Sunday, January 29, 2017

MOJAVE SOLO


            If you spend a lot of time alone like I do, at times you seek contact, friends, a familiar coffee shop for a hamburger or just to talk to somebody.
            There are other times, however, when you embrace solitude. Even seek it out. Not just being by yourself while among others in a library, but being so far from civilization you hear the silence. Thick, broad-reaching, quiet. The desert is the perfect place.
            I checked in with the Mojave Preserve Visitors Center in Barstow to see about road conditions, weather, and to ask about the best places for photography. The two ladies were friendly and helpful.
            “Turn in at the radio tower, and climb up the ridge,” she said. “You’ll have a 360 degree view of the valleys and the mountains.” I wanted to get back before dark, and she advised me of mileages and suggested alternative routes.
            Sixty two miles from the Visitors Center, Kelbaker Road is the thru-way from Interstate 40 and Interstate 10, a north-south road that descends into the Kelso Dunes and the train depot, then ascends to the great plateau and the lava flows. 

            The ridge was cold and windy, overlooking the bubble-like rock formations of the Granite Mountains. Spindly creosote bushes seem as if they’d been recently electrocuted. The granite boulders of the mountain ridge look like pebbles scattered by a desert giant.

            Up on the plateau the light begins to etch the desert in an afternoon glow. The washes, the brush, and far-away cinder cones light up to form the distant horizon.


Only a few vehicles travel Kelbaker Road on this Friday afternoon. The desert is mine. Wind whispers, the silence is eternal. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

SKIPPING THE INAUGURATION





So many of us are taking delight in posting our planned activities in lieu of the Donald Trump inauguration taking place on Friday. Questions are going up; ‘What are you planning to do instead of watching the Buffoon in Chief take the oath?” So clever. So much fun to share your wicked humor, audition for your Tina Fey moment, take solace in your sarcasm and show us your snark.
Here are some suggestions you might want to consider;
            Visit your optometrist; you haven’t been seeing things clearly, together combined with a strong chance your current glasses are rose colored. There could be a filter at work, preventing you from seeing the red flags. Get checked. See straight.
            Take your plumber to lunch. Too busy to buy a dude or a chick wearing Dickies a meal? Call for service, get your toilet adjusted, talk to the person. Ask them what they think of minimum wage, immigration reform, jobs, jobs, jobs. A quickie version---stop in at American Tire for a free tire pressure check and spend a moment talking to the guy inflating your tubes. Get an earful while the rubber gets pumped.
            Watch Outdoor Life. You don’t know where it is on your channel lineup? Use the menu function on your remote. Call somebody. Watch three or four hours of dudes hunting in the wilds of upper Montana, stalking game with high powered rifles. No…NO-NO-NO you cannot substitute Martha Stewart cooking shows---who needs flavor rich gravy anymore anyway?---glue to the tube while men in camo and all-weather hunting boots slog through rural high country in search of food. Just do it. Think like they think.
            Buy a case of Kleenex. You’re going to cry a lot more. So much sniffling, sobbing, yabbering, blubbering. Get the large family size boxes so your kids can sob away during your nightly commiseration, explaining to your twelve year old wearing Nikes and hauling a pink or blue hundred dollar backpack that we’re all doomed, torpedoed, inevitably headed to the huge stack of failed states and corrupt regimes.
            Book a trip to Haiti. Go online to Expedia and book a family vacation package. To Haiti. Add on a couple of extras, like a luxury automobile rental, sight-seeing tours. Book only five star hotels. You can pre-select your choices on the website. Go ahead. I’m sure there’s a fine selection of ultra-luxury resorts. Massages. Don’t forget the massages. Following your booking, immediately cancel it, remove all pending itineraries in your queue and book four days on the Redneck Riviera. More real, less crime, more value.
            Know your Dictators. It’s a new game you can begin to work on while Mr. Trump is reciting the Oath of Office. Choose from world class ruthlessness, and post a few photos on your Facebook page. Hitler, Genghis Khan, Stalin. Throw in a few living examples of evil; Kim Jong Un, Robert Mugabe, and even a recently deceased leader or two. Fidel Castro. Hugo Chavez. Then put Trump’s photo up next to the real bad guys and ask yourself about the price of mayonnaise in Caracas, or the availability of new cars in Havana. You’ll feel a lot better.
            Read the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence. Just refresh your memory with the basic tenets of our Republic. Think of the wheres and the whys, how the document was fashioned, what the founders considered important and why. Free press. Freedom of religion. Right to bear arms. By the time you finish Mr. Trump will be strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of millions of supporters with small savings accounts, people who buy guns and hunt, people who don’t live behind locked gates in communities that regiment the color you can paint your house or the style of address numbers you’re able to nail to your garage door.
            Find a Pen Pal. Go ahead, write a letter to a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram and ask how life is going. When she writes back, refer to the previous suggestion regarding Kleenex. When she asks how your life is, try and minimize the Starbucks trips, how your life is ruined by the peaceful transition to a President lawfully elected according to the rules of our Constitution. Don’t, above all else, talk about your kid’s school or how many after school activities he or she participates in, and you should probably avoid mention of the after-holiday sales and how many bonus points you’ve racked up on your Nordstrom card. Be polite, respectful, and don’t overreact if she mentions life in the jungle under armed rule, or how forced rape is commonplace, and stop the obvious response to offer your condolences with your generous proposal to sponsor her with a monthly gift from the Red Cross or you’re wearing a purple wrist band with her name. Refrain from gushing about how you’re planning a watch group to keep your neighborhood free of scourge like door to door salespeople and religious peddlers. She probably won’t relate.
            Now then, Mr. Trump is wrapping up his inaugural address, assuring the nation we’ll be safer, more prosperous, and grounded in basic American values. Your Starbucks will continue serving up steaming lattes and mochas. Whole Foods will raise prices and sell trendy cloth bags to protect the environment, and you’ll still be able to get free tire pressure checks from a guy with a red rag hanging off his butt who seems genuinely surprised when you offer him a couple of bucks for aerating your rubber. You don’t tip the tire guy? Well thank him, for God’s sake. But if you really want to ingratiate him, don’t ask him if he wants to go to college or how long he’s worked here. Hold off on inquiring about his real career plans. Slip him a five. He probably likes working there. Everyone buys tires, after all. He sees all the folks coming in to re-tread their chrome rims. All kinds of people. Even you.
           
           
           
           
           
           

            

Saturday, September 17, 2016

HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD



I walked Hollywood Boulevard taking photos of tourists and landmarks; the classic Hollywood restaurant Musso and Frank, the huge Ninja Turtle statues that draw in folks in front of the Hollywood Highland Center escalator where people can do a selfie with the turtles then whisk themselves up the escalator and do some shopping. 



    The sun was bright and warm, the tourists dressed in shorts, tank tops, and the more exotic dress of high class hookers strolling with patrons along the sidewalk of stars.
    A young sales crew approaches me for a star tour bus ride, handing me a brochure and asking where I’m from. I engage them and ask some questions about the one sales rep that seemed most engaging.
    “Business is slowing down from the summer,” he says. He’s got dark skin, bright white teeth, buzz cut hair. “We show you star homes. From a distance. The house where Michael Jackson died, Stephen Spielberg’s house.”
    The buses run up and down Hollywood Boulevard, turning north on side streets, jostling the folks riding in the open air deck holding cameras and smearing sun screen over their noses. “Right now, I can get you on the tram here,” he says, pointing to an open air van parked fifteen feet away, “for only nineteen ninety five.” I tell him I’m not taking a tour today, but I wrote a story with a tour bus operator in it. That seems to bore him. The other sales rep walks away, yelling back at me that I seem to ask a lot of questions for a news guy.
    “Aladdin,” he says, when I ask him his name. He’s from Cincinnati, has worked a few other jobs in the three years he’s been in California. Representing a couple of bands, he says, without further explanation.
    
The sidewalks are full of hustlers. Taco trucks, open bars exposed to the
sidewalk, men in hoodies and sunglasses leaning against walls watching the 
action. I see couples walking together, a young woman in a short
chiffon dress exposing the lace straps of her bra. She stops to adjust her shoe
as I walk alongside. She has the cute look of a young Hollywood professional. Can’t be sure, you never know. Don’t be judgmental, I think to myself, continuing on past an electronics shop, a couple of shops closed up and protected by black iron grid security walls locked in front of the door and windows. 
Flyers are strewn in the shadows between the security wall and the windows. The people, the buses selling access to the stars, the cheap shops and dive bars seem one step from morphing into their next incarnation. Or this is it, they had their chance and some of the storefronts have given up the ghost and die quietly behind grids of wrought iron and padlocks.
 



    Miceli’s is a respite, a friendly oasis that has endured the shape shifting of Hollywood. Its friendly sign, white script spread over a wide green sign, signals another era with its stained glass windows, heavy wooden door, wrought iron handles strong and secure. It’s almost empty, and it’s the noon hour. 
The hostess seats me and the waiter brings a beer and a delicious plate of pasta carbonara. The sauce and seasoning is perfect.

It needs no pepper or salt, no Parmesan cheese. Thick noodles curl around my fork, full of bacon and slivered red onion, a rich olive oil to bind the pasta but not enough to pool on the plate. It’s perfect, and the cold beer has a bite that works well with the pasta, gleaming little noodles that turn golden in the lantern light. Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet, Dean Martin croon in the background. The lights are dim, the air cool, the music and the food simple and true, just a block off the madness of Hollywood Boulevard, where the trends change faster than the titles on the movie marquees. Anchored in the past, I could sit there for hours drinking beer and listening to the music, out of the bright sunshine and into an air conditioned time capsule. If I lived here, this is where I’d spend the afternoons, with a notebook and a fountain pen, writing profiles of the young waiter, the chunky hostess and how efficient she seems and out of place in a retro-joint like Miceli’s. Write a few notes on the delivery man, a grey haired older guy who pulls in a cart loaded with cases, jars or cans of some ingredient secretly added to the sauces or the vegetables, perhaps the Italian bread that pulls apart so lightly that it flakes in my fingers. He goes in and out in front of me, down to the basement, up the stairs to the landing level and another level above that, a level I can only see because the ends of the red vinyl bench seats are flush with the wrought iron railing, way up in the darkness above where I’m seated.
   Michael rests a soft guitar case against his knee on the Redline train. I sit next to him and comment on his guitar, and he talks about his music, his guitars, the vintage Harmony in the case that he says just sounds better, maybe because it’s old, he thinks. He wants to learn piano and I mention that piano was too tough for me, my hands had difficulty stretching to make chords and hit the runs and scales.
    No, he hadn’t heard about John Lee Hooker until I say that he plays the intro theme to NCIS New Orleans.
    “Oh yeah, I know that piece. That’s iconic.” He says he’ll check out Hooker, and I tell him the blues great played on a kind of sampler CD with Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana and others. He thinks I know more about music than I do, because I tell him I was a disc jockey and he says, “Yeah, you have that radio personality vibe.” Maybe once upon a time, I did.
    I lean in to listen to him, fighting the noise of the train as it clacks through the tunnel on the way to Union Station. It’s been a great day. Nice interactions along the way, with the tour bus sales rep, Aladdin, now Michael, the guitarist working his way through the music of Los Angeles.

     Settling in my seat on the Metrolink, an air conditioned car that departs at 3:00 PM, I see the Amtrak Surfliner on the next track, the train that runs along the coast up to Santa Barbara. Longer ride, to the next great coastal destination. Los Angeles is good enough for me, though, good enough to have a lunch of pasta, a stroll along the boulevard, to talk with strangers in a casual way, to get them to respond to me like a regular. That’s what I want to be, a regular, able to slip in and out of the rush of the city into an old school joint for a drink and a meal, and back into the surge of the city and down into the subway. Come and go, in and out, among the folks and into the retro. Feel Hollywood and its people, yet maintain dignity and safety, move past the alleys and the shuttered shops and into a joint like Miceli’s to escape.
    Silently pulling away from the station, the train bends around storage yards full of huge iron chocks for electrical contractors, the odd angles and corners of chain link fences surrounding parked buses and out of service trains, over the deep cement canal of the Los Angeles River, alongside giant highway overpasses threading traffic from the 101 and the 10 freeways to their tributary streams, and out east to Cal State L.A. Graffiti is sprayed all along the cement walls in huge rounded lettering. Homeless camps show signs of life and death, the debris left behind the camps, couches, carts, tents, tarps, where people tried to live and failed.
    We move quietly on the rails. We see the back side of our city. We head home.     


Saturday, May 21, 2016

AMERICAN MOTORS RIDES AGAIN




            A GUY NAMED VERN says hello when I sit down at the counter at Corky’s CafĂ© and Bakery in Upland, over on Mountain Ave. Vern knows everybody there and wants me to know. Waitresses, the manager, he calls them all by name. He’s bored but he doesn’t know it, pretending he’s all up on who’s the oldest server, going to school with the manager who he says he used to peek at through the fence in junior high. She winces, moves on. Athletic Director at some high school, he takes his grandchildren to school and it’s all so wonderful he gets up every day in a great mood.
            “It’s all in your mind,” Vern says. “You make up your mind every day to be happy, and it’s just that simple.”
            LATER I'M DRIVING over by the Montclair plaza and stop in for a small car show. It’s the American Motors confab, bunch of guys showing off their AMXs, the old Rambler motors turned into American Motors before being bought out by Chrysler, for the Jeep brand, Jay Baker tells me. Jay has four American Motors cars, and other brands too, tucked away in a garage.


            Mark Melvin is in charge. One big event each year, Mark says, and a few other get-togethers where the guys show the automobiles, talk parts and where to get them, who has what, that sort of thing.

            HOBIE KAPTAN is pumping up his AMX to go two hundred miles an hour.
            “Jay Leno will be there to video tape it for his show, Jay’s Garage,” he tells me. Up in Mojave, at an old air strip that’s two miles long, guys with laser radar guns will time him, see if he’s ready to break two hundred at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where the need for speed really gathers momentum.

            His AMX has a fuel cell that pumps gas into the engine, and a special suspension is needed to stabilize the ride. He’s sixty one years old and he’ll be behind the wheel for all the speed trials.
            “Just polished up the wheels,” he says, beautiful chrome rims riding with BF Goodrich tires.

            Hobie will dump thirty thousand dollars in the AMX to get it where he wants it. New suspension, twin turbo-chargers feeding a six-speed manual transmission pumping out six hundred horses. That’s a lot of ponies.


             

           


            

Monday, January 18, 2016

MY TOWN

               There isn't a lot of interesting architecture around Claremont.
The colleges have some re-visited styles, a bit of new construction, but dorm room design doesn't hold my attention.
                Down at Pomona College, the art and design building lights up with morning sun.



Thursday, September 10, 2015

ALONG THE TRACKS








    Tracks have always fascinated me with their infinite endings and long rails that guide freight to its destination. It's been hot here in Southern California for a few days, 95 F this morning.
    Thin clouds soften the sky giving these track-side shots a Midwest feel.







Sunday, August 30, 2015