Thursday, November 28, 2019


Getting to drive great backroads and then getting to write about them has been a real privilege for me. I’ve met great people, seen beautiful scenery, eaten terrific food, and generally enjoyed myself. I’ve also been fortunate to have a wife who loves it as much as I do. And, I even get to make some money along the way! I feel I need to be thankful for the glories of the road, so here’s a few things that make it all worth it. 

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 cars. 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 in 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. 

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. 

But most of all, my wife Marianne and my daughters, Brianna, Meaghan, and Caitlin. They’ve shared a lot of these adventures, and are always eager to Hit the Road. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Car Shows?

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

Car Shows. Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? If you’re a Car Guy, ya can’t ignore ‘em. Their ubiquity is distinctly American. Sure, Concours d’Elegance sounds so TERRIBLY Continental and, well, Elegant, but it’s STILL a Car Show. And yeah, they have ‘em all over the world, but here in the USA, especially in SoCal, You can hit a car show every weekend, often two. 

Every thing from the more recent fad of  “Cars And Coffee” at a local place with a big parking lot. to well planned events with trophies, raffles, vendors and blocked off streets. Some attract hundreds of cars whose owners have gotten up at O’Dark-Thirty to head for some city’s Old Town (these have been top venues for as long as there have been Old Towns), wait in the pre-dawn darkness, pay $40, park on the street, find breakfast at a local place smart enough to open up, then wander about looking at rows of Plastic-Deuce-Roadsters-With-Small-Blocks, then sit and wait for the awards to be given, hoping against hope that they will bring home a piece of coveted tin (well, mostly plastic and genuine ersatz faux marble) to bring home and gather dust on a shelf.  When something weird, like the Blue Meanie or Yellow Submarine shows up, the Hot Rodders get a bit edgy. 

OK, I’m descending into snarkiness (and perhaps some sour grapes--I’ve long given up thinking my cars will win awards, unless there’s a trophy for “Weirdest”) and I shouldn’t. Most shows have a $40 buck buy in not only to cover costs, but they DO write pretty big checks to charities. That’s a Good Thing. They are also a time to meet old acquaintances and make new ones. Heck, even WIVES get involved. GASP!. 

For whatever reason, this past month seems to have been Car Show Month for us. Yep, we hit one every weekend in September! So, here’s a run down. And yes, we had fun, showing off the Yellow Submarine and giving the oft repeated lesson on how the suspension works. 

First up was the most local, our own hometown of Monrovia. This is one of the longest running shows (almost 30 years) and dates from when Monrovia decided that the moldering center of town should be remade. This show and the Friday Night Street Fair went a long way to bringing locals back to the center of town, a place where going there after dark was not a good idea, unless you wanted to score. This year, there were some 300 cars AND a Soap Box Derby. Huge crowds of families wandered around all day, pushing strollers and being tugged by dogs on leashes. 

The Yellow Submarine drew hoards, and was possibly the most photographed car, and being our usual affable selves, we probably fielded more questions and had more discussions than most. I mean, what’s to say about a black ’32 Ford with a small block? (oops there I go again...) Five or six people commented on the fact that someone in their past (often a weird uncle or crazy friend) had one, and how they remember how comfortable it was. Lots of “ManSplainin’” as well, as guys would make motions to their ladies, making up and down gestures with their hands. “This has that air suspension, doesn’t it?” Then the lecture on Citroen  HydroPneumatics would ensue. 

The next weekend was a show on Mission Street in South Pasadena. For this one, I scored big. Managed to talk the guys in charge of parking to let me park in front of our now Favorite Pub, Griffin’s of Kinsale. I’d be able to quaff a pint or three of Guinness. I (Marianne bowed out of this one) set up the car, it’s “accessories” and the table chairs and umbrella (all bright yellow, of course), set out the picnic ware, including a bottle of French (of course) wine, baguette, cheese, and pate. Hey, if your gonna show a Froggy Car at a Hot Rod Show, ya GOTTA rub their noses in it. Again, a nice collection of maybe 150 cars. What kinda pissed me off was the awards. 

Unlike Monrovia, where the awards are blatantly boring (best Deuce, Best Tri Five, Best Muscle Car and, eventually, best “Foreign Car--often won by an Anglia that had been made into a dragster), this show had much different categories. Mayor’s Award, Most Likely To Get Pulled Over (given by the PD), Hottest Paint (you guessed it, the Fire Dept.), Best Pick Up Car (no, not truck, this was given by the local Rose Parade Float Princesses), and Most Unusual. Now, I’m thinkin’, “Hey, I might get something here!” And if not me, the all original, vinyl sided Pacer Station Wagon, of the Mini Cooper Pick Up, or the Morris Minor. but no, a 1948 Chevy Pick Up? REALLY? How the bloody hell is THAT unusual, in anyway, shape of form? Sheesh. sigh. 

