Monday, December 2, 2013

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

A Christmas Wish List. In keeping with the past couple of columns, I’m sticking with the holiday theme. This isn’t just a personal wish list (if you really want to thank your faithful scribe, get him a gift card from Moss Motors!, just send it to Autobooks and I’m sure Tina will forward it along. After all, Moss doesn’t carry Alfa parts, so it won’t get diverted!) but more of a selection of wishes and dreams that I’m sure all of us Road Trippers share. 

1) Reasonably Stable Gas Prices! It’s gotta be at the top of the list. This routine gouging of drivers has got to stop. Clearly, market forces are not at work here, especially in California. OK, we expect a bump in prices in the spring, as we switch to Summer Grade Gas. Refineries have to shut down to change over and for maintenance. That lowers the stock on hand and prices spike up. It’s also more expensive to make. Those are legitimate reasons for a price increase. But this spiking up over a dollar or more a gallon is not the alleged free market at work. Oil producers need to be wary of this, we’re on to you and we’ll get the government involved and we’ll all wind up being sorry.

2) Fix the Damn Roads!The state of roads nationwide has become appalling. The City of Los Angeles is particularly culpable. Politicians are now whining that because cars are more fuel efficient, and more people are driving smarter, that road tax revenues are dropping, so there’s no money to fix the streets and bridges. Bull Puckey! One of the REALLY horrid ideas is a little black box that will tell the gummint how many miles you’ve driven and each year, you get a bill. This kind of Big Brotherism is appalling! There’s also a move afoot to double registration fees in California. Uh, no. How about CalTrans and various cities actually use the money they get more efficiently. Do we really need wonderfully landscaped highways when the pavement is cracking and full of holes? Seriously, set some priorities!

3) Better Driver Training! This has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. Driver training in this country has always been poor. No one is taught IN A CAR how to properly do a “panic stop” or what it feels like to spin a car. No one is taught the ability to make an avoidance swerve in the rain and not spin the car. All that is taught and tested is how to cruise the surface streets with a low level of competency. Today’s cars are capable of far faster cruising speeds than those of just a few decades ago. Driver Training has been stuck in the 50s, and in fact, been watered down from there. What ever happened to the requirement that one should be able to parallel park a car? If I could pass the test parallel parking a ’59 Pontiac Wagon, why shouldn’t the kid in mommy’s Civic have to do the same? Now, the government is moving to more crash avoidance systems, making cars both more expensive AND less likely to be fixable down the road.

4) Better Enforcement of the Laws that Matter! Have you noticed that ever since the CHP got permission to use radar, that speeding tickets is almost all they care about? It stands to reason. They do less work, sit or cruise with the radar on, and crank out revenue generating speeding tickets, all the while lamenting that it’s Drunk Drivers who kill people. In almost all the articles on top crash causes, Tailgating is cited as a top contender. It’s lumped under the umbrella of “Aggressive Driving” but ⅓ of all fatalities involve a rear end crash. There is really only one reason for this, Tailgating. Add to this the other overly aggressive maneuvers of excessive lane changes, passing on the right (what ever happened to “?), and you can see what should be enforced. And while we’re at it, how about some attention on the guy who cruises too slowly in the fast lane? HE/SHE is the cause of much of the aggressive driver’s folly. Enforce these laws and let the traffic seek it’s own level of speed. I used to have a bumper sticker on the TR that said "Ban Low Performance Drivers, NOT High Performance Cars." Says it all. 

5) More Driver Courtesy! OK, most of you who read this drive more briskly on the back roads. To most people, these roads are difficult to manage. They don’t have the skills or the confidence to maintain a higher average speed. So, use the turnouts. PLEASE? When I drove buses, we drove children’s groups to camps in the local mountains, usually every week. A loaded bus gets up a hill at 25-30 mph. It’s the best it can do. We were taught that more than five cars behind you is a ticket. We were taught to use every available turnout sos to not impeded others. We also got paid by the hour, not the mile, so if it took longer to get up the hill… So, why is it so rare a thing these days? I followed some bonehead in a Prius (of course) for some 20 miles at 25mph because HE was incompetent. We must have passed some 10 turnouts he could have used. There were 10 cars behind him, but HE was Saving the Planet in an Ugly Car, so it was ok. While we’re on the topic, what about your OWN road courtesy? When someone pulls over for you, or lets you into traffic, do you give them a friendly wave of thanks? When you come across a cyclist working like hell up a steep grade, do you back off until you have enough room to make a safe pass? Do you let people zipper in in heavy traffic? Do you pull over for a faster car? Do the right thing and people will respond, and maybe, they’ll do the right thing down the road. 

6) A Safe Trip for all of you! As we were told by our dispatcher, keep the shiny side up and the greasy side down. Check your fluids. Pee whenever you get the chance. Above all HAVE FUN OUT THERE AND HIT THE ROAD! 

     So, that’s my wish list. I’ve been reasonably good Santa. How about granting me and my Road Trippin’ friends at least a few of these. It’s not too much to ask, is it? 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

OK, I admit it. I’ve caved. Seems every paper, blog, magazine, and media outlet did a “Scary Whatever” for October. So did I. Heck, I may as well cave all the way, so, 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, 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, Have a Great Day, Turkies, and maybe, we’ll do a Christmas Wish List Next Month!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

OK, this month marks the annual candy company created sugar bacchanalia known as Halloween. Or as I’d tell my students, Day of the Empty Hot Dog. Along with costumed kids extorting sweets under threat of pranks, come lots of scary stories. I figgered, what the hey, I’ll join in and offer up something here.
So, I asked around, and most responses weren’t really stories as much as isolated incidents along the lines of “So there I was, coming ‘round the corner in the wet when a motor home came at me sideways.” Yeah, we all have those stories. We can all relate ‘cause if you’ve taken enough Road Trips, you’ve had something that happened that scared the BeJeezus out of you. Not much of a column. I needed a couple of REALLY frightening, death defying tales. I found them. They both happened to trusted friends and I can vouch for their veracity. Mostly. I’m NOT putting in names, they still have the shreds of decent reputations.

Let’s go back to the late 60s. Remember them? No, I didn’t think you did, and not because you weren’t there. Two couples set off together on a vacation Road Trip. “Brad and Janet” and “Bob and Alice.” Both had reasonably reliable TR3s and headed north from LA towards Oregon. A pretty big adventure today, then, it was a massive undertaking. Now, “Brad” was as anal-retentive a mechanic that ever put wax on a set of sockets. He wanted to BE PREPARED. He packed the truck with a FULL set of tools and enough spare parts to rebuild just about anything. “Janet” had what clothes that would fit the remaining space jammed about her, wedging her in. “Bob and Alice” had cooking gear and tents, for this was not just a Road Trip, it was a Camping Expedition. And off they set.
As they trundled up Hwy 99 (there was no I-5 then) they neared the spectacular vista of Mt. Shasta, one of them said: “What a GREAT looking mountain!” “Let’s drive up there” chimed another. And the die was cast. This was June. The weather had been pretty good, maybe a bit of rain, but hey, they had tops and side curtains. For what they were worth. And so, up the mountain they went.
Now, do you know anything about the micro climate of a place like Mt. Shasta? Yeah, even in June, it got dark. Clouds began to form. It rained. It got cold. REALLY cold and it started to snow. No, not gentle wafting flakes, we’re talking Serious Snow. Enough to white out everything. And up they went. And then, it started to get dark. And it kept snowing. Yep, one of those full on “late spring storms” that Shasta will toss at the unwary. The unwary in a pair of TR3s with vinyl tops. Mostly, the tops kept the snow from filling the cockpit. They had jackets. Southern California jackets. You know what that means. These weren’t ski parkas. Oh, and did I mention that there is no way in the world to put chains on a TR3’s tires?
So, all through that long, wet, cold, snowy night, trying to get the worse than primitive “defroster” to work, peering through a windscreen swept by those tiny little one speed wipers, they soldiered on, afraid to stop for fear of freezing. At least the Mighty Massey Ferguson’s kept going, even the Prince of Darkness was kept at bay.
Finally, they figured that they’d managed to take a side road and were well off the main road and dangerously lost. Somehow, they managed to get the Beasts turned around and found a way downhill. Not that they could tell if they were on any kind of real road or not. This went on most of the night, until at long last, slip-sliding away, they found pavement. Then, a dim glow ahead. Thank God, a Motel! Salvation. Or not.
“I need to see some ID.”
Licenses were proffered.
“I’m sorry, you’re all under 21. I can’t rent a room to you.”

It was that high point of the Bus Driving Year, the week between Christmas and New Years. In Pasadena, that means only one thing, Rose Bowl. When you drove for the local charter bus company, that also meant a 60 hour+ week schlepping bands and teams all over, then on the Big Day, to The Parade and/or The Game.
Now, that week, “Jim” had the “honor” of ferrying about the Ohio State Football team. That meant he got to take them to Lawry's Prime Rib for the Beef Bowl (and get a free prime rib dinner himself). It also meant he got to deal with one Woody Hayes. I have yet to hear a tale of Coach Hayes that portrayed him as a Nice Guy. He was a crusty curmudgeon  on a good day.
Now, in between practices, the team went on outings. Back in the 70s, either Ohio State or Michigan came west for the Rose Bowl. Almost always to play USC. By this, Ohio State’s umptyumpfed time out here, they’d seen it all. Disneyland, Knotts, the Ocean, Hollywood, you name it, they’d been there. Several times.
On the fateful day, Jim had his bus spotted at the Huntington Hotel (where the visiting team always stayed) and it was one of those Gloriously Warm December Days that drives all the MidWesterners out here, just as planned. The buses were loaded and as usual, Coach Hayes came out last, playing his usual game of Russian Bus Roulette. No one knew which bus he’d ride in and inevitably, the bus he chose would be filled with muffled groans. No, Coach Hayes was not a Jolly Fellow.
Anyway, Hayes comes out into the cloudless crystal clear morning and looks up at the mountains that frame the San Gabriel Valley. He points at the TV towers and asks “What’s that up there?”
Jim answers, “That’s Mt. Wilson. There’s a bunch of TV towers up there and the Observatory.”
“That’s where we’re going.”
“Uh, Coach, these buses aren’t really made to go up those mountains.”
All Jim got was a steely glare. Jim went to one of the brothers who ran the company.
“Vinnie, Hayes wants us to go up to Mt. Wilson.”
“Jim, what ever Coach Hayes wants, Coach Hayes gets”.
Jim shrugged and led the way.

Now, I should tell you about the buses we had. We did have some REAL mountain climbers. Crown Coaches that could walk up walls. Crowns that were equipped with Jacobs Engine Brakes. These were also standard school buses. Ohio State were Premier Clients. They got what we called “Recliners”. Something like Greyhound buses. Big, air conditioned, comfy. And not meant for the mountains. They were also rear engined and had a shift linkage made of limp pasta. Oh, and non-syncro  4 speed gearboxes. You had to know what you were doing to drive a bus back then.
So up to Mt. Wilson they crawled. They looked around and then came back. That’s where things got nasty. Yasee, it’s not getting UP a mountain that’s the tricky part. It’s getting DOWN in one piece that takes skill. These were Highway Buses. Big, Comfortable, and Heavy. And carrying 40 or so Ohio State Midwest Corn and Beef Fed Football Linemen. 250 lbs plus. EACH. This was not an outing of Little Old Ladies from Pasadena who COLLECTIVELY didn’t weigh as much as two Ohio State linebackers.
And Down They Came. Now, there’s this thing called Brake Fade. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Over use the brakes and they get kinda soft and don’t work so well. OK, not a big deal in a car, you back off, take it down a gear and you’ll be fine. These were NOT cars. These were Buses. The physics of it all should be obvious by now. It didn’t take long for the brakes to fade. Well, no, that’s not the right word. “Cook” is more like it. Ever smell a badly fried clutch? OK, clutch linings and brake linings are pretty similar. All six axles were SMOKIN’ and SMELLING well before they were half way down. Oh, did I mention that buses had DRUM BRAKES? Yeah, brakes that once they start to cook like this, there is no way to uncook them.
Jim used every trick he knew. He’d head into a curve and give an extra crank of the wheel to induce some understeer to scrub off some speed. It all just got worse. Then, there’s the last downhill on Angeles Crest that leads to Foothill Blvd and a Stop Light. It’s also a Tee intersection. With buildings on the other side of the street. Oh, I forgot to mention another detail. Jim went to USC. The headlines would be SPECTACULAR! “SC STUDENT KILLS HALF OF OHIO STATE TEAM!”
At this point, the Gods of Fools and Bus Drivers intervened and the light was green. Ignoring the “Is there something wrong driver, the bus smells funny” questions (NEVER let ‘em see ya sweat), Jim made the light and managed to time things well enough to get the bus and the team to the hotel.
He even managed to get the bus back to the yard. Ben, Vinnie’s brother and in charge of the mechanical side of things could smell him coming five minutes before he got there.
“I broke your bus, Ben,” was all Jim could say.
“I took Ohio State up to Mt. Wilson.”
It was the closest Ben, a good Methodist had ever come to swearing.
“Your brother Vinnie told me to.”
The last Jim saw was Ben taking the stairs up to the office two at a time. He never heard another word about it. The mechanics worked all night to replace the brakes and the Bus was ready for the Rose Bowl the next day. As Jim tells it, no he didn't need new undies. He was so puckered up, only dogs could hear him fart.

So, if those aren’t “Scary Tales of Driving Daring Do” I don’t know what are. Have a great Halloween and enjoy some good drives this fall.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Road Trippin’Yellowstone with Mom-the Details
with Steve McCarthy

Well, we did it. 3800 or so miles, 2000 of which my Mom was with us. We all survived. Better than that, we thrived. For a lot of reasons, this may have, no, check that, WAS the best trip we’ve taken so far. Obviously, having Mom with us presented us with some challenges, but nothing serious. Mostly logistical. We couldn’t wander the shops as much, but when we did, we scored big time. We also had to be more aware of food stops and finding places to let her out close by. At 85, she’s doing really well, but, hey, she’s 85. None of this was a big deal at all. We could talk, listen to her family stories (I never knew my Great Grandfather was almost shanghaied from a saloon in Sacramento! He was slipped a mickey and managed to stumble OUTSIDE the bar before he passed out. If he’d collapsed INSIDE the bar, he’d have been on a boat to who knows where! Hmmm, wonder if we can induce some of our dear legislators into that bar?) and marvel at some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. DAMN this is a gorgeous country!
Last month, I charted out the route, and we managed to stick with it mostly. The only thing we missed was the National Automobile Museum in Reno. The rest went (unusually) by plan. We stuck mostly to the dreaded Interstates for the obvious reason that they afforded the best opportunity for places to stop if a real need arose. Luckily, it never did. Even so, There are some VAST wide open, lonely stretches of road out there. Even in a modern car, take food and drink and a jacket. At least.
What I thought I’d do then this month, is to engage in some Miscellaneous Ramblings (with apologies to John Bond, if you don’t get the reference, ah well) and give you some notes on what we saw, what we ate, and where we stayed.
Sacramento: As I noted last month, this is the family’s Old Stompin’ Grounds. We spent a day with the whole bunch looking at key places in our family’s history. My Grandparents’, Great Grandparents’, and Great GREAT Grandparents’ houses are still there. We knocked on one door and the lady who lives in the house my Mom grew up in was charming and invited her in. Little has changed inside and it was great to get photos of all three with my kids out front. Lessee, they would be SEVENTH generation Californians! Indeed, Daughters of the Golden West! On the way out of town, we managed to find the first house my folks bought ca. 1953 for some $12k. Place looks good and still has the brick trim and back fence my Dad built.

