Saturday, July 13, 2019

“...And Crowds Gathered Where Ever They Stopped...”

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

Yes, readers, we are back. And to you of little faith, fie upon you. FIE I say! The Yellow Submarine ran wonderfully with only minor glitches that were best ignored. First, the Roads:

Route North:
Monrovia-Los Alamos-King City, via CA118 and US 101
King City-Woodland, via 101, CA 156, CA 152, I-5 thence to Clearlake via CA16 and CA20
Clearlake to Grants Pass via CA20, I-5
Grants Pass to Olympia vis 1-5.

OK, I know, a lot of I-5, but mostly the less boring parts and because it naturally rained as soon as we hit Oregon, we stuck to the easy route. 

On the way back, it was more interesting:

Olympia to Eugene to Coos Bay via I-5, Oregon 116, and US101
Then, except for the detour to Ferndale, US 101 all the way home, stopping in Garberville and King City for a night each. 

The Statistics:

2713 miles
53 hours driving time
51 mph average
22 mpg 

118 gallons of premium

2 qts oil

2 qts hydraulic fluid

Not bad for a fifty year old French car! 

It’s not a high speed racer, it’s a Froggy Low Rider. I need a sticker on the back that says “Pardon My Stately Pace.” It seems happiest at 55-60 mph which is fine with us. 

So, what new discoveries did St. Serendipity lead us to? Lots of ‘em. 

Rather usually for us, we did not leave at o'Dark Thirty. More like 9:30 am. This was so we could have lunch at Bob's Well Bread in Los Alamos. 

Keefer’s Inn in King City is still a nice, comfy place to stop, and the restaurant is surprisingly good, basic diner food. It’s still family owned, beats hell out of Denny’s and is worth the stop. And, yes, the rooms still have the funky original artwork from when the place was built. Far more interesting than the usual blah Motel Art. 

On CA 152 out of Hollister (and Sean the Unreliable, our GPS lead us over the San Juan Grade, a REAL Iron Bottom Road) we stumbled across the Casa de Fruta. A fruit stand on steroids. Great Place! Not sure if we were just too early or if it’s a weekend only thing, but they have a merry-go-round and a little train ride amid a collection of rusting farm equipment. The dried and fresh fruits are really good! 

From Sacramento we headed west to Woodland on CA16. They have a great Old Town and what looks to be a little tourist railway there. Lots of eateries and shops as well. Out of town, 16 is a great drive following Cache Creek. Lots of farmland and small communities, as well as a couple of old school resorts. Probably good fishing as well. This was why we took the dreaded I-5 to Sacramento, and it was worth it! 

Clearlake is, well, Clearlake. It can’t seem to make up its mind if it’s a funky lakeside resort town, a la “Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss” or the tweaker capital of California. My buddy Bill and his lady Danni took us to dinner (for my birthday, after much rug-beating) to a great place on the other side of the lake in Lakeport. It’s called Park Place and is right near the boardwalk. Fantastic food! Lots of GARLIC! 

From there it was back on CA-20 to Williams and Granzella’s for breakfast. It’s a great Italian Deli/Restaurant that offers good eats. 

Up past Shasta, we dined al fresco at a rest stop and made it to Grants Pass for the night. We stayed again at the Knight’s Inn on 7th and G, and for good reason. First, it’s a good motel. Most importantly, it’s a short walk to the Laughing Clam pub. Great food there, especially the seafood sampler appetizer. That and a Guinness is enough for dinner. Now, our whole reason for staying in Grants Pass was something called The Great Race. I covered it a bit in the last missive. It was having a stop over there, right in front of the Laughing Clam! So, we ate, drank Guinness and watched the Auld Crates putter through the day’s finish line. We also got to meet up with an old friend, Karen, from when our kids did Irish Dancing a LONG time ago. 

Next morning, under threatening clouds and drizzle, we headed back up the I-5, chugging up the mountain passes. The Auld Froggy Car did NOT like them thar hills! Breakfast was another recommendation, this time from buddy Tom. It’s a place off the highway near Azalea, OR called “Heaven on Earth.” They have cinnamon rolls to DIE for! They rival the Old West Cinnamon Rolls in Pismo, and that’s sayin’ something! These suckers are HUGE and drip with icing and butter! I guess it’s an odd little community of Mennonites, which explains the hymns in the muzak. Still, it’s well worth a stop. 

From there it was an easy, if wet, shot to my Mom’s place in Olympia. Next time, I’ll regale you with the tales of the return and the car show in Tacoma, where again, we took home a Major Award! 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

AH, it’s Road Trippin’ Season!

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

‘Tis the season to be Trippin’. Weather might actually get decent, although in SoCal, June Gloom is still in effect. On the Solstice, I though we were back in Scotland! Anyway, we’re off on a trek to Olympia, WA (I swear we’ve worn our own groove in the 101) to see Mom and hook up with The Great Race. No, we didn’t enter, not at $5k for the privilege of driving our own car on public roads, and certainly, not what amounts to a Time/Speed/Distance Rallye. All that math ruins a nice drive! 

I got a message on Facebook awhile back from my old (as in I’ve known her a long time, not that she’s particularly old, mind you) Renee Crist who manages the collection at the LeMay Museum in Tacoma (BEST JOB IN THE WORLD!). Seems the GR is ending there after starting in Riverside, and they are having a car show to celebrate! On the day before my birthday (don’t ask--but it beats the alternative). So, called Mom, asked her if she was up to making me an apple pie and set to planning.  BTW, did I mention we’d take the Yellow Submarine on its Longest Trek Yet?  

Now the planning for a Road Trip like this is easy. No massively long days behind the wheel, a nice, leisurely drive (there can be nothing else in my Froggy Low Rider): Monrovia to King City and a night in an Iron Bottom Classic Motel, Keefer’s Inn in King City. Lunch we plan on Bob’s Well Bread Bakery in Los Alamos, and no, we aren’t, for once, leaving at the buttcrack of dawn. Like I said, Leisurely. 

Next day will take us to Clearlake to inflict ourselves on my Old (and this time I mean OLD) Buddy, Bill Morgan. We plan on some interesting roads we’ve not seen for this leg. King City to Hollister, across on CA 152 to the Dreaded I-5 (yeah, I know), through Sacramento, then through Woodland on CA 16 to CA 20 to Clearlake. Supposed to be a very pretty drive, and a new one for us. 

From there, we’ll head to Grants Pass, OR and have two options. One is back to the I-5 (which north of Sacramento isn’t as mind numbing as the stretch south to Bakersfield) and a stop for lunch in Dunsmuir, or, the more (for us) traditional route, back to the 101, through the redwoods, Eureka, and US 199 to Grants Pass. Either one are gorgeous drives. Well see which one we opt for that morning. 

St. Serendipity has blessed us again, because the Great Race is stopping for the night in Grants Pass, and parking about a block from the motel we found last time we stopped there, the Knight’s Inn. And BONUS, in the same block as our favorite place to eat there, the Happy Clam. 

From there is’t mostly a straight shot up the I-5 to Olympia, but we might veer off in Salem to follow Old US 99 to Portland. 

Should be a great trip. We have almost packed and loaded the car. Just washed and waxed the Auld Girl, and are ready to Roullez les Bon Temps! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

“Get up, it’s 4AM and I can’t sleep. Let’s go look at wildflowers!” I said.
“grumblegrumbleareyoukiddinggrumblegrumbleI’mtoogoodtoyou,” Marianne answered. 

An hour later and we were off. 

No, we didn’t go to Lake Elsinore or the Anza Borrego like 30 million other people. We went to the Central Coast. Of course. Our favorite part of the state, if not the world. We also took the new Accord. I didn’t want to add to Marianne’s discontent and discomfort. She is not a morning person. 

As usual, we had breakfast in Ventura at the Busy Bee. As usual, great pancakes and bacon! We were on the road early enough to beat most of the Monday morning traffic, and the scenery was spectacular, as usual. It’s amazing what rain will do for California. At least as green as Ireland! AND more flowers! Continents of mustard and poppies with islands of purple lupin amid an ocean of green grasses. 

We pulled into Los Osos to Bob’s Well Bread Bakery to get some food to go, planning on a picnic amidst the flowers and greenery, then off, up the Cuesta Grade, then to San Miguel. I wanted to get to what I knew would be great scenery, so I asked the Rhonda, the little lady who lives in the dashboard, to help me find Parkfield, CA. Yes, the Earthquake Capital of California. She said there was no such place. Wanted me to stay on the freeway. Silly Person. 

I actually DO know how to get there, I was just curious about the mileage. Snicking the Accord into “Sport Mode” (more turbo boost, stiffens the suspension, and lets me use the flappy-paddle shifting) we headed took River Road in San Miguel, left on Indian Valley, then right on Vineyard Canyon. This will take you to the intersection of Vineyard Canyon, Cholame Rd (which goes back to CA 46 and Jack Ranch and the James Dean Memorial), and Parkfield Rd. There is a little bridge across a stream there that also crosses the San Andreas Fault. It’s just outside of Parkfield. GREAT picnic spot! Noting like the quiet of the middle of nowhere for lunch. 

Having finished our salami, brie, and pesto sandwiches, we headed to Parkfield for a pee stop and look round. It is indeed an odd little town. There is a cafe, if dining al fresco isn’t your thing, and a motel. Now THERE’S a place that does NOT need the old “Magic Fingers” vibrating bed! 

From there we headed further up the Parkfield/Coalinga Rd., made infamous on the old No Frills Iron Bottom Motoring Tour. This is indeed on the world’s great roads. I’d LOVE to show it off to Wanker, Pillock, and Prat of Top Gear, oh, wait, Grand Tour fame. It would boggle their narrow English minds. Do be aware that several miles of this spectacular road are dirt. The rains didn’t do it much good, but it’s passable in the Accord. It’s a twenty mile workout for driver and car. From there we turned back west (left) on CA 198 (another absolutely fabulous road from the old Iron Bottom Days) and gas. Together, it’s 86 miles of some of the best driving and scenery you will ever find. 

We gassed up on the 101 and headed for home on the 101. Silly Rhonda The Honda thought we should head over to the Dreaded I-5 (what IS this obsession with that nasty highway?) instead of the lovely 101, and for MILES tried to make us see the error of our ways. Yeah, like THAT would ever happen! 

One last stop for dinner, at a place I’ve driven past for some 60 years and NEVER tried. Just past Carpinteria is Mussel Shoals and the Cliff House Motel and Restaurant. It was built in 1959, the year my family moved us of SoCal. Easter Break meant, for years, camping in Carpinteria, and we’d pass it to and from our week of sandy food. So, FINALLY, we stopped. It was redone in ’07 and now isn’t just another funky beach motel. It’s upscale and the restaurant is no longer a beach diner. It’s a bit pricey but the food is REALLY great. We split a grilled pear/goat cheese baked in fillo dough salad and the cioppino. Add a glass of white zinfandel and it’s perfect. Add in the view of the Channel Islands and what my sister always called “Gilligan’s Island” and it’s beyond perfection. 

Finally, 640 miles later, we got home, well fed and well traveled. So, spend a day or two seeing the flowers no one else looks for. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Goodbye Wally.

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

Goodbyes are hard. Especially premature ones. Citroen Guru Wally Escherich died of massive heart failure after battling the crippling effects of the little known Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Abandoned by the health care industry, the insurance industry, and their toadies, the workman’s compensation people, his body had had enough of that shit and quit. I don’t want to turn this into a polemic about health care. This isn’t the place for it. I want to talk about Wally and remember him. 

Wally was a fixture of first the No Frills Iron Bottom Motoring Tour then the drives I hosted. Constant Reader will know what those are, the rest of you? Suffice it to say they are the Ultimate Anti-Glam Old Car Tours. Usually three days of driving California backroads, covering some thousand miles of spectacular scenery and lonely roads. Most of the cars are scruffy at best. Several break down. We stay in scruffy motels and drive too fast. At the end of the day, we share several beers. 

It was over several beers that we learned what a small world it was. In the bench racing that always followed a day’s run, I was telling tall tales about being a bus driver, and some of the back roads we had to use to haul kids to summer camps. I mentioned the most epic camp run we had, Quaker Meadows. Wally lit up. Seems not only did he go there every summer as a kid, but he now remembered me as one of the drivers! He was like ten years old and always sat up front (most kids fought for the back, as far away from adults as possible), soaking in what it took to drive a 35’ Crown Coach up roads that few would take a VW on. Like I said, small freakin’ world!

Wally often drove his Citroen D Wagon, a magnificently original beast. He also co-piloted a variety of completely inappropriate cars for narrow backroads. Cadillac Eldorados being a favorite ride. He’d fly over whoop-ti-dos with abandon, seeing if he could launch a three ton hunk of Amurican Iron, often with devastating results to the ball joints.  He was flat crazy about the tours, the people, and the cars. 

Wally was also loud. REALLY loud. On first meeting, obnoxiously so. But once you got over the initial shock, he turned out to be a great person. He cared more about cars, and especially Citroens, than anyone I have ever known. He had an encyclopedic knowledge if those stupid, odd, downright weird cars. They were a perfect match. 

Now, I’ve always been a closet lover of Citroens. Chuck Forward of Autobooks fame really introduced me to them properly, but it was Wally who reeled me in. I’d heard he was helping a widow sell off a treasure trove of Citroens from an stash out past Amboy that he called “Area 52.” And I was intrigued enough to ask if there were any decent wagons there. I should have known better. 

Indeed there was. It would need work. After all, it was last registered in 1984 and had sat outside all those years. I negotiated with my dear sweet loving wife, and as long as I sold the ’52 Dodge Pickup, I could get the Citroen. Ah, me. I bought the damn thing for two grand and Wally delivered it to my place. That was six years ago. It’s now my daily driver and is called the Yellow Submarine. 

Much of the work was done at first by me, then we hauled it out to Wally’s pride and joy, an actual shop. “Grand Central Citroen.” By this time, he could hardly work on cars himself, the pain of CRPS was so devastating that he’d black out. His assistant, Junior and a friend from Flagstaff, Garret, did most of the work while Wally was practically duct tapped to a chair in the shop. He couldn’t keep his hands off the cars. They finally got the hydraulics sorted, rebuilt the half-shafts, and sorted a few niggly bits and VOILA, a running Citroen Wagon. 

Probably Wally's proudest moment involved the Lemon Goddess. He, Junior, and Garret dragged this spectacular ratty DS out of the junk pile, put in a clutch and radiator, covered the interior in moving blankets, and plywood for the trunk floor. They sent if off on the Concours de LeMons Rallye, which STARTED in Monterey during Pebble Beach Week, ran to the Canadian Border and back, some 3000 miles. They finished second to a VW with a beer keg in the back with which to bribe the judges. Later, the thing went to the Citroen Rendezvous in Atascadero, and stole the "Bucket and Brush Award" from me. 

Through out this, Wally’s pain management was on again/off again (mostly off again-he had bad days and horrible days) as he battled the system. He gave up on the shop and I think closing it broke his heart. Marianne and I did want we could, but the distance from Monrovia to Redlands made it less than we wanted. We did manage to drive him to a CRPS conference in San Jose where he learned there were a lot of others in his boat and he was better off than many. Sadly, none of it was enough. Damn. 

At least I got to take the freshly painted Yellow Submarine out for his approval. He loved it. Enough to award it the last ever, official, Wally Seal of Approval. I'll treasure that forever. 

Wally had a good heart. He had a passion for Citroens. His booming voice and encyclopedic knowledge will be missed. It’s trite, but indeed, he’s finally free of pain. 

Monday, November 26, 2018


It’s November, so why not say Thanks for all the Car Related Stuff that have made our lives better.  Here goes, in no particular order: 

Back Roads: These do have to be on the top of the list. I’m thankful that all the great driving roads haven’t been widened into Super Highways. I’m glad there’s still roads that they don’t bother to paint a center line on, and only occasionally pave. These are the roads we thrive on. These are the roads that our cars were made for. These are the roads that take us to something other than another Big Box Corporate Emporium that sells the same crap as all the others do. These are the roads where the wild flowers bloom in the spring and you can smell them in an open car. These are the roads that Camry, and Pious, and Motorhome divers stay away from. These roads give us Joy and Soul Sustenance. 

Sports Cars: Heck Yeah! These are the cars made for those roads. These are nimble, joyful little beasts that need a firm hand at the wheel and a brain to drive. Not operate, DRIVE! These are the cars that are loathed by the EcoNazis. These are the cars that were meant to be driven for the pure joy of driving. This idea is increasingly Frowned Upon by the mavens of Good Sense and Common Good. These are cars that 0-60 is a worthless stat. These are the cars that put us in a distinct minority. Ain’t it grand? 

People Who Actually DRIVE the Above: And more than a quick jaunt to a local car show. Trailer Queen’s Get Thee Behind Me! Cars are first and foremost, a mode of transportation. Their very existence is for the purpose of being driven. To let a car sit in a garage, to be only pampered and polished, for the owner to be in too much fear that the paint will get chipped is a Mortal Sin. The Blue Meanie will never win awards at car shows. The Auld Crate actually gets sneered at by Purists. That make us both happy. I guarantee we’ve had more pure FUN than 90% of the worriers. I’m always bemused when I tell people that we drove to, say, Olympia and back. “All that way? It made it? I don’t know if I could do that with mine.” Why the heck not? Didn’t you build it right? These things are not as fragile as popular mythology would let you believe. Built right and maintained (aye, there’s the rub), they will give you the ride of your life for thousands of miles. OK, they get Dirty. They Leak. They aren’t a living room on wheels. So what? If you own it, drive it! Thanks to those that do! Fun, isn’t it?

Mom and Pop Diners: This applies to any eatery that is owned by a sole proprietor or limited partnership. They are run with care and good humor. They are friendly because they’d like you back because this is how they make their living. This is how they’ve risked their future. Most fail and fail miserably. As my mom once said, “Owning a restaurant is a license to work.” Amen to that, and a HUGE THANK YOU to the folks who have had such a calling. The food is mostly good and always has character and is always different from the last place you stopped. They don’t have to add “Flavor Enhancers” because the bean counters at corporate haven’t dictated that food be so over processed that the taste is gone. Somewhere, in a secret mahogany paneled conference room at McBrugerJack HQ there must hang a picture of Dr. Goebbels. Beneath it his dictum: “If you tell a lie often enough, people will believe it.” For decades, these clowns have told us that we should be “Lovin’ It” and we’ve all heard it often enough that in general, we do. I’ve talked to kids who don’t like In ‘n’ Out Fries! “They taste funny, not like Mickey D”. Honey, that’s because they actually make them out of REAL POTATOES! What a novel concept. So, Eat at Joe’s (or Jane’s, or Ducky’s or Leroy’s), support your fellow citizens! 

Mom and Pop Motels: Ditto. 

A Good Honest Mechanic: OK, almost an oxymoron these days. But they are there. They don’t usually work at Double A BLEEP BLEEP (one guess what the bleeps REALLY mean), or the guys who put the Midas Touch on your wallet. They sure don’t work at the local gas station (they certainly aren’t service stations) anymore, but they are out there. Last week I heard tell of a guy in Riverside who usually works on all the mundane stuff, but LOVES it when you bring him a Citroen! Or Carburetor Carl who just retired. Man is a GENIUS with weird cards. Got a Simplex with an updraft Rochester? Just his meat! Or the shop here in Monrovia, Ward’s Service, that just celebrated 90 (NINETY) years in business. They can actually replace points and condensers and do a tune up! Or Star Auto Electric who has for some 40 years built essentially brand new Lucas generators. I’ve even found a tire guy, Rudy’s LLantas Usadas y Nuevas who can still put tubes in tires! So will Nate Jones in Signal Hill. Hell, he’ll even restring and true the wire wheels on an Austin 7 that’s just passing through town on the way to the end of the world! Or Frank Monise. That’s now Junior. He’s probably tired of the Junior, but I used to deal with the Old Man, so, Frankie, you’ll always be “Junior” to me, but out of respect. Great Respect. He literally grew up in his dad’s greasy shop in Pasadena. There isn’t much he doesn’t know about Auld English Crates. So, we all have these gems, be thankful for them and throw business their way. 

Moss Motors, the Roadster Factory, XK’s Unlimited, Western Hemispheres, British Wiring, Ol Phartz Partz, Western Hemispheres, Der Franzose, and all the others who keep making stuff for our Auld Crates. With out them, we’d be is REALLY DEEP KIMCHI! Yeah, we scream about prices but really, where would we be without them? Ever try and get ANYTHING from Poop Boys? “What kind of car is it?” They can’t help you with out that. No, you can’t just ask for a valve cover gasket for a small block Chevy. Even when they are ALL THE SAME. Doesn’t matter. I tried to get tires for the TR at one. “I need four 186/60x15 tires.” “What kind of car is it?” “Who cares, that’s the size I need.”  “I can’t look it up with out the kind of car.” “Ok, 1960, Triumph TR3.” “Uh, we have a 1965 VW…” “Well, that’s not quite it, is it?” They wound up not being able to sell me tires because the computer wouldn’t let them. So, be thankful for the suppliers who keep us on the road. Without them, we’d have really expensive planters. 

Technology: Yeah, that’s me, the reigning Neo-Luddite extolling things like GPS, Google Maps, and Radar Detectors. All for obvious reasons. High Tech has made our liver easier and more interesting, as long as we use it as a tool and not an end all, be all. Like those couples who sit in a restaurant on a date, texting other people. Sad. Or the truck driver who takes his rig over Angeles Crest and kills people. Tragic. Don’t be that guy! Smart usage helps find the neat roads. It can also find you the way home AND you don’t have to stop and ask directions. 

All My Readers. Both of You: Without someone to read my meanderings, I’d be the falling tree in the forest that makes no sound. Or does it? This also includes my family who put up with and have grown up to enjoy Road Trips. Especially my wife Marianne. She is a Goddess to all. Women shake their heads with wonder and awe over the idea of her SHARING a small suitcase for a three day drive and only bringing one other pair of shoes! She gets her hair mussed and hands greasy, doesn’t complain too much, and actually enjoys our jaunts together. 

Lastly, Chuck and Tina, Owners of Autobooks: They got me my start in writing for real with this column. From there, I’ve managed three books and have another on the way. I appreciate their support more than I can say. 
So, I hope you all had a great Turkey Day!

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.