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Friday, May 29, 2015

Getting Unstuck In Lodi

Not even wanting to take advantage of the hotel’s meager breakfast bar, we share a McDonald’s breakfast next door with one of the area’s homeless gentlemen before picking up the pieces of our broken trip.

It’d been a bad night of sleep at an overpriced and cleanliness challenged hotel way outside of our destination of Lodi along a barren stretch of Interstate 5 at the intersection of highway 12. Realizing that we couldn’t make a vacation of what is essentially a truck stop, and not a very good one either, we promptly cancelled the rest of our stay (see our previous report for the details).

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Now, it’s Memorial Day weekend and we have no place to stay in Lodi. I quickly get out the laptop and take advantage of the local WiFi and start looking. Everyplace I check in Lodi is booked up.

I remember a few years ago, we stayed at a nice all-suites hotel in Rancho Cordova, just east of nearby Sacramento. I find the hotel, now a Hyatt House hotel, and they have a reasonably priced room that I can cancel as late as 4pm that day without penalty.

I book it to have a guaranteed nice place to sleep if we are unable to find a hotel up in Amador County’s gold and wine country, where we are headed to today.

Just south of Lodi along Highway 88, is the town of Lockeford. This pleasant little village is home to Lockeford Meat Company, which is world-famous for their sausage. Since Monday will be a holiday, this will be our only chance to stop to pick up some chorizo, Okie sausages, jalapeno sausages, and…their claim to fame…the smoked Dakota bratwursts.

I’ll need to stop at a nearby Rite Aid to get a cheap ice chest and keep these chilled for a couple of days.

Letty likes to browse at the pawn shop at the corner and I don’t mind visiting with the friendly folks of Lockeford Jewelry and Loan, who are also very accommodating and understanding of wheelchair user’s needs. It doesn’t look accessible but there’s a ramp around the back where you also get to see the treasures in the back room.

Sausaged up, we continue on up to Highway 49 and go straight to Plymouth and the Shenandoah Valley, our go-to wine country experience.

We’ve gone here many times, and it’s still a great place to taste and buy wines, especially the big red that our state is known for, Zinfandel.

Sipping some reds at Shenandoah Vineyards helps guide us to the perfect mixed case. We get a pasta buffet at Villa Toscano along with a case of old vine zin and another case of pinot grigio. 

A drive to the nearby Shenandoah Inn reveals two very nice accessible rooms with wine country views to die for. Unfortunately, they do not have availability on Saturday night, which is right in the middle of our stay.

Our trip to Lodi has become a weekend in the capital.

Still, we came to see Lodi and Lodi we will see. The rest of Amador’s wineries will wait until tomorrow; we’re headed down the hill.

After checking into the Hyatt, and making sure the room is good (it is), we head south on Sunrise Boulevard for a scenic, back road way into Lodi that skips the capital and saves us about 10 miles.

Downtown Lodi has undergone quite a renaissance. About a dozen local wineries from the Lodi AVA have tasting rooms here. Restaurants and watering holes ranging from funky dives to gourmet, white tablecloth dining rooms dot the landscape. Live music comes out from everywhere.

We’d come to hear some music at one of the tasting rooms but the extreme decibels blow us back out the door. Instead, we head across the street to Ollie’s Pub…one of the afore mentioned dives…which is next to Field Family Wines. We could avail ourselves of the live music from Field’s, while watching the A’s and Giants playing on big TVs, drinking a cold brew, and getting to know some of the locals…some more sober than others.

A stroll around downtown tells us that the latest Fast and Furious sequel is a big hit at the local multiplex and you can meet a lot of girls sitting on the bench outside of the Take 27 bar when they come out for a smoke break…hey, Tim’s still single!

For dinner, it’s the Lodi Beer Company at the other end of downtown where we have what Letty claims is the best mac ‘n cheese she’s ever had. Tim has a burger and I get the French dip. Both are good, as is some of their signature brew made in the center-room brewery sitting about 10 feet away from our table.

It’s dark when we leave on this Friday night but the area is far from sleepy. The sidewalks are crowded with daters, teens, and people just enjoying the music wafting out of every other bar.

Since it’s been a long day after a close to sleepless night, we make our way back up to the Hyatt to rest up for the rest of our trip to Lodi, which has now become a weekend in Sacramento.

Stay tuned.

