Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Salted

You set out at O’Dark-Thirty
so you can arrive at dawn
The air is still, cool
An angry sun rises through the haze of smoke that 
        drifted in from California

a burning red eye that will scorch all it sees
A breeze that will stiffen as the day progresses
wafts the tangy smell of Castrol R and Nitromethane
Your lips taste of salt
Shadowy figures hover about squat mechanical beasts
ministering ablutions and absolution
mumbling a liturgy of arcane mumbo-jumbo
in hopes of inducing just that bit more speed

At the line an engine barks its Revelry
Startled communicants stifle curses of surprise
A gentle push and a squat cannonball is off towards the blurred line of the horizon
gouts of salty rooster-tails
a pause
more noise
then in a blink
it is gone into the mist

A blue javelin follows suit
a wiggle for control
A tense gasp from the onlookers wish it God Speed and Safe Journey
A blink and it too is gone
A blink later and  the high priest intones 
“Mile Two, 326” 
Another blink, another verse
“Mile Three, 391” 
Before fingers can cross
“Mile Four, 428” 
Finally the coda

The hushed supplicants let out a collective sigh
then Paeans of Alleluia
This is Bonneville
The Salt Flats
The Fastest Place on Earth. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Scotland Part Twa

Road Trippin’ 
with Steve McCarthy

For our first full day in the Highlands, we did it up right. I found the perfect way to tour distilleries and get to properly enjoy them. Since the DUI limit in Scotland is 0.06, even a pint of beer will put you over, so, as I said before, just don’t. Here was our solution: . This was an ideal way to privately tour in something other than a minibus or, worse, a big tour coach with 40 other people. Yes, a 1959 Bentley, driven by a wonderful man, called Andrew. He was a gem. Knowledgable not only of the distilleries, but of the local history. He took a few diversions to show us a variety of off the beaten path sites, such as the bridge in Cartridge that just celebrated 300 years.

As part of the tour, we hit Cragganmore, Dallas Dhu, and Benromach, whiskies that you can’t really get in the States. We also had a tutored tasting from whisky expert Penny Ellis at her Knockomie Hotel ( ) where we also had a fabulous lunch. The tasting consisted of a variety of 6 very different whiskies, from Balvennie finished in rum casks, to Benromach Peat. One, Aberlour is best kept in the freezer (!!!) and as it warms, one tastes how the character changes. She did not insist, as many do, that we slightly water the whisky. I appreciate this. To me, if one has to do that to lessen the bite, then the whisky isn’t as good. She also had some great comments on the current fad of Fancy Gin. “If you normally have to add a strong mix, like Tonic, then you are trying to hide something.” To her, it's a money grab. "Distill it today, sell it tomorrow." 

For Lunch, Marianne had the tomato soup and salmon sandwiches, I had the Chicken Liver and Madeira Parfait, Red Onion Marmalade and Peppered Oatcakes. It was all fantastic, but I could have used a nice sharp cheese to go along with it. Dessert was one of the best we’d ever had! Sticky Toffee Pudding, Butterscotch Sauce, Date and Whisky Compote, Vanilla Ice Cream.
It was quite a day, giving the occasional Royal Wave from an elegant motorcar, seeing the varied scenery (from forests to glens, to vast moorlands), and having a great chat with Andrew.

The next day became a bit more local. Near Grantown on Spey, is a steam heritage railway. Now, constant reader will know we are both suckers for steam trains. This one runs 3 times a day (except Tuesdays and Thursdays) and is called the Speyside Steam Railway. We opted to not ride (we’re slated to do the Jacobite-aka Hogwarts Express) next week. This one, we wanted to just watch as it chuffed on past. We pulled off the road at Broomhill where the line terminates, and in the tradition of rail fans, waited. Turns out we’d timed it well, and into the station she came. A short wait while the engine ran around the cars, and the bus loads of passengers were off and on loaded, and off she went, pulling and smoking and whistling. Such fun.

Then it was time for lunch, and some locals we were chatting with recommended The Boat Country Inn, in Boat of Garten  
( ). This turned out to be a great choice. Now the town gets its name from the chained ferry that was positioned there to cross the River Spey. Eventually, a bridge was built in the 1800s, but the name remained. The inn was the old station hotel and has been completely redone. It would be a great place to base oneself in for touring the area. 

The food was exceptional! As we found on our last trip, food in The Isles has moved far beyond the dismal reputation it once “enjoyed.” Marianne had a steak pie with a crust flakey enough to gain the approval of Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood (look them up if you must) and I had seared scallops on black pudding with streaky bacon, all on a smear of “Scottish Guacamole.” Marianne gets FULL credit for this one—aka mushy peas. Even that part was good!

For dinner, we walked to the Craig Bar in Grantown on Spey ( ). This is off the High Street and has become one of THE best places in town to eat. They only have meat pies, but what an assortment. These are NOT the much maligned cat food pies of yore. These run from the “usual” steak pie, to the traditional steak and kidney pie to chicken and even vegetarian selections, all given great names. I had the “Deer Stalker” (venison, bacon, lentils) and Marianne had the Chicken of Aragon (chicken, asparagus, tarragon). The highlight is the wonderfully abusive barman, Robbie. He’s a well known local character, whose humor is wicked. We loved him and entered ourselves by giving back what he dished out. Our server, called Darla, I think, was much put upon by Robbie, but handled him with aplomb. She’s good people.
The bar has a huge selection of whiskies and only a few draught beers, ranging from local to “Nigerian Lager” (aka Guinness-Robbie was gobsmacked that I knew the reference-Nigerians drink more Guinness than the Irish!). Best of all, it’s a short stagger from the Ben Mohr. I highly recommend reservations or showing up early if you want a table.

So, not sure what Friday will bring, we’ll let you know!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Scotland Part One

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy
It’s been an adventure already. But in a good way.
We hit Heathrow Airport about 11am, half an hour ahead of schedule. Air New Zealand is a not too horrible way to fly (about as good as it gets these days). The food was decent and they poured out free wine! Then, there was Heathrow. Proof that your gate is ALWAYS as far away from your baggage as possible. It HAD to have been a 2 mile trek. At least it got the kinks out after 9 hours in those things they call “seats” on today’s airplanes. Passport control was easy, and customs nonexistent. Then it got strange.

Trying to find the shuttle to the rent a cars was interesting. Very poorly marked. FINALLY we found it and was glad we didn’t have to negotiate the maze of parking lots, access roads, and diversions to get to the Enterprise lot. Following my own advice, we rented a Hyundai I-10 (clearly not designed for the San Berdoo Freeway). Took all of a half hour or more! Finally, about 2:30 pm, we managed to meander to the M25 and off to Carlisle.

Naturally, the 5 hour trip was a 6 hour slog, but since we had an automatic, Marianne shared the driving. She did really well navigating the wrong side of the road stuff, but on the motorways, it’s pretty easy, just a case of figuring out how to use the mirrors properly. Didn't take her long to get comfortable. Later, she’d get the chance of doing some 2 lane stuff in Scotland (which she handled perfectly).

We found the old County Hotel we’d stayed in before, and just as we checked in, John Morrison and his lovely wife Doreen appeared. It was after 8 pm and we were beat, but had set up dinner with them. Texts had gone off somewhere into the ether, but they timed it perfectly. They’d even checked out the Griffin Bar across the street (also a favorite from the last trip) and if we hurried, we’d get in a dinner order before the kitchen closed.

You might remember John, he was Our Hero in Carlisle when we had the “incident” last trip. I’ll not go into the painful details, but he bailed us out big time. Scroll back to “The Kindness of Strangers” entry for the story.

Anyway, we had a pleasant evening with them, chatting cars, road trips, and stuff. In fact, that previous weekend, John had been out and about with the local TR Gang on a drive up to Ft. William and Beyond, scooting about the backroads of Scotland! Finally back in the hotel, we passed out, trying to resynch ourselves past the jet lag.

The next morning, still a bit lagged out, we hit the road to The North. First Stop? Stirling Castle. WOW, what a place. Atop a hill with roads that would make Frisco proud (imagine a whole town of Lombard Streets with tour buses). The view of the surrounding countryside was spectacular, especially the Wallace Monument.

The castle itself has a great history, and is far more interesting than Edinburgh Castle. As the royal residence for much of its history, it was a pretty fancy place. One of the highlights was the bed chambers of Mary of Guise, wife of James V. He doted upon her and the walls were hung with one of the most famous set of tapestries in the world, “The Unicorn Hunt.” Copies hang there now, but it’s pretty impressive. We were in the midst of a school outing for what looked like 8 year olds, soaking in their history. Really cute bunch, with the usual world view of that age.

Anyway, from there we headed to the Castle Anthrax. Or Swamp Castle? Maybe it was Camelot. Actually known as Doune Castle, it is most famous to us from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” In fact, St. Serendipity struck again, and a nice couple asked me to take their picture. They of course had an outrageous French accent. I’m not sure they understood why I was giggling.
Finally, we left this silly place and were off to the Highlands, and Grantown on Spey, our digs for the next week. The scenery changes are remarkable. 

From the more gentle rolling hills (reminiscent of California’s Central Coast area) to the rugged glens and braes of the Highlands is spectacular. May is also a great time to visit, because the wild gorse is a bloom, covering entire hillsides with bright yellow flowers. The most amazing thing to see were wild daffodils lining the roads by the thousand. We only thing of them as garden plants, and seeing them in the wild was really neat!
We got to the Ben Mohr about dinner time, had a few pints and some decent Haddock and Chips (seems the Scots prefer haddock, the English and Irish cod) and a really good local brew called Wildcat. A proper Scottish Ale.

Finally, fully knackered, we hit the bed, hopefully ready for the next adventure.

Friday, April 13, 2018

St. Serendipity Finds a Vintage Oil Dispenser

Road Trippin' 
Steve McCarthy

Our Rule of Thumb for Road Trips is to let things happen. Our Patron Saint is St. Serendipity. When you let the journey unfold, when you’re able to change plans on the fly, wondrous things happen. 

A case in point. My wife, Marianne, had to go to the DMV for a new license. The only appointment was for more than a week after it would expire. In LA County, we all know what that means. You get to stand in line for hours, watching your life ooze away, trapped in the bowels of bureaucracy. The DMV office nearest us is infamous that way. Before it opens, the line stretches off into the rising sun. So, a plan was hatched. 

We’d take a Road Trip to a “foreign” office. Like Paso Robles, one of our favorite Road Trip destinations. I figured that including the drive, the time needed would be about the same. Naturally, we’d take our “new” 1969 Citroen DS Safari Wagon. Or Brake, or Estate, or whatever. This Auld Beast was resurrected from a thirty year desert nap and has been on the road for about six months. It’s our Cruisin’ Car. We have the TR3 for backroad flogging, this glides along on that famous Citroen suspension at a more stately pace.

We left at O’Dark-Thirty for breakfast in Santa Barbara at the original (and last) Sambo’s, a place of great pancakes. It’s right on the waterfront and is a Real Diner. After chow, we got back on the freeway and St. Serendipity got into the act. Right at the on ramp was the Santa Barbara DMV office! Taking it for a sign, we changed plans. They had just opened, and the wait was a mere forty-five minutes. So, DONE. 

Now, what to do next? Lots of options available of course. Solvang? Back to Carpinteria or Ventura (whose merchants need some help after the devastating fires and attendant mud slides) or further up the coast? One place we like to stop is Los Alamos. One, there is a great bakery, Bob’s Well Bread, that makes all manner of good eats such as Pain aux Lardon, that’s bread with hunks of BACON in it! There is also a great antiques barn, located in the old railroad fruit packing warehouse. So, that would be the first stop. 

This place has the usual small stuff that is always fun, a few decent re-pops, and lots and lots of Big Stuff. Furniture, armoires, dressers, tables, barber chairs, klieg lights, tools. And then St. Serendipity reached out his (or is it her?) wand and I found it. Waaaaay back in the furthest corner, a collection of Petrolania. Yeah, gas station stuff. 

Oily rag buckets, signs, tools, a truck sized hydraulic jack, and not one, but three of those highly prized bulk oil dispensers. You know the ones? The big square tank? The hand crank pump? The things they filled those drop spout oil cans with? And here I am with a Citroen Wagon, a beast with a huge space and the ability to carry 4000 pounds of Stuff and not sag or even squat in the back. 

Marianne was not too sure, but, being the good sport she is, she shrugged her acquiescence. After a bit of haggling, I got the price down $50 and it was mine. It’s a Union 76 unit, marked for “Kerosene” and is in perfect shape. It even has the two most often missing bits, the drip return spout, and the filler filter! It’s not dinged up or scratched, but is not restored, it’s all original. 

We hauled the thing out, I lowered the suspension on the Citroen, folded down the back seat, tilted my treasure in, easy-peasy. Across the road to have lunch at the aforementioned bakeery and then home in time for the afternoon crawl on the 210. 

So, the moral of the story? Let a Road Trip unfold. Look for the unexpected and let it detour you. You never know what treasures you will find! Now, should I convert it into a Keg-er-Ator? 

Monday, February 5, 2018

On Avoiding the Commercial Fest Disguised as a Football Game

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

Constant Reader will know of my disinterest in football, and general loathing for the Stupid Bowel. When the most talked about parts of a sporting event are the commercials, there is something wrong. As usual, we go for a drive. This year was no exception. 

We didn’t leave at the butt-crack of dawn, thinking a lazy start would be just fine. About 8AM, we hit the gas station to fill the Dart (yeah, I know, we took the Modern Car) and headed out the Broken Freeway (aka 210) east, up the 215 and negotiated the tricky bit to exit at Kenwood to take Old 66 up to Cajon Station, hoping to catch a few trains along the way. To do this, you must take the Truck Route part of the Devore Cut Off, as the Automobile Lanes bypass the exit! The signage is a bit confusing, so watch for it! 

Back on the 15, we headed up to see the remnants of the old Summit Inn (sigh), then on to D St. in Victorville to pick up Old 66 to Barstow. This is always an enjoyable drive, past the Polly Gas Station, the Bottle Ranch, and a few other landmarks of a forgotten era on a forgotten road. 

In Barstow we went over to the old Harvey House, El Deserito, and the Rt. 66 Museum. They didn’t open until 11AM, neither did the Railroad Museum.  That’s OK, we still looked around the outside displays of old RR equipment. Always fun. 

From there it was out I40 to Ludlow (since this stretch of road parallels Old 66 within yards, you may as well enjoy the smoothness of the Interstate) and from Ludlow, we were off to Roy’s in Amboy. They still don’t have any meal service, so a bottle of Route 66 Beer (root=route, get it?) and a chat with a few bikers and use of the “facility” were in order. 

WARNING: A section of 66 around Cadiz is closed for bridge repair, so, back up to I40 is required. 

Back on the I40, we headed to lunch in Needles and found the Wagon Wheel. It’s a great old Rt.66 stop with good burgers and nice staff. 

From there, we kept on 66 to Old Town Needles and the newly renovated Harvey House/Train Station, El Garces. It’s not quite finished, but will be great when they’re done. Needles has a good sized rail yard and there was an impressive line up of BNSF trains, waiting to head to LA. 

The best part of the trip was the drive south on US 95 to Blythe. This is a great road, lots of high speed sweepers, whoop-ti-dos, and scenery. At Old Parker Road, we found the “town” of Vidal. Once a water stop for the ATSF, it’s almost a ghost town, weathering away into the desert heat. There’s a great old stone building the Heacock Bldg on “Main St.” that’s worth a look at. It’s boarded up and lots of “NO TRESPASSING” painted on it, so stay clear. Folks out there are often armed! 