Auburn: This town has some great possibilities. It’s an old railroad and gold mining town and the Old Town looks well restored and vibrant. On a less time constrained trip, it’s well worth the time to stop and poke around.

Truckee: This is another railroad town, built specifically as a service stop on the original Transcontinental Railway. Trains still roar through, but few stop. The town itself is full of cool shops from higher end jewelry to happycrappy. And there is great food. Going on a pure hunch, based on it’s old original sign, we tried the Wagon Train Cafe. WOW! Best fries in a long time, AND a BACON WRAPPED MONSTER HOT DOG! What more could you ask  for? Mom and Marianne had food equally as good. Give this place a try, you won’t regret it!

Donner Pass: We took as much of the old Lincoln Highway as we could find through all of this and it was worth it! Great scenery of course added to the amazement that this nasty, twisty, treelined road was for decades the main highway! What made it even more personal was my Mom’s stories of being a counselor for a Campfire Girls’ camp up there, and driving an old pickup truck (double clutching all the way) up and down that same road, loaded up with girls in the pick up bed. Try THAT one today! Donner Lake is gorgeous, and the memorial for the Donner Party is not to be missed. The same is true of the Snow Sheds built by the Southern Pacific to help keep the tracks clear of snow. There’s a lot of history up there, read up up in some so you know what you’re looking at!
Reno: We buzzed through the Biggest Little City in the World, only pausing for gas. Because of out late start, we gave the Auto Museum a miss. What was cool was seeing all the hot rods returning to California after Hot August Nights in Reno.
Elko, NV: TRAVELERS’ ALERT!!!! DO NOT HIT ELKO ON A SUNDAY!!!! Elko is closed on Sundays. At least any hope of decent food is not happening! We checked into the Thunderbird Motel on Elko’s main drag and were delighted to find a clean, nicely decorated, comfortable Old School Motel. That was the good part. The Star Hotel Basque Restaurant, the place we’d been really looking forward to was closed. As was EVERY OTHER DECENT LOOKING EATERY! The only places for dinner were the two aging old time casinos. We were the ONLY people in the cafe. The prime rib was, well, average, the service was nice but clearly it was the training staff on duty (what kind of beer do you have on tap? Uh, I don’t know…), and we were hungry enough to eat most of it. So, you are warned.

Wells, NV: Now we’re talking! We decided to give the casino diners a miss for breakfast, trusting that something would turn up. And it did. In Spades! Wells is an almost Ghost Town. At one time, it was clearly a stop for those to tired or slow to make it to Elko from Wendover. Old, mostly vacant motels fill what once must have been a pretty wild town. The centerpiece is the crumbling El Rancho Hotel, complete with a great animated neon sign. Amidst all this emptiness is Bella’s Espresso House. No, this is not a roadside drive though wannabe GotBucks. It’s a Diner with a capital “D” and the best breakfast of the trip. Funky decor (old aprons for curtains?) and GREAT blueberry waffles and REAL sausage (meaning with crispy casings that snap when you bite into them) and even refills on my hot chocolate made this place a winner. Ya have to look for it, but do it!

Ashton, ID: All I can say about this tiny town is WOW! What a great place and what great people! Between the good breakfast and the wonderfulness of Ashton, I don’t remember if we even stopped for lunch! First, this is a SMALL town. REALLY SMALL! Second, our motel, The Log Cabin Motel is a MUST STOP! Second best accommodations of the trip! You’ll learn why it’s “only” second best later. Believe me, it’s not an insult! This place was built in 1928 or so and Holly the owner has had charge of it for the last dozen or so years. Yes, it gets it’s name legitimately. The motel is a bunch of tiny, very real log cabins. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. My Mom in fact was really concerned. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know about this, maybe we need to look for something else…” Sorry, we made reservations, the only ones’ we made on the trip. “Trust me, it’ll be great!” It was! The place is clean and well maintained, the beds are comfy old time spring supported, there’s satellite TV but no wifi. Seems the place is in some kind of wifi black hole. No matter, it’s not a great loss. It also seems that this is THE hot place to stay for fly-fishermen. For eats, the Trails Inn is THE place. Corn breaded Rainbow Trout and FAMOUS Twice Baked Potato. Of course! What ELSE would you eat in Idaho? I think it’s some kind of law that spuds MUST be eaten. This was a great meal. The trout was perfect and the potato weighed in at about 10 pounds. Filled with cheese and peppers it was, well, you can imagine. For breakfast, we tried (at Holly’s suggestion) the Chocolate Moose Royale. In reality, a coffee bar inside another business, but the mocha’s and my Hot Chocolate Royale were great, but the PIE WAS FANTASTIC! This and some kind of nut bread was all the eats available, but the pie was worthy of a Great Breakfast. Made by a “local legend”, these pies had REAL lard crust.

