Friday, March 31, 2017
Even mega-sprawls have an end to them and the seemingly endless sprawl of Los Angeles comes to a halt at the corner of Euclid and Chino Avenues in the Inland Empire. Ontario on one side, Chino on the other. Tract houses at one corner, dairy farms and truck depots across the street.
Maybe a strange place to start our search for wildflowers...as civilization ends, barnyard smell and oil stains take over.
I'd heard about this mythical steakhouse that supposedly sits on this corner where delicious 16 ounce ribeye dinners can be had where the pricing is a dollar for each ounce of meat. All I see, however, is a windowless little block of a building with a certified truck scale on the side.
What's left of a little sign on top, in addition to advertising it's weighing service, says Taylor's Cafe and, somewhere in there, 'steaks.'
A couple of ugly brown doors at each end of the building have stencils of a cow, pig, and chicken with a logo..."Animals Taste Good." Inside, a few families chow down on a noontime breakfast at long tables made up of shorter ones pushed together.
A group of men, one with a big but docile Doberman, play a bar dice game.
Yeah, technically, this is a Basque restaurant but not in the traditionally famous 'family style' of the more famous Basque dinner houses. It's also heavy on Mexican influence...the owners are a husband of Basque ancestry and his wife who is Mexican.
That wife asks us where we'd be comfortable when we walk in. We pick a table by the wall.
Menus provided, we go to order. I want the ribeye plate. The waitress asks how I want my eggs..."it comes with eggs?" I ask. The menu hadn't mentioned that. Like any good Basque place, yes...it does...just because they say so.
My wife gets their Saturday special, which is a couple of slabs of very tasty tri-tip, along with eggs, home fries, beans, and a pretty fiery salsa. Glasses of red wine are provided to wash it down (the traditional meal beverage of the Basque, or at least it seems that way at all the Basque restaurants we've been to).
Tim gets a hearty and delicious chicken soup with a leg bone sticking out of it.
It's obvious we're the newcomers in this room full of regulars but the staff goes out of their way to make us feel welcome. After we're done, the server comes up with a plate covered by a couple of big slabs of tri-tip.
"I want you to sample our tri-tip."
I do, it's delicious as was the 16 ounce ribeye I just polished off. My wife couldn't finish her platter, neither could Tim his 'small' soup so we pack it up to take home where we had some great tri-tip sandwiches with chicken soup on the side for dinner the next day.
After that fabulous and filling meal, we get back on the 60 freeway and keep heading east to Gilman Springs Road, just past Moreno Valley. The Theodore Payne Foundation wildflower hotline said there was a big bloom of wildflowers going on in the area where this road meets Soboba Road in San Jacinto.
While there were a few yellow daisies here and there, mostly all we saw was green grass. Not much of a 'superbloom' that we'd been hearing about in the news. We did see the big Scientology compound here with it's faux castle movie soundstage and golf course. No signs of Tom Cruise or John Travolta, though.
Strangely, there is a row of rotting, falling down houses along the compound's golf course.
We continue on until we reach the end of Soboba Road at the Indian casino there and turn around. It's time for 'Plan B.' Luckily, we can go to Oak Glen. It's about 30 minutes away from our current location and, even if there are no flowers, we can still get some great scenery in.
"...and they have pie," Tim reminds me. That's right, Oak Glen is a famous apple growing region and pie is on every menu.
"Do you think we can get donuts on the way home?" Tim asks.
"Tim, you just said you wanted pie."
We make it up to the Wildland Conservancy's Oak Glen Preserve (formerly Los Rios Rancho apple farm) where wheelchair accessible trails wind through apple orchards and Morane forests.
Finally, we see some flowers. They're apple blossoms and not wildflowers but at least there's a lot of 'em.
It's a chilly, fall-like day even though it's early spring. Jackets are needed today. I grab a map from an unmanned visitor's center adjacent to the handicapped parking.
We take a short hike to the preserve's duck pond, seeing this woodpecker in a nearby tree, looking for more wildflowers.
It's just not happening today, Superbloom hype notwithstanding. There are some other spectacular view and lots of lush, green landscapes...just not much blooming besides the fruit trees.
Back in the parking lot, we go to the former packing shed where we get some hot coffee and Tim can get his apple pie before heading back home.
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Many trips now start off with the question of mode of transportation...should we drive or fly? Here is our thought process on that question.
UPDATE: Please see our update at the bottom of this article.
Driving can be a good choice, especially if you're not going too far. In fact, for trips of 500 miles or less, it's pretty much our default transportation. Here are some of the Pros of driving, followed by some of the Cons:
You can pretty much take whatever you want. You don't have to travel as light as possible like you do when flying. Shower chairs, extra pillows, pool toys, sports equipment...it's not the problem to take them like it would be on a plane.
If you're a wheelchair user, you can have your own personal car with you and don't have to worry about how you'll get around at your destination. If you're a power chair user, this goes double for you.
It's usually cheaper (at least for the shorter distances).
With all the early check-in required at airports these days, baggage claim, and transfers, travel time can be pretty competitive too for shorter distances.
You'll have a more comfortable seat when traveling.
You don't have to share your car with 100+ strangers in close quarters.
If you get tired of the drive, you can pull over to take a break, eat, stretch your legs, etc.
You get to see more scenery along the way and when something interesting pops up, you can stop to check it out.
You can travel on your own schedule.
Cons - If it's a long distance, you'll have a long drive...probably boring too.
If it's a real long distance, say over 1,000 miles, you probably won't save money over flying.
It's up to you to keep the car clean.
You're at risk of an auto accident...much more common than plane crashes.
There are some places...like San Francisco or New York...where having a car is more of a handicap than not having one.
You can get stuck in traffic.
If you need to go to the bathroom, you generally have to wait until one comes along.
Flying used to be much better but since 9/11, deregulation, mergers, and bankruptcies, it has gotten to the point of being quite a challenge much of the time. Still, it is the fastest way to get to your destination.
Pros - Fast. A distance that would take you a week to drive can be covered in 6 hours. You can fly coast-to-coast and cross an ocean in less than 12 hours.
Since you get there much faster, you can save money, not only on gas but on hotel rooms and meals along the way.
Safer...you are much, much less likely to get injured or die in an airplane accident than you are in a car.
You don't have to do the driving.
Cons - Economy class can truly be tight. Crossing the Atlantic on a 10 hour flight being squeezed into a 17 inch seat is just not fun.
Going through security at the airport...especially in the states...takes a long time and can border on humiliation.
Parking at the airport can be expensive...so can a taxi ride to the airport.
Service can be anywhere from pleasant to rude to downright mean.
Food, if available, can be barely edible.
You need to pack light, very light, or you will not only be lugging a lot of cumbersome luggage but also paying big fees to take it along.
It's crowded, not only on the plane but in the airport as well.
If you're a wheelchair user, you need to get to the airport an extra hour earlier than anyone else, then you have to beg, cajole, threaten, to get someone to help you check your chair and carry you to your seat.
So for us, if we could comfortably do it, we'd always drive but long trips don't always lend themselves to it. Flying is something we endure to get where we'll have a good time. Hopefully, you can go through the pros and cons of each mode and come up with a good way to get where you're going.
UPDATE: What this story needs is a real world example. Here is one from a fairly recent trip we took from Ontario, California to Seattle.
Airfare, including taxes, $184 each on Southwest. That's $552 for three
Parking for 5 days at ONT - $40
Link train from Seattle airport $16.50, round trip for three
TOTAL TRANSPORTATION COST FOR FLYING: $608.50
Gas, round trip for 2,300 miles round trip at 18mpg, $3.90 per gallon - $132
Meals for four days of driving (two days up, two days back)- $240 ($10 for breakfast, $20 for lunch, $30 for dinner)
Hotel halfway to destination (one each way) - $140
TOTAL TRANSPORTATION COST FOR DRIVING: $512
Now, when we consider it will take us two days each way to drive and less than 3 hours flying, that $95.50 difference doesn't seem so bad for the three of us. That's two vacation days I don't have to take if I fly and the cost difference is small enough to make it worth it to fly instead of drive for two days each way.
We also take into consideration that Seattle have very good wheelchair public transportation available and we won't really need our own car while we're there.
Of course, the more of you there are, the bigger that price tag will be. As always, your situation, tolerance, and costs may be different. This is just an exercise to show you how to figure what method of transport will suit your needs and budget.
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Monday, March 27, 2017
For years, I'd drive through this Ventura County town on my way to Santa Barbara or on my way back from San Luis Obisbo, and see a stunning Lockheed Constellation parked at the south end of Camarillo's airport from the freeway.
I vowed to take a closer look but never did. Eventually, the Connie went away but I still made it a mission to someday see the air museum here.
That day has come as I've vowed to get the family out of the house more often and do more of these day-long adventures.
Camarillo sits just over the hill from the mega-sprawl of Los Angeles. A sometimes hair-raising descent over the Canejo Grade from Thousand oaks deposits you here. This city, Oxnard, and Ventura are making their own little sprawl but miles of farmland still surround the trio of cities.
It's also become home to refugees of the giant congested city to the south with thousands of residents commuting daily via their cars, Metrolink's railroad, or buses to their jobs in L.A. The telltale sign is the congested traffic coming down the grade this morning.
We crawl our way across town on the 101, making our way over to the airport. It's a former Air Force base so old, military style buildings dot the grounds. A couple of schools and the Sheriff's facility have moved into some, airport support services occupy the others.
A bright yellow Huey helicopter, with the signature 'whoop whoop' of the rotors eases it's way down to it's pad at the Sheriff's Search and Rescue facility while we look for the museum. It's just past the deputies' landing pad.
The docent manning the front counter lets us know that half of the planes are missing today because they are appearing at an air show in El Centro. To compensate, he only charges us half price (usual donation is $10 to get in, today it's $5).
Before setting out onto the tarmac, we browse the interior with displays of weapons, bomb sights, uniforms, and even this piece of the 'Enola Gay,' autographed by the crew.
A couple of planes are inside the hangar with us, a trainer covered with a tarp and this P-51 Mustang that was getting a new engine installed.
We head outside and start looking at some of the craft when a docent comes up and asks us "where's George?"
I let him know that I don't know, and don't even know who George is. He tells us that we must be escorted at all times on the tarmac. No one told us but he goes off to get George, another docent.
Once George shows up, with a couple of German tourists in tow, we get a tour of the tarmac. There's a C-47 (the military version of the DC-3) that saw service in WW2 and as a gunship in Vietnam and a Huey that was also a gunship in Vietnam (pic at the top of this post).
The 'China Doll', a C-46 transport that was built right at the end of the war so it saw no military service but planes of this type flew resupply missions over the Himalayas.
In a hangar next door, George shows us a B-25 undergoing restoration by another group unaffiliated with the museum.
With several planes in the collection gone...including one of the few remaining true Japanese Zeros left in the world...it's a fairly short visit. We're on our way but not before I snap a picture of this docent-owned classic Chevy Bel Air (by the way, the docent told me the Lockheed Connie that used to be there is now at the Yanks Air Museum in Chino).
Once outside the gates of the airport, we're back in the middle of prime Ventura County strawberry country. Some of the best strawberries in the world come from this region.
A small farm stand sits in a field across from the airport gate, we'll pick up some berries here. They were delicious and most didn't make it all the way home.
We also picked up a bag of local oranges.
Over the hill in Thousand Oaks, we go to the local mall to have dinner at Stacked. This is a new chain, about half a dozen locations at the moment, started by Paul Motenko and Jerry Hennessy.
We're big fans of this pair, going way back to their days of buying up another small local chain, BJ's, which they turned into a nationwide powerhouse.
Paul and Jerry were bought out and forced out of their positions at BJs and, as soon as their no-compete clause expired, they were back at it again with Stacked.
You can order via an iPad at your table...or you can order via a server the old fashioned way...and customize your food to your preference, the price changing on the iPad to reflect additions or subtractions to your entree.
Tim and I had bacon cheeseburgers...mine with onion straws, his without...and Letty opted for the more healthy choice of this salad.
One more stop in Simi Valley for a trip to Costco for groceries and gas where we spotted this beauty...a bright yellow 57 Chevy to go with the red and white version we saw at the airport.
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Watch the Video!
From our hotel room in the Dominican Republic, Tim and I explore the possibilities in our new video and come up with a new cocktail, the Bavaro (named for the beach in front of the hotel.
Here's the final recipe:
INGREDIENTS (two drinks):
3 oz. dark rum
1 oz. brandy
4 oz. orange soda
1 oz. 7UP
Fill two highball glasses with ice. Split rum and brandy evenly between the two. Fill within an inch of the top with orange soda. Top off with 7UP.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Joits under CC BY 2.0 License
If you're a Californian, you know who Huell Howser is...or was. Sadly he passed away of prostate cancer in 2013.
If you're not from this state, Huell...although not a native to California...could be called 'Mr. California. A reporter originally hailing from Tennessee, the very friendly and folksy Mr. Howser took his camera to every nook and cranny in this state and celebrated every inch and person in his various shows on PBS, such as California's Gold, Visiting, California's Golden Parks and more (see bottom for how you can stream all these shows on your PC, you won't regret it, perfect for binging).
It may be harder to find someone who didn't meet him here than someone whose path he never crossed. We met him twice while dining at one of his (and our) favorite restaurants, Philippe's in Downtown Los Angeles.
Someone at Chapman University had the bright idea of inviting Huell to speak at their commencement, an act that impressed him so much that he willed his entire estate to the school. This included not only all of his shows, money, and personal belongings but also two houses in the desert that the university eventually sold to endow scholarships in his name.
Today, we're trekking down to the City of Orange (in the heart of Orange County, natch) to see what they've got. Although 'museum' might be a stretch, there is a big museum quality to the Huell Howser California's Gold Exhibit in the campus library's basement.
Mr. Howser was quite a collector of found art (a more charitable term for 'junk') and as you exit the elevator on the basement level, you'll see much of it hanging on the wall. Right as you walk out, you'll see a right-angled piece of rusted metal with light sockets hanging on the wall. This is part of the letter 'L' from the original Hollywood sign that Huell found lying on the ground when he did a show on it. He took it with him since no one else seemed to want it.
There is an old radiator, some corrugated metal, interestingly shaped pipe, and more from his kitschy collection mounted on the walls.
In the door, the docent...Tommy...comes rushing over to welcome you. He's a font of Huell knowledge although he is the rare Californian that never got to meet the man.
We see a wall highlighting his three cameramen...never seen but very familiar to viewers ("get a shot of this, Louie!")...Luis Fuerte, Troye Jenkins, and Cameron Tucker. There are knick knacks scattered around, gifts from those he visited and highlighted on the show such as a wall clock from the Carmelita Chorizo factory, a die cast wagon from See's Candy, a figurine from Phillipe's and much more.
A Simpson's script, autographed by creator Matt Groening and the cast sit in a case. The Simpson's used to roast him mercilessly but the good-natured Howser gladly took it in stride and even provided his voice to the show when they satirized him again. This script is from that episode.
His office furniture and editing dock have been arranged in a recreation of his office and the over 1,800 books he collected are available for browsing. Two computers are set up to watch episodes of his shows.
It's only two-rooms and a hallway but very worth visiting.
Afterward, we had planned to have an early dinner at Cafe Felix in downtown Orange but we're not too hungry yet so we head north on the 57 freeway to Pomona.
Old Stump Brewery sits in a former factory on Bonita, just west of Garey. There is somewhat of a beer garden set up in the back parking lot.
They seem to specialize in blonde ales here so we try a few. They're very good and refreshing but we're still not hungry enough to partake in the tri tip being barbecued outside.
The Huell Howser California's Gold Exhibit and Archives are located in the basement of the Leatherby Library Building, very close to the Lastinger Parking structure on Walnut Street in the City of Orange, California. It's on the campus of Chapman University. There is no admission fee but there is a small parking fee on campus. Find out more at this link: California's Gold Exhibit and Huell Hoswer Archives
There is very handy handicapped parking in the bottom level of the structure which is right across a sidewalk from the library. An elevator across from the circulation desk at the entrance will take you down to the exhibit. Accessible restrooms are available as well.
You can stream almost every show he did from the comfort of your own computer at this link: Huell Howser Video Archives
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
While there are a select few people who get their travel paid for them, I'm not one of them (but I'm willing to change that - Ed) and chances are neither are you. So where do we come up with the money to travel with?
Be sure to include an estimate of how much food will cost and how much your hotel will feed you, if at all. If you're driving, figure out your gas mileage and calculate that too.
Once you have that amount, add at least 10% to that to cover any incidentals along the way, total it all up and that's how much you'll need to save.
Figure out when you want to go, how many weeks away from now it is, and divide that number by the cost of the trip. That's how much you'll need to sock away each week. Do that, and you'll have enough to go when the time comes.
The other way to figure out how much it will cost is to set aside a certain amount each week, say $50 and then decide when you want to go, let's say 6 months from now. 26 weeks of $50 will get you $1,300.
When the time gets near, find out where you can go for that amount and plan your trip to somewhere you can afford (don't think that amount is too little either...we did a week in the Dominican, all-inclusive including air, for less than $1,200 per person).
Some people will say they don't have the discipline to put aside that set amount of money each week. That's sad...you need some discipline to travel successfully anyway so why not start with the money? If you don't think there's any money to save, try skipping one Starbucks latte and an extra value meal each week...there's $10 right there and it's going to be healthier too.
OK, let's think of some other strategies...
Does your employer use Direct Deposit? Many employers that use Direct Deposit allow you to not only automatically deposit the money to your bank account, but also a few other accounts as well. For example, if you work for the U.S. Government, you can set up your deposit to be split up to as many as three accounts so let's say 80% can go into your main checking account, 10% into a household expense account, and another 10% into a vacation account.
Now you're saving up your vacation money without even thinking about it.
If you can't take advantage of this, talk to your bank or credit union. Many will allow automatic transfers into separate savings accounts that can be used the same way.
However you pay for your vacation, I strongly urge you not to charge it. Save up for it, don't end up paying for it long after it's over.
Other ways to help pay for travel, or at least soak up some of the costs is to use reward credit/debit cards and to join loyalty programs.
Travel rewards cards earn points for each dollar spent that can be cashed in for things like airfare and hotels. Be sure to read the fine print, however, because many of these cards charge a lot of fees for it. Here are some recommended cards: http://www.consumerismcommentary.com/the-best-travel-rewards-credit-cards/
We don't travel by air a whole lot, so we prefer a cash back card that pays you a certain percentage rebate for each use. Our favorite is the Costco Citi Visa card that racks up several hundred dollars a year for use in everyday use including 4% for gas, 3% for travel and restaurants, 2% for purchases at Costco, and 1% for everything else (our cash back is paying for this year's spring trip). Some other recommended rewards cards are listed here: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-5-best-rewards-credit-cards-2011-2
Hotel loyalty programs are also good to earn free room stays. Find a chain you like, join the club, and start racking up the points. We use Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, and...to a lesser extent...Choice Hotels. By joining the loyalty program, which is completely free, we not only get points for free stays (and get at least a free night in a hotel each year), we also get some added perks at the hotel just by being a member such as upgraded rooms or late check-outs.
These are all tips to help you accumulate the money you need to afford a vacation. It's actually not too hard to do. Figure a price, save an amount each week till you reach it, use rewards and loyalty programs to help you accumulate free travel and lodging, and off you go.
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick (updated 2017)
All Rights Reserved
Monday, March 20, 2017
Check out Part One and Part Two of this report...
Yep, it's only two. That's our meal plan on most trips. We find we can get by just fine eating only breakfast and a late lunch/early dinner. We don't go hungry and we save some money by not eating that third meal. A stop at the local Walgreen's for some in-room snacks and drinks comes in handy for evening relaxing and snacking when the bug hits, though.
Probably our favorite thing to do here in Morro Bay is to eat, so let's take a look at the choices we made along the way.
Our hotel, the 456 Embarcadero, has a small breakfast bar. The continental choices are slim pickin's but you can add a waffle from the DIY waffle iron in the room. Not bad but we can do better...
Blue Sky Bistro makes some delicious omelets with good coffee and pancakes in a wharf location over the bay. It's within walking distance to the hotel so we come here for our first breakfast. It's a bit chilly, plus the outside deck is full, so we gladly take a table in the warm dining room where we can take in the bay view.
It's raining the next day, so we pile into the van (thank God for the hotel's covered parking) and head out. At the other end of the waterfront, the Coffee Pot restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch. It dishes out some very good and hearty American morning cuisine. You'll love the biscuits and gravy, large helpings of eggs, pancakes, French toast, and the ever-full coffee cup.
As All-American as this restaurant seems, it's run by Lu Chi Fa, a refugee from China who escaped into Hong Kong as a child of 12. He has written a book about his harrowing life there, his escape, and the life he found here in America called Double Luck.
One of my favorite lunches in this town is to have a custom cut beef dip sandwich from the Hofbrau, which sits right over the water The large prime rib is on the counter and you can tell the carver just how you want it cut. Get some fries, chowder, or some great German potato salad to go with it.
Don't forget to get a large mug of Hofbrau beer to wash it down with.
Back at the Blue Sky Bistro, it's dinner and wine during Happy Hour while watching this year's very exciting Rose Bowl game. Letty has a delectable mahi mahi platter while Tim and I dig into some burgers and fries.
The next day, it's back to Giovanni's take out window where we had some great fish 'n chips a few days ago. Tonight, we nosh on some great calimari on the adjacent outdoor deck batting away the agressive sparrows and seagulls.
Our last night here, I promised Letty a nice seafood dinner which is delivered by the Great American Fish Company right next to the dock where they take advantage of the local fishing fleet's catch to have some very fresh fish.
She has a seafood stew that she pronounces just heavenly, Tim has some more fish 'n chips, while I get a burger cooked on their mesquite grill.
It's all very nice and kept us well fed while we were in this little bayside town.
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Have a drink with us! (video)
After the week is over, the work week has finish, and the chores are done, we like to spend some time on Sunday afternoon to just relax with a drink on the patio while we watch for birds and wildlife in the hills behind our house...this is our "cocktail hour."
This will be a new feature on the blog, occasionally showing you what we're drinking this week and how to make it yourself. We'll start off with one of the classics - the margarita.
There are a few stories of how the margarita was invented. Myself, I like to think this is the true story...Rita Hayworth, who originally went by the name of Margarita Cansino, was drinking with friends down in Mexico at the Halfway House bar. It is called the Halfway House because it is halfway between Tijuana and Ensenada. She asked the bartender to make her something with tequila so she wouldn't have to put up with the harshness of the shot so he made up the drink with lime juice, triple sec, and tequila with salt on the rim of the glass and named the drink after her. We used to have drinks at the Halfway House and hear the bartender tell us the story (another local invention is the Cesar Salad, created at the Hotel Cesar in Tijuana) but we haven't been there in over 25 years. The restaurant dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and is still there, still serving margaritas and more.
Here is our version of this classic drink. Note that we serve it on the rocks...as intended. This is not the travesty that is a blended (or frozen) margarita.
CLASSIC MARGARITA RECIPE
Ingredients (for two drinks)
2 oz. Tequlia (get a good tequila that's labeled "100% puro de agave")
1 oz. Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or triple sec (the first two will have a very positive effect on the taste)
splash of brandy or cognac
4-5 oz. sweet and sour mix (our two favorite brands are Tavern and Finest Call)
Put salt in shallow bowl or spread out on plate. Slice the lime into two halves. Run the open lime around the rim of the glass so that there is a fine sheen of lime juice on it (use a margarita glass, a cocktail glass, or an old fashioned glass if you have nothing else). Fill a cocktail shaker about 1/3 full with ice, crushed would be preferable. We use half liter glass shaker. Take one of the lime halves and squeeze the juice into the shaker. Put in the rest of your liquid ingredients, putting in the sweet and sour last and filling to the top. Put the lid on the shaker and shake. Fill the glasses about 2/3 full with ice and strain the drink into them.