A New California Land Rush

by Bob Sparrow

“There’s gold in them thar weeds!”

Welcome to Desert Hot Springs

Not unlike the California gold rush of ’49, there is a land rush going on in the northwest corner of Coachella Valley, now know as the Coachillin’ Valley.  To paraphrase an old saying from the ‘60s, if you can remember what you did in Desert Hot Springs, you weren’t there! I recently returned from a ‘trip’ to this windy city and was amazed at what’s happening there and what it’s doing to the local real estate market. For example, six months ago a gentleman bought 5 acres of brush-pocked desert for $200,000 and just recently sold it for $1,000,000. A recent real estate ad showed 2.85 acres of raw desert for sale for $1,544,325. So why does this hot, windy seemingly god-forsaken corner of the desert command these kind of prices? The land grab in Desert Hot Springs (DHS) is because it is the first Southern California city to legalize large-scale medical marijuana cultivation. You won’t see the marijuana growing out in the open desert; the land that is being purchased will accommodate large warehouses, and I mean large, like 3,000,000 square feet, where marijuana plants are fed by hundreds of lights and an automated irrigation system. Giant tanks pump in CO2 while computers control air conditioners that regulate temperatures through the plants’ life cycle. It has clearly become the ‘Cannabis Capital’ of the country.  The locals now affectionately call their city Desert Pot Springs.

One of many spacious warehouses

For decades, Desert Hot Springs had relied on its ‘miracle’  mineral waters and nude spa resorts to lure tourists to this tumbleweed town. It is home to the largest collection of warm mineral springs in the United States, but the population of some 28,000 people have mostly suffered. A third of its residents lived in poverty and the city filed for municipal bankruptcy in 2001. A housing bust seven years later deepened the fallout. Now land values, the building industry and marijuana growing are creating jobs and starting to make this city rich.  To say the least, it’s created a buzz.

The mayor of DHS, Scott Matas seems to be fairly buzzed as the projected income to the city within the next couple of years will add approximately $10 million annually to the city coffers and upwards of $25 million within 8 years. The mayor actually gets giddy when he is reminded that California is voting this coming November on the legal use of recreational marijuana . . . and you know how we Californians love to recreate. The mayor may also be thinking of doing some creative advertising by reversing the engines on all those energy-generating windmills in his city and start blowing some of that wacky-tabaccy smoke toward Los Angeles.

While the tony neighboring cities of Palm Springs and Indian Wells have malls filled with expensive fashion accessories, DHS has malls filled with pot paraphernalia and brownie shops. Today the standard greeting in DHS sounds the same, “Hi”, but it’s spelled a little differently and asked as a question, “High?” It won’t be long before new streets around these mega-warehouses are given names like Pot Place, Cannabis Circle, Weed Way and Doobie Drive. It wouldn’t surprise me if they renamed a section of the freeway that runs by DHS in honor of former president, Bill Clinton, from I-10 to I-Never-Inhaled.

Soon when traveling on I-10 past DHS, all you’ll have to do is roll your window down and take a deep breath; but you’ll never be able to run for president.

 

 

 

Nashville – Saturday & Sunday

by Bob Sparrow

Not the breakfast of Champions!

Saturday – Breakfast at the Sun Diner where it was confirmed, with menu items like Crème Brulee Cinnamon French Toast (which I ordered – photo at left) and Banana Foster Pancakes, that we were not at a health spa eating kale and chia seeds. We also realized that beer for breakfast here is not all that unusual and we certainly didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by being the only ones not drinking a beer at 9:00 in the morning.

The streets filled quickly with people on this Saturday as we once again found great acoustical music coming from every bar on Broadway, which was virtually every door except those selling cowboy hats and boots. We discovered that Nashville is the Bachelor and Bachelorette Party capital of the world. And most interesting was these partiers’ various modes of transportation up and down Broadway. There was the ‘Fall Off the Wagon’ pulled by a John Deere tractor, there was the ‘Pedal Tavern’, the ‘Party Barge’ and a couple of other ‘boat floats’, one called the ‘Tip Sea’ and another called ‘Ship Faced’.

Our fear of not getting enough to drink prompted us to sign up for a late afternoon ‘Pub Crawl’, where we met up with other ‘crawlers’ from Boston, Michigan and Indiana. Our ‘Crawl Master’ gave us some history of whiskey, Nashville and Civil War General Joseph Hooker, where he perpetrated the myth that Hooker provided his men with loose women after a hard day on the battlefield and thus the name ‘hooker’ was coined. Not true, but makes for a good story, especially after a few of beers. Our crawl ended at a karaoke bar called the Wild Beaver Saloon, where Pam rode, but not for very long, the mechanical bull. All our ladies got on stage and sang Don’t Stop Believing – you won’t hear that rendition at the next Grammy’s ceremony.   We then decided we needed to get something in our stomach besides alcohol and found a place, don’t ask me the name of it, at that point I could barely remember my own name, but it had a great upstairs patio that overlooked the Cumberland River and Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans. Most of us ordered brisket, which we still hadn’t had yet.  Shortly after we ordered our server returned and told us they were out of brisket. Out of brisket!! That should be a felony in Nashville. We ordered something else, I don’t remember what, I do remember that it wasn’t brisket. After dinner we hit Margaritaville and a few more bars on Broadway, because we clearly hadn’t had enough to drink, and finally made it back to the hotel and crashed. No, now I remember we had to have one more drink at the hotel – thank goodness the bar was still open!

As a switch, the bull slings Pam

Sunday – Up at the crack of 10:30 – 11:00 and met a friend of Patrick’s and his family for breakfast at the Southern. Yes, Patrick has a friend everywhere; this is the same Patrick who ran into someone he knew when we were in Kathmandu, Nepal! There was a slight sprinkle after breakfast, but not enough to keep Linda and me from doing one last lap around Broadway. We walked up to Printer’s Alley, which at the beginning of the 1900s was home to a thriving printing industry, with two large newspapers, 10 print shops and 13 publishers, and by the ‘40s it was the hub of the nightclub scene in Nashville, but now it’s pretty quiet.

Having finished a big breakfast an hour or so ago, Linda asks if I still want to get some brisket; we agreed that if we could find it somewhere before we leave, we’d have to force it down. She recalled the name of a spot that was recommended to her, called Martin’s BBQ Place.   We find it and there is a long line to get in. We say we are just going in to look around – which we were, honest, and squeezed by everyone in line and once inside climbed the stair to an upstairs patio and bar, which was not very crowded. We ask the bartender if we could order a brisket here, he says yes, so we waited for our brisket and ordered a beer from their interesting selection – Hog Wash and A Beer Named Sue to name a frew. After a four-day search, we finally got our brisket. It was delicious!!! We saved some and brought it back to Patrick and Pam, with whom we were flying home.

Nashville Travel Recommendations: If you’re over 40, absolutely get to the Grand Ole Opry for a radio show, cruise Broadway during the day, forget about the diet you’re on and have brisket early and often.

Nashville – Thursday & Friday

by Bob Sparrow

Nashville’s Broadway

Preface – Yes, I know I wrote a story a couple of years ago about going to Nashville, but it was really Linda and Dana who went and I wrote about it vicariously. And OK yes, my last blog was about a hot air balloon ride that I never took, but I really did go to Nashville this time . . . honest! Linda and I went with three other neighborhood couples, Patrick & Pam, Mike & Tanis and Bob & Jeanne, and had a ball.

Thursday – A direct flight from L.A. to Nashville got us into town with time enough to check into our hotel and get to the Predator-Duck hockey game which was at nearby Bridgestone Arena. The Ducks, who were hot, having won 7 of their last 10 games, ran into a Predator buzz saw that had won 8 games in a row. Make it 9 – they handily beat the Ducks 4-2. The most impressive part of the evening was the Predator fans – they were the most involved fans I’ve ever seen. After the Predators scored a goal they would all chant in unison, “Gibson (Ducks’ goalie), you suck, you suck, you suck, it was all your fault!” After the Ducks scored, you could hear a pin drop in the arena. After the game it was just a block’s walk to Music City’s main street, Broadway. One of the first things you notice here is construction cranes on every block, scaffolding on many building and sidewalks torn up – this city is growing in leaps and bounds.

In front of Grand Ole Opry

We stayed out for a couple of hours moving from bar to bar, each with a different singing group playing. To be honest, if this would have been my only exposure to Nashville, I would have

gone home disappointed, as the music was very loud (all electric, no acoustical guitar) and mostly commercial rock, not country, with wall-to-wall people in every bar, difficult to get a drink (that was over-priced) and impossible to find a place to sit down.

At the end of the evening we walked the four blocks back to our hotel and were spared the rain that was predicted, but it was bit of a chilly evening, getting down to 28 degrees. I went to bed hoping that tomorrow would be a better day – it was!

Friday – We walked a few blocks from the hotel and found a great southern breakfast place, Milk & Honey replete with Chicken & Waffles and Hodgepodge – a mix of . . . quite honestly I don’t remember everything that was in it but it was really good!

After breakfast we waddled back to Broadway and 2nd Avenue, where I found the Nashville I was looking for – acoustic guitars, songs where you could understand the words and groups with tight harmonies. Yes, music in Music City starts with live bands right after breakfast!  I was particularly impressed with two bands, both of which had female singers who played the fiddle and sang great harmony. That’s more like it!!!

After several unsuccessful attempts to find a good brisket for lunch, we headed out of town to the Grand Ole Opry. It used to be located right downtown in the Ryman Auditorium, in fact the Opry was there from 1943 to 1974 when it was decided it needed a bigger room with better parking, so it’s now about 20 minutes out of town. We booked a ‘Back Stage Tour’, which included a look at all the dressing rooms and pictures on the wall that tell the history of the Opry. It is quite a magical place. We all got to go on the stage and as you can see in the photo, I was given a special accommodation. OK, that’s bullshit, but everything else is true. After the tour we walked next door to the fabulous Gaylord Hotel; if you’ve ever been to any of the four Gaylord Hotels in the U.S. you know they are extravagantly fabulous, with a huge atrium in the center with a river running through it. We had dinner at the Jack Daniels Restaurant and felt obligated to order some Jack Daniels – just to try to fit in. Still no brisket, but a very tasty smoked prime rib! After dinner we walked back to the Grand Ole Opry for the Friday night radio show.

Darci Lynne

A radio show is broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry every Friday, Saturday and Tuesday night, it originated in 1925 as a one-hour radio ‘barn dance’ broadcast on WSM. You can still hear Friday’s and Saturday’s show on Sirius XM radio Channel 59 Willie’s Roadhouse. This night there were a total of 11 acts each singing 2-3 songs, featuring The Oakridge Boys, Riders in the Sky and Darci Lynne, the 13 year old ventriloquist who won America’s Got Talent last year, making her Opry debut. Of the 11 acts some had hits on today’s charts and some were from the country Jurassic period, but all were good. There was also a comedian Gary Mule Deer – hilarious!! Look him up on YouTube.

Nashville – Saturday & Sunday on Thursday

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.

 

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!

Circumnavigating Tahoe

by Bob Sparrow

Emerald Bay

Lake Tahoe. Just the name brings so many great memories rushing back to me. As those who read here know, we have a long history wth ‘The Lake’ and usually try to get up there in October, when most of the tourists have gone home, to visit our parent’s final resting place. Brother Jack & Sharon and their families went up in July, but we were in Europe at the time so we figured we’d make it up next year, until Jack & JJ Budd, long-time travel companions, had a timeshare week they had to ‘use or lose’ at the Marriott Timber Lodge at the base of Heavenly Valley in South Lake Tahoe, and invited us to join them.  We happily accepted.

Sunnyside deck on a summer’s night

The weather was crystal clear; in fact we never saw a single cloud the entire time we were there. The air however was very crisp during the day and more than crisp at night as temperatures dipped into the 20s and high teens. We decided to take a drive around ‘The Lake’, starting the drive up the west shore. The first thing I noticed was the lake level; years of draught had lowered the lake so much that no water was going over the spillway that creates the Truckee River. Now, due to record snowfall in the Sierras last winter, the lake was as high as I’d ever seen it. As we drove past Emerald Bay I recalled the hikes we did from there up to Eagle Lake and the great views it provides. We weaved our way past Meeks Bay, where I could still smell the Coppertone sun lotion our mom use to put on us – in fact I can’t smell Coppertone today without mentally going to that great sandy beach at Meeks Bay. Just prior to getting into Tahoe City at the north end of the lake, we took a quick detour up Chinquapin Lane and drove by the cabin that Uncle Dick bought in 1951 (Suzanne, sorry to report that the picture of our ‘Aunt Marilyn’ is no longer on the cabin wall). As we drove by, so many memories were rushing through my mind. How lucky we were to have such a ‘Summer Place’ in which to play while we were growing up.

Lakeside lunch at Garwoods

We continued up the road less than a mile before we came upon Sunnyside Lodge – now a very haute destination, but back in the 50s it was a rustic lodge/bar with seven rooms and only two bathrooms, one at each end of the hall, a combination liquor store/bait shop and a small marina where Jack and I would fish using drop lines from the pier (and never caught anything!). Today, Sunnyside sports the largest deck on the lake and is the spot to be on a beautiful summer’s day or evening. Continuing our journey, we drove through Tahoe City, where Jack owned The Off Shore Bar & Grill right on the lake, and continued up to Rocky Ridge, which offers the most spectacular view of Lake Tahoe I’ve ever seen and is the final resting place for mom and dad. We checked in with them, soaked up the amazing views and continued on our way. We stopped for lunch at Garwoods, which is one of the only places at the north end of the lake that offers lakeside lunch dining during this ‘shoulder season’. We sat outside on the deck in amazing weather and had the best fish & chips on the lake, or anywhere except Scotland as far as I was concerned.

Visiting Mom & Dad at Rocky Ridge

As we continue our trip, we leave California and enter Nevada and stop by CalNeva, a once very popular hotel and casino on the lake where Frank Sinatra was once one of the owners and the ‘Rat Pack’ made regular appearances. Mom, Dad and Uncle Dick would dress to the nines on a Saturday night and go ‘over the line’ (the California-Nevada border) for an evening of dining, dancing and gambling at CalNeva and come home way after we kids were fast asleep. Today there is a fence around CalNeva as it is in rehab, or rather reconstruction. I’m hoping it will, in time, return to its glory days.

We continued down the east shore, which is mostly Nevada State Park with very few signs of civilization, although it has several spectacular beaches. Between Zephyr Cove and Glenbrook is the Cave Rock Tunnel, created in 1931 and the only tunnel on the trip around the lake.

We pulled into Stateline, south shore Lake Tahoe completing our trip that covered not only the 72 miles around the lake, but the 65-some odd years of wonderful memories.  It was a good day!