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A Weekend in Mayberry

by Bob Sparrow

The Andy Griffith Show was one of my all-time favorite TV programs and last week I got a chance to spend some time on the set of that show. At least it seemed that way. All you need to do to confirm that ‘Mable-Hesper Steam Engine Days’ is something out of Mayberry RFD is to check out the agenda items for this year’s event:

  • Parade of Tractors and Steam Engines followed by a dance at the Legion Hall featuring the Buck Hollow Band and The Toe Tappers. Tractor pull tomorrow
  • Model Railroad Show followed by the Little Miss Mabel pageant
  • Bean Bag and Kickball Tournament followed by Bingo at the Dairy Barn
  • Pumpkin Contest Weigh In followed by the Quilt Show at the Fair Grounds

A Classy Class

Class of ’68 Steam Engine Days float

While this alone would have been enough to get us back to Minnesota, the real impetus was Linda’s 50th high school class reunion. There were a total of 48 members in the Mable-Canton Cougar class of ’68. The town of Mable had 780 people, Canton 342 in the 2010 census. In fact the towns are still so small that the reunion took place in a winery just across the border in Iowa; yes, a winery in Iowa – rows of grapes surrounded by rows of corn.

If the expectation for the reunion was that I was going to be surround my a bunch of country bumpkins that I didn’t know or cared to know, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  This group, mostly women (there were only 3 men from the class in attendance) were not just friendly and ‘Minnesota nice’, they were a group of sophisticated, educated and accomplished women.  After supper (dinner is served at noon don’t cha know) there was an open discussion amongst the group as to whether they felt disadvantaged attending a small, rural school in southern Minnesota.  The response was an overwhelming ‘No!’  In fact they made it abundantly clear that they felt privileged to attend a school where they could not only participate in clubs, student government, band, athletics and virtually everything that went on at the school, but were encouraged to do so because the school was small.  A stark contrast to today’s students who, in order to succeed, typically do one thing all year long.

Buck Hollow (left) and his (geriatric) Band

After the reunion many of the classmates, including us, headed for the dance at the American Legion Hall in Mable, after all it was Steam Engine Days and everybody was in town and in a party mood. The Legion Hall is a large facility with two big rooms connected by a bar. One side had the Buck Hollow Band and a huge dance floor, filled with old and young alike, while the other side was a ‘sports bar’ with TVs, pool tables and folks just having a beer and shooting the breeze.  I wish I had a picture to show you how great this felt just being in this environment.

Take Me Home Country Roads . . . Please!

I drove Starlet’s, my sister-in-law, car to and from the reunion and Steam Engine Days, and I have to tell you, it was quite an experience. During the day the narrow roads lead you through a vast rolling pastoral landscape of corn fields dotted by pristine farm houses and silos – it is truly amazing. At night, a different story. There are no street lights, in fact there are not any lights, so driving these dare, narrow two-lane roads becomes a significant challenge. When was the last time you were constantly clicking your high beams on and off? While on one of these winding roads going from the reunion to the dance, I was suddenly confronted with a deer crossing the road. I slammed on the brakes and swerved as much as the narrow road would allow me and the deer turned slightly so I just grazed him as one of his antlers put a small scratch on the car door – Sorry Starlet! That doesn’t happen much in Orange County.

A special tender moment

One afternoon we sang at a Memory Care Center for Alzheimers and dementia in Rochester, MN.  There were about 20 senior residents sitting and listening, many singing along with us. When we were finished, an older gentleman wearing an Army Veteran ball cap, motioned to Linda to come over. She walked over to him and he looked her in the eye for a long time and finally said, “Is that you?” Linda, not wanting to ruin the man’s illusion, replied, “Yes”. He said, “How have you been?” Linda responded, “I’m good, how about you?” “Good now,” he said, with tears in his eyes. We assumed that he must of thought Linda was either his wife or daughter. Linda asked him if she could give him a hug. He happily agreed. We left with gladden in our hearts, smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes.

 

 

UN-DRESS FOR SUCCESS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Me, my cousins and best friend in our ’60’s garb

In 1964, the night before my first day of high school, I spent hours agonizing over what I was going to wear on that inaugural day.  Back then we strived to look like the impossibly perfect girls we saw in Seventeen Magazine.  So when I realized I didn’t have a purse to match my shoes I went into panic mode.  Yes, it was that important.   Luckily, my cousin who lived around the corner came to the rescue and I was saved from the humiliation of mis-matched shoes and purse.  We lived with pretty strict rules back then.  Girls could not wear pants to school, not even culottes (I know because I was almost sent home one day for wearing them), and jeans were totally out of the question. Skirts could be no more than one inch above our knees.  Sleeveless dresses were about as risqué as it got.  Looking back, we were so covered up most of the year that we came darn close to resembling Mennonites.