West Yellowstone: This is essentially a tourist trap town at the west entrance of the park. The hotel rates are too high. We did score a couple of nice beaded belts in a shop there. Marianne in particular had this on her List of Stuff To Look For. She’d brought along her Dad’s HUGE turquoise (what else) buckle and wanted to find a belt for it. We scored.
Yellowstone Park: OK, it’s crammed with tourists in August. The roads are pretty packed, especially when the bison (buffalo is a misnomer) decide that they are going to cross the road (so, why DID the bison cross the road? Evidently to jam up traffic a lower the IQ of the average minivan/suv driver by at least 50 points), the weather is iffy (we got dumped on by thunderstorms), and stuff is WAY overpriced. Still, this is a place NOT TO BE MISSED! Ol’ Ma Nature really puts on a show. Sure, there’s what seems like 10 gazillion people waiting to see Old Faithful (in reality, Old Moderately Reliable) but it’s STILL SO COOL! The other vents a geysers and bubbling, sulfurous mud pots, the mountains, the lake, the whole damn place is AMAZING. Also, make CERTAIN that you drive out the east side. This is possibly THE MOST SPECTACULAR ROAD IN THE WORLD! OK, I know, I’ve maybe said that before, but this road is special. Sure it’s twisty and a great drive, BUT, do it at a gentle pace. The scenery is not to be missed. Oh, a Top Tip: Most of Yellowstone is 7000-8000+ feet. DRINK LOTS OF WATER AND SLOW DOWN!! The altitude WILL get you!

Cody. WY: Under different circumstances, this looks like a neat town. Our problem was two fold. One, we’d been delayed in The Park by the Bison Sigalert(s) and it took a LONG time to get to Cody. My Mom managed to get cell service and called the Comfort Inn. They were full. There was a RODEO in town that week! They transferred us to the Buffalo Bill Cabin Village. The price my Mom thought she heard was NOT the price we were charged. This place, although nice enough, is WAY overpriced. Kinda old faux cabins that were comfy, and an attentive staff, but too pricey for what you get. I DO have to say that after dinner, Mom went in to the office to “clarify” the bill. They DID feel bad. Not bad enough to lower the tab, but at least bad enough to give us all vouchers for a FREE full breakfast. THAT had to be worth $40. For dinner, there are a lot of choices but even on a Tuesday, everything was crowded. We settled on Bubba’s BBQ and had a pretty tasty slow cooked brisket. I kicked myself though. Well after I ordered, I spotted a card on the table touting Mountain Man Sausage. Bison, Elk, Antelope, Wild Boar. In the same sausage. I think I really missed out on this one!

Bozeman, MT: Ok, when you enter Montana, the sign says “Welcome to Montana, Check Your Veggies at the Door” and “VEGAN FREE ZONE”. This is indeed BEEF COUNTRY. (Brooks, you’re gonna have a tough time here!) We took another great road north out of Cody to the I-90 and by Bozemon, we were ready for lunch. This is a pretty vibrant college town, which has enabled it to restore the older part of the city nicely. We had no idea where to eat, so St. Serendipity did her thing and I spotted The Garage Soup Shack & Mesquite Grill. A converted old gas station, this was another real find. Bison/Bacon/BBQ Burger? OH YEAH! Marianne had the “Duesenberg” Burger w/artichoke hearts. Mom had the biggest chicken/spinach salad she’d ever seen (OK, I lied, you can get chicken in Montana, but, why would you?). The place is well thought out, the service is great and friendly. A perfect stop.
Butte, MT : OK, it’s a family joke. “Butte? Hahahahahaha” Little kid humor at it’s best. I’d heard about the one time opulent wealth of this Bastion of the Copper Kings, but really, they may as well drop the “e” from the end. This is a sad place. The old buildings are spectacular! The old mansions even more so. But this is a dying town. The Old Town is too far off the interstate and there is little to attract visitors. It’s in desperate need of revitalization, but is doomed to failure. The economics just aren’t there. The buildings are too big to fix. The cost too high. It’s very sad, but it’s also a cautionary tale of One Trick Pony Economics. I wonder if Dubai will look like this in a hundred years when the oil runs out?

Missoula, MT: Another funny name and another college town, this time, filled with new freshmen and their families, getting ready for Orientation. So were the hotels. We found a nice Comfort Inn (basic box like corporate faceless “luxury”) and set out for dinner. Sometimes, the AAA guide book comes through. After failing us in Cody, it turned up trumps in Missoula. The place is “The Depot” and was the best meal of the trip. Since Missoula is also a college town, it’s vibrant and the Old Town has undergone the usual renaissance. The Depot is part of this. Located across from the old Norther Pacific train station, it’s in what was once a railroad hotel. It’s casual, but excellent. The filet needed no bacon to wrap it. It was larded with garlic and sauced with a cabernet/mustard sauce that made me wish for more bread. The garlic mashed potatoes were topped by large shavings of parmesan. AHH! Marianne had Surf and Turf Skewers and Mom had a flat iron steak that was almost as tender as my filet. All for about $100! A real deal!

From there we headed west to Olympia and a few days rest there, then, on the way home, we treated ourselves. My Mom was generous enough to pay for most of the hotels and some of the meals and even some gas, so, we were feeling like we needed a treat. On the recommendation of our good friend Bruce Jones, we hit the Benbow Inn in Garberville.

OH. MY. GOD! This is a REAL hotel. A resort built in 1926 in the grand style of Resort Hotels of the era. This is no little log cabin motel. This is no generic Comfortholidayqualitydays Express. This is what a real hotel is all about. It’s a Must Do. The lobby and rooms are filled with antique furniture that wasn’t antique when the place was built. Hell, for the first time ever, I had the Bell Hop bring our bags to the room. No, he didn’t have the snazzy uniform with the pill box hat, but hey…
The room was small but the windows opened and the bed and desk and bureau were real walnut and  not MDF Veneer fakery. On the top of the bureau was a decanter of sherry and two glasses. In the bar, Marianne had an excellent Cosmopolitan (this is not the kind of place on calls it a “Cosmo”) and I had a Tullimore Dew. Dinner was prawns in a creamy Pernod sauce and the cheese/fruit plate. The crowning glory of the place? NO TELEVISION! On can lounge in the lobby and play chess or checkers or help fill in a couple of jig saw puzzles. The only jarring note was that the guests (ourselves sadly included) were not dressed to fit. We just didn’t have room to pack the white dinner jacket. Sigh. To add a note of Small World, it talking Road Trips with the maitre d’, we found out he knew the late, great Martin Swig! Small world indeed.
From there it was a stop in Pismo with Marianne’s sister Peggy and her hubby Dan, Great Western Cinnamon Rolls, and home. Almost two weeks, 3800 miles and the Dart averaged 35+mpg! This was a trip for the ages. Good food, comfy places to stay, family, great scenery...Why in the WORLD would you fly?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

OK, I’ve regaled you for several years about the delights of Road Trippin’ in the Auld Crate. Always fun, and the Blue Meanie is still the preferred steed for these jaunts. But what if the requirements change? What if you need more space for an extra passenger? What if that passenger is in her 80s and your mother (or mother-in-law)? Ah, there’s a big rub as the Bard might say. 
For our annual Trek, we’re doing just that. Since my Dad passed away last December, we’ve decided to take my Mom out for some exercise. She’s thankfully reasonably healthy and sound of mind (as sound of mine as anyone’s mom is) and doesn’t have any particular special needs. We’re lucky. But still, the dynamic will be quite different. We will not be flogging too many twisty mountain roads, and (gasp!) probably do a lot of the Dreaded Interstate for what should be obvious reasons. Given those parameters, how does one go about picking a route? Selecting motels? Handling the probability of more frequent rest stops? 
Marianne and I thought of two possibilities, a return to the Southwest and the land of Turquoise, an area we’ve of course visited a few times but my Mom has not, or take on something perhaps a bit less ambitious, but a place I’ve never been to and one that Marianne was so young she has limited memories. We decided on Yellowstone as the focal point. My Mom agreed. She’s been there once (I think it was with Teddy and his Roughriders, but I’ll have to check with her to be sure) but it’s been a looooong time. Obviously, big time mountain scenery would be the main attraction and even the Dreaded Interstates through Wyoming and Montana qualify as pretty neat roads as a result. It also made a lot of sense since Mom lives in Olympia, WA, we could make a big loop of it and get her straight to her place, then a nice easy jaunt home down 101. The other quirk for this drive is where we’re starting. Sacramento. She and I were both born there, and that’s where we’ll be doing some family things with her, my sister Sue, her husband Roger, and our kids. 
Now Sacramento has it’s own charms. The capital, Sutter’s Fort, the California Railroad Museum, Old Town and for us, my grandparents’, great-grandparents’ and even great-GREAT-grandparents’ houses! Yeah, Ol’ Grandpa used to do business with and socialize with some guys named Crocker and Stanford and Hopkins and Huntington. Yeah THOSE guys! So, yeah, there’s plenty to see. 

From Sacramento, the obvious route to take is I-80 out of town and past Auburn, it gets pretty spectacular. I’ve included a side road trip that allows some “IFR” driving. As in “I Follow Railroads.” This is the route of the original Transcontinental Railway AND as a bonus, the original alignment of the Lincoln Highway, AND as a further bonus, the route of the Pony Express! There’s places along the way that you can see the famous Snow Sheds built by the Southern Pacific to help keep the tracks open in the winter. Speaking of winter, you probably don’t want to do this then. The storms can be fierce. Take plenty of food to snack on, this route is called Donner Pass. Yeah, THOSE Donners. The ones who timed it wrong in 1846, got stranded in the snow and ate each other. No kidding! I don’t want to hear that you only ate one lousy foot! The snow has trapped whole passenger trains and fairly recently too! Make sure you stop at the memorial at Donner Lake. It’s a chilling story, to say the least. I suggest you do a bit of research on the Transcontinental RR, Lincoln Hwy, the Gold Rush and the Donners to get a better appreciation of what you’re seeing. There’s a lot in the museums in Sacramento to help you with. 

There’s lots of railroad history there and as you make the decent to Reno (Biggest Little City in the World) remember that Reno is also the home of what’s left of maybe the greatest car collection in history. Bill Harrah’s! It’s now the National Automobile Museum and has kept the most spectacular cars from the old collection. In particular, as fellow Road Trippers, you have to go just to genuflect before the Greatest Road Trip Car Ever. The 1907 Thomas Flyer that won the first (and actually only) New York to Paris Race. The massive trophy is there as well. The whole story is at:

  From Reno, we’re planning on staying on I-80 to Elko, where the classic Thunderbird Motel awaits, as well as a much anticipated return to the Star Hotel Basque Restaurant. A place we discovered the last time through. From there, it’s up to Ashton, ID. Now, this took some thought. The hotels in West Yellowstone are REALLY pricey. Doing some poking around, I found that Ashton (the nearest town of any size) is ideally located. There I’ve found a classic, The Log Cabin Motel. This place looks to be a real gem, clearly dating from the heyday of funky regional motels. Since we’re doing this in the peak tourist season, we actually made reservations here. The rest we’ll leave to St. Serendipity.
From there, it’s a short jaunt to Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and all the other delights of America’s first National Park. Thank you Teddy Roosevelt! Out the east end to Cody, WY is not a long drive (under 200 miles) so we’ll have the whole day to poke around Yellowstone. 

I have to say, I’m in (for me) virgin territory here. Cody looks to have some neat Wild West attractions, so we’ll look into some of those and report back next month. From there, we’ll head to Butte (where I hear the faucets run with beer on St. Patrick’s Day!), Coeur d’Alene, then Olympia, again, allowing the interstate to guide us along. 
So this will be an adventure in a number of ways. New places to explore and a third passenger who also loves to travel. It should be fun! 

From where ever you are in Sacramento: 
Take I-80 E toward Reno 58.3 mi
Take the exit toward Dutch Flat 0.2 mi
Turn left onto Ridge Rd 0.4 mi
Take the 3rd left onto Sacramento St 1.0 mi
 Turn right onto Bear River Rd/Main St
Continue to follow Main St 1.6 mi
Turn left onto Ridge Rd 0.2 mi
Continue onto Alta Bonnynook Rd 0.3 mi
Turn left to merge onto I-80 E toward Reno 18.5 mi
 Take the exit toward Cisco Grove 0.2 mi
 Turn left onto Cisco Rd 0.2 mi
Turn right onto Hampshire Rocks Rd 2.8 mi
Slight left onto Lincoln Hwy 16.7 mi
Turn left to merge onto I-80 E toward Reno 1.7 mi
 Take the exit toward Central Truckee 0.3 mi
 Turn right onto Donner Pass Rd 177 ft
At the traffic circle, continue straight to stay on Donner Pass Rd 0.9 mi
Turn right onto Glenshire Dr 7.7 mi
 Continue onto Hirschdale Rd 0.3 mi
Turn left to merge onto I-80 E
Entering Nevada 13.7 mi
Take exit 2 toward Verdi 0.2 mi
Continue straight 0.4 mi
 Continue straight onto I-80BUS E/3rd St
Continue to follow I-80BUS E 3.3 mi
 At the traffic circle, continue straight to stay on I-80BUS E 0.1 mi
 Take the ramp onto I-80 E 1.9 mi
Take exit 8 for 4th St W 0.2 mi
 Merge onto NV-647 E/W 4th St 6.0 mi
 Turn right onto Lake St
Destination will be on the left 0.4 mi
141 mi – about 3 hours 0 mins
National Automobile Museum
10 Lake St
Reno, NV 89501

 Head south on Lake St toward Mill St 164 ft
Take the 1st left onto Mill St 0.4 mi
Turn left onto S Wells Ave 0.7 mi
 Turn right to merge onto I-80 E 284 mi
 Take exit 298 toward Elko W 0.3 mi
 Turn right onto NV-535 E
Destination will be on the left 3.5 mi
289 mi – about 4 hours 2 mins

Thunderbird Motel
345 Idaho St
Elko, NV 89801

Head northeast on Idaho St toward 4th St 1.7 mi
Turn left onto E Jennings Way 0.1 mi
Turn right to merge onto I-80 E 47.9 mi
Take exit 352 for U.S 93 toward E Wells 0.2 mi
Turn left onto US-93 N
Entering Idaho 106 mi
Slight right onto ID-74 N 5.1 mi
 Continue onto E 3600 N 1.0 mi
 Turn left onto N 3000 E/Blue Lakes Blvd S 2.0 mi
 Turn right onto U.S. 30 E/Kimberly Rd 4.9 mi
 Continue onto ID-50 N/E 3800 N
Continue to follow ID-50 N 4.6 mi
 Slight right to merge onto I-84 E toward Burley/Pocatello 39.6 mi
Continue onto I-86 E 62.4 mi
 Take exit 63B on the left to merge onto I-15 N toward Blackfoot/Idaho Falls 47.0 mi
Take exit 119 for US-20 E toward Rigby/W Yellowstone 0.2 mi
 Turn right onto US-20 E 52.0 mi
Turn right onto Main St
Destination will be on the left 0.8 mi
375 mi – about 5 hours 37 mins

Log Cabin Motel
1001 Main St
Ashton, ID 83420
Head west on Main St toward 10th St 0.7 mi
Turn right onto US-20 E
Entering Montana 55.0 mi
 Turn right onto N Canyon St 0.2 mi
 Turn left onto US-191 S/US-20 E/U.S. 287 S/Yellowstone Ave
Continue to follow US-191 S/US-20 E/U.S. 287 S
Partial toll road
This road may be seasonally closed
Entering Wyoming 14.0 mi
Turn left onto U.S. 89 N/Grand Loop Rd
This road may be seasonally closed 13.3 mi
Turn right onto Norris Canyon Rd
This road may be seasonally closed 11.6 mi
Turn right onto Grand Loop Rd
This road may be seasonally closed 15.4 mi
Turn left onto US-14 E/US-16 E/US-20 E/E Entrance Rd
Continue to follow US-14 E/US-16 E/US-20 E
This road may be seasonally closed 77.1 mi
Continue straight onto Sheridan Ave 0.7 mi
 Turn left onto 16th St 98 ft
188 mi – about 3 hours 56 mins

Cody, WY

Head north on 16th St toward Rumsey Ave 0.4 mi
Turn left onto WY-120 W/Depot Dr
Continue to follow WY-120 W
Entering Montana 37.3 mi
Continue onto MT-72 N 21.0 mi
Turn left onto US-310 W 18.1 mi
Turn right onto US-212 E/US-310 W
Continue to follow US-310 W 11.6 mi
 Turn right to merge onto I-90 W toward Butte 209 mi
 Take exit 126 for Montana Street 0.2 mi
Turn right onto S Montana St 0.8 mi
 Turn right onto W Iron St 0.2 mi
299 mi – about 4 hours 29 mins

Butte, Mt

 Head west on Iron St toward S Colorado St 0.2 mi
Turn left onto S Montana St 30 ft
Take the 1st right onto I-90 BUS W/W Iron St
Continue to follow I-90 BUS W 0.8 mi
 Merge onto I-15 S/I-90 W via the ramp to I-115
Continue to follow I-90 W Entering Idaho 279 mi
 Take exit 15 for Sherman Ave toward City Center 0.2 mi
 Turn left onto E Sherman Ave 1.4 mi
Turn right onto N 4th St 0.3 mi
Turn right onto E Garden Ave 141 ft

282 mi – about 4 hours 13 mins

Coeur d'Alene, ID

 Head west on E Garden Ave toward N 4th St 141 ft
Take the 1st right onto N 4th St 1.4 mi
Turn left to merge onto I-90 W toward Post Falls/Spokane
Entering Washington 90.6 mi
Keep left to stay on I-90 W 195 mi
Take exit 25 for WA-18 W toward Auburn/Tacoma 0.3 mi
Turn left onto WA-18 W 27.1 mi
 Take the Interstate 5 S exit 1.3 mi
Merge onto I-5 S

From here, you can head south to SoCal however you choose. Cut over to the coast and 101 or straight down I-5. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

This month, I want to talk about another unusual Road Trip. Not that my Road Trip Heroes Louis Matter and Cannon Ball Baker and Brock Yates and Horatio Nelson Jackson and the intrepid teams of Guy Butcher and Eunice Kratky or Tod Styles and Buzz Murdoch are any lesser beings in the Pantheon of Road Trippers, but this guy has out done them all.
This guy has just completed 800 miles. OK, hardly a record breaker. But he didn’t use a car. Or a motorcycle. Or even a skate board. No, he walked. He took on the challenge to Walk the Missions. Yeah, like Fr. Serra more than 200 years ago. He walked. And walked. And walked.
This is going to be a bit awkward, perhaps, but this guy is also my second best friend (sorry, but my wife Marianne still out ranks him) and his name is Bill Morgan. And yes, he’s become a Hero, First Class. He has endured. Far more than you or I or anyone else I know has endured, except my Dad, who did a little hiking in his day under fairly adverse conditions. He of course “only” walked from about Paris to Pilsen, mostly in the winter and bad guys kept shooting at him. It was World War Two. And he had the benefit of being 20 years old. Bill is my age (OK, I can hear him now, he’s 6 months younger), overweight, out of shape, and only stopped smoking a few months ago. His “training” for this were several 2-5 mile walks without the 35 pound back pack he’d later heft. Most of us figured he’d be gasping for mercy somewhere between the mission in Sonoma and the 101. He proved us all wrong. Thankfully wrong.
He began in Sonoma on May 9 and as I’m writing this, is due in San Diego about June 26. He’s met the most amazing people along the way, had adventures none of us can even fathom. Almost all were positive, the only really negative encounter was with the cops on Ft. Hunter-Ligget who unceremoniously tossed him out, denying him the opportunity to visit Mission San Antonio.
He’s had blisters on blisters on his feet, and a few unlucky mishaps tweaked his back and hip all out of wack. To be honest, he needed help a few times and every time, an “Angel” turned up and gave him water, encouragement, and sometimes, when desperate, a lift. He’s camped, stayed in wonderful motels and crappy ones. He’s made more friends in the past two months than most people make in a life time. He didn’t do this with a support team and a van, or a camera crew, or any other aid, other than St. Serendipity and the Kindness of Strangers.
His chronicle is on Facebook under “Bill’s Camino Real” and is mandatory reading. Even if you are one of those who despises the entire concept of Facebook, it’s worth the effort to set up a fake email account, then a fake Facebook page and read what he’s done.
What Bill has done goes far beyond the mere pilgrimage (and by the way, Bill is not a religious man, but he is a Spiritual Man. There is a difference). It goes beyond what he personally endured. It is an affirmation of John Locke’s view that Mankind is essentially good. That people are at heart, decent. That when left to make their own decisions, Human Beings will almost always Do the Right Thing. His blog on Facebook is filled with such stories.
From the kid who looked like a gang banger or skate boarding looser who guided him to the right path and a bench in the shade to rest, then disappeared, to the car load of girls who circled around to buy him some water and fruit, to the woman in her 70s who stopped, thinking “That old man shouldn’t be out walking in this heat” and gave him a lift to her campsite as his hip was about to give up on him, to the hotel staffs who gave him “Mission Walker Discounts” that they invented on the spot, to the people who bought him drinks in bars, or otherwise gave him encouragement, and the truckers who waved and moved over, these people proved that Locke, not Hobbes was right.
Bill has earned his place in our Hall of Fame. Bill has endured. I’m PROUD to call him MY FRIEND.

Following are some photos that he's posted, in no particular order. And BTW, he doesn't know I've done this. Yet.