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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Battle of the Drug Store Loyalty Programs

Here in sunny, Southern California, we have three major drug store chains...CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreen's.  We used to have a couple of more, like SavOn (miss them) and Long's, but they were swallowed up by the CVS behemoth.

There was also Thrifty, but they were bought out and became Rite Aid.  Nothing special about the new store, or it's service, but they did keep the Thrifty ice cream counters and still serve Thrifty ice cream in most of our local stores. That is very special to the natives here.

CVS, really kind of a chore to shop here especially since SavOn was so easy and all the SavOn locations became the three letter wonder.  The only thing good I can say about them is that they have a branch located across the street from my office, making it easy to step across the street to get my occasional 12 pack of diet soda.

Walgreen's is usally a fairly pleasant place to shop. They also have little mini stores where you can pop in and out, or go through the drive through to get your prescriptions. There's one across the street from our doctor's office so we go there for our medicines.

Each of these also has their own loyalty program and, while I would normally skip them, you don't get the sale prices if you're not a member. The result is we're members of all three.  Here's how they rate:

RITE AID - Other than sale prices, haven't gotten anything from this one. Recently, they changed it to be part of This allows you to earn points at a bunch of other places that I hardly shop at such as Exxon/Mobil, Macy's, and Hulu. Last time I was in Rite Aid and punched in my phone number, the cashier gave me a new Plenti card, told me my old account is no longer valid, and to go to and just enter my e-mail address to activate. 

Went to to do this and it asks for a bunch of other information from the card, which I didn't have handy.  Since I don't go to Rite Aid all that much anymore, I don't know if or when I'll ever get around to this step.  Feel a bit like I've been sold down the river but since it never did that much for me in the first place, I'm a bit ambivalent about the whole thing.

CVS - Another one I signed up for just because you can't get the sale prices without it. Occasionally, coupons will print out on my receipt for discounts on items I rareley buy at CVS. Lately, they've upped the ante saying if I bring my card in (usually, I just enter the number in the keypad), scan it in a little machine, I'll get even more coupons .


Walgreen's - Since we go here the most, I signed up for this one, too. It's pretty straightforward.  Earn points on each purchase.  When your balance goes over 5,000 points, you can use it to pay for things.  Each 5,000 points equals $5 but you can't cash in more that $10 at a time.  You even earn points on the copays for your prescriptions.

You only need your phone number to earn and redeem points and they send you a balance sheet each month.  Super easy...I think you know which loyalty program keeps me loyal.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 29, 2015

Seattle, Washington - Part 1

The scene on TV is scary. About half a dozen firetrucks…lights flashing, ladders extended…were under the track of the monorail. Frightened passengers were climbing down waiting for the safety of solid ground under them.

That could’ve been us...

The flight to Seattle was nice. Southwest Airlines has vaulted its way to the top of domestic carriers with a simple strategy; keep it simple and keep it consistent. As “passengers with special needs”, we were able to board first and snag the bulkhead seats. One knock on Southwest is that there are no reserved seats for most passengers. It’d be nice to know ahead of time where you’ll sit but this is one time being disabled comes in handy.

The flight left from Ontario, California right on time at 9:50am. The baggage handlers deftly handled Tim’s 350-pound power chair, using a special lift right outside the jetway door. A quick stop in San Jose, and we’re arriving at SEA-TAC airport at 12:30pm.

I had called a taxi service ahead of time to reserve an accessible cab but they said just to call when we arrived. I did and we had a ride within 30 minutes. Don’t cheer too much, though, as you’ll see later.

It was half an hour and $42 dollars later that we arrived at our hotel, the Homewood Suites in the Queen Anne District, just three blocks from the space needle and across the street from the late Post-Intelligencer newspaper building with its beautiful globe on top.

I had called about two weeks earlier to make reservations and talked to an Ed at the reservations office. All the accessible rooms were taken but he assured me he’d have a bath chair put in the room if we stayed there. At $215 dollars a night, this was the cheapest decent hotel I could find so with a little trepidation, I made the reservation.

At check in, who else would be manning the counter but Ed who not only remembered our phone conversation but also told me to check out the room and let him know if the chair he put in was OK. It was and provided a nice level of access in the bathroom…all we needed, really.

The room itself was a spacious two-room suite with a separate bedroom and a queen sized sofa bed. It also had a small kitchen, walk-through closet, robes, ironing board, and just a slight view of Puget Sound out the window.

There is an evening manager’s reception…with beer, wine, and appetizers…along with a hot buffet breakfast served each morning. One notable thing is that a nice, local microbrew is poured along with the usual bud and bud light. The bar is manned by Ed who greets us and tells us what appetizers he’s serving. While Ed is pouring the beer I comment to him that he sure seems to be everywhere. He tells me that the managers take turns running the reception by picking what appetizers will be served and manning the bar. It’s a very hands-on approach and I don’t know when I’ve had better service at a major chain hotel.