 

The epitome of ’60’s cool

Towards the end of my high school career the “mod” era of fashion changed a lot of what was acceptable – or not – at our school.  Skirts inched up and up until it became dangerous to bend over.  Jeans, as long as they were clean, were allowed for boys.  Fabrics were brighter, white boots were the epitome of high style and hair grew longer on both sexes, although boys were still not allowed any sort of facial hair.  Still, with all the changes, there remained a norm of looking nice to go to school.  Over the years, of course, dress codes at schools have become looser and looser, almost to the point of seemingly having none at all.  Baggy pants with underwear showing, micro shorts, bare bellies – they’ve all become  de rigueur at our local high school.  Dress codes have been in the news a lot since school started up again this year.  Some principals are cracking down on sloppy and “barely there” attire, while others are going in the other direction – let the kids wear whatever they like.

          Would you hire these butts?

It was with this in mind that I read with interest in USA Today that one high school district in the Bay Area is doing away with dress codes and have replaced them with general guidelines.   Here’s what is listed as what students MUST WEAR:  bottoms, tops, shoes, clothing that covers genitals, buttocks and nipples.  Seems like that’s a mighty low bar.  The policy goes on to say that they CAN wear midriff-baring shirts, pajamas and tube tops.  The only items forbidden are those that contain hate speech, profanity, pornography, etc.  The intent of the policy is to prevent shaming, specifically for girls.  In fact, the school district has said they reject the notion that bodies are distracting and therefore must be monitored and covered up.  Really?  They work all day around teenagers with raging hormones and they don’t think bodies are distracting?

I’m not suggesting we go back to the early ’60’s but I’m sure there is a middle ground to be reached.  Clothes can take on way more importance than they warrant at that age so relaxing standards a bit seems logical.  But I will say this:  as a former HR executive I can attest that appearances do matter.  Teaching our kids that they can wear whatever they want, whenever they want, does them a disservice.  Even at the high tech companies there are standards – no pajamas, for example.  The real world requires some amount of “dressing for the occasion” and, further, there are studies that show there is merit to the “dress for success” mantra.  Unless a kid’s ultimate career involves working in their parents’ basement, in which case all they’ll need is their pajamas and fuzzy slippers.

I Love L.A.?

by Bob Sparrow

Nah, not really, in fact as a northern California native I was conditioned from an early age to hate L.A. It’s as if those from northern California get a ‘Hate L.A.’ gene at birth. We quickly are made aware that L.A. freeways are parking lots, that there are too many people there and the air is brown and you can actually sink your teeth into it. When I moved to southern California over 45 years ago, I heard my northern California friends say things like, “Can you believe he went to the dark side?” and “Don’t worry, he’ll be back!” I tried to tell them I was moving to Orange County, not L.A., but to someone in northern California all of southern California is L.A., except San Diego, which seems to get a pass. I found myself fairly welcome in Orange County as they also hate L.A. and are constantly trying to tell people who don’t know, that they are from ‘The O.C.’ not L.A., so I felt somewhat ‘back home’ in that regard.

Owens Valley Aqueduct

After a few years of living in southern California I guess I became ambivalent towards L.A., I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t spend too much time there, since getting to and from the ‘City of Angels’ is usually a nightmare. But I’ve visited and enjoyed a good number of L.A. area sites, some recorded here in the blog, like Venice Beach, Watts, Rodeo Drive, Chinatown, Old Italy, Griffith Park and Malibu to name a few. But I just finished reading a book about how L.A. came to be, it’s entitled, The Mirage Factory, by Gary Krist and I was fascinated by the story of how L.A. was invented; yes, that’s the word he uses for the origin of Los Angeles.