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick

All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


It was a tradition when I was in high school and college to get as many friends together as we could, rent a condo, and spend spring break skiing up at Lake Tahoe.  We'd negotiate the fresh and packed powder at places named Squaw, Heavenly and Kirkwood as well as pocket size slopes at Sierra Ski Ranch and Slide Mountain to name just a few.

Our days were filled on the slopes and our nights were filled with debauchery at the local casinos.

A week later, and we'd just go home and sleep for a few days.

One night, we decided to hit the casino. The motels up there had lots of freebie coupons that we'd use. I had one for a free spin on a big slot machine, which won me a roll of quarter ($25, I believe).

I went to the nearest roulette wheel and put it all on black. It won. I stayed and was having tremendous luck. My friends, tired out after the day of skiing, drifted back to the cheapo motel we were staying at nearby to go to bed. My luck hadn't changed, so I stayed where I was.

It was a pretty magical night of gambling at the roulette table. I just wasn't losing. Finally, around 11:00, I made on last bet and said win or lose, this is it. I won again. Around $400 in chips were sitting in front of me. I made my way over to the cashier cage, stopping at a wheel of fortune table where I put a dollar on the 40-to-1 spot. Won again.

I was done gambling but I was too amped up to call it a night. Billy Preston was playing a midnight show in the lounge.

I ran back to the room, woke up all the guys, and told them I'm treating them to a show. A few grumbles but our philosophy was to come up here and not leave any regrets. They came along and we went to the show.

At midnight, the lounge was empty, save for the table with my friends and I and a couple at another table...six people altogether. The announcer came on for what we thought would be a cancellation of the show but, to our pleasant surprise, he introduced Billy Preston.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Heinrich Klaffs under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Mr. Preston came out and if he had any shock or dismay at the tiny audience, he never let on. Just him and his keyboard, no band, he proceeded to sing the daylights out of that room.  Didn't matter if there were 6,000 or only 6...he played the same way.

'Nothing from Nothing,' 'Will It Go Round in Circles,' a whole lot of Beatles tunes (Preston was with them on a lot of their recordings), one point, because he was a preacher at the time...he said "I hope I can just play one song only for you to show you where I am"...and sang a lovely rendition of 'How Great Thou Art'

He was happy, gregarious, and made sure each and every one of the six souls in the room that night had an absolutely great time. By the end, we'd felt we'd been at Billy's house where he regailed us with tales and songs all night long.

I was sad when I learned that the demons had come back and claimed his life but that night I became a Billy Preston fan for life.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 25, 2015

We're Stuck in Where? Lodi, California

Was a murder committed here?

No, not quite that bad but that sure looks like some blood stains on this sheet. At any rate, the housekeeping staff of this particular hotel has been neglecting to change the sheets on the sofabed in this room.

It’s been a rough drive. Leaving on a Thursday night to avoid the Memorial Day Weekend Friday night traffic jam, it was smooth sailing over the Grapevine and into Bakersfield.  Soon, we hit the multi-lane closure at Famoso.

OK, we’re past that but then the multi-lane closure at McFarland, and the multi-lane closure at Delano, and the multi-lane closure at Pixley, and the multi-lane closure at Visalia…and on and on all the way to Stockton.

What should have been a fairly uneventful 5 or 6 hour drive stretches to 8 as we finally arrive in our destination of Lodi after midnight.

We’re in town but can’t find the hotel. Finally, we pull over and fire up the Kindle to map it out. It’s another 10 mile drive west when we finally find the hotel on an empty part of the Central Valley along Interstate 5, far away from the town the hotel’s website said it was in.

I complain to the night desk clerk about it, “you’re nowhere near Lodi. How can you say you’re located there?”

“We get that a lot,” the clerk replies.

“I want to cancel the last three days of our reservation,” I tell him.

“You’ll have to take it up with the manager in the morning,” he tells me.

Very tired but not willing to put Tim to sleep in a dried up pool of someone else’s blood, I head back down with another complaint, “no one has changed the sheets on the sofabed.”

“Can I move you to another room?” he asks.  Not unless it’s an accessible room I tell him.

Five minutes later, the desk clerk is in our room making the bed offering profuse apologies.

In the morning, we put the bags back in the van, march into the front office, and promptly check out before walking next door to McDonalds for a quick breakfast of Sausage McMuffins before traveling on. 

This was to be a trip to Lodi, now we’re stuck here (hey, sounds like a song) with no room on a very busy holiday weekend.  How will this work out?

Stay tuned…

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Day at the Races: Tim and Darryl Take on Santa Anita Park

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Magnus Manske under CC BY 2.0 license

I love horse racing. I grew up not far from here and it wasn't uncommon for my dad to take us to the races now and again. Santa Anita, in Arcadia, California, wasn't his favorite track. He said it was too uppity for him. He preferred the more downscale Los Alamitos for the quarter horses racing at night.

For me, Santa Anita is perfect. Glorious mountain views, outstanding art deco architecture, and mighty thoroughbreds racing for the gold.  I never found it too intimidating, I always seemed to fit right in.

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Later on, I'd get a job during high school at the mall next door. It was very common to meet jockeys, trainers, and other staff from the track who would always be willing to chat about the ponies and let me know who they thought would win. They were also a wealth of horse racing knowledge and taught me a lot about this ancient sport.

A coworker got to know one of the racing stewards (equivalent to a referee in other sports) and he would give us free passage into the club house whenever we wanted.  Lunch breaks would find me heading across the massive parking lot and placing a few bets.

In those days, racing was in it's prime. Talk to any locals of a certain age and they'll remember the massive traffic jams leading to the track on race days. On one particularly big day, it took me two hours to negotiate the last couple of miles to my job at the mall.

Now, you can bet on horses anywhere including your own living room. Back in the day, you had to actually go to the track to do that. Off-track betting has killed attendance at our tracks and, let's face it, horse racing is a dying sport around here.

We've lost two local tracks...the fairgrounds and Hollywood Park...leaving their racing dates to be divied up among the three remaining...Los Alamitos, Del Mar, and Santa Anita.  While Los Alamitos claims to be able to turn a profit with it's paired-down facility and Del Mar also runs a very popular fair at a spectacular oceanfront setting, the company that owns Santa Anita is no stranger to the bankruptcy court.

For now, Tim and I are going to spend a day at this 81 year old grand dame of the racing scene while we still can.

Online, you can find lots of packages and discounts. On, I find a two for one clubhouse deal where Tim and I can go and sit in the great club house (as opposed to the general admission area) for $10. What a deal.

The worker who scans our tickets and stamps our hands points out the gate a few feet away where we can catch an elevator up to the club house level. Although it was built in 1934, much of the facility is wheelchair accessible.  

We do a little exploring and find the best and most convenient place for us to watch the races is the apron in front of the general admission grandstand. There is a nearby bridge over the tunnel where the horses enter the track that separates the club house from the general admission area so we devise a strategy where we'll relax in the club house between races, scoot across the bridge to watch it, and return to the club house to repeat the process.

The first two races are a loss to us. We take a break for lunch and have a very nice, custom carved roast beef sandwich at the carvery counter in the club house. Another rash, low dollar wager puts us another couple of dollars in the hole when I find out I've misplaced our program and racing form.

Tim comes up with the strategy of picking a horse via the number that is closest to his uncle's favorite number, 7. The 7 horse is scratched for this race, so he defaults down to 6. We place a wager on that horse and I also pick an exacta for the 6-9 horse combination (the next closest number to 7 - an exacta is a bet where you pick the first two horses in the order that they will finish).

It's a few minutes to race time and we head back out to our spot.  The horses are off...number 6 leaps out to an early lead and keeps it. As we watch the horses heading for home, there are two horses ahead of the pack, nose-to-nose. It's 6 and 9 and 6 just noses out 9 for the win.  

We finally hit a bet although with only four horses in the race, the payoff is not what dreams are made of...$49.80 for a combined $10 bet.

Still, it gets us out of our hole but we'll drop back down as we lose another $10 on the last race of the day for us.

It's a fun day out for this father and son duo and also very inexpensive. Even though we did end up slightly on the losing side of things, having fun with your son is pretty priceless so I thought it was a very good deal.

Santa Anita Park is about 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles in Arcadia. It's just south of the 210 freeway at the Baldwin Avenue offramp. Foothill Transit and Metro both provide accessible bus transportation to the track.

Normal adult admission is $5 for general admission and $10 for the club house.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ROUTE 66 - Desert Photo and Video Essay

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Our recent tour of the American Southwest ended over a fall weekend in Laughlin, Nevada. Coming home, we didn't want to deal with the Las Vegas traffic so we detoured along Route 66 through the desert and the community of Amboy, home of the Amboy Crater.  

Here are some pictures of that journey (be sure to check out the video too, at the top of this post)...

Coming into Needles, California with the Colorado River in the distance.

Another view of the river with jet skiers having some fun.

You don't need anything fancy to have fun at the river. Just pull over and jump in.

Along the Route in Needles, I'm guessing an old hotel or boarding house.

The Amboy Crater, a near perfect cinder cone from an ancient volcano.

A close up of some of the lava field surrounding the crater.

Another view of the crater.

...and one more view of the lava spreading across the desert.

Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 18, 2015


We've been spending a couple of days in Laughlin, Nevada on the Colorado River next to Bullhead City, Arizona. See Part 1 of this report here.

The morning dawns bright here in Laughlin. Our room faces west, so we don’t get the sunrise there plus the heavy duty black out curtains make is seem like midnight until I crack them open a bit to see the sunshine.

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The family crew slowly rises to meet the day. It’s breakfast at the Riverview Café, pretty much the best food we’ll find this weekend, and then off to the riverfront behind the hotel.

The USS Riverside offers narrated 90 minute cruises several times a day. We’re catching the 10:30 cruise, the first one offered. It’s ramped and wheelchair accessible, though only the interior cabin can be reached with a chair. Large windows there offer good views and the restrooms on board are not accessible…go before you go.

The cruise itself is a relaxing voyage about a mile north of the hotel to Davis Dam, which holds back Lake Mojave on the other side. Near the dam, we see a wheelchair accessible fishing platform jutting into the river on the Arizona side.

After the dam, the cruise goes south of Laughlin to the end of casino row before doubling back to the Riverside Hotel.

We take a drive over the bridge to Bullhead City to do a little shopping and to get some cheap gas. Today, it’s about 50 cents a gallon cheaper on the Arizona side than in Nevada and even more than that compared to California stations down in Needles.

Upon return, we’re up in our room, changing into our swim suits. Our big event this weekend is the Vince Gill concert that will be taking place in the resort’s temporary amphitheater.

The venue is actually some bleachers and folding chairs set up around a stage on the top level of the parking structure across the street. We called ahead and got seats stage right in the third row.

Looking out our windows, we can see the theater across the street. Viewing through binoculars, I see a tall man in a red polo shirt walking in. It’s the headliner, Vince Gill.

Taking a few minutes to see what’s going on, the band takes the stage and goes into their sound check for the evening concert. Opening the window, we can hear as well as see it and are treated to a little mini concert of about 5 songs.

After that, we head to the pool for a little relaxing.  It’s not too relaxing as the water is freezing.

I grab a pizza from the Pizza Hut in the lobby. We eat a little lunch and then Tim and I lose a few dollars at the roulette table while Letty shops.

Later, we go down for a pre-concert dinner. The fans have arrived and the lines stretch out of the Riverview Café and the buffet. Instead, we head upstairs to the Gourmet room… a very nice and expensive spot for dinner…where we dine on happy hour appetizers and have a few drinks.

After dinner, we walk over the bridge to the show. Wheelchair users get priority for the elevator. We have to wait about three loads before we can go up and get to our seats.

Our seats are very close to the stage, although some scaffolding provides minor blocking issues for Tim and me. Letty has an unobstructed view from her seat. We’re even closer to backstage…just an area cordoned off with a small barrier…where we see Mr. Gill getting ready to take the stage.

The show starts and off we go. It’s a very good concert, suffice it to say we’re big fans of Vince, and he plays his heart out for the crowd.

Security here isn’t so strict that they won’t let you take a picture so we get a few…

After the show, we’re able to meet some of the band and then Vince Gill himself.

All-in-all, completely worth it to come out here in the middle of the desert just to see a concert.

The next morning, we have one more breakfast at the Riverview and set out across the desert for the long trip home. Not wanting to hit all the tourists returning from Las Vegas on a Sunday afternoon in Barstow, we detour down Route 66, Amboy, and 29 Palms before joining Interstate 10 near Palm Springs  and going home.

Stay tuned for our Route 66 photo essay as we wrap up our journey.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Cocktail Hour - Wine: Pinot Noir

Today is supposed to reach 90 degrees so we'll keep it light with a bottle of wine.  This afternoon, we'll be enjoying a 2008 Redwood Vineyards Pinot Noir.  Redwood is a Sonoma winery but the grapes are from Lodi and the Sacramento River Delta.  Rated 88 points, it has hints of rasberries, cherry, and a nice oak finish.  Click on the picture above to see it large and the clarity of this wine.

Not that we've had a lot of Pinot Noir the last year, maybe a half dozen bottles total, but this is the best we've had recently.  It's delicious and can be had for around $12.  Paul's Wine of the Month Club has it for $6.99 for members.


Friday, May 15, 2015


The hottest day in my life. On the border of Nevada and Arizona. 128 degrees farenheit (that’s a little north of 53 for my European friends).

We were lucky, we had a boat and could jump in the water at any given moment. The can of soda I left in the car wasn’t so lucky…it exploded and I had a sticky, sweet, gooey mess to clean up.

Fortunately, on this trip, the highest we’d see was 87. The weather was gorgeous the entire trip to Laughlin this time.

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Named after the owner of the Riverside Resort, Don Laughlin…who sparked a boom here back in the 60’s and 70’s, the town is like the little sister to Las Vegas and about 90 minutes away.

Not trading on the hedonistic reputation of that big city, instead, Laughlin portrays itself as a casual, laid back outpost along the Colorado River. A half-dozen casino resorts line the riverbanks with another, the Tropicana, across the street in the desert.

Our home for this trip would be the original resort, the recently mentioned Riverside Resort at the north end of town.

Laughlin got its start here with a small hotel and casino. There was no road access from the nearest town of any size, Bullhead City across the river, so Mr. Laughlin set up a free ferry service to bring gamblers across the river to his casino.

In the years since, he’s paid for a bridge to span the river next to his hotel making road access a breeze but, in a nod to the past, the ferries still run today. They make for quite a little thrill ride as the operators are intent on making the crossing as quickly as possible.

Today, the expanded resort has over 1,400 rooms and over 700 camping spaces. Along with three casinos (one non-smoking and another across the street), the complex features several restaurants ranging from fast food (Pizza Hut) to diner to buffet to gourmet (The Gourmet Room). There’s a bowling alley; a 6-screen movie theater; concert hall; nightclub; several bars; spa; dance studio; bingo hall; several shops; riverboat cruises; post office; two car museums; and two pools.

The rooms are pretty basic. Maybe just a notch above a TraveLodge. Ours was a two queen room…if those were queen size, I’m George Clooney…with an accessible bathroom featuring a roll-in shower. We had to call housekeeping to bring us soap and shampoo…asking other guests and seeing online reviews, this seems par for the course here. It took the bell service 40 minutes to bring our bags, which still beats the over-an-hour wait we had at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas.

Not the plushest room in the land but it would do. The rate was $69 which is a little more than usual in Laughlin, primarily because of the weekend’s headliner, Vince Gill, would be drawing in thousands of people.

Settled in (finally), we head downstairs where I ask a few shopkeepers and security guards where they like to eat around here. The consensus seems to be the diner, Riverview Café, so we head there and have a pretty darn good supper sitting in front of giant windows with spectacular river views. Prices were pretty reasonable too.

After dinner, we take a quick walk along the riverfront and explore the hotel. Past the bowling alley is a bridge across to the other casino across the street. Upstairs, we visit one of the two car museums here.

There are some very cool cars, motorcycles, and even some antiques gaming tables. A few are even for sale.

An AMX over there, a Studebaker here, and old Chrysler Imperial down that aisle…all stunningly restored.

They do have some competition the next morning when a car club mainly consisting of replica Cobras shows up in the parking lot.

Along with the snakes are a couple of Lamborghini Dinos, one of which followed us into Laughlin yesterday. A couple of owners show us around with pride.

We have a little shopping to do, not enough pillows in the room and we forgot to bring extras, so we’ll cross the river to WalMart, and then get ready for our big event of the weekend.

Stay tuned for that in part 2 of this report.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: Tucson and Tombstone, Arizona

Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's Tucson and Tombstone, Arizona...

OK Corral - Fully Accessible. You won't have any problems navigating this attraction but be advised of two things...the gunfight show is loud and the actual gunfight took place where the highway is today, just outside of the walls of the attraction. Still, a lot of fun. If loud noises bother you, go between shows to avoid it.

Birdcage Theatre - Partially Accessible. You won't be able to access the basement and there are no accessible bathrooms.

Boot Hill - Mostly Accessible. Some of the paths through the cemetary are a bit rough but most wheelchairs will be able to see most of the area.

Big Nose Kate's Saloon - Partially Accessible. Basement gift shop is off limits to wheelchairs due to stairs.

Fox Theatre (Tucson) - Fully Accessible. Great place to see a show with very good and close up wheelchair seating.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved