Hot Air Ballooning – Sunset in Palm Desert

by Bob Sparrow

(After Suzanne’s touching blog last week, I’m again responsible for taking us from the sublime to the ridiculous)

I had never taken a ride in a hot air balloon; no reason, the opportunity had just not presented itself, until last weekend when we were in Palm Desert.

My research uncovered three places in the desert that could facilitate my first balloon ride:

  1. HAVENFUN Hot Air Ballooning in La Quinta
  2. Magical Adventure Balloon Rides also in La Quinta
  3. Balloons Above in Bermuda Dunes

I decided that ‘HAVENFUN’ was not going to be my choice – I want my ballooning people to be very serious about me floating on the breeze thousands of feet above the earth. ‘Magical Adventure’ also didn’t appeal to me as when I think of magic I think of things disappearing and I definitely didn’t want to disappear. So I settled on ‘Balloons Above’ figuring that that is where balloons are supposed to be.

There were also options as to when I could take my first balloon ride, sunrise or sunset. I opted for sunset based on the chilling logic that if my balloon went down in a fiery heap that I’d have had one more day on earth.

The ad for the balloon ride read as follows:

See the sunset over Palm Desert from a hot air balloon – up to 3,500 feet in the air. Hot air ballooning at sunset brings a whole slew of new sensations and sites to see. (The sensation I was feeling wasn’t new at all; it was that old sensation of wanting to throw up)

Your pilot for the day is a seasoned veteran who’s flown countless hours and can almost seemingly control the wind. (Our pilot looks like he was seasoned with Jack Daniels last night. Control the wind? He could barely keep his hands from shaking)

Following your journey of about one hour, you’ll land for a Champagne toast – a common ritual of hot air ballooning that commemorates the wonderful flight. (I think our pilot was still recovering from his Champagne toast from his sunrise trip)

Bring a camera to capture every moment (as it could be your last!).

The preparation for a balloon flight is a bit unnerving; the balloon is lying deflated and lifeless on the ground, I was hoping this wouldn’t be what it looks like when we landed, until they bring over what looks like a ‘flamethrower’ and point it at the balloon and fire at it until it fills the balloon with propane.  My research into propane read as follows: Propane is a stable and predictable fuel, but highly volatile. Highly volatile!!!!  I’m amazed that the whole thing doesn’t go up in flames, which to be honest I was secretly hoping for as it would then cancel the ride.

With the balloon fully ‘gassed’ and hoping our pilot wasn’t, I looked at the other people who were climbing into the basket and wondered, ‘Are these the people with whom I will be spending my last minutes on earth?’ My heart was pounding just thinking about floating on the wind in this wicker basket 3,500 feet above the desert floor.

So, what was it really like? I have no idea; although the balloon sites and information above is real, I never got close to a balloon. Balloons have no wings, no motor, no parachutes, you’re being held in the air by what amounts to nothing more than a large fart and you’re at the mercy of the wind.   And the only thing I would know about the pilot with whom I’m entrusting my life to is that he cannot control the wind.  You could take off in Palm Desert and end up in the Sahara Desert for crying out loud!

So I guess the only thing full of hot air was me. Maybe I’ll go someday . . . I’ll keep you posted.

Capping the Night at Dan Tana’s

By Bob Sparrow

The last leg of our journey into La La Land was Dan Tana’s Italian Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, two doors down from the famous nightclub, the Troubadour.  For those not familiar with the Troubadour, any musician who was anybody in the 60s, 70s and 80s performed there.  In 1970 Neil Diamond introduced Elton John there, who performed his first show in the U.S.  John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were ejected from the club for drunkenly heckling the Smothers Brothers.  The list goes on.

Eagles Glen Frey and Don Henley in Dan Tana’s for ’60 Minutes’ interview

OK, back to Dan Tana’s.  Every entertainer that you know has probably eaten there and many would call it their ‘go to’ restaurant.  For the last 50 years it truly has been a favorite watering hole of Hollywood film industry personalities and professionals.  The walls are adorned with pictures of various stars, past and present.  In 1975 Glen Frey of the Eagles saw a young woman who he knew was married to an older man, having an intimate dinner with a younger man and started writing lyrics on a napkin – those lyrics turned into the Eagles hit, Lyin’ Eyes.  

I was hoping as we entered the restaurant that people wanting to have their picture taken with us would not pester us and ruin our evening.  As it turned out, no one did.  We arrived around 7:00 for our 8:00 reservation and the two small dining rooms, both of which are slightly larger than a walk-in closest, were about half full.  The small bar had everyone of its 10 stools occupied.  Within a few minutes Linda was able to wrangle a seat and soon a couple left, which gave us two much-coveted seats at the bar.  The lady that Linda was sitting next to (whose lips had so much cologen in them that I thought they were going to explode any minute) had a seat on the other side of her that she was saving for her boyfriend, who was over at the Troubadour, checking in on a friend.  She told us her boyfriend was in the “music business” (her quotes, not mine) and was talking with his friends, Hall & Oates who were performing there that night.  A man down the bar, who looked like Fonzi’s father, we were told, was a famous ‘voice over’ performer.  What I could pick up from his conversation was that his voice certainly was over, over-bearing.   But overall a very good LA vibe to the place, meaning that there was a sense that everyone was looking at everyone else wondering if they were ‘someone’.   A gentleman just down the bar asked me if I was Ray Bradbury, the science fiction writer.  I said no and later when I look up an image of him online, I realized I should have punched the guy.

You can see I left a nice $2 tip

At 8:00 the maître d came over and told us our table was ready, but the bartender, Raffi, was so entertaining that we said that we’d prefer to eat at the bar, which we did.  We discovered a unique feature of the bar, your wine glass is never allowed to be empty. We each ordered a glass of cabernet (their ‘well’ cab is Francis Coppola) and whenever our wine glass got below half full, Raffi would stop buy and fill it up.  I was afraid to ask how he kept track of how much wine we had and much more afraid to ask how much it was going to cost me.  When we asked Raffi what was good on the menu, he said in a dry tone and a straight face, “Nothing, all the food here is bad and the service is worse.”  But the entertainment was great!  That’s why in the photo you see the fairly significant tip for Raffi – he was most appreciative.  Linda and I ordered the Cannelloni and Veal Parmesan, respectively, both were outstanding, the service was great and the price of our multiple glasses of wine turned out to be surprisingly reasonable. When we left around 9:00 the place was totally packed with standing room only in every place one could stand.  I’m sure some of them were ‘somebody’.  It was a great experience! 

I have to say that while I’m not the biggest fan of L.A., it was a very entertaining day; and while we only saw a very small sampling of it, Johnny’s Eastside Market, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, The Grove, Rodeo Drive and Dan Tana’s, they all got me closer to believing that L.A. is, in fact, the ‘entertainment capital’ of the world.


A Day (and Night) in LA

by Bob Sparrow

Downtown Los Angeles

Although it is currently ‘Awards Season’ (code for ‘Let’s pat ourselves on the back until everyone gets an award’ season) here in ‘Tinsel Town’, our trip was not to rub shoulders with the hypocritical privileged, but rather to explore some of the ethnic enclaves that thrive in the mega metropolis.

First stop, Little Italy – I had Googled it and discovered that there really wasn’t much left of what used to be Little Italy, but the article went on to say that if you went to the Eastside Market, Italian Deli in that area that you might run into owner, Johnny Angiuli, who could tell you about the good old days when Little Italy was thriving. After less than an hour drive from our home, through downtown LA, we parked across the street from the deli and the minute we open the car door we could smell the great Italian aromas wafting through the store’s open front door . We walked in and wandered around looking at the nostalgic pictures on the wall. I approached the counter and asked a young man behind it if we were standing in what remains of Little Italy. He laughed and said, “Yeah this is about it, but when my father first came here it was a thriving Italian community.” I asked, “Is your father Johnny?” He said yes and pointed to an elderly gentleman sitting down in the corner of the store, then said, “I can bring him over here if you’d like.” I happily agreed.

Johnny & son

Johnny came over and introduced himself and welcomed us to the deli, then started telling us his story. He said he was born in a small Italian town a couple hours south of Naples called Adelphia and added that it was a great place for kids to grow up. He came to America in 1959 and started working in the Eastside Market and ultimately became its owner. He said, “Times were very different then, Italians were very much discriminated against, it was even taboo for an Italian person to marry a white person, so we kind of stuck with ourselves here in this little community.”  He was a most gracious man who got our exploration of LA off to a great start.

Next stop, Chinatown – It was a short drive from the Eastside Market to the new Chinatown. Having been to Chinatown in San Francisco several times, we were expecting something like that, and in fact the old Chinatown was something like that, but due to ‘Tong’ warfare (fights between Chinese gangs), gambling houses and opium dens, the area decayed and was ultimately destroyed for the building of Union Station, LA’s railroad hub. So a new Chinatown was developed which was a little more spread out, but now a few blocks along Broadway could be considered the heart of the new Chinatown. We wandered the shops and found a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant to grab a very tasty Kung Pao Chicken and House Fried Rice lunch.

Next stop, Little Tokyo – Just across the freeway from Chinatown is Little Tokyo. In 1941 there were about 30,000 Japanese Americans living in Little Tokyo, but in December of that year, the Japanese were rounded up and incarcerated in internment camps. African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos moved in the area and took over their homes; because of their skin color the area became known as Bronzeville. After the war, many Japanese moved back and today Little Tokyo is thriving again. As we walked its streets, we felt bad that we had just eaten, as the smell of great Japanese food filled the air. After strolling through various passageways and poking into a few shops we headed back to our car for our next destination.

Next stop, The Grove at Farmer’s Market – It was only about a 20-minute drive through some pretty rough parts of town and then through some very high end parts of town to what use to be orchards, a nursery and a dairy farm and is now one of the great outdoor shopping and dining areas in America – The Grove. As it was now turning dark and cool we strolled down the center of the outside mall checking out the stores, restaurants, bars and the Farmer’s Market, which is still a part of this complex. We stopped and had a beer as we watched a band setting up for an open-air concert in February . . . that’s Southern California.

Rodeo Drive

Next stop, Rodeo Drive – No tour of LA is complete without at least a drive down Rodeo (that’s Row-Day-Oh, not Road-E-O) Drive, where every high-end fashion company has a store. While Linda may have wanted to get out and window shop, I convinced her that we shouldn’t stop, we’ll miss our dinner reservation.  Great stores, all lit up – keep going!

Next stop – Dan Tana’s Restaurant  A classic LA eatery you’ll hear all about in two weeks.


Bushwhacked at The Ranch Saloon

by Bob Sparrow

Left door restaurant, rt. door saloon/dance hall

A couple of Fridays ago, I felt like I was part of an O. Henry short story, known for their surprise endings. This story actually begins before Christmas of last year when we usually enjoy a great evening of dining and entertainment at Bistangos, one of Orange County’s top restaurants, where Linda’s company, Blue Violet Networks, has their annual Christmas party. It’s a great affair, delicious food, great wine and a gift exchange. Last year, for reasons unknown to me, there was no party. When I learned of this I jokingly told Linda to tell John Paul, the company owner, who has a good sense of humor, that he owes us a dinner. Linda delivered the message and John Paul agreed and a date was set to meet at The Ranch, one of the very best restaurants in Southern California.

The Ranch is an interesting place; the location of this restaurant/saloon/dance hall is on the ground floor of a six-story office building in an industrial area of Anaheim. The building is the headquarters of Extron, an electronics company started and owned by business tycoon Edward Andrews. He loves dancing (He says that the guy that can dance has the best chance to succeed with the girl of his choice) and he loves country music, so the first floor of his office building is divided in half, one side houses a high-end restaurant (Oh yeah, he loves eating good food too) and the other side is home to the biggest and best country western saloon and dance floor in Orange County.

The restaurant is elegantly rustic, in keeping with the country western theme; the food is outstanding (all the produce comes from their own local ranch in Orange Park Acres) and the service is top notch, as are the prices. John Paul, a wine connoisseur, brought a couple of bottles of excellent wine and he and his partner, Linda, and Linda and I enjoyed lively conversations on a myriad of topics and delicious meats – steak, pork chop, lamb chop and braised short ribs – you won’t find bean sprouts and tofu on this menu!

Bushwhacker on the rt., bushwhakee on the left

After dinner we were escorted next door to the saloon and dance floor, where the cover charge was waived and we had a reserved table waiting for us. The dance floor was packed with 20 and 30-somethings dancing to a live band. Edward was right, there were about 40 people on the dance floor and only four of them were men and each had a lovely lady on his arm. I told John Paul that since he bought dinner, I would like to buy the after dinner drinks.  He agreed.

As we were settling into our seats, a server presented us with a drink menu, as we perused it, we were amused by some of the lofty prices. I’m thinking this is a high-end saloon as I pointed out to John Paul the Glenmorangie 1974 single malt Scotch$1,000 for a 1.5 oz glass! The server appeared and Linda and I order a beer and John Paul and Linda each order a glass of whiskey. The second round shortly followed with another glass of whiskey for John Paul and two more beers for us. Linda and I could no longer sit and watch the dancers having all the fun, so we got up and did the ‘Electric Slide’ – we were by far the oldest couple on the dance floor, but we hung in there with those young whippersnappers.

I still hyperventilate when I look at it

It was time to call it an evening and so I asked for the bill. When I first looked at it, I couldn’t see it that well, I thought it read $300, but it was dark and I didn’t have my glasses on. Once I put my glasses on and got some light, I could see that it was not $300, it was $3,000! $3,058.00 to be exact. Eyes wide and heart beating rapidly, I showed it to Linda and looked over to John Paul and said, “You ordered the $1,000 Scotch?” He smiled and nodded, “Yes . . . two of them and Linda had one”. Now my mind was racing, was this some kind of joke or was this John Paul’s way of getting back at me for saying that he owed us a dinner for not having the Christmas party? He kept his word about buying us dinner, but apparently he was going to have the last laugh.  I looked at the bill again and swallowed hard; yes it was $3,058.00 and I did offer to buy the after dinner drinks, so I surreptitiously switched the debit card I had in my hand with a credit card. As I continued to hyperventilate, I kept staring at John Paul . . . really?!! After way too long a pause he cracked a big smile and said, ‘Got ya!’ While Linda and I were out dancing, he got the bartender to print up the bogus bill and our server to present it to me.  I was never so happy to pay the real bill for $94!

In summary it was a very fun evening interrupted only by a few moments of stark terror.  This was a great spoof and fortunately I am able to laugh at myself . . . let’s hope John Paul can too, revenge is going to sweet.




To Your Health in this New Year

by Bob Sparrow

I’ve had some time over the last couple of weeks to reflect on what a new year really means.  A new year suggests we get to reboot, start over, fix all things from the previous year.  But reality sinks in shortly after the ball drops, the reality that you’re really just continuing the previous year, as nothing has really changed except the date. “Happy New Year”, you tell everyone and they return in kind, and you really mean it and you hope they do too – everyone wants the new year to be happy. But I entered this new year with a mind that was occupied by some not-so-happy events that took place in our neighborhood and family as 2017 came to close.

As some of you know, we’ve lived in a great neighborhood for over 32 years and we’re not even the longest standing members of our ‘hood. Unlike most neighborhoods, we actually know our neighbors, many of them – some 20+ couples on two streets. Our kids have grown up together, we socialize together and we take care of one another. When neighbors are sick or have issues that restrict their mobility, we take turns bringing in dinners, running errands and doing whatever it takes to help the neighbor in need. It’s a great feeling knowing that someone close by has your back – actually a lot of someones.

Because we’re so close, we share in both the joy and the pain of our fellow neighbors and the end of 2017 brought significant pain to three couples. Three men suffered hospitalizing, life-threatening events.  I won’t go into the specific ailments or names of the families involved, but at the end of last year, our neighborhood was reminded of both how important our health is and how quickly things can change. To hear and feel the anguish and fear of the unknown from the spouses of these three men is indeed life changing. The sad news in our neighborhood was compounded by the news that one of our very close relatives also had health issues requiring hospitalization.  We somehow mistakenly believe that really bad things are not going to happen to us, but they do, and it really hits home when it’s family or neighbors or anyone that you love.

Through emails, phone calls, text and face-to-face conversations we have shared amongst ourselves the progress of each of these four people, hoping and praying that all four would successfully come through their individual struggles and be able to return to the life they once knew.

So yes, the ending of last year just flowed into the beginning of this year with the fate of these three men and a close relative on our minds. So forgive me if I take this opportunity to remind as many people as I can how important our health is. Some things we can’t control, like genetics, but some things we can, so please remember:

  • Be thankful for your good health if you have it
  • Never take good health for granted
  • Take better care of yourself
  • Let me share an idea that doesn’t require you to spend thousands on the latest fad diet, or go to a ‘healing’ spa:
    • Diet
    • Exercise
  • Also, get to know your neighbors; there are probably some really nice people just down the street who may need your help, or who might help you in a time of need

Remember, “Life is a one time gift”


Happy New Year to All and to All a Pop Quiz

So the new year is finally here and if you’re having trouble reading this, you’re getting no sympathy from me as I’m having trouble writing it!  I drank everything I could get my hands on to help me forget the past year filled with  political rancor, ‘fake news’, tweets and sciatica!  The good news about this first week of the new year is that your resolutions are mostly still in tact – ok, some of them.  I know how you all looked forward to pop quizzes when you were in school, so here’s one to clear that head of yours and start the new year off with an educational experience.  Answers below, but don’t start off the new year by cheating!