From around 1900 to 1930, Los Angeles went from a dusty hinterland town surrounded by deserts and mountains to a burgeoning city of 1.2 million on the shoulders of three ambitious and restless outsiders – civil engineer William Mulholland, filmmaker D.W. Griffith and evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

William Mulholland

You’re only recollection of Mulholland may be of Mulholland Drive, a famous road carved through the Santa Monica mountains, where early teenage Angelino boys took their girlfriends to park and ‘watch the submarine races’. It is now the road on which some of the most expensive homes in the U.S. are built, as it affords a magnificent view of the Los Angeles Basin, the San Fernando Valley and the Hollywood sign. Los Angeles would just not be, were it not for Mulholland, who understood that there was no way L.A. could grow significantly, because it was essentially in a desert with no potable water supply. Mulholland solved that problem by heading up the building of a 233-mile aqueduct that brought water from the Owens Valley, which stretches from Lone Pine to Bishop on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, to Los Angeles. The building of the aqueduct was not without its share of contentiousness between the builders and the Owens valley residents, who saw their water being redirected to the south. Shootings and lynchings were not unusual.

D. W. Griffith

I’m not necessarily a big fan of Hollywood, but I found the story of how L.A. became the movie-making capital of the world fascinating. You may think of Cecil B. DeMille as the premier movie pioneer, but D.W. Griffith was his mentor. Griffith’s story of transplanting the movie industry from New York to Hollywood recalls lots of names you might be familiar with like Fatty Arbuckle, Mack Sennett, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, all silent movie stars.

Aimee Semple McPherson

I was at least vaguely familiar with the previous two men’s name, but I’d never heard of Aimee Semple McPherson, but she was one heck of a evangelist, literally bringing thousands of people to her sermons every week. She was a determined juggernaut who dealt with much controversy in her teachings, sermons, healings and even a kidnapping, or was it fake? Using radio for the first time, she almost singlehandedly brought religion to this bustling and growing metropolis that would soon take its place as a world class city.

So, while I don’t love L.A., I now have a greater respect for how the city was built, or invented; and how it has become one of the most diverse and interesting cities in the world.

Just read the book!

THE TIMES, THEY AREN’T A-CHANGING

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

  Alexander Hamilton

As my brother so sadly attested last week, smoke seems to be everywhere in the West this summer.  We have cut one vacation short and cancelled another altogether due to smoke.  It is a tragedy all around, not only from an environmental perspective but the impact it has on people who lose all of their belongings and the small businesses who count on tourism to subsist.  With that in mind, we have just been grateful to have a roof over our heads and Dash the Wonder Dog to keep us entertained.  The extra time at home has also aided my mission of slogging my way through Ron Chernow’s tome, Alexander Hamilton, the book that inspired the hit Broadway musical.  Weighing in at 832 pages, it has been a daunting task because most of my reading is done in bed at night.  Sometimes I’ll read for an hour or so but many nights I find that after three pages I’m slumped over and snoring.  That said, I’ve finally completed it and in an odd way, have found some solace in its pages during this politically turbulent time.  The following are some highlights from the post-Revolutionary period that seem strikingly familiar:

 

  • During the 1790’s the Federalists and Republicans came to view each other as serious threats to the country’s future, resulting in partisan animosity that was at fever-pitch for much of the decade.
  • Partisan warfare divided families in every state. It also broke up friendships, perhaps most notably and poignantly the friendship between the revolutionary collaborators Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
  • Both parties exhibited hostility against recent immigrants who were believed to be supporting the rival party.
  • The partisan conflict of the 1790s brought sex scandals to widespread public attention. (Both Hamilton and Jefferson were touched by the latter.)
  • Newspapers were established by both parties in order to slant the news to reflect their positions.  Ironically, Hamilton, the premier Federalist, founded the New York Daily Post which is now the longest continuously published newspaper in America and is decidedly conservative.
  • Large and unruly anti-government crowds gathered in the capital city, and in 1793 “threatened to drag President Washington out of his House, and effect a revolution in the government.
  • The election of  Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was remarkable for several reasons but most notably that it ushered in the first peaceful transition of power after one of the most acrimonious decades of political backstabbing and infighting.
  • In 1813, Jefferson, in retirement, looking back on the 1790s, recalled that the “public discussions” in this decade, “whether relating to men, measures, or opinions, were conducted by the parties with animosity, a bitterness, and an indecency, which had never been exceeded. All the resources of reason, and of wrath, were exhausted by each party in support of its own, and to prostrate the adversary opinions.”  Imagine if they had social media back then.  Who knows where our country may have drifted?

          Thomas Jefferson

I avoid most news accounts these days because I find it too stressful.  I’ve gone from being a news junkie to eating junk food instead.  But reading Hamilton has made me less anxious about today’s conflicts.  I realize that as bad as things are right now, we have gone through worse and come out the better for it.  Somewhere out there is our Thomas Jefferson.  Despite his personal shortcomings, he managed to bring the country together, soothing both parties and accomplishing a sound economic and social foothold for our new country.