Another pee break in Blythe, then on to Indio for dinner. And where else but the El Mexicali and those killer grilled yellow peppers stuffed with shrimp and drizzled with soy sauce! nom nom nom. 

From there it was an easy shot home, but on the Broken Freeway, the Heading Home From the Stupid Bowel Traffic caught up with us. ugh. 

Still, not enough to ruin a great day out. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

It’s been a busy few months, what with the holidays and my Mom’s health issues. She needed a lower ball joint replaced and then a valve job. Both went exceedingly well, and coupled with her 90th birthday (!!!) we took three trips to the Pacific Northwest in December! WHEW! 

Happy 90th! 

Well, to be honest, Marianne took one on her own, flying. We drove up and back, then took the Amtrak for another. So, a side by side comparison is inevitable. Here goes.
Who? Me? Nah, I wouldn't...

Planes: Constant reader will know of my detestation of modern commercial aviation. It has nothing to do with a fear of flying. I understand(more or less) and have faith in the basic physics involved. It’s the total lack of comfort and customer service, added to the delights of the TSA making us safe from Evil Personified at the expense of all personal privacy that bugs me. Still, Jet Blue is a decent airline. Marianne’s trip was uneventful going up, but coming back? SeaTac, the only airport of any size up there, is a nightmare. 

Getting to and from Olympia involves, on a good day, a one hour drive each way. Note, “ON A GOOD DAY.” When there is ONLY one freeway, ANY screw up (like the train wreck that closed it for 2 days) or bad weather (which is the norm), things easily get tied into knots. Then there’s the inconvenience if someone is picking you up. An hour up, an hour back, then on the return, another hour up and hour back. Hell, LAX isn’t that much trouble. And the fares for a Super Shuttle are far cheaper. Plus, we have the luxury of FOUR choices. LAX, Ontario, Burbank, and Long Beach. All but LAX are 30-45 minutes from our house. 

But it’s only a 2 hour flight. Remember, that doesn’t include time to and from the airport, AND the amount of time you have to be in the airport waiting to be groped by the TSA. So, it’s closer to 6 hours for everyone involved. Unless it’s snowing at SeaTac and they have to dig out the deicing equipment, and wake up the only guy who knows how to use it. Yeah, coming home, Marianne’s departure was delayed FIVE HOURS! Now, I DO have to say, SeaTac is a more pleasant airport than LAX (hell, I bet East Overshoe, Montana International is nicer) but you’re still at the mercy of price gouging food and beverage vendors for the sustenance you won’t get on a plane. So, her “two hour flight” was more like 15 hours up and back. 
Dunsmuir, CA
So, let’s compare it to the Road Trip we took the next week when we found out Mom would need a heart valve replaced. We took three days to get up and three to get back, Stopped in Gilroy (because of COURSE we took 101, why not if you’re gonna take three days?), then Medford, OR, then Oly on the way up. We saw great scenery, ate lunch at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery in Los Alamos, and dinner at the Old City Hall Restaurant in Gilroy (GARLIC on everything, of course), and slept in a nice EconoLodge there. Day Two, we hit the I-5 north from Sacramento (nowhere near as dreary as the section south to LA) and ate a great meal in Dunsmuir at the  Wheelhouse next to the rail yard (excellent home made chicken pot pie), shopped in a great antiques store, the Brown Trout which was next door (an added weird feature is a clear panel in the floorboard that allows you to see the rushing water of Dunsmuir’s famous underground springs. Allegedly the Best Water in California). We stopped at the America’s Best Value in Medford (a decent enough place) and found the Four Daughters’ Irish Pub for good food and Guinness! Breakfast the next morning was in Canyonville,OR at Pappy Morgan’s. One of the largest pancakes on the planet. 

The trip home meant a stop in Grant’s Pass, OR at the Knight’s Inn right in the old town area. A very nice older motel. Dinner was at the Laughing Clam. Really good oysters, fish, and chips, good Guinness and entertainment (the singer even hit on Marianne!). This place is really cool. It was at one time a cigar factory and the back bar had been shipped ‘round the horn in the 1850s. A stroll through the shops in the old town is also a nice diversion. A neat side trip is to Oakland, OR. Great antiques shops. 