  1. When was the first New Year’s celebrated?

– 2000 B.C.

– 1 A.D.

– 150 AC/DC

– I don’t remember I was too drunk

  1. What percentage of Americans make New Year’s resolutions?

– Only the top 1%

– All the Millennials

– As many as break them by February

– 45%

  1. Tradition says that the more ____ a person has on New Year’s Eve, the more prosperity he or she will experience the following year.

– Alcohol

– People to kiss

– Leafy greens

– Bologna sandwiches

  1. How many glasses of Champagne will America drink this New Years?

– 3,600

– 36,000

– 36,000,00

– too many

  1. In the last scene of When Harry Met Sally, after they kissed, what song played?

– I’ve Been Cheated

– Auld Lang Syne

– Sally Go Round the Roses

– Make An Ugly Woman You Wife

  1. What is the most common symbol associated with New Years?

– The Grim Reaper

– A baby

– Playboy’s Miss January

– Foster Brooks

  1. What happens if a couple celebrating New Years together do not kiss?

–  He’s not getting lucky

–  They buy more breath mints

–  He’s not only not getting to 1st base, he’s not even getting into the batter’s box

–  They’ll be seeing a divorce attorney in the morning

  1. Typically _____ gather in Time Square on New Year’s to watch the ball drop

– Millennials looking for loose change on the street

– Broadway ticket scalpers

– Muggers and pick pockets

– One million people

  1. What do the words Auld Lang Syne mean?

– Up yours

– Times gone by

– There’s better days ahead

– Good riddance

  1. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, what is the most common object stolen on New Years Eve

– virginity

– wallet

– car

– your soul

  1. 22% of New Year’s frolickers admit to

– Grand theft auto

– Not knowing where they are much less what time it is

– Having their first drink

– Falling asleep before midnight

Answers: 1. 2,000 B.C.; 2. 45%; 3. leafy greens; 4. 36,000,000; 5. Auld Lang Syne; 6. baby; 7. Seeing an attorney in the morning; 8. 1,000,000 people;   9. times gone by; 10. car; 11. falling asleep before midnight

The entire staff here at ‘From A Bird’s Eye View’, wish you a happy and healthy 2018. OK, there is no ‘staff’ here, but Suzanne and I are hoping that this year will be your very best – make it so!

Getting into the Christmas Spirits

by Bob Sparrow

Thuringia, Germany

Suzanne’s blog last week mentioned that the town of Thuringia, Germany as the birthplace of Christmas decorations and also may be known for its beer, and that I would be more likely to write about that, the beer. Well if that wasn’t throwing down the gauntlet then I don’t know what was.  So . . . I did a little research on this quaint little town and have found that it is indeed steeped in Christmas traditions, among them is a keen appreciation of holiday hooch. To wit: During what they call the Advent season, which begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve, people there gather together and drink Gluhwein, a mixture of red wine, sugar and winter spices; add a shot of rum and you’ve got a Gluhwein mit Schuss, you’ve also got a headache in the morning.

So while you may not need a guide to traditional Christmas cheer like Peace on Earth Good Will Towards Men’ (and Women we presume) or as The Elf says, The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”, I personally like Dave Barry’s Christmas cheer, “Once again we come to the holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observe in our own way by going to the mall of our choice.” There is of course the holiday cheer reminding us to Jingle all the way, no one likes a half-assed jingler.’

This blog however is about the ‘other’ Christmas cheer, the one that we can consume and often times helps us get into the Christmas spirit or simply helps us get through the ‘Holidaze’.  In the event you don’t have access to Gluhwein mit Schuss, here’s your imbibing guide to, and definitions of, some traditional Christmas cheer, along with their country of origin:

Christmas beer – Germany (official definition): A seasonal beer brewed for consumption at Christmas (Duh!). It is usually strong and spiced with a variety of ingredients including cinnamon, orange peel, cloves and vanilla.  I guess it’s still beer, it just doesn’t taste like it.

Wassail – England: The word comes from an Old English word for ‘healthful’ and is a beverage of hot mulled cider, originally not an alcoholic drink, but we took care of that little shortcoming as modern recipes start with a base of wine or mulled ale with either brandy or sherry added.

Hot Buttered Rum – Colonial America: How do you go wrong with butter and rum in anything? (These two ingredients along with some brown sugar and bananas makes a wonderful Bananas Foster dessert, but I digress).  This traditional holiday beverage is typically sweetened and spiced with such things as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Hot Buttered Rum

Hot Toddy – Ireland: Yes, a Hot Toddy is different from a Hot Buttered Rum, as it is made with whiskey, hot water and honey; some recipes add herbs and spices. Some believe it relieves the symptoms of a cold or flu as the honey soothes while the alcohol numbs. Forget CVS you need to get to BevMo.

If you’re not a traditionalist there are plenty of modern holiday cocktails that will definitely get you in the Christmas spirit, like a Poinsettia Spritz Punch, a Pomegranate and Peppermint Moscow Mule or a Gingerbread Latte with Caramel Sugar.  However, if you still find yourself in a ‘Bah Humbug’ mood, I’d recommend a shot of tequila and a regular beer back, no cinnamon, no cloves, no nutmeg.  Country of origin?  My house.

Hoping you get into the Christmas spirits one way or the other this season. Cheers!


Cowboys or Indians

by Bob Sparrow

As kids, my brother Jack and I always played cowboys and Indians, because we didn’t have computer games, heck we didn’t even have television until we were almost teenagers! But we had a local movie theater where we saw a lot of cowboy and Indian movies. The cowboys were always the good guys and the Indians were always the bad guys, worse than bad guys, they were portrayed as ignorant savages! When we played, of course I always wanted to be the cowboy and I was, because Jack always wanted to be the Indian, even though he knew he was the underdog and would ultimately lose. Because he was my older, bigger brother, he may have won a battle or two with me, but in the movies the Indians never won, but that didn’t stop him from always rooting for them. This was long before ‘political correctness’ necessitated our empathy for the plight of the Native American. So growing up I always thought that Indians were a savage people that we needed to eliminate in order to carry out our ‘Manifest Destiny’.

Crazy Horse

I liked the Lone Ranger, Jack liked Tonto. I liked Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Randolph Scott; he liked Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Geronimo. His favorite movie is Dancing With Wolves, and while I can barely remember that Kevin Costner was in the movie, he remembers the name, Doris Leader Charge, the 60-year old Indian women who was a university professor and was hired to teach the Indians in  the movie the Lakota Sioux dialect that was use by the real Indians at the time. Jack never protested or overtly beat the tom-tom for Indian rights, but he would point out the differences in how the Indian versus the white man managed our natural resources, to wit:

“White man builds big fire and stands way back, Indian build small fire and sit very close.”

“The Indians never killed an animal where they didn’t use all of the parts – the meat, the innards, the fur, the head, the claws, the teeth.”

Apposed to William Cody who was purported to have killed 4,282 buffalo in 18 months and in a contest for the rights to use the name ‘Buffalo Bill’, killed 68 buffalo in an hour; and left them on the plains to rot.

Over the years I’ve become more sensitive to the Indian’s plight, reading several books about their struggles to keep their culture alive here in their native land; my eyes were also opened during a hike through the Havasupai Indian reservation in the Grand Canyon area where I witnessed how we have failed to assimilate these Indians into our culture and how it has adversely affected them.

Pechanga Indian

So on the Friday after Thanksgiving I felt the need to do a little more research on a local Indian tribe named the Payomkawichum, which translates into ‘People of the West’.  To say these people are indigenous to southern California is an understatement, they’ve inhabited the land here for over 10,00 years. Their name was changed by the Spaniard missionaries to the Luisenos, probably because Payomkawichum was too hard to pronounce.  Now they are more familiarly known as the Pechanga Indians – officially the Pechanga Band of the Luiseno Indian Tribe. My research took me to Temecula and the largest Indian casino in California, Pechanga Resort and Casino. Immediately sensing that I needed to spend more than one day doing my research, I booked a room for two nights.

The latest Pechanga reservation

I discovered that apparently these Indians were really into games of chance as there were over 3,400 slot machines in the place as well as tables for blackjack, poker, craps (not with dice, that’s illegal for some reason!) and various other wagering games. Now, being empathetic to the Indian cause thanks to my brother, I felt obligated to contribute in some way to their well-being. I was comfortable at first with my initial financial donation, but after the first day of ‘research’ I found that I was being more philanthropic than I had anticipated. Thinking of everything, the Indians were able to provide me with a handy ATM machine to access more donation funds.

I slept well that night, knowing that in some small way, OK maybe not so small, I had helped provide shelter and sustenance for some Native Americans. I knew that in games of chance you win some and you lose some and I was now positioned to ‘win some’. Saturday came full of hope and the good feeling of knowing that I had donated significantly to a worthy cause and perhaps I would be rewarded with a small token of appreciation.

Those damn Indians! Where was my ‘win some’?! I pay $7 for a beer and over $450 a night for a room and this is how I get rewarded?

I guess this is what I get for always being the cowboy as a kid.

Lost in the 50s

Orange Circle . . . er . . .Plaza

I didn’t have to go too far to go back to the 1950s. This week’s journey was a short jaunt down the road to Old Town Orange and the iconic Orange Circle. I’m not suppose to call it that, it’s the Orange Plaza, but it’s a circle, or more accurately, a ‘round about’ in the middle of town and it’s been a circle since the 1870s. It is surrounded by one square mile of historic buildings offering 50 different architectural styles from Spanish Colonial to Victorian. This area is the ‘antique capital’ of Orange County, with some 79 antique stores; there actually used to be more, but some have given way to eateries that now make ‘The Circle’ a destination for diners.

California’s first soda fountain

So last Thursday morning I headed to Old Town Orange, not to look at antiques, hell if I wanted to see an antique, I could just look in the mirror, but to have breakfast at Moody’s. Of course no one calls it Moody’s any more; it’s now Watson’s Original Soda Fountain & Café. It’s actually been Watson’s since 1889 and it is the oldest continuous running business in Orange County and the oldest soda fountain in California.  But for a while in the 70s a guy named Moody ran the soda fountain side of the pharmacy and when I lived about 5 blocks from there, that’s where I took daughter, Stephanie for a treat, starting when she was about four. Her favorite treat was the chocolate ‘milkshape’, as she called it. It came in a tall soda fountain glass with a straw and a long-handled spoon, accompanied by the extra milkshape in the frosty mixing tin. It was delicious! Going to Moody’s for a milkshape became a regular thing. To continue the tradition, I’ve recently taken Stephanie and her kids, grandchildren Dylan and Emma, to Watson’s for whatever they wanted, as long as it was a chocolate ‘milkshape’!

Inside Watson’s

But on this crisp fall morning I wanted to check out the ‘breakfast scene’ at this historic diner; have some eggs and a cup of hot coffee and see if there were some old codgers gathered around a cracker barrel to shoot the breeze. There weren’t.  It was quiet except for the juke box playing some great old 50s tunes.

I took a seat and looked around recalling some of the history of the place. It’s been the location of several movies and tv shows.  Most notably in 1996 the movie, That Thing You Do, which told the story of a ‘one-hit-wonder’ band in 1964 and was written, directed and starred Tom Hanks, used Watson’s in several scenes. Previous owner, Scott Parker, a Watson pharmacist whose ownership dates back to 1971, sold the store in 2015, and today at 75, Parker still works one day a week at a pharmacy in Leisure World in south Orange County. After the sale, Watson’s was closed for some time for renovations while many Watson customers, present company included, were nervous about what the new owner would do to this venerable location. One could hear huge sighs of relief echo through the city when the new owners committed to “bringing the soda fountain back to its original glory.”

Emma, Stephanie & Dylan with their chocolate ‘milkshapes’

They did a great job of keeping some of the old décor and adding some new artifacts, including an old telephone operator’s switch board, a huge old time safe and a door off the diner that reads, Proprietor, Kellar E. Watson.  Kellar purchased the Orange Drug Store in 1899 and renamed it Watson’s, but he didn’t open the soda fountain until 1915.  It wasn’t always a 50s theme because . . . the 50s didn’t happen until . . . the 50s!  Now the multiple TVs that hang from the ceiling are flat screens, but during certain hours they show 50s reruns like I Love Lucy, Mr. Ed and The Andy Griffith Show.  The fare includes the usual breakfast items as well as hamburgers, fries, sandwiches, cherry cokes, banana splits and, of course, ‘milkshapes’. The only major change from earlier menus is that now one can get an adult beverage there, which I don’t think interferes with the theme; I mean liquor was around in the 50s!

So how was my breakfast?  I couldn’t resist, at 7:30 in the morning I ordered a chocolate ‘milkshape’.  The server looked a little surprised, but said she would have to plug in the machine.  Several minutes later out came the tall soda fountain glass filled to the brim with whip cream on top and the extra milkshape in the frosty mixing tin.  It was delicious!


Please Paso the Wine!

by Bob Sparrow

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food”    W.C. Fields

Please pardon any split infinitives and dangling modifiers this week as there may be some residual sugar in my bloodstream having just returned from a tour of Central Coast wineries with some neighborhood winos – so I’m feeling a little Sideways.

Day 1

Wine Capt. Jack Sparrow

First stop was a visit with brother Jack at the Fess Parker Winery, established in 1988 when Fess bought 714 acres on what is now the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Los Olivos, he originally planned to run cattle, but grapes proved to be a bit more profitable. Jack did a great job of weaving stories about his friendship with Fess Parker around the pouring of some excellent wines.

Off to San Luis Obispo, but not before stopping at the iconic Madonna Inn, built in 1958 with unique architecture in each room and a giant waterfall as the men’s urinal.

Dinner in downtown SLO where every Thursday night they have the main street walled off for a farmer’s market and on this evening we saw the precursor of the up-coming holiday as many of the citizenry were regaled in Halloween attire. We enjoyed outside dining at Novo, a creek side restaurant on the main street.

Day 2

Gary Conway

Marian McKnight

After a night in SLO we’re off in the morning to Paso Robles for some ‘breakfast wine’; first stop Turley Winery, founded by former emergency room physician Larry Turley in 1993. They make 28 separate wines, mostly Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, but also a white wine, ‘White Coat’ named after his doctor’s frock.

Carmody-McKnight – Our next stop provides an interesting story of the owners. He was an accomplished artist, concert violinist, architect, actor (stared in Burke’s Law and several other tv shows and several movies) and screenwriter; Gary Conway, born Gareth Monello Carmody. His wife, Marian McKnight Conway was her high school valedictorian, graduated Magna Cum Laude and was Miss America in 1957. Together they became winemakers when Gary saw the idyllic beauty of this mountain valley aboard a helicopter moments before it crashed. Emerging from the wreckage, Gary dusted himself off and promptly announced to the real estate broker, “I’m going to buy this place”. Their story, in my opinion, was more interesting than their wine, but the winery provided a picturesque setting for our picnic lunch.

On to Adelaida Winery, a producer of grape varieties from the Rhone Valley in the south of France, but a fairly unremarkable winery especially when we compared it to our next stop – Daou Winery. While we didn’t taste the wine there, which is delicious, the view from the tasting room was nothing short of spectacular.

Dinner at an Italian restaurant in Paso Robles with, of course, a little wine, OK maybe more than a little.

Day 2

Tobin James Winery – In 1987 when a young Toby James was an assistant winemaker at a local winery that had 6 tons of grapes that it could not process, he asked if he could have it to make some homemade wine. The owner said, “Sure kid, knock yourself out”. In a year and a half Tobin (He was now called Tobin instead of Toby), leveraging his last name as being the same of the famous outlaw brothers, created a western theme by purchasing a building on the site of an old stagecoach stop and brought in an 1860s western bar in the tasting room, imported from Missouri and rumored to have a bullet hole in it from the days of Frank and Jesse James, although I was not able to confirm that, it does make for a good story.   We bought a lot of wine here and many of us joined the wine club, which, at 35,000 club members, is the largest wine club in the (Pick one) Central Coast, California, U.S., world.

After spending several hours there, we decided we should probably eat something, so we had another picnic on the grounds of Tobin James.

We visited two more wineries that afternoon, La Vigne, which I thought had better cheese than wine and Via Vega, which was in its ‘Day of the Dead’ mode, an annual event where people bring in pictures of friends and relatives who have passed and . . . I’m not sure what happens, drink wine I guess.   By this time we were pretty much ‘wined out’ and after some rest and relaxation at the hotel we went to an Irish Pub, Pappy McGregor’s and had some beer with dinner!

If you’re headed up to the Central Coast for some wine tasting any time soon, don’t miss Fess Parker, Daou and Tobin James. Cheers!