All we have to do until “our Jefferson” arrives, is not let the smoke get in our eyes…or blown up our keisters.

 

 

The Great Smokey Mountains – West

by Bob Sparrow

JJ, Linda, Judy and Louise

The two-and-and-a-half hour flight from LAX to Calgary, Alberta was uneventful, no crashes, no hijackings, but there was a bit of disappointment once we landed; the usually beautiful Canadian Rockies were covered in smoke from fires west of us in British Columbia. So it seemed that the Great Smokey Mountains had moved from North Carolina/Tennessee to Alberta/British Columbia. The typically picturesque drive from Calgary to Canmore, our home for the next week, was filled with Linda and me saying things like, “See that hazy outline of a mountain over there, usually that’s spectacularly beautiful” while the rest of the party squinted and smiled in faux amusement.

The next morning we leave our comfortable accommodations at Blackstone Mountain Lodge and travel less than a mile to our first golf destination, Silvertip Golf Course. It is a course carved out of the forest and mountains with lots of elevation and incredible views on every picturesque hole . . . usually. You would have thought that the smoke, dark clouds and rain would not only dampen the course, but also our spirits – not so much.   The light rain had stopped and had cleared some of the smoke away.  We enjoyed the course so much that we decided to play another round there on what was going to be a golf-free day later in the week. I have included a photo of the famous triple mountain peak formation, The Three Sisters, I took during the round and juxtaposed it to a photo probably taken by the Canmore Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber of Commerce photo

My photo of The Three Sisters

Golf the next day was at Kananaskis, a 36-hole layout that was completely washed out in a flood in 2013 and only fully restored and reopened at the beginning of this month. Kananaskis is in a valley with great edifices of granite peaks surrounding it – it’s like playing golf in the middle of Yosemite Valley, without the waterfalls – although I managed to find some water.

Chateau Lake Louise

Tourist day today, with breakfast in quaint downtown Banff, then on the see Lake Louise. We were fortunate that we arrived at the lake when we did as we took some pictures, went in to have a drink and by the time we came back out you couldn’t see to the other end of the lake due to clouds and smoke.

The next day’s golf was at Stuart’s Creek, the course was in great shape, but the normally beautiful vistas from each hole were non-existent due to a layer of heavy smoke. There are currently about 15 forest fires blazing in Alberta, but next door in British Columbia where the winds are coming from there are a total of 559 on-going fires – most caused by lightning. The golf was a little hazy too.

What our view was suppose to look like

What our view actually looked like

Our penultimate day in the usually picturesque Rockies was the worst in terms of air quality. You know those outlines of mountains we could see on the way in? They’re gone, nothing but smoke-filled skies. We’re told we shouldn’t even be outside, but we’ve committed to play Silvertip again and since we all live in Southern California, our lungs are used to bad air quality.

Final day of golf at Banff Springs Golf Course and a walk through the hotel – nice, but without the views of the mountains and the Bow River due to the smoke, it’s not quite the same.

The companionship was superb as usual and  the courses were in great shape, but it was a shame that we could not fully enjoy the views of one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

 

Not smoke, dark clouds, rain or bad golf could keep me from making a fool of myself.  Here I am following the sacred tradition of playing with my pants down having not reached the lady’s tee with my drive.

 

 

Beautiful Banff

by Bob Sparrow

I’m writing this before we headed off on Saturday for a week in Banff, Alberta, Canada, so unless you read about a plane being high jacked or crashed in the Canadian Rockies, we’re there now and probably enjoying ourselves. The ‘we’ is again our traveling companions, Jack & JJ Budd and John & Judy VanBoxmeer. John is a Canadian by birth, but now a U.S. citizen; it’s always nice to have someone along who understands the language.  

This will be Linda’s and my third visit to this area, all prepared by a company called Golf Canada’s West. If you’ve ever been to the Banff area, you will understand what I am about to say: this it is possibly the most picturesque place to play golf in the world. The courses we will be playing are either in, or surrounded by, the Canadian Rockies and are nothing short of breathtaking.

Banff Springs Hotel

Banff itself is a cute little town located in Banff National Park along the Trans-Canadian Highway, surrounded by magnificent mountains, populated by elk and grizzly bear. It got its name in 1884 from George Stephen, president, at the time, of the Canadian Pacific Railway, whose birthplace was Banff, Scotland. Early on in our first visit to Banff in 2004, I stumbled across an Irish pub, as I am apt to do in every corner of the earth I travel, St. James Gate; we’ll probably pop in for a pint or two.

Just up the road from the town of Banff you’ll find the strikingly beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. It was built in 1888 as one of Canada’s grand railroad hotels and has since been updated from the original wooden structure to a magnificent building of cement and stone, standing tall in the surrounding forest. Adjacent to which is a beautiful golf course which we will have an opportunity to play during our visit.

Chateau Lake Louise

We will take a day off golf and visit the equally beautiful Fairmont Lake Louise Hotel, which is about a 40 minute drive northwest of Banff. Chateau Lake Louise, as it’s now called, was also built around the turn of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway and is also part of the Fairmont chain. It sits on one end of Lake Louise and at the other end is a massive glacier. Well it used to be massive.  On a quiet night, during our first trip here we stood by the lakeside next to the hotel and could hear the cracking of the ice in the glacier echo across the lake. Our subsequent trips have seen the glacier size decrease. We weren’t there in 1902, but take a look at the photos taken in that year compared to the photo taken in 2012. Sad to see.

       

Well, I’ve got to get packing, although that brings in a whole other set of obstacles. We’ve watched the weather there for the last two weeks and it’s gone from raining every day to sunny and highs in the 90s and lows in the 40s. It’s the mountains, so we can probably expect a little bit of everything. And if it’s too bad, we do have St. James Gate as a backup to any of our plans. Eh!

 

THERE’S ALWAYS AN UPSIDE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Here I am, once again in the middle of summer in Scottsdale where the average temperature rivals the inside of my oven.  It’s actually been okay this year, partly because I’ve had a lot of projects to keep me busy and partly because I ran into a person with a shitty attitude at the gym.  Nothing makes me more irritated than people who endlessly whine and complain.  So when I met up with a woman who went on and on…and on…about how hot the weather was I looked her in the eye and said, “It’s all in your attitude”.  I have been thinking about attitude and approach these past couple of weeks.  On our visit to Mammoth lakes we re-visited the Mammoth Museum where I reflected on the tributes to Jill Kinmont.  It was Jill – or at least a book about her – that first taught me about a positive approach to life.

       Jill Kinmont SI Cover

Jill Kinmont was an accomplished ski racer from Bishop, California in the early 1950’s.  She skied on the Mammoth Mountain team, coached by Dave McCoy (see my previous post about him).  To say that Jill was a sensation is an understatement.  She was one of the brightest American prospects for the 1956 Olympic team.  In addition, she was the very embodiment of mid-century good looks – blonde hair, blue eyes and a perky personality.  In January, 1955 she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and tragically was one of the worst examples of the “SI curse”.  The same week that her cover was published she fell on a run during the Snow Cup in Alta, Utah and broke her neck.  She was paralyzed from the neck down and the doctors told her family that she would only live another five years. At 18, her life as she knew it was over. But friends like fellow ski racer Andrea Mead Lawrence and Dave McCoy urged her not to accept that prognosis.  Jill, being a natural competitor, was determined to make a life for herself.  She insisted that she was going to walk – and ski – again.  She was never able to accomplish those goals but the remainder of her life was lived in a way that is a lesson to us all.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair, she had the use of neck and shoulder muscles and learned to write, type and paint with the aid of a hand brace.   She applied to UCLA and graduated with a degree in German and English.  But when she applied to the university’s school of education she was rejected because of her disability. Undaunted, she moved north with her parents, earned a teaching certificate at the University of Washington and taught remedial reading in elementary schools on Mercer Island.

            Jill Teaching

When she and her mother returned to Los Angeles after her father died in 1967,  one Southern California school district after another refused to hire her.  Finally, the Beverly Hills District employed her as a remedial reading teacher where she taught for several years.  She spent her summers back in Bishop teaching children at the Paiute Indian reservation.  In 1975 she and her mother moved back to Bishop where she was hired and spent the next 21 years with special needs kids at Bishop Union Elementary School. When a new high school opened in Bishop, the students voted to name it the Jill Kinmont Boothe School. She oversaw the Indian Education Fund, which provides scholarships to local Native American youth, and had a local following as a painter.  The proceeds from her art sales were donated to the scholarship fund.