From there we cut over to the 101 via the 199, and breakfast in Hiouchi, OR. A true “wide spot in the road” with a family run cafe dating to the 1930s. The pancake options were “Platter Size” and “Sissy Size.” Go ahead, wimp out. The Sissy is still flopping over the edge of the plate. It was the OTHER largest pancakes on Earth. I can’t imagine the Platter Size. 

Fully fortified, we pressed on through the gorgeous redwoods to Willits, and Romi’s BBQ for decent tri-tip and pulled pork. Bill Morgan, his son Casey, and girlfriend Danni met us, having driven over from Clearlake. It was good to see them. 

Things then went a bit sideways. We debated staying in Willits but realized that the next day would involve a drive through the Bay Area at morning rush hour. No, not a good idea. So, we pressed on and of course hit serious traffic through Oakland. At 8PM! They have it worse than we do down here in SoCal. Tired, we found a Motel 6 in San Jose. BIG MISTAKE.We checked in, watched some TV and snacked on stuff for dinner. Then Marianne saw the cockroaches. Several of them. I pulled down the covers to be greeted by a BROWN SKiD MARK ON THE SHEET! We packed up, demanded our money back and were greeted by a staff who weren’t at all surprised at what we found! In contacting Motel 6, their customer “service” person didn’t seem all that surprised, worried, or even contrite! I also found out the the San Jose health department doesn’t oversee motel infestations! So, Motel 6? You are dead to me. San Jose has been dead to me since the Sharks joined the NHL. We made our way to Gilroy, stopped at the same EconoLodge and had a nice restful night. 
The Thomas Fire Aftermath.

Then, there’s the train. At least Il Duce made the trains in Italy run on time. Our little tin pot hasn’t even managed that. I doubt the even know there are still trains. Anyway, Amtrak is a different world. It takes an entirely different mind set. It is NOT about speed or timeliness. The schedule is a mere suggestion. That being said, IF you can switch of your inner clock, sit back and relax, it is a most pleasant and comfortable trip with scenery you can only see by train. 

We took the Gold Line light rail to Union Station and about train time (allegedly 10:10am) we found there was a mechanical problem with the train. Four hours later, we boarded. At least it wasn’t as long a delay as the deicing Marianne had to wait through at SeaTac. And, LAUPT is a spectacular building. Add in the Salvation Army Brass Quintet playing carols and the Free For Anyone To Use Piano, the entertainment was great. We settled into our comfy seats, putting down the foot rest, and raising the thigh support (yasee, trains have this thing called LEG ROOM) and watched the world slide by in quiet comfort. No constant drone of the jet, just a lulling clickity-clack and mostly gentle swaying of the car. 
Sunset on the Coast

The secret is to take along a book (preferably a long one), plug in your sounds from your phone, read, doze, look at the scenery, repeat. Dinner in the dining car is quite good and cooked on board, not just nuke and puke airline “food”. There is an observation car with tables or chairs that face the windows for more scenery staring, dozing, and conversation. That is the biggest difference on the train. Strangers talk with each other. Dinner for two becomes a shared table for four. Conversation usually revolves around “where are you from, what do you do” and most are smart enough to avoid the two biggest conversation sins, politics and religion. In Road Trippin’ the Isles, I wrote about sharing tables, the train reinforces the idea. 

For sleeping, there is  a choice. There are sleeper cars which cost a lot, or you can sit up in the coach or “business class” (which for the extra $100 only really gets you access to the world’s slowest wifi) and for one night, it’s not bad. The seats are FAR more comfortable than an airplane’s. 

The one thing that makes the entire train experience worth it is the scenery. The Coast Starlight (or StarLATE) has stretches of the most amazing scenery there is, and it can only be seen from the train. The route north from Oxnard hugs the coast (quite literally) and north of Gaviota, winds along a shear drop to the water around Point Conception. All that land is either the massive Hollister Ranch or Vandenberg AFB. None of it is open to the public. Because of our late departure, we saw it at sunset. It was spectacular. We’d also gone past the horror of the recent Thomas Fire. MAN was that nasty. As an aside, it's also depressing to see the HUGE number of homeless encampments along the tracks. The richest country in history should NOT have homeless people, and certainly not in these numbers. 

Further north, past Guadelupe, the train turns inland through the rolling hills of the Central Coast. The climb up and down the Cuesta Grade north of San Luis Obispo is another magical sight. The last amazing part is through the Cascades mountains. Because of our delay, we were lucky to pass through in the daylight. It was snowing, the trees were bent heavy with the white stuff, and we cruised through  in our nice warm rail car, sipping hot cocoa. Really, what could be better? 
We weren't dreaming Bing! 

So, pick your poison. All three cost close to the same, the only difference is time and comfort. Cars give you the freedom to stop and explore, the train gives you total relaxation, and the plane? Well, you know what I think about that!. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Our New Baby

Road Trippin’
Steve McCarthy

Our Auld Crates are like our children. We love and cherish them and they frustrate the hell out of us. This comes into sharper focus if you have more than one. Cars OR Children. You get to love them all in different ways, but in no way diminishing the love of one for any of the others. 

Case in point: Our new baby. Yes, the Citroen ID21 Safari Wagon (or “Break,” for some of you) is on the road. Thanks to Wally, Garret, and Junior at Grand Central Citroen in Redlands. Yes, there is a shop that only works on these weirdly wonderful French cars. I got mine, through Wally, from a stash of Froggy Beasts out near Amboy. It was last registered in 1984, but has (according to Wally) “Good Bones.” It’s sat in my drive for some four years, getting a few tweaks here and there, but finally needed the serious attention that Wally and his crew could give it. As Garret says, “Citroens don’t have the problems other cars have. They DO have problems NO other cars have.” It takes more than a $.20 shift (see what I did there? Twenty cents is a pair of dimes? Think about it...I’ll wait...) in more ways than one. 

The engines in these beasts are remarkably stout. So are the gear boxes. With less than 80K on the clock, she’s not a candidate for a rebuild. WHEW! Most cars that sit for Thirty Plus Years have to be gone through. This one? Dump some Marvel Mystery Oil in the spark plug holes, change the oil, gently crank it over to get things circulating and Voila! She’ll run! Not well, but the internals are most likely good to go. 

It’s the external stuff that will need attending. Like the wiring. Dear Mr. Lucas: I humbly apologize for all the slings and arrows I’ve launched your way. Compared to SEV, Marchall, and Ducellier (and yes, I know that’s a French subsidiary of yours) you are a Master of Electrical Design. I mean, who in their right mind makes almost ALL the wires black? With little colored ends that fade to the point that blanc, gris, jaune, et mauve all look the same? And the insulation was made out of something that desert rats thrive on. So, after hours of work with a new harness, a test light and a battery charger for a source of power, I mostly got everything to work. 

The biggest hurdle has been the suspension. That marvelously complex spiderweb of tubes and spheres, and pumps, and magic that wowed the world in 1955 when the “Goddess” (the DS designation was a French pun, “déesse” is French for “goddess”, and ID is pronounce “idée” as in “idea”) was introduce. That took a good month of work by Garret. But now, sea shanties can be sung (WAAY HEY UP SHE RISES!) upon start up and the fluid stays where it’s supposed to. And since the suspension, brakes, and steering are all linked, this is a good thing! 

Driving the Citroen is also a whole new world. The ride is, Spectacular. As Garret commented, if a Citroen starts to ride like a Cadillac, it’s time wonder what’s wrong. The seats and carpet padding combined with the floating smoothness make it seem as if one is driving a Barcalounger! It is, without a doubt, THE most comfortable car ever made. And as a bonus, because the suspension is adjustable, you can set it to a higher ride height, which stiffens the suspension and makes it handle FAR better that it should. The DS didn’t win rally championships on its good looks alone! 

And that brings us to l'éléphant dans la pièce. In 1955, the Pininfarina styling of the DS shook the foundations of the automotive world. It was earth shattering. Look at ANY other car of the era (or for that matter, any other era!) and you know what I mean. Modern cars are only now beginning to catch up, mostly because aerodynamics have been so critical to increasing gas mileage and battery range. The DS STILL has the best coefficient of friction of any production car. Ever. As a result, it’s always been looked upon as “quirky” by the kindest, and down right ugly by most. It is indeed an attention grabber. A week doesn’t go by without someone asking about it. The most noticeable trait is the lack of an apparent radiator grill. The air intake is UNDER the front, taking advantage of the high pressure area to deliver cooling air to the radiator that is several feet back. More and more new cars are using this idée Citroen had back in ’55. And, if you look at the front of an early 911 and compare it to the DS, le voila! Porsche lovers HATE that. 

Then there are the safety features. Citroen was the first company to consider secondary impact as an area of concern. Primary is when the car hits something. Secondary is when YOU hit something. So, the steering wheel has one spoke so it won’t break your sternum, the steering column will collapse. The engine mounts will break and drop the engine UNDER the car instead of into your lap, and the front frame rails are thinner, giving energy eating crush space. When the US government was getting into the safety act, Citroen GAVE them reams of research. Free! It was of course ignored so “consultants” could charge the government to discover what Citroen already knew. sigh.

And all this brings us to our First Road Trip. 

Every year, Citroen-istas in California gather in the Central Coast area to meet, drink wine, and eat cheese and bread. We were excited to show off our new beast. Friday morning we headed out for breakfast in Ventura at the Busy Bee, stopped at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery in Los Alamitos for a baguette, then lunch and the Motel 6 in Atascadero. No need for a route, by now you should know. We cruised along in floating comfort, and only the Cuesta Grade made things get a bit toasty. Yeah, like their English counterparts, French cars are not built for 6% grades in 85 degree weather! Still, we got there, no harm, no foul. 

The group of Francophiles were a wonderfully quirky bunch, all oo la la’ed over our car and laughed at the small modifications I’ve made (the ’50 Caddy tail lights with the Eiffel Tower inserts, the Van Gough Starry Night headliner-complete with LED lights) and a good time was had by all. 

There was the obligatory Gala Dinner and Awards Saturday night, and if Garret and Junior hadn’t shown up the the infamous 24 Hours of Lemons Tour Goddess, we would have easily won the “I can’t believe it got here award.” sigh. 

Sunday was go home day, and after sneaking breakfast at the event hotel (tip-big hotels don’t really check to see if you are a guest at the free buffet breakfast, especially if you are part of a large group) we headed home. All was well until one of the fan belts began to shriek. MERDE! We dove off the 101 into a convenient In ‘n’ Out to assess the problem Good thing we were under 200 miles from home! 

Seems one of the bolts anchoring the hydraulic pump and backed out and was interfering with the alternator belt. We called Garret. He and Junior hadn’t left Atascadero yet and agreed to stop and help. Between the three of us, we got things set right. We thought. Just after Garret and Junior left, the belt began to squeal again. Yes, all the rest was a mere diversion. The alternator was seized. Merde. Again. the good part was that it runs on a separate belt, so, out came the knife, and we were off, driving back on battery power. Thank God for Optima batteries! We made it home, no real worries. 

This trip was the furthest the Citroen had driven since it was hauled out of the desert. It has some teething problems, but promises to be a good daily driver. And no, I haven’t shunned the TR3! Now that other car projects have been dealt with, The Blue Meanie will drive again. 

This is what I meant in the opening. I have the Blue Meanie to drive hard on backroads--nothing will replace it, ever, and the Citroen to be my cruiser. And naturally, the Citroen will be painted bright Ferrari Fly Yellow. After all the Blue Meanie needs a Yellow Submarine!