The next weekend was the Citroen Rendezvous in Cambria. This was a lot of fun. Fifty, count ‘em FIFTY RUNNING CITROENS all in one place at the same time! Over 100 people to celebrate the centenary of Citroen Cars. Some REAL gems showed up, all but a couple drove from both NoCal and SoCal, decent banquet food, hysterical entertainment, what can I say? A weekend of chatting about insanely odd Froggy Cars, getting technical help, buying odd nards and skizzies at the swap meet, and a comfy room to boot. Add in the usual beautiful drive up and down the coast and a few wineries? What’s not to love. The best part was the return of 1 Fine D. The DS Safari wagon that was the pride and joy of Wally Escherick. A very melancholy moment, but joyous in the knowledge that the car has gone to a good home. 

This years Do was planned by the NoCal bunch, next year is our turn, and I have Plans. 

The Return of 1 Fine D! 

The last show was this past Saturday, again nicely local, Duarte. For whatever reason, they hold a “Route 66 Festival,” complete with a Parade down Huntington Drive and a car show in a local park. Sadly, it threatened to rain, so the more prissy hot rodders, fearing their cars would melt stayed away. They’re as bad as the Ferrari and Lamborghini owners. Still, it was a lot of fun. People had all the usual questions which we happily answered. A club of Low Riders were FASCINATED. Took them through the whole thing. No, it can’t do a Tall Boy, but sure as hell rides better. One guy seemed serious about how he could adapt the Citroen system to his ’63 Chevy Wagon. Shame the late drizzle kept the crowds down, but hey, this IS SoCal, and we all fear that wet stuff from the skies. 

Anyway, Car Shows can be a lot of fun, if you let them. You can kick back, relax, nibble on a picnic lunch or sample local fare, chat with people about your ride, meet new friends, and get frustrated if you don’t win “Most Unusual.” 

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Trip Home

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

So, our time in Oly was over, time to say farewell to Mom, the rain, and the gray skies. Only one was tough to do. We headed out at an almost reasonable hour (6AM) to meet with Pam and Joel at a typical diner, a place called “Spiffy’s.” I kid you not. Nice place, good pancakes, nice waitresses (they are all of an age where they would feel insulted to be called “servers”), and of course good friends. Joel was nice enough to have a B-Day present for me! A die cast Citroen DS Ragtop! Sweet! 

After eating and getting gas (I’m betting you’re either tired of the joke or finally got it) we headed south on the I-5 to Oregon. It was still early on a Sunday, so we didn’t have to avoid the usual crush around Portland, then off to Eugene, where we turned off onto OR 126, and headed to Coos Bay. 

This is a nice road. Bit twisty, lots of trees (big surprise there) and not too many RVs going our way. Most were headed home after the 4th of July weekend. A very pleasant drive. In Coos Bay, we checked into what must be one of the biggest Motel 6s there is. Now, Constant Reader might remember, we’d sworn off Motel 6 after the disaster in San Jose (roaches on the walls and skid mark on the sheet), but this place had good reviews and a good price. After all, Coos Bay is a MAJOR tourist stop on the Oregon Coast and this WAS July. I have to say, the place was one of the best we’ve stayed in. VERY friendly staff (although the call from the desk JUST was we were dropping off for a nap was just unnecessary. I know, they were trying to be nice, but...)

Lunch had been at the side of the road on snack stuff, so we were ready for dinner. There are a lot of options in Coos Bay (it is a tourist town, after all) but one stuck out. The Blue Heron, featuring German food, of all things! Cool. Not that I’m a huge fan of German food, AND I was worried about showing up at a German restaurant in a FRENCH car, but this place sounded good, and most importantly, DIFFERENT! We’d had enough burgers, and Italian food is everywhere, so, hey, different! Adventurous. That’s what Road Trippin’ is all about. 

And we hit it big. Now, the decor is Christmas 365, which is a bit odd, especially overlaid onto a traditional Oompa Band looking place. Deer heads, painted beams, German travel posters, and dirndl dressed waitresses. The place is neat. Also, crowded! There is a good reason for this. The food was GREAT! I had the Vispannetje, which is a Dutch seafood casserole. Fish, shrimp, clams, covered in mashed potatoes and dill Havarti cheese. (nobody said this was Lite Cuisine!). YUM!  Marianne opted for the seafood pasta. Also good. They have all the usual suspects, Sauerbraten, Wiener Schnitzel, and so on, so if German food is your thing, give this place a try. And here’s the kicker. IF YOU PAY IN CASH YOU GET A FREE DESSERT! So, two strudels for breakfast! 

The next day would be, perhaps a challenge. We were off to Garberville for the night. that meant the wonderful drive along first, the Oregon Coast, then, into the redwoods. Naturally, we stopped at the Trees of Mystery along the way. A bus of tourists had just pulled up and we were SWARMED by selfie stick wielding gawkers. Few of whom spoke English. What fun. Someday, I’m gonna figure out how to charge for pictures of my weird cars. I got the obligatory “Trees of Mystery Bumper Sticker) but they didn’t have any wire to attach it with. Seems they don’t bother anymore, no one has a proper bumper anymore. sigh. 

For lunch, good old St. Serendipity led the way to Ferndale. This is a lovely Victorian town, full of shops and eateries. Just as we got there, the horn for the volunteer fire department sounded off, making Marianne homesick for Sierra Madre. We ate in the Ferndale Meat Market. Great sandwiches and they make their own fabulous jerky. It’s a proper butcher shop. In our wandering about town, we found a blacksmith’s shop, complete with a forge! Shades of “Forged in Fire.” Wonderful stuff from a variety of metal workers. Not just knives, but tables, lamps, and wine racks. Our new kitchen needed a fancy wine rack, so...

From there, we wound our way through the redwoods, cruised the awe inspiring Avenue of the Giants, then to Garberville and the Sherwood Forest Inn. We’d spent enough money on this trip to rule out the Benbow Inn, but we’d stayed at the Sherwood several years ago. It’s a nice, family run, old school motel. For dinner, St. Serendipity guided us down the road a bit to a wide spot in the road called Redway, and the Lost Frenchman Cafe. How could we NOT? The food was good, although the menu had gotten lost and somehow wound up in Italy. I had the cheese and charcuterie plate, one of the few nods to “French.” It was good, but I would have liked a wider range of cheeses. They were tasty, but all were rather mild. Needed some Humboldt Fog blue. As a bonus, we were treated to a show put on by the Redwoods Tweaker Repertory Company. Sadly, this area is awash in homeless druggies who need help. Lots of help. 

Breakfast was at the Eel River Cafe. I’ve mentioned it before, but, it’s changed hands. And not for the better. We were the first there for breakfast, and you know when you make pancakes? The first one is always lousy? That’s the one I got. Marianne’s waffle was stone cold and a bit tough. How the hell do you screw up pancakes? Even Denny’s doesn’t screw up pancakes. It’s a shame. this is a classic diner, but...

Anyway, from there is was off first to Clearlake to pick up the bits and bobs for the Vintage Air air conditioning for the Citroen. Yes, ladies and Germs, AC for the DS! I’ll probably get it all installed in time for winter. But still, a major score. From Clearlake, we cruised back to King City. 380 miles and about eight hours on the road for the day. Lots of hills to Clearlake, but mostly flat land cruising from there. 

Finally, we could head home. We actually headed out early, in fact, we made it to Monrovia by lunchtime and avoided the usual 210 madness. 

All in all, it was a great trip. Good people, great sights, mostly great food, new places to return to. Just what a Road Trip is all about. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

A Funny Thing Happened While We Were in Olympia!

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

All was well at my Mom’s house. We had a nice rest, but the damn sun gets up there about 5AM, and our room doesn’t have great curtains. Sigh. On Sunday was the OTHER reason we trekked the Yellow Submarine up to Oly instead of the new Accord (this and the fact that the Honda is a lease and our mileage is limited!): A Car Show. And not just any old car show, a Car Show at the LeMay Museum in Tacoma for the Finish of the Great Race. You’ll remember we met them in Grants Pass (BTW, why did they drop the apostrophe? Too Intellectual for Oregonians?) and enjoyed seeing them stagger in whilst we were drinking several pints of Guinness. Long Time Friend Rene Crist (wife of a fellow Embree Bus Driver, Pat) alerted me to the show. Since she manages the collection at the LeMay, I took our attendance as a Royal Command. 

So, on Saturday, I scrubbed the bugs and crud off the Auld Beastie and Sunday we set off for Tacoma. Early. So early that we arrived before anyone else. Now, in SoCal, the usual line up for a big show is the Butt Crack of Dawn. Not so much in WA. So, we sat around, Marianne sipped on the Got Bucks Mocha she liberated from Mom’s pantry and waited. And Waited. And Waited. Finally, some folk showed up and kinda sorta organized things. 

They wanted to fill up the street next the the Museum first, but as cars lined up, I could see ‘em being sent down the hill away from the museum. “AHA!” I says to myself, “Self, wait until it’s likely you’ll be sent UP the hill and near the action.” So we waited. And waited. Interesting parade of stuff. Everything from a passel of new Dodge Challengers who all harumpf harumpfed past to the usual collection of Deuce Roadsters with SB Chevy engines to a some nicely restored old stuff to a few low riders to a poor Austin A30 that was trying to become a Stanley Steamer. Finally, right behind a gorgeous Triumph Italia (maybe the 3rd I’ve ever seen!) we squeezed into line and yep, climbed the hill to a spot right across from the Museum and all the action. SCORE! 

Once parked, we began to festoon the Yellow Submarine with our usual Car Show Stuff. Up Periscope! Attache Beatles Sunscreens. Info Sheet out and on windshield. Ready the 1969 copy of “Paris Match” magazine and my well thumbed and notated copy of “L’Etranger.” Then, Le Piece de Resistance. 

Just before we left on our trip, we were in the throes of a Complete Kitchen Remodel. Because they found Evil Mold, the project was delayed and not done until five days before we were to leave. WHEW, close call! One thing we did was take out the old kitchen table (a lovely oak piece that was Marianne’s Grandmothers) and move it to another room. So, that left us with LOTS of space. And nowhere for anyone to sit in the kitchen. Now since we decided on a vaguely French Bistro look, complete with a pair of nice Art Deco booze adverts, I thought a nice bistro table and chairs would be a great addition. In bright yellow. Marianne looked at it and said the fateful words. “Hey, those would be fun at car shows..” So, since we were driving the Wagon...

Yeah, we set up the table and pair of chairs, took out the nice picnic basket and set up the plates, napkins, silverware, wine, baguette, cheese, and pate. Très Français, Très  Chic, Très Amusant. The Crowd Went Wild. And we had reasonably comfy chairs to sit in for the day. 

After wandering about gawking at the cars, we touched base with Pat Crist, who, as the hubby of Rene, got us an extra ticket inside and out of the (GASP) BRIGHT SUN! St. Serendipity was watching our for us as usual. This would be the ONLY sunny day we’d have up there. Typical. 

Now, a few years ago I wrote about how great a museum this is. A really eclectic mix of almost mundane to truly exotic to wonderfully quirky. All displayed in what amounts to a giant multi-story parking garage. Which is a brilliant idea both for displaying and moving the cars and people about. 

So, we poked about a bit, spotted a perfect Citroen DS Pallas, a collection of EVERY Honda Motorcycle ever made, and then, a tattered, scruffy green Mustang fastback. So? you ask? Well, ladies and germs, it is THE Green Mustang Fastback. The Most Famous Mustang in the World. Yep, Steve McQueen’s ride in the greatest movie chase ever filmed. “BULLIT!” DAMN! Now, I hate the overuse of “iconic” but, yeah, this car IS TRULY ICONIC! 

Anyway, we wandered back out to the Yellow Submarine to await the arrival the the Great Race Cars, and WTF? There was something on the windshield. A big, red and black rosette and ribbon, saying “Best In Class!” Ah, common, we NEVER win stuff at car shows. We don’t fit the mold. Yet there, big as life was “Best in Class.” Pretty cool. And now, you’re asking “Which class would that be?” Well, “Most Unique” of course. No one can argue that a bright yellow Citroen wagon with funny tail lights isn’t “unique.”  After all, we’d spent the day doing the usual routine. “What IS that?” “Doesn’t that have the weird suspension?” “Are those tail lights stock?” “Is that the Ghost Buster’s Car?” “Is that an Opel?” (I’m not kidding, I’ve been asked that 3 or 4 times), and on and on. Always fun, always Très Amusant.

From there, the stay was a bit anti-climactic. Enjoyable, but we mostly hung around, had a nice dinner for my birthday, another on the Fourth, then a trip to see my sister and her husband’s new property. I gotta brag a bit. Little Sister and her hubby, right out of college started selling rhododendrons out of the back of their pick up truck and are now the largest commercial nursery in Washington. Pretty cool. Well, they’d just acquired  another huge hunk of land, this time south of Centralia, right on the Cowlitz River. If you are into salmon fishing, you’ll know this river. So, we all (daughter Brianna and hubby Paul had also driven up for my B-Day and a visit with G-Ma) loaded into Sue’s Odyssey. Lunch at the Olympic Club and a quick walk around Centralia, then to Toledo (no, it’s not too holey). But first, a stop at something called the “Mima Mounds.” 

These are a weird geological formation that has scientists scratching their heads over. It’s an oddity, that’s for sure. Huge open fields of close packed humps in the ground. Yeah, that’s it, but kinda cool. Made even cooler by the various explanations. Everything from something to do with glaciers to earthquakes to giant moles to aliens. Kinda fun. 

Anyway, those were the highlights of our stay. Next time, The Long Road Home.