Tuesday, March 17, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: An Ode to a Politically Incorrect Bag

It's quickly becoming extinct here in California and, as California goes so does the rest of the country, look for a plastic bag ban in your near future, too.

While I understand the reasonings behind the bans and the environmental ramifications of keeping them around, I will miss their extreme utility.

I do have to say that I never send a plastic bag to a landfill or litter the roadside with it. It's too valuable.  Instead, I use it until there is no longer any life left to it, then send it off to recycle.

Far from just being the bag the groceries come home in, that is just the beginning of the uses this bag will endure.

Leftovers in Glad bowls get taken to work in them for lunch.  I line our hanging plant baskets with them to conserved water.

Shipping boxes get lined with wadded up bags as packing material to cushion my parcel.

Christmas decorations get stored in them so the garage dust doesn't cover them up.

Put a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and fingerling potatoes in one. Shake it up and wrap with tin foil (after you remove from the plastic bag, of course). Throw it on the grill and you have a great side dish for dinner.

And, in the end, use it to line the kitchen waste basket for a trash bag (our waste disposal company sorts them out at the transfer center before being taken to the dump).

When there is nothing left, we can either toss it in our recycling bin (again, the waste disposal company says it's OK and they recycle them) or take it to our nearest supermarket where recycling bins are locating just for these bags.

We'll live with it once they're all gone but in the meantime, I've got a big container filled with a year's supply to take me through those lean times.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 16, 2015


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There’s too many to count, really. Maybe millions. Whenever I bring it up, I’m met with either shuddering disgust or local pride.

Here in this narrow alley, there is not one iota of wall space that is not covered up with a used wad of gum. This colorful fiesta of chicle and spit is Bubblegum Alley, where locals have been sticking their gum on the wall since World War II.

Welcome to San Luis Obispo.

Watch the Video!

The alley can serve as a metaphor. Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco but doing its own thing, this pretty college town lives in another California…the one not defined by big cities. Rather, it’s coastal, green, and laid-back.

While many people coming from L.A. take the coastal route up Highway 101 through Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria; our route takes us over the hills from the central valley via Highway 46, past the James Dean Memorial Interchange, and over the green hills on Highway 41, coming in to town on the rather steep Cuesta Grade from the north.

Our day will start with coffee, followed up by a quick stop to Bubblegum Alley to film the intro to our video. After that, it’s out the west end of the alley to Higuera Street and to Mission Mall on the other side.

While there are some fine shops in this little arcade, including a nice toy store and a shoe shop, it also makes for an easy, wheelchair accessible route to San Luis Creek in back of the building.

About 240 years ago, Father Junipero Serra hung a bell from the big sycamore here, rang it to call the faithful to mass, and founded Mission San Luis Obispo.

There’s still a big sycamore here but I doubt it’s the same tree. The creek still flows, however.

Steelhead trout find their way up this wide trickle of water to spawn. It’s about twenty miles or so from this point to the creek’s meeting with the Pacific Ocean in nearby Avila Beach. The fish numbers have severely dwindled. Now they’re protected and don’t even think about fishing here.

It’s serene and very beautiful to walk along the water here. Behind the mall, there’s a ramp down for wheelchairs to get close to the water.

On the other side, the massive adobe building is where Father Serra’s mission found a permanent home. Finished in 1819, visitors can now pay a small fee to visit, see the church, and its historic courtyard.

A wheelchair accessible pedestrian bridge spans the creek here.

Back on Higuera, we finish our morning stroll window shopping. We’re taking in a local Ross store, the Apple Store, a chocolate shop, and a Bath and Beauty Shop where my wife takes advantage of the after Christmas sale to stock up on lotions.

A twenty minute drive takes us over the hills, past Cal Poly University, the penitentiary, the community college, and the state’s first National Guard base to the Ocean in Morro Bay.

Morro Bay is a tiny seafront town with a giant rock. The wharf, rock, and bay have a spectacular view that is marred a bit by the big generating plant at the north end of town.

We can get by without it ruining our day, so we head to the waterfront for lunch at the Hofbrau. The star of the show here are the roast beef dip sandwiches that are hand-carved to your specification at the counter. 

We get a couple and wash it down with a cold, German hefeweisen. It’s very good, hearty, filling food under $10 a person with a million dollar view.

After lunch, it’s a stroll along the waterfront. The town has done a pretty amazing job of laying out an accessible route so wheelchairs can also roll along over the water.

We pop in to Rose’s bar, another whopper of a view, which features a completely wheelchair level and accessible bar shaped like a boat. The tequila sour goes down good with the view as we toast the end to this quick little trip up to the heart of California’s Central Coast.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Exploring Without a Car


While we had fun in Baja, the bumpy dirt roads to the beach weren't to kind to our wheelchair lift.  Not long after we returned home, it began to make all sorts of awful noises before quitting altogether.  The local mobility dealer said they could fix it but they had to order parts and we had to wait (it would eventually take over 3 weeks).

Being stuck in the house is no adventure, even for a homebody like Tim.  The only decent restaurant within walking distance to our house is a pizza parlor (which we walked to the first week) but after 2 weeks, with cabin fever setting in and our anniversary date arriving, we had to do something.

Consulting our local bus company's web page, we found that the line by our house would easily take us to Pasadena or Claremont, both fun places to kill time. We chose Claremont and walked to the bus stop.

It's about an hour ride to the Metrolink Train Depot in Claremont, where the bus drops us off.

It's a very pretty college town. If you saw our earlier report on Claremont or it's doppleganger...Davis, in northern California...you can get a glimpse of what we're in store for.

Browsing the shops, Letty gets some custom made lotion at one of the shops and I get this mini Hohner harmonica at one of the world's best music stores, the Claremont Folk Music Center.

Hungry for dinner, we end up at the Press for some vegetarian lasagna and drinks. It's OK, but Letty is not happy with the lazy service or the bread that comes out with the hardness of a hockey puck.

She declares we will not be darkening the door of this establishment again.  No worries, we've still got Eureka!, Union on Yale, Aruffo's, and many more restaurants we've still yet to try here.

After dinner, we go with something much more reliable, dessert at Bert and Rocky's ice cream parlor.

Grabbing some candy to go, we head over to the nearby bus stop to catch our ride home.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 9, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP - Route 66 - Part 2

Note: this story was originally written in 2002.  I've tried to update the information for 2010.

Part 1 Here

Day 4

Today, we want to see the ocean. From Pasadena, we take the Gold Line to Union Station.  Take the Red or Purple Line to 7th and Flower St.  Transfer to a southbound Blue Line train to Long Beach. At the end of the Blue Line in Pine Square, we board a free shuttle that takes us to the Aquarium of the Pacific (from Monrovia, take the 187 bus to the Sierra Madre Villa station of the gold line; from Claremont take the Metrolink train westbound to Union Station)

Union Station
It's nice. We see plenty of sharks, rays, and watch a sea lion show. You can walk underwater in a coral reef, see divers feeding the fish, and pet lorikeets in an outdoor aviary.

Winter Warm-up Event: Savings are Hot!

A block away is Shoreline Village (and the Long Beach Convention Center...occasional West Coast home of the Abilities Expo) where you can samples hundreds beers at the Yardhouse. The other way, that same free shuttle can take you to the Queen Mary where you can tour the famed ocean liner. For a completely different adventure, you can catch a ferry to Catalina Island at the terminal next door to the aquarium.

We take a long walk on the beach where a great, smooth, paved path winds a few miles on the sand to Belmont Shore. Lots of families frolicking in the ocean, people flying kites and radio controlled gliders, and speedo-clad gentlemen looking for new friends.

After the beach, it's a long ride back to Monrovia. We have dinner across the street at Tokyo Wako, a teppan-steak house that's very good (think Benihana's).

Day 5

We're tired of traveling around, so we want to stay close. The eastbound 187 takes us again to Myrtle Ave. A three block walk north takes us to the fun and charming Old Town Monrovia district. We have breakfast at the busy Monrovian Family Restaurant where I have a delicious special of eggs and rib eye steak while my wife has heuvos rancheros. Tim has a burger.
It's a very familiar site here, the old-fashioned hardware store, the many quaint shops. Why? Because over 150 movie and TV productions a year film here. You've seen this street many times before, even if you've never set foot within a thousand miles of here.

After strolling around and talking to the friendly (well, mostly friendly) shopkeepers, we take in an early matinee at the Krikorian Theater here.

Day 6

The trusty 187 takes us westbound for a change and deposits us at the brand-new Paseo Colorado mall in Pasadena. This is a wonderful outdoor shopping plaza that makes for as good a place to people watch as it is a place to shop (much better than the Hollywood and Highland mall). Just one block west is Old Town Pasadena where hundred more shops and restaurants tempt you to stop in.

After a morning shopping, we head a few blocks east to Yahaira's, a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that serves the best tortas I've had in a long time (a torta is a Mexican style sandwich). Their salads are pretty impressive too. For those so inclined, Yahaira's has a bargain priced dinner menu and you can then take in an obscure movie at the art-house Laemmle Theater across the street.

For us, dinner takes us back to the area around our hotel where we have one last meal at BJ's

And so concludes our trip along this unsung portion of Route 66. Although, we didn't do too much kitschy Route 66 stuff, reminders of it abound here with the Historical Route 66 signs greeting you often, the old downtown districts of Pasadena and Monrovia, the old roadhouses such as Pinnacle Peak in San Dimas, The Derby in Arcadia, and the Azusa Drive-In Marquee which is preserved by Azusa Pacific University. Nearby Duarte also has a Salute to Route 66 parade and picnic each September to celebrate this road's place in history. Not to forget, except for our detours to Long Beach and Hollywood, the whole trip takes place on Route 66.

Copyright 2002 and 2010
All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 6, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP - Route 66 - Part 1

Note: This story was originally written in 2002...I've tried to update the information to 2010 where applicable.

This is a very low key trip, yet it is connected very well with some very major tourist destinations. It's served by excellent, accessible public transportation yet you will be hard pressed to find other tourists while you're here. You'll find yourself on possibly the most famous...and fabled...highway on earth but you won't feel you're at a tourist mecca.

Route 66 of course is that fabled route to California from Chicago made famous by the likes of John Steinbeck and Bobby Troup. Although the highway was decommissioned, hundreds of miles of it still exist.

One stretch that almost no one talks about any more is the part that winds its way though San Bernardino County into the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. The past icons along this stretch are quickly succumbing to encroaching suburbia, but there is still much to see and do here.
Winter Warm-up Event: Savings are Hot!

There are three areas of lodging that are particularly good here, depending on what's important to you. Staying in the lovely little college town of Claremont gives you superb access to the area's transporation grid...even if it is a bit out of the way. It's also close to our hiking area, noted below.

Staying in Pasadena puts you right in the thick of things and gives you great transit access via the Metro Gold Line. You'd probably want to avoid it around New Year's day unless you're doing the Rose Bowl or the parade.

The third choice is my choice for the best compromise. There is a hotel/restaurant row right on the border of Arcadia and Monrovia that gives you great affordable lodging in a good neighborhood with a very short walk to dozens of good restaurants.

For lodging, you have budget (Oak Tree Inn), midrange (Springhill Suites, Hilton Garden Inn), and upscale (DoubletreeEmbassy Suites) to name but just a few. All the hotels in this area are newer and have good handicapped rooms.

You can fly to Ontario, Burbank, or LAX to get here. Ontario or Burbank would be best.

OK, on to the report...

Day 1

Since this is our hometown, we are going to have to imagine some of the following, but...apart from staying in the hotels...all of this actually happened.

The Springhill Suites is located just east of Santa Anita Racetrack n Arcadia.  We sleep in a bit, wanting to shake off travel fatigue. Just up the street from the hotel, we indulge in an early lunch at BJ's Pizza, Grill, & Brewhouse just west of the hotel. There are so many restaurants here that the only problem will be choosing which ones to eat at.

I have a superb french dip sandwich, my wife has a pot roast sandwich, and Tim has a BJ's burger. It goes very well with BJ's own beer and cider. For three people, it's less than $25.

After lunch, the Foothill Transit route 187 bus (the 187 traces mostly along Historical Route 66 from Colorado Bl. in Pasadena to Foothill Bl. in Claremont) picks us up across the street and drops us off a minute later at Santa Anita Racetrack (for those up to it, it's about a quarter mile walk from restaurant row to the track). We enter the back entrance which leads into the infield and spend the afternoon watching the ponies and trying not to lose all of our money. We actually end up about forty dollars ahead. (Santa Anita has live racing in October and from late December through April...it is pretty much open all year for sattelite wagering)

One note here, although we had a lot of fun and met some wonderful people who work at the track, we did go up to the clubhouse restaurant (we had clubhouse passes) for drinks and ran into the rudest people who work there. After receiving very poor service and attitude, we left before ordering anything and returned to the friendlier confines back at ground level.

After the races, we returned to the hotel and had dinner at the Claim Jumper, just half a block east of BJ's. Priced moderately to expensive, you get three meals worth of food for each order. You could very easily split something, or take leftovers if you have a place to store it and heat it up.  Even better is their monday through Thursday happy hour where a pizza costs just $3.  It's all very tasty...and filling!

Day 2

Wanting to exercise some of those Claim Jumper calories off, we again board Foothill Transit's 187 line heading east right in front of the hotel. In Claremont, it's an easy transfer to Foothill's line 292 at Mountain Avenue and Foothill Bl. The 292 drops us off at Baseline and Mountain and we walk three blocks west to the Thompson Creek Trail.

This trail, owned and maintained by the City of Claremont, is a very wheelchair friendly paved path that traces the edge of civilization. On one side are the tract homes of Claremont...which progress from humble bungalows to stately mansions at the end of the trail...on the other is mostly wild area, scrubby chaparral.

Thompson Creek is really a concrete lined drainage ditch, but other than that, the scenery is wonderful. My wife, ever the bird watcher, pointed out hundreds of Cedar Waxwings, a Flicker, dozens of Robins, warblers, and the occasional hawk or eagle. I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye and stopped. Up on a ridge about 100 yards away sat a family of four deer keeping a wary eye on our progress. The two mile trail (four miles round-trip) ends up in a brushy field in the shadow of Mount Baldy. Another more primitive trail starts just north of this one. We'll save that for another trip.

Retracing our way back, the 187 westbound takes us to a true Route 66 treasure, Pinnacle Peak in San Dimas. On the menu here are big, juicy, cowboy steaks cooked over hardwood charcoal served with beans and bread. What's not on the menu here are ties. Thousands of forbidden ties hang from the rafters. They are cut off the offending owner's neck and strung up. If you do wear a tie to dinner here, just to add to the collection, be aware that they have a big ceremony where everybody in the place stops what they're doing just to see your tie get sliced. That's the voice of experience talking there...

Day 3

Today we want to expand our horizons a little. After breakfast, we take the 187 west to the the Sierra Madre Villa terminus of the Gold Line.  If you stayed in Claremont or Montclair, you would have easier access to Metrolink but be farther away with less amenities...the choice is yours.

First, a word about tickets. Metro offers no transfers, so get a day pass instead of a single ticket. We ride the Gold Line into Los Angeles where we get off at Union Station and take the elevator downstairs to the Metro Red Line.  The North Hollywood bound train takes us to the Hollywood and Highland Station. Upstairs is the Hollywood and Highland complex which includes a shopping center with great views of the Hollywood sign, restaurants ranging from hot dogs to very expensive sit down dinners, the Kodak Theater (home of the Academy Awards), and the Chinese Theater...a true Hollywood landmark.

We grab a couple of hot dogs and compare shoe sizes with the stars in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater. The shopping center has great access from the subway and is nice if a little bland. It does make a big improvement to a very nasty neighborhood. That's a big step in the right direction.

Back downstairs, the Red Line continues on. The next stop in Universal City.

At that stop, we cross the street to catch a shuttle up the hill to Universal Studios. The shuttle pulls up and...it's not accessible. No problem, the driver radios up the hill and a lift-equipped van is dispatched to pick us up (you don't want to walk up this steep hill in a wheelchair...even if you're up to the challenge, the curb cuts stop half-way up, forcing you into a very busy street).

Universal Studios is a lot of fun. We take the studio tour, see the Backdraft special effects walk-through, ride Jurassic Park, and see the Waterworld stunt show. In between, we have a few beers at Mulligan's Pub and then out from the pub to see Terminator 3-D across the way. Afterwards, we have a nice dinner at Karl Strauss Brewery and Gardens at the adjacent CityWalk. The Red Line takes us back to Union Station where we catch the Gold Line back to Pasadena and take the 187 back to the hotel.

Stay tuned for part 2, the finale.

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved