bit irreverent perhaps, and the Chamber of Commerce might not approve, but they’ll give you a strong sense of the town I grew up in. (Note: Many places are currently closed due to the pandemic…but plan your trip around these for when things open up!)
Rent a convertible. As Randy Newman’s anthem to the streets of L.A. attests, Los Angeles was built around the automobile. The Hollywood stars and L.A. elites may crow about their Priuses and Teslas, but L.A. is best experienced with the top down. Feel the Santa Ana winds on your face, taste the salty air when driving PCH, see the iconic billboards along Sunset Strip, and hear the panoply of voices along the way.
See a show. Get a taste of “Old Hollywood” by taking in a musical at the Pantages Theatre. Dress up and grab dinner at Musso & Frank Grill before walking the four blocks down Hollywood Blvd. to the theatre. Look for your favorite “star” along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Visit California’s version of Mediterranean resorts. Hire a gondola or paddle boat for a cruise around Naples. Then take the high-speed catamarans from nearby Long Beach to the “island of romance” (as the Four Preps called Santa Catalina Island). Eat and drink your day away in Avalon’s many watering holes and feel like you’re in Cannes or Monte Carlo.
Catch a game. Los Angeles is home to two truly legendary sports venues, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Dodger Stadium. The Rose Bowl is pretty cool when the Trojans play there New Years Day, but otherwise it’s too tight and UCLA plays there. ‘Nuf said. The new SoFi stadium being built near LAX looks like it will be pretty cool. The L.A. Rams and the San Diego, er, Los Angeles Chargers will share it. L.A. has two basketball teams, too. Oh, and soccer!
Hit the beach. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello made Malibu famous, and for good reason. Sun, sand and surf define the SoCal lifestyle, so make sure you dip your tootsies in the Pacific.
Hit the beach, Part 2. A visit to a California beach isn’t complete without a visit to a pier. Santa Monica Pier is the classic with carnival rides and midway games, and, importantly, a booth celebrating the end (or beginning) of Route 66. Redondo Beach Pier has plenty of food, drink and music … look for fresh dungeness crab. And, any visit to Malibu isn’t complete without a stroll down Malibu pier, or head a few minutes north up PCH to Paradise Cove to dine at the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe … don’t forget to check out the historic photos!
Ride a Horse to the Hollywood Sign. Saddle up for a ride to the “best view in Los Angeles” at Sunset Ranch Hollywood. We did it in February a few years back and had truly spectacular views of the city and beyond along with a simply enjoyable ride. Never ridden? Don’t worry, they’ll match you with a horse friendly to novices.
Discover L.A. History. When you grow up in L.A. you learn all about California history in the fourth grade. But you don’t have to go back to your childhood to learn a bit of L.A. history. Head downtown to Olvera Street where the original pueblo was located and stroll through the plaza and market to get a little taste of what old Los Angeles was like. Sure, it’s a bit kitschy with its souvenir shops, but with a bit of imagination, you can step back in time to when Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was young.
Eat! Fast! Food! The L.A. area is home to some of the earliest fast food venues, including the first McDonald’s in nearby Downey, and certainly some of the most famous. I took many late-night college study breaks at the original Tommy’s at the corner of Rampart and Beverly near downtown … a double cheeseburger with extra chili would play havoc on my waistline today, but back then I had a healthy metabolism and an iron stomach. The oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy is in Burbank. Pink’s Hot Dogs is an institution in the Fairfax District; Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles earned the same appellation and has been around since 1945. Philippe’s, across from the iconic Union Station, is home to the original French Dip sandwich and retains its classic 1940s vibe.
Drive. Just, drive. Hop on the freeways, navigate the (mostly) logical street grid pattern, or meander the canyon roads over and through the hills. Forget the GPS and just go. There will be traffic. That’s a given. You might even get lost for awhile, but at some point, you’ll likely come to the ocean, another freeway, or a recognizable landmark. And here’s an insider secret … that street grid helps you gauge distance easily. Main drags off the freeways are spaced a mile apart. The primary streets between them are a quarter-mile apart. Simple, eh?
There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. L.A. is a world unto its own … Go see it!
On this date in 1961, astronaut Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space when his Redstone rocket-powered Mercury capsule Freedom 7 blasted off from Cape Canaveral. My mother has told me on numerous occasions that she took me outside our home near Orlando to watch the lone astronaut rise toward the heavens, as history was made.
I was six-months old to the day … too young to have remembered that moment. But I’ve always wondered whether that solitary act sparked my life-long passion for aviation and space travel. I remember my first commercial airplane trip a few years later — an Eastern Airlines trip from Atlanta to Orlando in a Lockheed Electra. I also remember when my best friend’s grandfather took me on my first flight in a small general aviation airplane — a short trip in a Piper Tri-Pacer when I was about 8 or so. That flight forever planted the seed to learn to fly, which actually happened some 25 years later. A few years later, I was sweating the moment when I finished my FAA-mandated check ride that would determine whether I’d be certified to fly on instruments (I passed). I remember being glued to the TV when Neil Armstrong planted the first steps on the moon … and the moment I heard on the radio about the Challenger disaster.
Just today, someone on Facebook posted a video of a place nearby where I could get my seaplane rating … sparking the urge to, once again, combine my love of flying with water. These moments are like signposts along a seemingly never-ending road of aviation and space travel experiences that I hope, one day, might ultimately involve the ability for me and you to actually travel in space.
Long-time readers know my love for road trips, but also appreciate my continued love of air travel. To me, the journey is just as important as the destination. Despite all the hassles with commercial air travel today (Pre-COVID) — the lines, security, crowds, etc. — it’s still worth it to look out the window at the world below. I’d rather follow our route on my laptop using an aviation app, trying to identify cities, lakes, rivers and other landmarks, than watch a movie or read a book. Get work done? Fuggedaboudit.
All of us feed our wanderlust in different ways. Some like cruises, some can’t stand boats. Some like to hike and climb, some like to sit on a beach where the only exercise involves lifting a cocktail from table to mouth. Some are in it for the sights, some for the tastes of fine food and wine. And that’s really the point … focus on whatever drives YOUR passion for travel and feed off that. Do what YOU want to do, don’t be led by what others think you should enjoy.
Me, I keep looking at those lone contrails in the sky and dream of the next flight … to wherever it may lead. Because there’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. I’ll be the one with the window seat, nose pressed to the glass, looking at the ground below, and to the stars above.
Judy and I both grew up with brunch as a regular part of our lives … we went to church and, invariably, our parents would take us to brunch, often with friends. Not as formal as dinner, but a nice way to get together and share a repast with acquaintances and loved ones, made even better when the food is excellent, the wine to-die-for, and the weather brilliant.
So it was this Sunday morning when we joined Schlossadler International Wines and winemaker Michael Opitz – live from Austria – in a virtual tasting of Opitz’ fantastic wines. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away our ability to get out and be among friends, these virtual wine tastings using video conferencing capabilities are the next best thing … a great way to spend an hour (more if we keep the bottle open), share in a great experience, and taste some excellent wines. One simply signs-up, Schlossadler delivers the wine, and everyone joins-in the fun online.
This was our third tasting with Hans and Liza and one of the best … partly due to working-out some of the technology kinks, but also because this was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday midday. After a morning reading the paper, doing crossword puzzles, and taking an energizing walk in brilliant Arizona sunshine and 70 degree temps, we prepared a charcuterie board, opened the three bottles for this particular tasting, and fired up the computer. We joined Hans, Liza and Michael just as the latter was kissing his daughter good night (it was eight in the evening in Austria). The only thing that would have made the scene better would have been to move the whole kit and caboodle outdoors to do the tasting al fresco.
As wonderful as the wine and the flavors we paired with it were, so was the camaraderie of those from around the country taking part. There are both new and familiar faces … people with whom we share a passion for wine and who will likely become great friends when we get the chance to meet in person.
Seeing Michael share his passion for wine-making and the maps of the regions where his wines are produced brought both memories of our recent Danube River cruise and pangs of wanderlust. We’ve written often here that one of the great joys of our travels is to experience the tastes of the places we visit. We’ve already spoken with Liza about joining her on one of her winery excursions overseas … making that a reality is something Judy and I speak of almost daily.
We have said before the pandemic is not something we take lightly … friends and family have and are effected, not just inconvenienced. But, we also know that many of us yearn for the days when this will be over, and are thankful there’s light at the end of that tunnel, bringing back our ability to travel and celebrate life with those we love. We know there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … it will still be there when this is all over. Until then, find joy wherever you can.
Editor’s Note: A year ago, Greg posted the following on his Facebook feed as we wrapped our cross-country trip to our new home in Arizona. When it popped-up as a memory yesterday, we were both struck by the humor and thought it would be fun to share here. CAUTION: Strong language.
Caution, rant ahead (but in a good way…sorta).
Let’s talk about Texas. It’s a big f’in state. So big that we spent 9-1/2 hours getting from the CENTER of the state (Waco) to the western border (El Paso). We can see New Mexico (and frankly, Mexico) outside our hotel window, but we’re still in Texas. Shit (or as they say here, “Sheeee-it”). We went from tree-lined streets and roads through the vast nothingness of west Texas. We drove through a town that on its “welcome to” billboard praised its band. I guess their football time was such a west Texas embarrassment that the band got top billing. That’s not a bad thing…when I was in high school, people came to games to see MY award-winning, kick-ass, LA All City Champion, take-on-all-comers high school band. But I’m sure they don’t talk about it in the diner in this west Texas town. Heck, the Sheriff at the gas station didn’t even give me crap about my foreign sports car with the Virginia tags…probably out of embarrassment for their football team.
But I digress. Let’s talk about the bad things about Texas. From Beaumont to Waco, we collected more bugs on the front of the Spider than a fly strip in a dairy farm. We collected an equal amount between Waco and the aforementioned embarrassed by its football team west Texas town. There, the bugs were replaced by a hellacious wind straight on the nose that lowered our gas mileage into ’70s American muscle car territory (okay, that’s exaggeration but it was pretty sucky for us) and stirred up dust reminiscent of Los Angeles smog in the late 60s. We skirted a few dust devils that looked like they could suck up the Spider like Dorothy’s tornado sucked-up the wicked witch of the west on her bike.
Speaking of driving, the roads SUCK. They’re not smooth in any way. I think they lay down tar by pushing it through a potato peeler. When you drive a two-seat sports car, you feel every bump and the performance tires complain. When the road is no smoother than a cheese grater, you long for smooth interstates, but alas, even there the road surface was akin to the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. No wonder everyone there drives a big truck or SUV…lots of suspension to soak up the crappy roads.
But here’s the good thing about Texas roads…speed limits. In Texas, they assume you’re not a candy-assed driver. They have two-lane roads with speed limits set at 75 mph. You read that right. Seventy-five f’in miles per hour on a two lane rural road with driveways and tractors and animals of all kinds. I’ve heard that armadillos, in particular, can take out a suspension…of course, by the looks of it, a Ford F250 can take out an armadillo pretty well, too. In most states, brand new four-lane highways still have speed limits topping 55 mph. Texas says screw that! If you can’t handle driving that fast on a rural road or drive 80 on the Interstate, stay out of our state….pansy.
Finally, there’s one other good thing about Texas…the people are creepily nice. I didn’t meet a soul who didn’t say good morning/afternoon/evening, offer a tip on a good restaurant, hold the door for you, or let in a driver into traffic (okay there were the two a-holes that cut in front of me thinking they could accelerate their POS Toyota pick-up to 75 in five seconds flat, but at least they weren’t pansies). They smile, say ma’am, sir and thank y’all and simply dare you to dislike them. But it’s just not possible.
So thank you, Texas, for being, well, Texas. You still need to remember that you are part of the U.S. of A. and not your own damned country. But we’re happy to have you — God knows, we don’t want you against us — and happy that you continue to show us that not giving a damn has its merits.
Social Distancing. Mandatory Telework. Who has toilet paper?
The Coronavirus has created a new vernacular; some fear this intrusion in our lives may become the “new normal.” But there is always something we can do to improve our own health and well-being … get outside.
After a week mostly cooped-up in the house — Judy running the business, me doing my day job — Saturday dawned bright and sunny with temps forecast to rise to the mid-70s. Plans to do spring house-cleaning quickly vanished. We threw a picnic lunch together, hopped in the car, put the top down and headed out.
The plan was simple. After a stop in central Phoenix to pick up some wine we had ordered at a recent festival (see “Spring is Festival Season”), we’d head due south on Central Avenue to the point where South Mountain rises from the Valley of the Sun and enters the South Mountain Park and Preserve. The road twists and turns up the mountain to the TV antenna-filled summit. At 2,330 feet, the views of the valley from Dobbins Summit were spectacular with photo opportunities galore. Farther down the road was the Gila Valley overlook, with views to the south and east of town. The sky was so clear you could almost see Tucson! (not really, but you get the point.)
We ate our simple picnic of sandwiches and iced tea under the shade of a ramada (spanish for open porch), one of many throughout the park. We munched as hikers tightened the laces on their boots and grabbed bottles of water to take on some of the 51 miles of trails the park offers. We didn’t hike this day, but we’ll be back to do so, or to possibly let a horse do the work for us, available from the Ponderosa Stables at the park’s entrance.
On this gorgeous day, we weren’t the only ones enjoying this opportunity to be outside. For the most part, people kept up their physical distancing, but smiles abounded and talk was not about the difficulties but about how great life could be when you simply get outdoors.
Refreshed, we drove down the mountain and went home via side streets and roads, avoiding the highway to enjoy the sun in our faces and the breeze in our hair. All in all, the trip took us about four hours but it felt like we were days away from the daily (and new) routines of our lives. It was a great reminder there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go outside and see it!
I awoke Sunday morning to crisp, cool temperatures; the colors of the landscape full of burnt umber and orange, beckoning Judy and me out for a Fall morning walk. ‘Tis the season.
As we tied our walking shoes and pulled-on some warmth, we also grabbed water and sunscreen, for this Autumn walk would not be among shady elms and maples losing their leaves, but among the red rocks cliffs of Sedona, Arizona. On this fall day, the sun shone bright on the multi-hued rock strata that makes Sedona such a magical place. During a weekend designed for relaxation, we were ready for a bit of adventure.
When Judy and I met, I had lived one the east coast for nearly 10 years, having lived most of my life beforehand in Southern California. I joked with my west coast friends that California had only two seasons — brown and three weeks of green — as I welcomed the changing seasons. Judy took me on my first “leaf peeping” trip to Pennsylvania. A to Z trips to Krakow and Nuremberg were conducted in winter. In Venice, we experienced “Aqua Alta;” in Hawaii, torrential rains. We have never confined our trips to one season, because experiencing different seasons and weather around the world is part of the adventure!
Since we’ve moved to Arizona, we’ve come to appreciate seasons even more, and this little weekend getaway to Sedona was a reminder that no matter where you are or go, there are great opportunities to get outside and experience the constant change that nature brings us.
There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, and enjoy whatever the weather brings you. ‘Tis the season!
As a recent convert to the principles espoused in Cal Newport’s breakthrough book Digital Minimalism, (http://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/), I’ve been taking long, contemplative walks daily. They free my mind, focus my energy, and provide solitude in a noisy world. This week, such a walk yielded even more … a treasure trove of fun information just a few paces from my hotel room.
Judy was participating in a VIP event hosted by Brighton, the jewelry and collectibles retailer, at their headquarters just east of Los Angeles. While she was in handbag heaven, I spent my day eating lunch at one of my old aviation stomping grounds, then catching up on some work, hitting the gym, and enjoying the pool at our hotel in Arcadia, near Pasadena. With famed Huntington Drive (part of old Route 66) just a block away, I laced-up my runners and set out for a stroll to see what you can’t see through a car window.
I wasn’t disappointed! Within just a few blocks, I was at the heart of Arcadia’s early 20th Century Business District at the corner of First and Huntington, near where the Santa Fe railroad (now a right of way for the Los Angeles Metro “Gold” line) would drop off horse racing aficionados bound for the “first” Santa Anita racetrack. A historic storyboard at the intersection told the story of the first City Hall, a unique “Drive-In” market, and of course, the city’s horse racing legacy.
Lining the sidewalks along Huntington were further tributes to that heritage … bronze plaques comprising the Thoroughbred Racing Walk of Champions. While I’m not a huge horse racing fan, I appreciated seeing names like “Seabiscuit” and “Laffit Pincay, Jr.” … names that are familiar even to the uninitiated.
All this was a reminder that there is so much to see and learn when you get off the beaten path, and this was on a 30-minute walk! There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … often right at your doorstep. Talk a walk and go see it!
Up at dawn, I lace-up my runners and grab my sunglasses as I head out the door. Even this early, the Arizona sun is blazing; the temperature already hovering around 80 degrees.
This early morning ritual, taking a long, contemplative walk before the world awakes, energizes me. It helps me clear my head so I can think big thoughts, plan my day, or contemplate the meaning of life. I leave the iPhone and the earbuds behind. This is not a time for music to intrude on my well-deserved solitude. I don’t need some app to tell me how far I walked, or the number of calories burned. This is a time for reflection; an opportunity to be outside and savor all the world has to offer.
Often, I encounter several others … neighbors out for their morning stroll, walking their dog, people running or biking, golfers heading to the club in their electric cards, construction workers and landscapers driving to the job in their pickups. Today that traffic, both literally and figuratively, is light.
The man-made silence opens up the landscape to sounds … a variety of birds chirping and singing, bees buzzing, lizards skittering. It’s not unpleasant. In fact, it’s a happy chorus to my thoughts, reminding me that this is good; that nature is truly all around as and we are just a part.
There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … even right outside your front door. Go see it!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of time travel and love movies like “Back to the Future” and “The Final Countdown” that explore what would happen if someone were to go back in time and mess with the potential future.
But that’s not what this blog is all about.
No, this is about actual travel in the present day to explore a long-lost place, or to bring back memories from the past. This idea struck me a few nights ago when Judy and I watched “Xanadu” starring Olivia Newton John. While panned by critics and a box office flop, the roller disco fantasy movie also starred a place that brought back strong childhood memories … the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District.
Built in 1935 in a Streamline Moderne architectural style, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium lived a long life hosting sports events like hockey and wrestling, radio shows, and political rallies. It pre-dated the much-larger Los Angeles Convention Center downtown. It was also the place that held the first sailboat show I ever went to with my father (we would attend later shows at the Long Beach Convention Center). My dad taught me how to sail and, along with building and flying model airplanes, this is where my dad and I “connected” at a time when his availability to spend time with me was limited. Going to the boat show was a special treat. As kids do, I dragged dad from model to model, firmly deciding that “this” boat was the one to buy so that we could race, cruise, or just hang out in the marina.
That first visit to the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was also special because I was fascinated by the architecture. I still maintain a strong attraction to the Art Nouveau and Streamline Moderne styles of the 30s and 40s. So I wept when the evening news 30 years ago carried live aerial footage as the facility, long in disrepair, burned to the ground.
I want to go back to where the Auditorium once stood, now a park. I want to relive those moments in the past, explore the smaller re-creation of the auditorium built on the grounds as a reminder of its golden age. I want to eat at the famous Farmers Market across the street, bringing back the sights and smells of the food we ate after the show.
Judy and I have done this before, visiting places we’ve read about in history books, seen the old photographs and maps, or simply heard about … places like Gettysburg and Route 66. We’ve visited other places of my youth, like the site of Montreal’s Expo ’67. It was there as a lad of only six, I marveled at the unique cubist Habitat 67 apartments created for the show and which remain residences today. In each instance, I try to transport myself to the past in my mind, remembering what it once was, and what it has become.
They say you can’t go back, but with a healthy imagination, this time travel brings happy memories and a unique perspective, one that makes even day trips fascinating. So the next time you have a some time to kill, hit the road and go see something from the past.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it…and travel back in time.