As if her physical injuries weren’t enough Jill also had to endure losses in her romantic life.  At the time of her injury she was dating the skiing phenom Buddy Werner.  After her accident he couldn’t handle her injured state and broke off their relationship.  He died a few years later in an avalanche.  She then dated and became engaged to daredevil skier Dick “Mad Dog” Buek but before they could marry he died in a small plane crash.  All that tragedy in one life is almost unimaginable.  But luck was finally on her side when she met John Boothe in Bishop.  They were married in 1976 and they lived a wonderful life until her death in 2012.

                       Jill Painting

I first learned about Jill Kinmont’s story in 1969 when someone gave me a copy of “A Long Way Up”, the story of her life to that point.  The book was subsequently made into a popular movie, “The Other Side of the Mountain”.  Her story was so inspiring that I’ve often thought about her during tough times.  Her spirit and attitude provide a positive and upbeat touchstone.  I wish I had 100 copies of her book because in my fantasy life here’s what I’d do with them: when someone complains endlessly about 105 degree weather, I’d shove Jill’s book in their face and tell them to get a life.  Or, perhaps, I would quote Jill herself, who told the LA Times when they named her Woman of the Year in 1967, “To get mad, to scream and holler, to tell the world off— that doesn’t get you anywhere.  You look for what’s good that’s left, I guess.”

California Road Trip: Golf, Wine and . . . I Don’t Remember (continued)

Sonoma/Napa

Buena Vista wine cave

Tuesday – It’s a driving day from Paso Robles to Sonoma over the Golden Gate Bridge with a stop in Sausalito for lunch – a beautiful day in the ‘City by the Bay’. We arrive in Sonoma just in time for our private guided tour of the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma Valley. Buena Vista is the oldest commercial winery in California, founded in 1857. Our guide, who called himself ‘The Count’, portrayed himself as the original founder of the winery and regaled us with stories of how he had come to create the winery as well as his death by alligator in Central America. Dressed in 1850’s garb, replete with a knob handle cane, he took us deep into the Buena Vista caves that were carved out of solid rock many years earlier and was now serving as the ‘tasting’ and ‘barrel’ rooms for storing wine in a perfect temperature.

Our hotel was just off the Sonoma Plaza, which was buzzing with the ‘Every Tuesday during the Summer’ farmer’s market, including food trucks, fresh vegetable carts, cold beer and a live band. We hung there for a while, but opted to have dinner at the Swiss Hotel, a favorite of my parents who had retired in Sonoma. We were seated in the back patio for a delicious dinner on a delightful evening.

Silverado Golf Course

Wednesday – 9:30 tee time at beautiful Silverado County Club in Napa. Thanks to our golf pro Matt Kliner, we were able to get on this beautiful private golf course that is used for professional tournaments. Beautiful golf course, beautiful day. After golf we had most of the afternoon free to cruise around the Sonoma Plaza or just relax. I took this time to visit my dearly departed best friend, Don Klapperich, who now resides in the Sonoma Military Cemetery.  I reminded him of what a good best friend he was and how he was the person who most influenced my life, and still does. We had a great conversation, although I must say he was a little quiet.

For dinner, feeling very European, we bought some baguettes, cheese and wine and sat in our Sonoma Inn patio on a refreshingly cool summer evening and ate dinner.

Sterling Winery

Thursday – We started our day by driving north over the mountain range that separates the Sonoma from the Napa valleys and hit the northern-most town in ‘wine country’, Calistoga, where the ladies did some shopping, mostly for windows. First winery stop was Sterling winery, which requires a gondola ride from the valley floor to the top of a hill, where you can taste their delicious wine while enjoying a spectacular view of the Napa valley.   We stopped in the next town going south, Saint Helena for lunch, on our quest to find the Prisoner winery, as we wanted to get Ron, who gave us the Sprinter for the week, and his wife, Shelly, a case of their favorite wine. We were to learn that the Prisoner winery is temporarily shut down, but the wine is still available at Total Wine – where we got the case of wine.

Silver Oak

Being a collector of Silver Oak wine, Jack wanted to make sure we got to the winery, which was just a few miles down the road. We drive through the city of Napa proper and back to Sonoma.

Fresno?

Cocktail cruise on ‘Lake Spradling’

 

 

One doesn’t necessarily think of Fresno as a must-see destination on a California golf-wine trip, but we wanted to visit our good friends, Don & Marilyn Spradling, who moved from Yorba Linda to Fresno five years ago to be with family. Don reminded us that Fresno is the leading grape-producing city in the world; while there are a few wineries, most of the grapes are for eating and raisins. After dinner, our evening was spent on the Spradling’s boat on the lake their home sits beside – a beautiful evening. As for golf, the Spradlings belong to Copper River Country Club, which is where we played early on Saturday morning, to beat the 107-degree heat, prior to heading home after a great road trip with great friends.

California Road Trip: Golf, Wine and . . . I Don’t Remember!

The Central Coast

The ‘Roadies’

Saturday – Depart Orange County at 7:30 a.m.  Roadies included Jack & JJ Budd, John & Judy VanBoxmeer and Linda and me; Chuck and Linda Sager were scheduled to go on this boondoggle, but a death in the family prevented their attendance. A special ‘Thank You!’ to Ron Erickson, a local Mercedes dealer, who GAVE us a Mercedes Sprinter van to use. It was awesome, as it allowed us all to ride together and annoy each other every minute of the trip.

First stop, Alisal’s Ranch golf course, just outside the quaint Danish town of Solvang. The course was beautiful and well managed, unlike my golf game, which was ugly and mismanaged, but beautiful white oak trees provided plenty of shade on this warm summer afternoon and the cold beer at the end of the round tasted particularly good. Fortunately I still know how to play the 19th hole very well!

Solvang

We tried to get into ‘The Hitching Post’ for dinner, a

restaurant made famous by the classic movie, Sideways, but we ended up eating at another well-known restaurant in Santa Ynez, The Brother’s Red Barn – excellent beef and seafood in rustic surroundings.

Sunday – Up early for breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House in tourist-filled Solvang, then golf at the River course in Alisal. Scores are not important, although I should mentioned that I once again played the 19th hole particularly well. The evening was spent on ‘The Square’ in Paso Robles – a spot filled with great watering holes and restaurants. We ate at what was clearly the most popular restaurant in town, based on the waiting time on a Sunday night, Fish Gaucho, which loosely translates to ‘Fish Cowboy’ – excellent food, service and ambiance.

Candice in the ‘Peep Hole’

Prior to eating dinner we had stopped at another bar (surprise!) and were told by our server, Summer about a ‘Speak Easy’ in town. She said all you have to do is go down the street and around the corner, behind this building and look for a door with gas lamps over it and no name. There will be a doorbell to ring and then someone will open the ‘peep hole’ and maybe let you in. After dinner we did just that and Candice’s face appeared in the ‘peep hole’, we said, “Summer sent us”. She let us in. The place, called ‘1122’, because the address is 1122 Railroad Ave, has only been open for just over a month and is run by four young men who come from different parts of the country, bringing with them their special mixology talent that makes for a most creative drink menu, many of which required heat, smoke and/or fire. Mine, at left, required the harvesting of an entire mint farm.

Daou Winery

Monday – Breakfast at Joe’s Place, a restaurant that describes itself as a greasy spoon, hole in the wall – great breakfast, sassy waitresses. Then to Daou Winery, which offers great wines and even greater views of the Paso Robles valley. We were given a tour and history of the winery and then sat down for cheese and charcuterie (I didn’t know what it meant either, but I was embarrassed to ask – it’s chorizo, berries, prosciutto, pate, etc., served with cheese and ‘paired’ with various wines). Daou is a MUST if you’re visiting wineries in Paso Robles. In contrast to the 115 acre Daou Winery, our next stop was a the 11 acre boutique Pelletiere Winery that specializes in Italian wines – great tasting experience, where I found a wine combining my two favorite grapes, Sangiovese and Zinfandel – Magnifico!

Leaving the Central Coast for Sonoma/Napa.  To be continued . . .

A MAN TO MATCH HIS MOUNTAIN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

      The Terrifying Cornice Bowl

In 1986 I stood atop the 11, 053 foot Cornice Bowl at Mammoth Mountain, skis strapped to my feet and my heart in my throat.  As I peered down the 2.100 foot drop I was simultaneously petrified and thrilled.  I was in my mid-30’s and I knew that if I was ever going to conquer “The Cornice” the time was now.  So, slowly, VERY slowly, I made my way down.  When I reached the bottom I bent over in relief and was cheered by people who had watched my descent.  Right then I knew it was a moment I’d never forget.  To this day it is one of my proudest achievements. Every year when we visit Mammoth in the summer I gaze up to the Cornice Bowl and marvel that I once skied it.    And I thank Dave McCoy.

 

There are few people in business who devote their entire life to the enjoyment of others, but Dave McCoy, founder of Mammoth Mountain, is just such a person.  McCoy almost single-handedly turned Mammoth, an extinct volcano in the eastern Sierra Nevada, into one of the premier ski mountains in the world.  To me, he epitomizes all that is great about the American Dream.  He was born in 1915 to a somewhat dysfunctional family.  His parents divorced when he was 13.  His mother moved him to Washington but for the next several years he continuously hitch-hiked between there and Independence, California (near Bishop) where he had fallen in love with the scenery and quiet solitude while on vacation a few years previous.  He eventually was hired as a hydrographer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  His job was to ski the backcountry, measuring snowpack to predict the following year’s water supply. He covered most of Owens Valley sometimes skiing as much as 50 miles per day.  His salary was $4 a day, but the truth is, he would have done it for free.  He just loved to ski.

Dave McCoy in the ’30’s.

In 1935, he and some buddies built the first rope tow out of an old truck frame and engine to haul skiers uphill in Gray Meadows near Independence. They built it for themselves for weekend play but word spread, and others came to see what all the ruckus was about skiing. McCoy charged 50 cents a day to ride it and some days made as much as $6!   It was 1937 when McCoy started the project that would become the largest ski resort in Central California.   Even while he was building the resort from the ground up, McCoy was always skiing. He was headed toward the 1940 Olympics in Japan but because of World War II, no Olympic Games were held that year.  (Later, he would go on to coach 14 Olympic skiers, never charging them for his time and personally paying their entry fees for race events.)

After World War II record high snowfall in the Eastern Sierras served to attract more and more people from Southern California to ski in the Mammoth area.  The Forest Service took notice, asking for bids to develop Mammoth into a ski area. McCoy made his pitch. To his – and our – good fortune, it was the ONLY pitch the Forest Service received.  He took a piece of paper and drew three lines, which were for chairlifts. That was the business plan.  He always said that the only reason he got the bid was because no one else wanted it.

The first chair lift opened on Thanksgiving Day, 1955.  Without a college education or formal training in business or engineering, McCoy spent the next 60 years growing Mammoth. For millions of skiers, it was the place to ski. For thousands of employees, it was the place to work. McCoy was doing the impossible and people wanted to be part of it. He was encouraging, supportive and most of all, his mission was for people to have fun.  The bottom line was an after thought.  He once told the Los Angeles Times, that skiing had been so good to him at Mammoth, he couldn’t help but to return it to the skiers and see that they had a better place to ski.  I can personally attest to his philosophy.  One day almost 30 years ago my husband and I were walking in the Main Lodge after a day on the slopes and we passed Dave on a stairwell.  He stopped us and said, “Well, did you have fun today?”  We assured him that we did.  At the time, I just thought he was some friendly guy but my husband recognized him right off and stood there, stunned, in awe of the man he had idolized for so long.

Dave, planning his masterpiece

Building a ski resort was just a piece of his contributions to Mammoth.  He personally spearheaded the effort to incorporate Mammoth Lakes and attract businesses to the area.  He was responsible for building a hospital in town.  And in 1989 he and a few friends founded The Mammoth Lakes Foundation to be the catalyst in bringing higher education and the arts to the Eastern Sierra. Today, anyone is who has lived in Mono County for at least two years can receive tuition free of charge at the Cerro Coso Community College that the Foundation built.  The town is what is it today – all because of Dave McCoy.

But in 2005, at the age of 90, he had had enough.  The bureaucracy was too much.  He commented that he enjoyed running the business as long as he could do the planning and the building and permits were easy to get. But it got to where there were too many regulations and politicians telling him how to do things.  It was just too much for this entrepreneurial genius.

 

Dave McCoy at 100

There is a wonderful bronze statue of Dave in the center of the Village complex in Mammoth.  Each year I watch people walk by it, not even stopping to read the plaque that graces the base of it.  Little do these people know that but for Dave McCoy, they wouldn’t have the hill they ski, the trails they bike or the restaurants they enjoy in the evenings.  It probably bothers me more than it would bother Dave if he witnessed it.  On the occasion of his 100th birthday in 2015 he commented, “Life is just what you make of what falls in your lap. “Be happy, make the day happy. It’s all in your attitude, the way you open your eyes in the morning. You got to jump up and go do something.”  He’ll be 103 next month and, God willing, this example of the American Spirit will still be doing something.