Friday, March 31, 2017

A Day Out: In Search of the 'Superbloom' East of Los Angeles

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 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, 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."

"Oh yeah."

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.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

TRAVEL TIPS - Road Trip or Fly?

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:

Pros - 

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'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 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. 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 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

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

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

A Day Out: The Commemorative Air Force Museum - Camarillo, California

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'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.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 20, 2017

Two Restaurants a Day, Eating Across Morro Bay

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.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 17, 2017

Away from the Bay: Morro Bay, California

Check out Part One of this report...

After dinner, I take a stroll uptown to get some snacks for the room as Letty and Tim head back to the motel. Morro Bay's downtown district runs along Morro Bay Boulevard and Harbor Street up on a bluff above the waterfront.

It's quiet and cold. Most of the stores are closed but soon I hear some music. This isn't a radio but sounds live. Nothing nearby suggests there's a concert or club open.

I keep walking and, as I walk by the music store, it gets louder. I peek through the door and see a band the back of the store (see pic at top).

Watch the Video!

In the morning, the three of us walk back up to the downtown area to shop and explore. While Letty seeks out bargains in one of the several thrift shops up here, Tim and I wander back over to that music store.

It's a tight fit but we get Tim and his chair in and carefully find a route through the crowded aisles of guitars, cables, drums, mics, and sheet music. I tell the guy behind the counter of hearing the band last night.

"Yeah? What'd you think?"

"You guys sounded good."

"Thanks, what's your name?"

Tim and I introduce ourselves, he says he's Ed.  That would be Ed Frawley, owner of the store and guitar player of the band I saw last night. The store is Central Coast Music on the corner of Morro Bay Boulevard and Monterey.

The band is called Deep Blue and they were tuning up for a CD release party at The Siren, a nightclub around the corner that was just about to open up. This used to be one of the town's classic, working-man bars called Happy Jacks.

Ed also tells us that someone found the original neon sign from Happy Jacks, which will be restored and hung on the wall in the new place.

I hear a guitar upstairs. Upstairs? I didn't know this place had a second story. I step back and look up to see what looks like an old projection booth and look in the back of the store...yes, that looks like a stage.  I ask Ed about it and he tells me that this used to be the town's vaudeville theater dating back to the early 20th century.

Ed gives Tim a slight bent maestro's baton and I buy him a harmonica and we say our goodbyes.

A curiosity shop across the street is having a going out of business sale, so we meet Letty there and grab a few cheap goodies before hitting a nearby leather shop, where she buys a remnant piece to take home and work on.

Going back down the hill, she spies some more thrift shops so Tim and I hit the bar on the corner, where she'll meet us when shes's done. This is Legends, which used to be the old Circle Inn.

Grabbing a couple of beers, Tim and I munch on the free popcorn while we make friends with our neighbors along the bar. There's also a window cut into the wall in the back of the room where the pizza parlor next door will sell you a pie, pass it through the opening, and you can enjoy with your libation.

This is a true locals we ask about a good place for dinner along the waterfront, they are a bit dismissive as in "that's for the tourists," but we do get some good recommendations from them and have a friendly good time while waiting for Letty.

She eventually shows up, we have one more drink, then head back down the hill for dinner.

We'll talk about all the good places to eat in the next installment. See you then!

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: The "Timmy Wheels" Big3-0/DirtyThirty Milestone Birthday Celebration-Entering The Prime Years Of My Life

As most of you may have seen from a while back, I recently celebrated a big milestone birthday when I turned 30 years old on February 10 of this year.

Some people that I know of who are from the older generations of folks such as the Baby Boomers or those from Generation X or Y sometimes refer to it as the "Big 3-0." Those of us from who are from the Millennial Generation have started referring to our 30th birthday as the "Dirty 30" birthday.

Before I go on, I must point out that in my family since there are only three of us (my parents and I), we usually don't do too much to celebrate it and make a big deal out of it whenever one of us has a birthday coming up. Usually we just look at it as we're just another year older and wiser.

During most years, we usually don't do anything too big. Most of the time we just go out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. Since I turned the "Big 3-0" this year however, my Family and I decided to make an exception to mark the extra special occasion.

As I mentioned before on my own personal Facebook Page, I had originally wanted to see either a Los Angeles Kings or Los Angeles Clippers game at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles since I am a such a big sports fan, but since my birthday this year just so happened to coincide with the Grammy Awards ceremony that took place on February 12, we had to come up with a Plan B.

Since all the home teams that call Staples Center home were on the road at the time, we decided to look up the schedule of the Ontario Reign, the minor league hockey affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. Well it just so happened that we were in luck because the Reign were scheduled to play a home game against the San Diego Gulls on the night of my birthday. Bingo! The perfect Plan B was in place for my big 30th Birthday celebration.

So we made the most out of going to a minor league hockey game in Ontario rather than in Los Angeles. While there, my birthday dinner consisted of one tray serving of chicken nuggets with ranch dipping sauce and a side of fries from the nearest concessions stand next to our seating section. Overall, the chicken nuggets and fries were very good and were also much better than the hot dogs that my Mom and Dad got for themselves.

In terms of what happened during the hockey game itself there were a couple of fights broke out between a few players from both teams which is pretty routine and normal for a hockey game. Heck I think that if you go to a hockey game and a fight or two doesn't break out, then you have not been to a "real" hockey game. Watching the fights happening in real time while being at the game in person was pretty exciting and it also provided quite an adrenaline rush. Out of all the things I did or saw on my 30th birthday, watching the fights in the hockey game will probably go down as the "dirtiest" thing that I witnessed during that weekend.

The only bad part about the game was how it ended. The Reign lost to the Gulls by a final score of 4 to 1. Oh well. At least we all had fun at the game even though the home team lost that night.

Of course no birthday celebration of any kind would be complete without a nice and delicious cake to enjoy. During the week leading up to my birthday this year, my Mom Letty kept herself busy throughout the day by putting together the finishing touches on my Mothers circus animal cookie cake with pink strawberry flavored frosting. To say that the cake was really sweet would be an understatement.

That cake was so sweet in terms of how it tasted that it took my Mom, my Dad and I a couple of weeks to finish the whole thing. We probably could have finished it a lot sooner than that if it hadn't tasted so sweet. My dad could not have as much of the cake as compared to my Mom and I because he has this little nasty and annoying disease called Diabetes. So he now has to be extra careful to watch what he eats because his blood sugar levels can go up or down depending on what he eats throughout a given day or week.

When taking into consideration all the excitement and enjoyment that comes from going to a minor league and having more than enough cake to eat as described above, you would probably think that that would already be more than enough for a fairly complete 30th Birthday celebration.

Well for the most part it is but I don't want to finish a Cerebral Palsy Stories post like without also saying a big Thank You with much love and gratitude from me to all my friends on Facebook (from high school, college and other places in between), and elsewhere who took the time to send more Happy Birthday wishes and greetings than I could count my way last month. I read through all of them and I am extremely grateful and appreciative of all the love and support that you all have given me over the last 30 years and counting of my life. Looking ahead to the future, here's a toast to enjoying the continued blessings of what this thing called Life has to offer as I enter the so-called "Over-The-Hill" phase and what is still to come my way during the prime years of my single life on wheels.

Tim Musick
Copyright 2017
All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Back to the Bay: Morro Bay, California

With hotel prices climbing by the minute (a hundred dollar room at a medium demand location is a bargain these days), it's even harder to find a good deal in a beautiful ocean setting.

You can still get a decent deal at beautiful Morro Bay on California's Central Coast but those days seem to be numbered with it's neighbors...including the inland San Luis Obispo...are charging more. Up to 2 or 3 times more for similar rooms.

There are quaint, retro motels "up on the hill," about a block or two from the waterfront where you can get clean, basic rooms for that $100 per night or maybe even a few dollars less. Some these lodgings are very nice and most have at least one accessible room, though it's hard to find one in these old motels that will sleep more than two people.

At the other end of the scale are super-luxurious suites, like the one over the water at the Estero Inn going for over $300 per night.