That evening, at Ed’s suggestion, we walk a little over a block to Buckley’s. This is a local pub that serves great microbrews for $3 during happy hour and served one heck of a macaroni and cheese dish for $13. Bubbling with cheese and infused with bacon, it’s the best dish we’ll have this week.

We continue on to the Seattle Center…the former World’s Fair site…and try to ride the monorail into town. I say “try to,” because it is not working at the moment. The workers have no idea when it will be running.

After a delicious breakfast in the hotel’s very nice dining room…with its floor to ceiling windows giving a view out to the sound…we head downtown. There are two major bus stops near the hotel with frequent bus service. Unfortunately, we are just outside of the downtown free fare zone, so we have to pay but it’s not much and 20 minutes later, we’re downtown.

Our first stop is the Mariners Team Store to buy tickets for a game. The main reason we’re in Seattle at all is that we’re trying to add another stadium to our list. Tim’s goal is to see every major league stadium. We get tickets at first base at the top of the field level for $60 each. This is a bit steep when the same tickets at our stadium…Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California…are $24. This is also for a team that will go on to finish with the less-than-stellar record of 61 wins and 101 losses to finish in last place 39 games behind the division champion Angels.

It’s not a long walk from there to the Pike Place Market, home to the world’s first Starbucks and the flying fish guys. It’s a very touristy place and also has a lot of traffic on the street out front but there is some great produce here. We buy some fruit to take back to the hotel, watch the guys throw some fish around, visit a few shops, and head back to the hotel to rest up for the game.

A couple of blocks away, we’re able to catch a bus that will take us all the way to Safeco Field, home of the Mariners. We get there early and the Pyramid brewery and bar are right across the street having happy hour but Letty and Tim aren’t interested. We get in and, as we do with any new stadium, take a lap around to see what’s there.

We find our seats and are shocked to find they are completely blocked by a TV camera platform. I can’t believe they charged us $180 dollars to sit here! I find an usher and complain. He says I have to wait for a manager who, when he shows up, allows us to move.

Mind you, this game is far from a sell-out. Less than half of the seats will be filled tonight…this is just unforgivable that the team would sell us such lousy seats at these prices when many better locations were available.

At our new seats…about fifty feet away from our original location…we settle in for the game. I get us some of the local specialty snack…Ichi Rolls from the Sushi stand…and watch at Ichiro, Arian Beltre, and company go down in flames again.

One very nice feature to the stadium is that in rainy Seattle (yes, it rained nearly every day, even in August) there is a roof over the park to keep it out. It is still an outdoor stadium; it’s just that the retractable roof rolls over like a giant umbrella when it starts to rain. That’s what makes it funny when I see during the next season that they had a rainout in Seattle. Really?
They couldn’t put the roof on?

After the game, we go outside to catch a bus going back. We find out that one bus comes by around every twenty minutes. One…for the several thousand fans that are exiting.

Luckily, the bus driver sees us and holds everybody else back so that Tim and his chair can board first. We also find out that we have to transfer to another bus at Pioneer Square to continue on to the hotel.

Now I have to note that there is a commuter rail station right next to the stadium but it doesn’t occur to anyone here…supposedly the greenest city in America…that it would alleviate so much traffic to the game to run trains? Only on certain weekend games to they run Sounder trains…not during the week. Only that lonely, solitary bus coming by every twenty minutes.

(Note: The new Link light rail, which opened up a year later, now serves the stadium)

I have to say at this point, however, that the bus drivers in Seattle are the best and nicest transit drivers we’ve ever come across. They always strapped down the chair, were friendly, and never hesitated to give us information about the town while we were there. They would also turn out to save our bacon in a major way later.

The next day, we walk over to the Seattle Center. The monorail is still broken. Inside one of the halls, we have a very good hot dog and go outside to see the fountains. They have this cool fountain set in a large bowl that the kids can go play in. It even has a wheelchair ramp that spirals down the side. After much coaxing, Tim finally goes down and has the time of his life dodging the spray.

I notice a monorail moving along the beam. We hurry to the station, buy tickets, and we’re off on the cheesiest transit you’re likely to come across. The driver dresses like he’s on Star Trek and sings Elvis songs during the one-mile journey. The train is old and, of course, looks like what people in 1962 thought trains would look like in the future.

At the other end in downtown, we explore the area, have some coffee, visit the Nordstrom’s flagship store before hopping back on board to the Seattle Center.

Next, we get some sandwiches from a nearby deli and catch a bus to Ballard. Another bus takes us the last mile to the Ballard Locks, a Corps of Engineers project that allows vessels in from the salt-water sound to the fresh water Lake Union and on to Lake Washington by lifting them in the twin locks.

It’s an interesting process to watch…you can go right to the edge, talk to the people on the boats as they wait to be raised or lowered. Afterward, you can go across the locks to the salmon ladders on the other side.

A ramp lets wheelchairs into the underground chamber where you can watch the massive fish swim upstream. Going out to sea, large pipes act as waterslides giving the fish the ride of their lives as they shoot into the ocean.

Back on the Ballard side of things is a nice park and pretty garden where we have a picnic of our sandwiches on top of a green hill looking down on the locks.

Instead of the bus, we decided to walk back to Ballard going by way of a few shops along the way to buy some smoked salmon to take home. We also see a couple of genuine TV stars…the Wizard and the Northwestern. These two boats are featured on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch and are based here in Ballard, as are a few other boats from the series. Didn’t see any of the Hansen brothers though.

Back on the bus, we get stuck in a massive traffic jam but finally make it back to the hotel. Some more light rail or even a few ferries would make this city much more bearable.

At the hotel that night, I’m watching the news where a scene of multiple fire trucks have their lights on and ladders extended. It seems that the monorail broke down again…just a few hours after our ride…and the passengers were being evacuated down those ladders. I don’t really want to know how they would have had to evacuate Tim.

Stay tuned for part 2...
Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hotel Hunters: Bakersfield

The Musick family frequently visits Bakersfield, California. Their usual hotel has been the Springhill Suites, where they'd get a roomy, wheelchair accessible studio suite but they're looking for something new.

"It's starting to show its age," Letty says, "and the air conditioner blows right on my side of the bed."

"Lately, they've been catering to kids sports teams and it is crowded with loud kids," Darryl adds, "and they eat all the food in the breakfast bar."

Now, the family is looking for someplace new for their weekend getaways.

Their wish list has hotel managers digging deep for that perfect room. The family gathers at Mexicali, a favorite bar, and discusses their options over a margarita.

"I'd like a suite so that we can be in one room and Tim can be in another," Darryl replies, "and it'd be nice to be close to the things we'd like to see like the Springhill Suites is."

Letty adds "the bed shouldn't be too hard and it should be relaxing."

With Tim in a wheelchair, the room needs to be accessible but doesn't necessarily need a roll in shower.

"I'd like my own TV with sports networks on it," Tim chimes in.

The budget is $100 per night.

Hotel number one is the Hilton Garden Inn. This property is right next door to the Springhill Suites so the location is perfect.  There are no accessible suites, however, only standard rooms with a king size bed and available rollaway. The room includes a roll in shower.

"Why no accessible suites?" Darryl asks.

The suites are not technically accessible but they are large and have step-free access.  

"The air conditioning system is nice," Letty notes, "it does not blow right on the bed."

The price is $135 per night.

"Whoa...that's over budget," Darryl notes, "it also doesn't include breakfast. At least at Springhill Suites, the price was lower and it included a hot, full breakfast. It's nice but we'll keep on looking."

Hotel number two is a more budget friendly property in the older part of town, east of downtown on Union. The Residence Hotel with Courtyard (formerly the Tropicana) is a recently renovated, older inn. It has accessible rooms but does not serve breakfast but with a budget friendly price of $60 per night and being next door to the family's all-time favorite restaurant, they could easily afford to buy breakfast.

"Look, hon, Los Tacos de Huicho is next door! And Mexicali [their favorite watering hole] is just two blocks away," Letty observes.

"Yeah is does fit the budget and is close to things we like but what is that guy selling out of his car?" Darryl asks, "and is that a hooker?"

Taking a chance on a property that is a bit out of their wish list, hotel number three is farther out away from downtown in the west end of Bakersfield by the California State University there.

Homewood Suites offers a full, two bedroom suite, with a bathtub, a pool with a lift, full breakfast, an in-room kitchen, and an outdoor lounge area with barbecues.  It's still a bit above budget at $120 per night but does hit a lot of of items on their list.

"I like the air conditioning and the bed is comfortable,"Letty says.

"The pool looks like fun and the in-room kitchen is nice," notes her husband, "it is kind of far from the heart of town, though."

"That's true and it's still a bit above budget," Letty replies, "but it's also a quiet area."

"They've got two TVs and sports networks," a quiet-until-now Tim adds.

With three hotels under consideration, the Musick's look at their options.

"The Hilton Garden is in the perfect location," Letty notes.

"Yes but the price is way over budget and we'd also have to add buying breakfast to that," Darryl says.

"The Residence with Courtyard is right by two of our favorite places and the price is very good," Letty says of property number two.

"Drug dealers and hookers," Darryl replies.

"Yes, why don't we cross that one off of our list."


"How about the Homewood Suites?" Letty asks.

"It is still over budget but we do get breakfast and it's a really nice room and hotel," Darryl adds, "we could make up for it by using the in-room kitchen to prepare some of our food and drink."

"It's a bit far from the action though," Letty sighs.

"Maybe but it's not a long drive to get where we'd want to go," Darryl says.

"Well, I know where I want to stay," Letty concludes.

"Me too!" Darryl adds

"The Homewood Suites!" they say in unison.

Later, the Musick's are checked in to their new hotel location in Bakersfield.

"I thought I'd be bummed at being so far from downtown but the quiet location makes up for it and the new Westside Parkway makes the drive just five minutes," Darryl says.

"Yes, and I sleep really well on the bed and the air conditioner doesn't bother me here," Letty wraps up, "the pool is also one of the best I've enjoyed, too."

"Will you two shut up?" Tim complains, "I'm trying to watch baseball!"

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 21, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Southern California's Best Margartas and Margarita Madness!

Go to this link, Golden State Eating: Nine Tales of California Food Destinations,  or the one below to get your copy of our e-book. It follows us along as we go from Los Angeles to Napa Valley and back again, highlighting nine great food trips to take in this state.

To celebrate, here's our Margarita Madness Cocktail Hour which features the video that's embedded in Chapter 1 of our book. Enjoy...

The first chapter is our new Southern California's Top Three Margaritas and features this video that we've spent the last 6 months working on and putting together so we could launch it with our book.

Watch the Video!
Southern California's Top Three Margaritas

Check out the video and for the complete story...along with eight more delicious chapters and well over an hour of video...go over to Amazon and download the book. At only $2.99, you'll have your own personal GPS to delicious eating up and down this Golden State.

Below, check out our Margarita Madness video where we try to determine our own personal favorite margarita recipe.

Thanks for you support - Darryl

We've been challenged, folks.

The first Cocktail Hour we ever did was my version of a margarita. A bartender in Baja California said it wasn't a be authentic, a margarita had to consist of only tequila, Cointreau (or Grand Marnier or triple sec), and lime juice.

Watch the Video!

Now I've had a margarita at the bar legend says invented this drink and had it that way. It's OK, but not as tasty as I can make it.

But the gauntlet has been thrown and we must answer.

Tim joins me as we make a completely authentic margarita and we give it a taste. Then, we make one with my recipe and see which one tastes better.  Who will win? Watch the video embedded in this report to find out!

Classic Margarita
1.5 oz. tequila
1 oz. Cointreau (or triple sec)
juice of one lime

Salt the rim of a martini glass using the rind of the lime. Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice and shake. Strain over the rocks in the martini glass.

Darryl's Margarita
1.5 oz. tequila
1 oz. Cointreau (or triple sec)
.5 oz. brandy
juice of one lime
1 oz. Sweet and Sour mix.

Salt the rim of a margarita glass using the rind of the lime. Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice and shake. Strain over the rocks in the margarita glass.

Which do you prefer?


Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer in Lake Tahoe - Part 3

For all you north shore people, this part is for you. Previously, we drove up highway 395, had some great Basque Food, and went hiking. Then, we drove over the mountains to Amador County to taste some superb wine and dine among history. Today, we’re going over to the other side of the lake.

Highway 50 on the east shore leads to highway 28 at Spooner Junction taking us past some crystal-clear water on our way to Incline Village. Past Incline is King’s Beach where we see a farmer’s market in progress by the beach. Parking is $8, but the friendly parking attendant lets us know that it’s free on the street, so that’s where we park.

Another days worth of fruit is bought and we take a little time on the beach here to enjoy some of it. Placer County Waste Management is also handing out cloth shopping bags so we take a few of those, which come in quite handy when we go shopping back home.

I drive a little east on the highway until I can turn left to go around the block…sort of a fat, lazy U turn…to go the other way. It’s the easiest way on this busy stretch of road.

The little side street…just feet from the main highway…is filled with trailers and run down houses. I think we’ve just found the poor side of town, just out of the view of the tourists on the main drag. It’s a reminder that not everybody up here is rich.

We turn north on highway 267, just past the town, and head over to Truckee. This old railroad town still hums with the sound of locomotives and has some fun shops and restaurants in its old downtown. After an hour of browsing here, we head back to the lake via highway 89 along the Truckee River, which meets back up with the lake in Tahoe City.

At the intersection of 89 and 28, there are a few businesses. We buy a couple of sandwiches here and head over to a public picnic area where the Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe. There are plenty of picnic tables in this gorgeous area. Our sandwiches are delicious, along with the fruit we got earlier at the farmers market.

