What I Learned on My Vacation: JP's Visit to Cali, 2011
"Now, ya listen to a story about a dude named Jeff, got a phone call and left his family there. Then one day he was shootin' at some food..." Oh, forget it. I don't shoot my food, I pick it up off the road.
So, my uncle Kent in Hollywood had extra miles on his card and doesn't fly anymore so he invited us to come out to visit, since they're not getting any younger. But Martha doesn't fly either, so it was just me for a 10-day outing a few days after my birthday soire'. Both my Sierra uncle Tim and Kent (my mom's brothers) along with Aunt Jo, are in the "not getting any younger" category. So I went out to visit them all, with a little partying in the Bay Area on the side. A whirlwind tour from the hinterlands to the big cities. Country Mouse visits the City.
I suppose I should load the pics up here. But I picked my 80 faves and put 'em on Picasa. Is that mean? Unappealing? The pics go with the Report. I suppose they really should be interwoven. Hey, you could open the pics in one window and the Report in another and check 'em out side-by-side. Well, for now, here's the link:
What did I learn? Well, it was nice to go to public hangouts that didn't have TV screens. And it was nice to interact with residents who were willing to include me in.
So, maybe some of the highlights I visited would interest you if you're ever out there. ...Coming up!
I haven't flown in years. It was neat to use the Time Machine all over again. All my flights and buses and subways and security-checks went without a hitch. Hooray! Hey, those wheeled carry-on things are total "musts." No more lugging a rucksack for me -- that's for the birds, from here on out. I went for 10 days and had a heavy rucksack plus a shoulderbag. That worked great but it was a bit wearying to haul around compared to the obvious ease of the wheely-people. Also, up to a couple weeks I'd say there's no need to check a bag, unless you're totin' guns, skis or a bike. If you have to walk some in addition to hiking the airport then get a wheeled-rucksack -- they're available. Multi-modal stuff is cool. Like, your bike could be a folder that also has little wheels for pushing it around in folded mode (Brompton offers this). My shoulderbag is a tan canvas number by Fox Outdoors that I retail here (see listing in my Drygoods section). My pack was the Jumbo Modular Field Pack also made by Fox -- I'll add the Jumbo to my line-up asap. It's a pack that converts to a briefcase/suitcase by stashing the shoulderstraps. $50. I could see that many folks liked it despite the non-wheeled angle. A stewardess once commented on it out of the blue -- she should know. It was interesting how many groups of camo dudes with camo rucksacks I saw in airports, only this wasn't military camo -- these guys were headed out for deer hunting via airplanes. At my Denver layover I saw maybe 50 of them.
FIRST STOP, SIERRAS
Anyway, a few hours after leaving Detroit I was in the Sierras, a continent away.
I'm not used to today's adherents to a no-acknowledgement/no-eye-contact form of etiquette on long flights. It seems like a "Hi" is always best. A chatterbox can't be THAT hard to deal with. The fancy-lad male model athlete dude next to me on my first long leg kept his mouth shut and also his eyes except for when he checked his hand-held text-device. He finally spoke up as we were landing. He's from Toronto, dating a Denverite. Whew! On a homeward leg, the pros sitting around me seemed to ignore a loud nonstop gabber. I gave her a couple glances, but woulda been happy to do the "keep it down" hand-lower move. After we got off everyone was all "Could you believe how loud she was?" To me, shock is only allowed after you've tried to do something about a situation. It's a weird public world. For me, earplugs and a hat (for shade) are a must. I enjoy the headset and the onflight radio, TV and movies. I also read some and work on my poem memorizing. I never had to resort to my (heavy, bulky) laptop. I brought my own picnics (wild-game leftovers and blue cheese on the flight out), which was nice on the long legs.
After arrival and a bus-ride into the mountains I found Uncle Tim. He's an adventurous fellow who owns a bar -- and the mining ghost town around it -- in the mountains farther up. But of late he has "taken to his chair" and now enjoys the classic black'n'white TV shows and movies that his local antenna station is running. I stayed up with him, chatting about movies, sports and military history, and saw a couple dawns. He hadn't been to a doc in 40 years,, but the chair hadn't been doing him any good so he's been dipping his toe in the water of finding out what he needs to do to stay with us a bit longer. Turns out the cure is to clean up his act. But decades of putting Keith Richards to shame are hard to shake. It was nice hanging out with him. No better guy to watch the boob tube with! Movies and Jeopardy are his specialities. I even got to use the chainsaw from the kitchen table to clear away some trees that were overgrowing the place. (Actually, it is called "the saw table" -- I noticed portions of perhaps six chainsaws sticking out from the mound on it, among other things, like an engine block and a recent CAT scan.) Tim's place used to be called the House of the Rising Sun. Now it's more the Den of Eternal Twilight.
After that I took a bus to Reno and hopped a quick plane to San Francisco. This was a dandy party flight. My seat-mate was a nice German guy from Tahoe who was on his way to Dubai for government work, who knows what that could be. He gave me a great tourist explanation of the Bay Area sights we saw coming into SF. What a gorgeously ornate region. Nature, city and industry all look great from high above. I was at the back of the plane and a voluptuous party stewardess sat next to me. She told me of her favorite party places in SF. The St. Francis Fountain Bar and candy shop in the Mission was one. She said she only flew part-time but was addicted to travel and the perks. A young passenger across the aisle helped us make a party of our hour. Better by far than the no-eye-contact style.
I took the BART from SF to Oakland and popped out of the subway in the midst of the Grateful Dead-looking Occupy crowd. It was nice to see a bike repair station set up on the fringe that I walked past.
A couple hours after that and I was meeting friends for dinner at Adesso in Oakland -- they make their own cured meats and bitters there, Italian-style. Nice. Like charcuterie. Bitters make for a true sipping cocktail -- my style as I like a meal to last as long as possible. Campari is just the beginning for this stuff, as is prosciutto. Don't forget the cheese! After that we repaired across the street to the Kona titki bar for an apertif.
Other attractions in the Oakland/Berkeley/SF area that I encountered in the next couple days included:
*Beautiful flowers and smells along the sidewalk. I picked a ripe fig overhanging, and a passionfruit flower. Wow!
*All the bikes... And the vintage vehicles...cars and motorcycles. A feast for those who love good design and machinery. No rust means that the good stuff can last. Three cheers!
*Berkeley Marina -- harbor culture always draws me in since I love crusty old boats and the huge range of the world that is accessible by water -- no traffic jams out on the Bay! If ya live out there, you should have a boat -- cheapest to have a small trailerable one -- but get to know the waterfront, you locals! Catch local fish and shellfish! Learn the tides. Darn...lucky dogs. I have to say that when I visited this place while my pal was working a massive thrill overwhelmed me. Now here was the sea! And maritime culture! (Or at least a ticket to it.)
*Julia Morgan's church next to UC Berkeley -- very woodsy old architecture.
*Spenger's Fish Grotto -- a vintage joint by the water in Berkeley.
*Vik's Chaat House -- Indian lunch snacks in the industrial area of Berkeley. Draws folks from all over the Bay Area, I heard.
*Tommy's Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar -- voted one of the world's top 15 bars. Go for the tequila. http://www.tommystequila.com. We lucked out since a distiller was sitting next to us. We got an education. http://www.azuniatequila.com
*Burmese food -- like Thai but crunchier, with nuts, seeds, dried shrimp. Also, it's a fun culture -- a good time is their goal. The place we went to was very cheery.
*Kurt Schwitters "merzbau" art exhibit at U of Berkeley art museum. Its time is up in the US but it was a cool show. A very early fringe collage dude who turned his family's living spaces into collage. He was fringe to the fringe in the day of Picasso and the abstracts. Not part of a group. Went into exile after WW2 started. Turned each subsequent dwelling into art. He called himself the "Titan of the Dustbin," meaning "dumpster." He picked up trash along the gutters of his city and looked at it as art, included it in his work. An early advocate for the beauty of everyday life. I learned about him thanks to my literary hero Jack Saunders, who mentions him often in his own work. "Merzbau" is a made-up word. Grocery stuff? http://www.examiner.com/museum-in-san-francisco/kurt-schwitters-color-and-collage-at-the-berkeley-art-museum-review. The museum was a scary grey concrete, but the receptionist looked like a dark-haired Scar-Jo.
But mostly it was nice just to hang out with old pals.
The nooks and crannies of the Hills were as charming as ever. My aunt and uncle have lived up there for decades, since way before it was cool. The old hillside houses of all shapes and sizes are just so neat to take strolls among. I never get tired of them. Even the roofs look like neat places to hang out, and from the higher roads looking down I can see that some people do. I love the secret sidewalks and entrances in those hills. Maybe they're private, maybe they're not. They cut off of a road and wind in 100 yards, all narrow and overhung by lush growth, leading to someone's front door, a door which leads to a treehouse sort of house with perhaps a room on each of 3 levels, with a little fireplace. The essence of cozy-with-a-view.
My relatives can only get around a little, enough to do minimal errands and a weekly visit to good eats or live music. They went out of their way to show me a good time. Then we'd head back and chat about this'n'that and old times. ("God talking to us" in the form of the Tchaikovski Trio -- Heifetz, Rubenstein, and Piadagorski -- was one neat discussion.) After they retired early each evening I'd head off somewhere to see what I could find, often on foot.
With the neat places we ate at, plus the friendly folks I met on my outings, plus my walks, plus a little drive I took: I was on Cloud 9 in LA.
So here are the highlights that might help inspire your own exploration of LA, if you're ever there...
*Let's start, just for fun, with a writer who seems worth knowing about: Lucious Beebe. He was considered the best-dressed man back in the 30's-40's, catching the cover of Life once. He was a sassy dapper dan. He was a top food and culture writer, with various columns over the decades in newspapers and magazines like Gourmet. He coined the term "cafe society" -- 500 worldwide qualified, and they had to have elan and panache and be adventurous and interesting. He was a railroad expert, writing classics about it and owning ornate Pullman cars that he traveled the country in. He was a fancy lad who did Europe and was kicked out of both Harvard and Yale before deciding the West was for him. A bonafide bon vivant. An interesting dude to google, that's for sure! I forget what inspired Kent to mention him but I recall that it came from slightly afield, so I wish I remembered, but I'm glad it came up. I think Kent said he used to try to keep up with that standard. Here's more: http://www.bookpatrol.net/2010/01/lucious-lucius-beebe-bon-vivant-book.html.
*Providence, Eva and Campanile were wonderful top-shelf restaurants that I had the good fortune to sample. My relatives have been such longtime supporters of good things in LA that I also get the experience of meeting chefs and seeing what service is all about. Providence had the foams and the slow-cooked duck egg, plus a fig for my fish that was picked off a sidewalk tree, last of the season. Eva had a prix fixe family-style dinner with meats that are sous vide but it's not even mentioned (water-bath slow-cooked at low temp for max tenderness and flavor). Campanile has Charlie Chaplin's old arched and tiled offices.
*Musso's saves the day, as ever. It's a great old American establishment on the Blvd. I walked down in the evening for a drink once and had a nice chat with a writer/producer for the old Northern Exposure TV series (googled her afterward). We lamented the loss of the many wonderful jazz clubs in the area. They're all gone now. How will the next generation know what that up-close-in-person music was like? I recall a piano bar near there where the bar was shaped around the piano and you just leaned up against it and listened. What could be better? Sure, a jam-packed earsplitting rock show is something, but quality jazz, done by the record label greats in person was REALLY something. How can the session players make a living now? Maybe they all stay home around the nation and just email their takes into the producer. But what about playing live, as a band, for people? It's GONE in LA now. Well, the Catalina is still there. At $20 a head. Plus 2 drink minimum. LA used to have a half dozen no-cover top-flight clubs. Like "Simply Blues" on the 30th floor of a bank at the corner of Sunset and Vine. What a secret stash! I was out there as a young person and always wanted to take a date to the jazz clubs but never had any luck. No TV, voted "best martini." Jazz on the PA after 9pm -- we appreciate what we can get.
*Figaro's in Los Feliz is a French bistro where I went another night. The young bartender and beautiful young patrons were equally as friendly, including me in. Nice even to see such a small thing as young people drawing art on cocktail napkins. Zinc bar. Mixology. No TV.
*La Poubelle on Franklin is another no-TV French bistro that was inviting to a newcomer. ("Birds" next door was a bit too raucous, elbow-room only.)
*101 Coffee Shop -- Franklin near Cahuenga. Swanky counter service and booths, 24-7.
*Pink's hotdog stand -- LaBrea and Melrose. I went there with my unks 30 years ago. It's still there. All night, full neon. I had to stop and get one.
*Taking a break from pubs, WHAT A FARMER'S MARKET! There's a half-mile of stands and a thousand people down by Sunset and Vine on Sunday morning. Different live music every 100 yards. Fresh seafood. Got a couple baskets of fresh figs. OH YEAH! We visited San Francisco's Ferry Building Farmer's Market a few years ago on our drive across country. That was also maximumly great. LA's is a bit bigger, with more music, not that it matters.
*Mulholland Drive is worth the drive. It was cloudy my first days. When it cleared I got the idea to drive the Drive. I used my aunt's '87 VW Cabriolet. What fun! It twists and winds from one side of the range to the other -- first you see the Sea, then the Valley. There are several parks along the way. The best way to do this road might be to wait for a weekday and then BIKE it, and use plump tires, then include the 8-mile dirt section connecting the Hollywood part to the Topanga part. Or, any vehicle that enjoys dirt would work. You definitely want fresh air. Open top all the way! I could see for, like, 50 miles from the ridgetop as I drove. I saw so many mountains. Wow! Gorgeous. The next day while driving up Cahuenga while still in the middle of Hollywood, like near Melrose or Vine, I saw a HUGE mountain range that appeared to be just up the street. Later on I looked for it on a map and couldn't find it. I want to find it!
*My bike hero, VVA, hosted some of the first mt-bike races and events. Yeah, the FIRST. Way back in the early 80's. The Nor Cal people were doing their thing and he was doing his near Topanga Canyon. There are a lot of backroads around LA. I need to explore them! Maybe I could get VVA to come down (from Nor Cal) next time.
*Melrose has some neat shops. Necromance is full of macabre artifacts of glamor -- moths, skulls, taxidermy. Munky King is like Kid Robot. Ooh, Perri Ink Cartel -- it caught my eye, I went in, admired the Nash Motorcycle in the window, got an introduction by a friendly glamorous gal with many piercings and tats. I also noticed the barber chairs, but upon googling them I see that it's a "hipster lifestyle general store" -- where you can get a haircut, tattoo and guitar. Makes sense. It didn't surprise me at the time. I'm still a bit shy around such things, but I really should've asked my hostess to mount the bike for a photo. Here I had all these fun people encounters and all my pics are like a desert of life, just stuff. I suppose I'm a bit leery of all the everyone-taking-pictures, stalking-for-facebook stuff out there. Heck, I was doing it when y'all were in diapers! : ) I don't waste my pics. I work with my cam. But how do they know? "Can I take a pic? It's for my blog." What else can I say? I suppose I shouldn't undersell it. But it's hard to explain. I don't have a blog. But some things do appear on Facebook. Still, some folks like that. Youngsters are wired-in.
*Saw Angelyne at a gas station. She honked at me for, uh, not pulling out in front of speeding cars. ? She looked like she was wearing a mask. I googled her and she doesn't look so bad online. I remember her in the 80's with her big billboards around Hollywood, all in pink. She still has her pink Corvette. I think I saw her on another visit as well. From some of the pics it looks like she doesn't like Facebook, but a smiling local guy was seeming to have a nice chat with her. Well, around there it's the real paparazzi, isn't it!
*Canter's and the Kibitz Room. Saving the best for last. What a place! Canter's is an all-night bright lights deli from the old days. Tall ceilings, 60's decor, serves all kinds of food for all the meals, sells meats, cheese and pastries. Next door is the Kibitz bar where indie acts come alive after midnight all week long. I had the best time here. Well, edgiest time. A country rock band was playing. One beer on tap. TV. Bar was full of freaks. Then they started introducing themselves, handshakes. Young and old. An old guy with fancy hat and cane was dancing with all the babes. A tall model type was pulling up her shirt and comparing her belly to some drunk's, who had his shirt up, too. Seedy but glamorous. A Jimi Hendrix type with top hat, waistcoat and scarves. A trucker dude in cowboy hat and big fur coat. Go-go dancers in fishnet and wigs. A 6-foot tall "lady." Then the main act started. The Artie Vegas Revue. Artie in gold lame raving like Iggy Pop, flinging himself up and down the bar in everyone's face, rolling on the floor. The band was surprisingly tight from the first note. I googled them afterward: session players for famous bands, including a guy with one leg. Louis Metoyer (both legs). Magdalyne and her sister. Willie Chambers -- a classic soul-rocker -- is one of their gang. They'd just lost their bass player, Warlock. He died. Memorial tomorrow. Lotsa big bands have played here. I can see why. It was a blast. It was like being at the circus. I couldn't believe it. Turn on a camera, get a movie. These are the lifers of the rock'n'roll scene.
A solid day of planes, trains and automobiles later and I was home, head-awhirl and all mixed up.