We're settling somewhere in the middle at 456 Embarcadero Inn, where the accessible 2-queen bed room with fireplace and bay views that sit only across a small street from our window goes for about $150 - $190 per night, depending on the dates.

It's got very two, very comfortable beds with thick blankets and comforter for those cold, Central coast nights. A gas fireplace, in the wall under the flat-screen TV, adds just enough warmth so that we don't have to use the heater and we can even open the door to let in the cool air and hear the sea lions barking in the distance.

The bathroom has a tub with fold-down transfer bench and grab bars.  The only problems with this room are that the bars at the toilet and tub are not where Tim would like them for grabbing and the thin walls let the noises of your neighbors seep through easily.

Luckily, our neighbors for this trip were pretty quiet after bed time.  I did let the manager know that hanging some acoustic panels on the walls could help this, however. He agreed to look into it and, after dealing with the very attentive staff during the week, I think he meant it.

Another good thing about the hotel, as you can gather from it's name, is that it's right on the Embarcadero...Morro Bay's waterfront street and wharf.  It's a simple walk right out the front of the hotel.

In fact, I timed the walk from our the south end of the the power plant (the only thing that mars the view here) on the north end. Less than five minutes.  In between, you have just about everything you came to Morro Bay for...the restaurants, bars, shops, aquarium, and the bay views where otters float by on their backs, seagulls screech above and ever-present sea lions bark and gripe at everything that floats by.

Across the street and up a block, we have breakfast at the Blue Sky Bistro having some solid omelets and pancakes with a view of the iconic Morro Rock. If you come to Morro Bay, you get to know the Rock.  It may be only in one spot but it's also everywhere.  The ancient volcanic plug juts out of the ocean, a rigid guardian over the small town.

No matter where you are around here, chances are you're gonna see the rock.  I can't seem to find any pictures we took where it doesn't sit in the background, like some stranger coming by to photobomb every shot you take.

That's okay, though, because it's reassuring to see it. It anchors you when the going gets tough, just like it does with the waters and sand that surround it. It's the comforting sight when you're traveling down the coast and know that you're back on track when you see it poking through the fog.

Morro Bay just isn't Morro Bay without it.

With my meandering thoughts about the rock over, we finish our meal and head on down the wharf. Construction here and there means that a few sections are blocked but when it's not under construction, most of the over-water path is wheelchair accessible and is also public access even when it cuts through a private business. You'll see signs on restaurant patios or even within some enclosed business spaces, too, reminding you (and them) that anyone can transit through to admire the view.

When we're hungry later, some clam chowder, fish and chips, and hot dogs from the take out windows at Giovanni's really hits the spot. It's cheap and very, very good plus the views from the deck are outstanding. We make a mental mark to come to this little seafood shack at the north end of town again before we leave.

On our way back to the hotel, we stop at Rose's Bar, which sits over the water behind expansive windows where we can have an aperitif at the completely wheelchair accessible bar shaped like a boat's prow.

The views of the rock are amazing.

Stay tuned for more, including a new video.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: The Great Monrovia Grocery Trail

When we moved to this area a bit over 20 years ago, Monrovia had your average grocery stores...big union-staffed stores like Ralphs, Pavilions (owned by Vons at the time), Albertsons, and a recently closed Lucky's along with King Ranch, a family-owned supermarket geared to the Hispanic market.

The city considered itself more than average at the time, recently redoing it's main street (Myrtle Avenue) into a quaint and pretty shopping district and they wanted more than what they had.

What followed started a little grocery revolution of sorts.

To start with, the residents of this small San Gabriel Valley foothill city wanted a Trader Joe's. The closest location was several miles away in Pasadena and TJ's seemed like just the kind of high-quality, low cost store that would fit right in. So what'd they do? A postcard writing campaign was started, sending thousands to the company's South Pasadena headquarters.

So impressed with the gesture, not only did they open a branch in the city, the company moved it's headquarters there, too (it's in a rather unassuming, unsigned building on the corner of Royal Oaks Drive and Shamrock Avenue).

Now, Monrovia was on the map. Soon, other's would follow. Some prospered, others failed but we now remain with a trail of markets to cruise on your weekly shopping (unfortunately, it's impossible to get everything you want at any one store). Let's take a trek on the Great Monrovia Grocery Trail...

Trader Joe's - Starting on the western front, we begin at the aforementioned Trader Joe's. Since the company's headquarters also moved to the city, this is now the flagship store of the chain. With company executives liable to drop in at any time, this is the TJ's that all others in the chain aspire to.

Many people complain of not having enough parking at TJ's. That's not the case here as it's in a large shopping center with acres and acres of parking.

The lines never seem to be too long, either. This has all the quirky vibe you want in a TJs...personable staff in Hawaiian shirts, gourmet foods at bargain prices, free samples...and you'll find great prices on high quality staples like milk and eggs. We particularly like the French Roast coffee and Harvarti cheese. Beef is graded choice here but some of the lower priced steaks are only 'inspected' but, according to the company, would meet at least the 'choice' level if graded.

What's good here - cheese, meats, coffee, healthy snacks, frozen foods, good selection of wine and beer. Their Mandarin chicken is out of this world.

What could be better - no name brand sodas (sorry, Hansen's just doesn't cut it), produce could be better, can't stand their English muffins, and - just when you find something you really like - they discontinue some items that are popular.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia/Littletung

Sprout's - Where Lucky's once stood, a new shopping center was built (take a few minutes to go to the McDonald's on the corner where there is a little display on how the McDonald brothers actually started their burger empire here in Monrovia, not San Bernardino as the legend goes). First, a store called Howie's came in as a kind of Trader Joe's knockoff...located almost across the street. Howie's just couldn't compete and quickly sold out to Sprout's, who has the larger resources of a chain.

Sprout's carries a few of the larger brands...such as Budweiser...but it's still a store I can't buy a Coke in. The parking lot fills fast, street parking on the side street is a better option sometimes but the produce selection here is first rate, as are their butcher and deli sections. Prices are a bit higher here than TJ's.

What's good here - supplements, vitamins, bulk grains are sections that seem to go on forever. There is a large selection of organic, healthy, gluten-free etc, but they're not very cheap like TJs.  Very good produce department, good meat...all beef is graded 'choice' or higher...with butchers who can custom-cut, decent selection of cheese and deli products. Good, cheap sandwiches at the deli counter. Decent wine and beer selection but not as good as TJs.

What could be better - parking, lines at cash registers get long and slow...staff doesn't seem in a hurry to get more up and running either, no name brand sodas...gotta have my Cokes and Dr. Peppers, high prices on staples like milk and eggs.

Baja Ranch - This large and busy market caters to the Hispanic market in the area. It used to be called King Ranch (King is the name of the family that owns it) and it's a wonderful market. Great prices, tortillas made in-store, and a deli counter that functions more as a really good taqueria make this one of my favorite stores...and I can get a Coke!

Good, cheap meat catering to meals like carne asada, chicken mole, and menudo, but often at the 'select' grade instead of 'choice.' They seem to go back and forth on the grade, depending on if they think the shoppers are getting picky or not. Also, the store will come pick you up in their van so you can do your shopping, then drive you back home.

During a brutal grocery strike a few years ago, the non-union Baja Ranch (then King Ranch) made a killing on local shoppers who would not cross picket lines. The company plowed that cash back into its's a pretty pleasant place to shop as a result.

What's good here - anything Hispanic...Goya, tortillas, chiles, grilling meats, Bimbo bread, Mexican cheese, Salvadorean cream, tequila and Presidente brandy. Produce is utilitarian with good prices. Just about anything you can find in a major supermarket, you can find here but cheaper. The bakery's pretty awesome too (see above).

What could be better - Staff is hit and miss. Some are really on the ball, others could use a bit of an attitude adjustment. Produce could be a bit better at times, too, but the prices are low. Lines can move slow.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia/Vercillo

Pavilions - The last, major brand, union-staffed supermarket in Monrovia is a bit north of the others, sitting in a large shopping center at Foothill Boulevard and Myrtle. The store was created as an up-scale brand of Vons, who was then bought out by Safeway, and is now owned by Albertsons. Through the different ownership groups, the store has lost a bit of that up-scale burnish it had.  In the old days, you'd never see less than choice beef here. Now, frequently, they slip back into 'select' mode.

Produce is high quality, there is a large selection of fresh baked bread, made onsite, there's a Starbucks inside, and a big wine selection. The beer selection could be better for such a large store.

One thing they really excel on here is their 'Gift Card Mall', a huge selection of gift cards available for hundreds of stores, restaurants, and more. Great place for that last minute gift.

What's good here - large selection of a large variety of grocery items. Some hard-to-find items, like the Broguire's egg nog that my wife likes to get at Christmas. Lines are almost always short and they are aggressive in keeping them that way. Their house-branded sourdough English muffins are a favorite guilty pleasure of mine.

What could be better - Prices! Probably the most expensive store in town. Some items are shelved where they make no sense, such as cream cheese 4 aisles away from the dairy section. Parking can be very tight, mainly to a popular gym across the street with a small parking lot whose customers like to park here. Not really Pavilions fault, but I'm sure they can lean on the landlord to police that better.

Smart and Final Extra - Just across the city line, past the corpse of the old Albertsons at Shamrock and Huntington, the neighboring city of Duarte had a grocery drought. Albertsons had closed. Ralphs had closed. The Tesco experiment of Fresh and Easy had failed leaving the city without any major grocery outlets (not counting the Wal Mart or Target along the 210 freeway) for a year and a half.

All that was available was a small produce market, Tropicana, that does have very good produce and a small selection of groceries geared to the Halal market.

After much grumbling by the citizens, Smart and Final...a small, warehouse type of store...closed their dark and miserable location with it's terrible parking in Monrovia and took over the closed Ralph's location in Duarte.

This one, however, was not to be a small, dark, and gloomy location. The 'Extra' in the name means that this version is a full-size supermarket with lots of registers, a vastly expanded produce section, and about twice as many items as the former location.

Locals flocked to the new store, which has plenty of parking now, and reveled in having a real supermarket back in their town. Prices are low and selection is huge...including the giant, industrial sized items that the company is known for.  Don't worry, though, smaller sizes now grace the shelves as well.

What's good here - Prices.  Some of the lowest in town. Good selection of produce and pre-packaged bread. There is a 'choice' meat section to go along with the 'select' section. Decent wine, beer, and liquor selection. Lot's of household products...Smart and Final is a huge player in the restaurant supply cleaning supplies, pots and pans, etc. Good community relations...also note how the checkout lines are named after local streets such as Royal Oaks, Huntington, and Buena Vista.

What could be better - This is a hugely popular store and, even with all the registers open, the lines can be long and slow. No in-store bakery, butcher, or deli. I can get my Coke here but they often don't stock enough for the demand.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia/M.O. Stevens

Grocery Outlet - Taking over a small, independent grocer on the corner of Huntington and Buena Vista...just about across the street from the aforementioned Smart and Final Extra...sits this newcomer. Picture it as sort Big Lots for groceries.

Grocery Outlet looks for vendors trying to get rid of merchandise, cheap, so you'll find bargains on non-perishables like cereal, beer, wine, etc. The fresh food is still fresh, like meats, dairy, and produce, but you'll find deals here too such as 49 cents a pound bananas (compared to 99 cents at Pavilions), $1.89 jumbo eggs (over three bucks at Pavilions), and more. Selections can sometimes be limited. For instance, I can get Coke or Diet Coke but they don't carry the caffeine free varieties my wife likes.

What's good here - The prices are lower than most but Smart and Final, across the street, is also very competitive. The staff is very friendly and helpful. Lines are usually short. Good selection of organic products. Good selection of wine, decent selection of beer.

What could be better - Higher grade of beef other than 'inspected'. Bigger selection on some products. Better selection of produce would also be appreciated.

While we're still waiting for that mythical grocery store that has everything I need in one place, I can be sure I'll find it along the Monrovia Grocery Trail at some point.

Darryl Musick
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