Just a few feet away is a small dam that regulates the flow into the river. In the stretch between the dam and highway 89 (a very short distance) is a school of some of the biggest rainbow trout you’ll ever see. We’re told that no fishing is allowed within 200 yards of the dam, so these fish have learned that this is the place to be. A local sporting goods shop has set up a couple of fish food vending machines doing very good business.

There’s a bike trail along the river that starts here so we decide to go hiking. A sign at the beginning of the trail says that pedestrians should stay on the left and bikes on the right, which sounds fine in theory, but there’s only two small lanes…what happens when a bike is coming the other way? It seems that most people just stick to the “keep right” philosophy but my wife keeps insisting that we stay left. After a few too close encounters, I finally get her to see it my way but she’s tired of keeping out of the way of the bikes, so we head back to the car.

Travelling on along the north shore, we go to the CalNeva Lodge. This should be more of a landmark. It was owned for a time by Frank Sinatra and one of the cabins along the shoreline was where President Kennedy had his trysts with Marilyn Monroe. It’s changed hands a few times since then, in fact, my wife handled one of the sale escrows back when she was in the business.

We had originally planned to stay here for a cheap north shore room but had second thoughts as we learned that the present owners were gathering a reputation for not keeping the place up and lost it to the bank in foreclosure. A sale never materialized, so the bank now runs the place.

My wife tells me why it didn’t sell…the property’s key claim to fame is its location. CalNeva means that the state line runs right down the middle of the place. You can see the state line drawn on the wall inside with the casino starting on the Nevada side. The pool also has the state line down the middle. Sounds neat, until you think of the nightmare of sorting out a property sale not only in two cities and counties, but in different states. It wasn’t one of her easier escrows, to be sure.

Inside is a beautiful bar with a giant Tiffany glass ceiling. The place looks old…in a retro kind of way…but not too worn out. We have a couple of drinks served by a friendly bartender. Afterward, we blow a few bucks on slot machines in the sparsely populated casino. It’s the middle of the day and all the table games are closed. They’re only open during the evenings, Thursday through Sunday.

We walk around to see the cabin that Kennedy used, walk into the old showroom, see the pool with the border in it, and the big room that served as a dance hall in the early days. It’s neat, but very quiet and no buzz here so off we go.

As we wind our way back to the south side, I remember about the Ponderosa. In the 60’s and 70’s, we used to watch Bonanza all the time. On the show, Ben Cartwright owned pretty much all the land on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe. After a couple of years on the show, a set was actually built between Incline Village and Spooner Junction, which became a little theme park open to the public.

I didn’t recall seeing any signs for it on the way to the north shore so I started looking on our way back. Soon, I saw a large parking lot with an old Conestoga wagon next to it. A large fenced off area was up the hill but there were no signs. We drove around to the back part and saw the unmistakable Cartwright ranch house along a western themed streetscape. We’d found the Ponderosa. It had gone belly up and was just rotting alongside the road. The website is just a tombstone…”The Ponderosa Ranch is now closed to the public. There are no plans for it to be reopened.”

Coming back into the Stateline area, we decide to do a little gambling. Parking in the back of Harrah’s, we wander along highway 50 and walk into Bill’s Casino, which had a $1.50 microbrew and hot dog special. We make our way into the bar, which had just a few locals in it. We inquire about the deal and get served but the bartender makes sure to tell us that “there are no free drinks just because you gamble here.” Okay then.

We make our way out onto the gaming floor. Besides us, there are exactly 4 people in the casino. Not exactly a lively place. Bill’s closed down last month (January, 2010). Doesn’t surprise me in the least.

We went over to Harrah’s next. Played a little roulette and some slots. More players here but still not a large crowd. No energy at all. We take the tunnel that runs under the street to Harvey’s (built for the cold winter days they have here) but it’s no different. Gambling is just a major letdown on this trip.

I do need to note that we were here at the very depths of our current recession, so I guess it should not be too surprising.

Coming out to go back to the hotel, we see a couple of homeless guys trying to get enough money for a tall boy. Boy, the Nevada side of things was sure depressing today.

For dinner tonight, we head on over to Café Fiore, near the base lodge for Heavenly Valley. It’s hard to find, hidden behind another larger restaurant, but this small (7 tables) intimate Italian bistro is such a find.

I have a plate of veal saltimboca while my wife gets linguine fra diavolo, a plate of pasta liberally infused with different seafoods. An appetizer plate of sauerkraut and veggies are accompanied by a delicious breadbasket. I was not a sauerkraut person, but a taste of theirs turned my opinion around. Just in time as we’d be in Germany in a couple of month’s time.

Charming, delicious, and relaxed. The restaurant is so small that by the end of dinner, you know everyone in there. The contractor up from Santa Clarita with his wife. The schoolteacher on a weekender from Simi Valley. The law firm partner with his wife from Newport Beach. Great fun. I highly recommend Café Fiore when you’re in the area. Reservations are essential in this tiny little café.

The next day we have one last wonderful breakfast and check out. We head west on highway 50 and make our way home down the Central Valley.

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Monday, June 15, 2015

Summer in Lake Tahoe - Part 2

I can’t rave enough about the great breakfast they serve at the Station House Inn. Also, in part 1, I raved about the suite with the spa tub but neglected to mention that we inspected a fully accessible room with roll-in shower and two queen beds. Plenty of room for a family of up to four. Not quite as nice as the spa suite though.

After another delicious morning meal, we hit the road for a side trip up over the Carson Pass. We turn off highway 50 onto highway 89 just past the small community of Meyers. Civilization quickly fades as we drive along side the Upper Truckee River. It’s just beautiful up here with sharp blue skies, miles of meadows, with trout filled streams running through.

A quick right onto highway 88 at Sorensens and we’re heading up the pass.
In 1844, a group of soldiers headed by explorer Kit Carson and 2nd Lieutenant John C. Fremont were looking for a route to Sutter’s Fort from the Utah Territory to re-supply. As they came up through this snowy pass in February, they ran into some bad weather, got stranded, and had to eat their dogs and horses to survive. On Valentine’s day, Fremont and his cartographer hiked up a local peak and became the first white men to set sight on Lake Tahoe. At the end of the month, the weather cleared enough that the party was able to continue on and make it through the pass that now bears Carson’s name and arrive on March 6th to Sutter’s Fort with no fatalities.
Soon, we arrive at the peak elevation of 8,650 ft. near Red Lake. It was in this area that the group was stranded. Not long after, we hit a 2-mile stretch of road alongside a steep slope bearing ominous signs of “No Stopping – Avalanche Zone.” One time years ago, a ski patroller from Kirkwood ski area rode along with us on one of our spring break adventures here. He told us that the area where the snow on the side of the road suddenly grew thicker was where a recent avalanche had come down. He then told us about another avalanche where a man was buried and rescuers could not find him…until the spring thaw when they found his body under the platform that was built for a landing area for the rescue helicopter.

A little beyond this and we get to Caples Lake, which sits in front of my personal favorite ski area, Kirkwood. It’s been several years since I’ve skied, but this would be the place I would try to come to more than any other.

About half way down the pass, we stop at a roadside residence where a sign tells us the owner makes homemade bird feeders. He doesn’t have anything that would work for us but he and his wife invite us to chat for awhile, looking at all the birds that come to their yard. Afterward, he tells us to go to the TrueValue hardware store in Jackson to find the feeder we want.

We do stop there, but we don’t find a suitable feeder although my wife found some great deals on yard decorations.

We make the turn up highway 49, headed to our favorite wine appellation, Amador County. At the tiny town of Plymouth, it’s a right turn to go to the Shanandoah Valley. (see our original Amador County report for more)

Our first stop is Montevina Winery, although it’s now called Terra ‘d Oro. They still have a label called Montevina but the winery has added a large warehouse and production facility since we were last here 11 years ago. No wonder I had a hard time finding it.

We try a few tastes and take along some Zinfandel and Barbera. They used to make a Refosco that would make you sigh, but now Montevina is their budget label. It’s still good, but it used to be better.
Next, it’s on to the King of Zinfandel, Renwood Winery. Renwood makes some superb zins from their old growth vines, some dating back to the Gold Rush. We tasted several great renditions of this grape and one, the Grandpere, was a musty tasting wine. Didn’t enjoy it as much as we have in the past. The Old Vine Zin and the Barbera were very enjoyable. We took half a case of each.

As we were tasting, two other couples came in to taste and insisted on white wines and the guy working the counter jokingly said, “oh, you want the sissy wines.” They turned around and walked out. Seemed very thin skinned to me as it was obviously just a light tease…Renwood (and Amador County for that matter) is known for its heavy reds.
On to our next stop, the beautiful Story winery. Another winery with old (over a century) vines, Story lets their oldest vines go without irrigation, relying only on natural rain. This produces a small fruit, with concentrated juice giving the wine some of the most intense zinfandel flavor you’ll find. Their tasting room is in an old, small cabin next to a picnic area overlooking the Cosumnes River Canyon. We get their “recession special” which consists of 2 of their premium Miss-Zin wines (50/50 mission grape and zinfandel), 2 old vine zins, a chardonnay, and champagne for $60.
We get another bottle to enjoy at the table overlooking the canyon while I look back at the cabin and see the two ladies that work there poking around the bottom of the shack with a rake and hose. I ask what’s going on and they say they saw a rattlesnake slither under there and they’re trying to catch it.

The wine country of Amador County is beautiful, relaxed, and features some of the state’s best wines. It doesn’t hurt that they still routinely offer free tasting, unlike the big valley north of Napa.
It’s time to eat so we head back to the Carson Pass. Up at Kirkwood, we stop at the Kirkwood Inn, a small restaurant and bar across the street from Caples Lake and the Kirkwood Ski area.
This place has been in business since 1864. Snowshoe Thompson was one of the regulars here. It also has some seriously good food. I have a steak sandwich while my wife has a pasta dish. Both fill us up for the night. Inside, you sit under massive wooden beams by a roaring fire (in cold weather), and chat up with the locals. You get the feeling that you’re a hundred miles from civilization and that you’ve stepped back in time.
In reality, it’s only about 25 miles back to Tahoe. Along the way, I see this guy in a wheelchair fishing the Upper Truckee River…I can’t figure out how he got there.

More to come, stay tuned for part 3…

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Friday, June 12, 2015

Summer in Lake Tahoe - Part 1

One of the great things about AbilityFirst is the summer camp program they run. We’d just dropped Tim off for a week at Camp Paivika and headed north on highway 395.

This is California’s version of Big Sky Country (with apologies to Montana). Vast stretches of desert lead up to the base of the Sierra Nevada range. A climb up through lava upthrusts deposits you in Owens Valley, hitting the wide spot in the road called Little Lake. Yes, there is a pretty, little lake here.

Continuing on , it’s not long to Dunmovin…great name, Lone Pine, and Independence – which hosted the trial of Charles Manson. Past Independence is Manzanar, the relocation camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. It’s a beautiful area but, still, who would want to be in confinement here?

On to Bishop, where we make a lunch stop at Schatt’s Bakery, famous for their squaw bread…which just tastes like regular wheat bread to me.

We meet a nice gentleman who is driving a gorgeous black Pantera. He tells us he is coming from a Pantera get-together in Reno and lets us take a few pictures of his car.

Across the street is Bishop’s beautiful park with its gurgling brook. A momma duck and her ducklings swim about in the water.

Mono Lake

Back on 395, we keep up a steady pace northward…we see several more Panteras going the other direction, beautiful cars. There are many towns here that would warrant some more time in. Mammoth, June Lake, Lee Vining/Mono Lake, Bridgeport, and Topaz Lake to name a few. Our next stop is in Gardnerville, just a bit south of Carson City, where we stop to have a Basque dinner at the Overland Hotel and Restaurant.

It’s a by-the-book Basque dinner, except without the communal tables. No menu, just food. A small bottle of red wine it put on the table, along with a bread basket. A large tureen of soup, followed by a salad. The waiter then asks what you want for an entre; lamb, fish, steak, chicken? Next come the beans, followed by a dish of pasta. Your entre then arrives with a plate of fries. All followed up with dessert.

Bellies distended, we leave and play a quick game of Frisbee with some local kids in the parking lot before heading up the Kingsbury Grade to Lake Tahoe. Half an hour later, we’re cruising by the casinos of Stateline before crossing over into South Lake Tahoe.

This is where you Tahoe purists will come in and say “south? The north shore is the ONLY place to be in Tahoe.” Yeah, it’s nice, quiet, relaxed, and uncrowded on the north shore. It was also hard to find a decent room there. More on that later…

South Lake Tahoe is the “big city” of the lake. It has sprawl, traffic, shopping centers, and abuts high-rise casinos but it’s still a pretty place and you can get some good deals on great rooms. Our lodging will be the Best Western Station House Inn, a block away from the lake and within walking distance to the casinos and the Heavenly Valley gondola.

The room is a large, 2 room suite with a king-size bed, large bathroom with Jacuzzi tub (transfer seat available), and queen-size sofabed in the living room. The walls are a dark wood grain, so the room feels a little on the dark side but other than that, it’s a great room.

Also available onsite is a heated pool and outdoor spa. A free, full breakfast is served at the LewMarNel’s restaurant behind the pool. This is no ordinary hotel breakfast bar. It’s real restaurant food. You are seated, waited on, and can pick anything on the menu. It’s delicious too. The hotel’s website claims that it was voted one of the top 100 breakfasts by Esquire magazine, I don’t doubt that is true.

After the long drive, we unpack and head down to the lake to watch the sunset.

A good night’s sleep and one of those great breakfasts prepares us for our next adventure, hiking down to Vikingsholm…a Scandinavian style castle built on the lake’s edge in Emerald Bay by Lora Josephine Knight in 1929. There is a parking lot at the top of the trail and it’s about a mile down to the beach. It’s paved and smooth enough for wheelchairs but remember… you must come back uphill the same way. Although there are marked handicapped spots at the bottom, neither the park’s website or the docents on site say you can actually drive your car down there.

It’s a half hour to the bottom where we unpack a light picnic of fruit, cheese, and juice to eat on the beach. The castle is suitably spectacular and the water is sparkling. Just offshore is an island where Mrs. Knight built a teahouse on the peak. Lupines and daisies are in bloom and scrub jays try to steal our food. It’s a steep hike back up but not as bad as I thought it would be.
After a bit of a break back at the top, we head across the street to do some waterfall hiking. At the road itself, Lower Eagle Falls cascades in a spectacular drop into Emerald Bay. We are going to hike up past Upper Eagle Falls to Eagle Lake.

Many call this an easy, novice hike but I found it much more difficult that the trek down to Vikingsholm. Many long stretches along this 2 mile (roundtrip) trail require climbing stairs built into the mountainsides and rocks. It is definitely not wheelchair accessible, although there is a short, accessible boardwalk trail adjacent to the parking lot.

You reach the upper falls pretty quickly but the lake takes much longer. Although the trail is about the same length as Vikingsholm, it feels about three times longer.

Once you reach the lake, there are plenty of large rocks on which to rest. We have another snack of power bars and water while watching a couple of families swim and play fetch with their Labradors. There are also a lot of squirrels and woodchucks up here, so guard your food.

By the time we get back to the car, we’re exhausted after the two hikes so we head back to the hotel.

Stay tuned for part 2...

Copyright 2010 Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


It's ten minutes, more or less, from my front door to the bus station. Only a few slowpokes that are easily passed. Don't see the guy in the Fiero who goes 50 mph and heads straight for the fast lane and there are just a few of the double gravel haulers that tend to clog up the 605 as they bring their loads out of the quarries of Azusa and Irwindale.  A sea of red lights up ahead just past the Santa Anita exit on the 10 but the bus station is at that exit so I avoid that mess.

Construction takes a chunk out of the parking lot. Luckily I start very early so I don't get shut out of the musical chairs of the late parking lot. Up on the upper level of the station, more construction awaits, taking away half of the upper deck.

The tamale cart is setting up like it always does at this time of day. I'm always too early to take advantage of that $1.50 breakfast. In the afternoon when I come home, they're taking it down.

It's a cloudy day as I enter the almost new station.  For the first time in a week, the escalators are working so I hop down to the bottom.

During construction, my bus...the 481...has been relocated downstairs.  Of course, if I make it ontime, the 6:20 bus is nowhere to be seen. Either it left early (judging by the lack of line, this is my guess) or the driver called in sick on a Monday again after a grueling weekend.

6:23 and still no bus in sight, I hustle upstairs to catch the Silver Line, which I can take to another stop one block farther from my usual one. It's also packed to the gills.

Luckily, I get one of the last seats, squeezed in by my seatmate like a bad economy section on a plane. They're all here this morning...the lady talking to herself; the gentleman with hygiene issues; the gang banger with the prison tattoo peeking over his collar...but we're in luck this morning because none of the usual suspects makes any problems.

It's no fun being squeezed into this standing-room-only bus but those Metro drivers and their lead feet make it just a 10 minute ride to the other end of the busway and my stop.

Not so bad this morning but the things I have seen on rides...the guy in the far back corner sipping on his tall boy Budweiser thinking no one notices, the other guy on a well air conditioned bus opening all the windows yelling that he's being poisoned (and hitting anyone that wants to stop him), the hygienically challenged, the guy who has to do an exercise routine the whole ride, the seatmate who thinks they can just lean on you and take a nap, seeing a bus overturned, the just released jail inmates who talk their way onto the bus without any fare, the sniffly sneezy coughy person sitting next to you...the list goes one. It can be entertaining but, mostly, it's just annoying. Rarely, it can be dangerous.

I make it to my stop, navigate around the homeless and the trash and walk the two blocks to work.

The afternoon finds me taking the Silver Streak home. This is not to be confused with the Silver Line. The former is run by Foothill Transit, the latter is Metro. Newbies often show up at the bus stop, a bewildered look on their face..."Do I take the Silver Line or the Silver Streak?"...but with time, they're able to tell the difference (the Silver Streak runs from Montclair on the San Bernardino County border to downtown L.A. while the Silver Line runs from El Monte to Torrance. Both go via El Monte and the San Bernardino busway so the mid portions of their runs are almost identical).

It's almost empty, a nice sight at the end of a long day but...what's this?...a jailbird pleading with the driver to get on with no money. Of course, the driver lets him. They always let them and wonder what went wrong when they start causing problems.

Today, he wanders to the back of the bus and starts talking loudly and obscenely to himself but, other than that, doesn't cause any more problems. At least until El Monte, where I get off the bus and drive home.

All in all, thankful for a relatively peaceful commute. I'll pick it up again in the morning and cross my fingers that it goes well again.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved