Wednesday, March 28, 2018

TRANSIT: A New Wrinkle In Public Transit - Ridesharing

Recently, I've been driving through my neighborhood in Monrovia, California, and noticing new banners popping up on light poles around the city with the word "GO" in big letters and either a logo for Lyft or Lime Bike on them.

At first, I thought the city was touting offices for each of the companies opening in the city, since it aggressively works to get companies to locate here. Trader Joe's moved their corporate headquarters here, for example.

There was a link at the bottom of the get more info, so I checked it out. 

Lyft and the Lyft logo are trademarks of Lyft, Inc.

This was something completely different and very interesting. It turns out that Monrovia (as other cities are also starting to do) is integrating the Lyft ride hailing serving into their public transit system. How this works is the city subsidizes Lyft rides within their service area and riders only pay 50 cents.

The subsidy comes from the city's share of the county's 1/2 cent sales tax that is dedicated for public transit. Instead of expanding their current system, they partner with Lyft for quick, easy...and now cheap...door-to-door service within their area. That service area includes Monrovia, the neighboring city of Bradbury, the unincorporated area south of the city that is served by their post office, and a couple of points in the neighboring city of Duarte (the Target shopping center and the City of Hope medical center).

Monrovia hopes that all able-bodied passengers will move over to Lyft, which will free up their nine mini-buses for quicker dial-a-ride paratransit services on demand for the mobility challenged. The nine buses can be hailed by phoning (626) 358-3538 Monday through Friday, 7:00am - 10:00pm and 8:30am - 6:00pm on weekends. The fare is also 50 cents, which was reduced from a dollar when this new scheme began.

So, with all that in mind, here's how my test run of the system went...I had to pick up my car from the body shop (Monrovia Collision Center) and I live inside the service area. I type in the promo code "gomonrovia" in the Lyft app on my phone.

Six minutes later, Lei drives up in a white Honda Civic. Lei speaks just enough English to say "Good morning" and hands me a piece of gum. His GPS unit (in Chinese) guides us swiftly to the body shop with Lei a very careful and competent driver.

The Lyft app says the ride was $6.99 but the text I get says I got a $5.49 credit and only 50 cents is charged to my card. Ten minutes from start to finish and it's just pennies. 

Pretty impressive.

Will it help increase transit mobility for everyone, including wheelchairs? That remains to be seen and, hopefully, Lyft will also increase its ability to transport special needs passengers also.

Monrovia is not alone in this type of service. Many other cities are also jumping on this particular bandwagon to provide the so called 'last mile' transit option (called that because it connects riders with that last mile service between their home and regular public transit).

For example, Dallas's DART system has also integrated Lyft into its system and a ride can be hailed within DART's app. Lyft is also aggressively recruiting other transit systems as partners. You can find out more at the company's Friends with Transit page. You might also want to check with your local municipality to see if this is coming or perhaps to suggest it to them.

Back in Monrovia, besides the dial-a-ride option for special needs passengers, the city has a station on Metro's Gold Line light rail line...which is 100% accessible...connecting it with the rest of the area's vast transit system. There are also three Foothill Transit accessible bus lines connecting with other cities along the Route 66 corridor and south to Metro's El Monte Bus station.

If you're able enough to ride a bike, the other transit option listed above - Lime Bike - is a bike sharing service with racks scattered throughout town. Download the app and you can rent a bike starting at $1 for 30 minutes. 

You can leave the bike anywhere in the city when you're done with it...the back wheel locks when you're done with it and crews collect the bikes each night. The app will tell you where the nearest rental bike is located.

Yes, it does seem like it's still an imperfect system...wheelchair riders can't use service 24 hours and the transit buses will have a chore keeping up with the quick response and rides of the Lyft vehicle...but it is an interesting experiment to watch and see if this new public transit (with private help) system will increase the mobility of all the area's residents and be able to keep more cars off of the roads.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 26, 2018

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Exploring Agricultural History in the Inland Empire

There's a smell to a farm. Many don't care for it. To me, however, it just smells like the country...nothing citified about it. While we live in a crowded, suburban area of Los Angeles, there's also a horse ranch behind our house. When the wind blows just right...yeah, that's it...the aroma of manure wafts over.

I love it.

In decades past, the suburbs ran out somewhere around Pomona. Going eastward from here...into Chino, Corona, Ontario, Upland, Mira'd be deep into farm country getting nostrils full of the smell of cows, pigs, chickens, and more.

Today, Los Angeles has grown. It's more urban than suburban far into the Inland Empire. Most of those old rural features like farms and ranches have disappeared.

At The World on Wheels, we've made it one of our missions to keep visiting what's left to record it before it's gone. Let's take a drive to see if we can make a meal from what is still hanging on.

In 1920, Giovanni Filippi and his son Joseph immigrated from Italy and planted grapes in the Cucamonga Valley. At the time, this was the largest grape growing and wine producing region of California.

With real estate booms, prices rose and demand for open land increased so that many of these vineyards were swallowed up by housing developments and industrial parks.

Still, the Filippi Winery hangs on with their winery and tasting room on Baseline Road in Rancho Cucmonga, not far from the massive Victoria Gardens shopping center.

Like many wineries today, Filippi does not offer free tasting anymore but $7 (refundable with a purchase) will get you five tastes. You can sip while imagining what it had been...the small vineyard and production facility now hemmed in by housing.

Before the big boom at Ontario Airport, you could picnic in the shade of eucalyptus trees amid the quaint old village of Guasti with the Filippi tasting room at one end, the massive pancakes of the Homestyle Cafe at the other (now relocated to nearby Chino), and great views of jetliners taking off across the street.

Now, a new terminal blocks the view. Most of the old buildings have been demolished, and a few that remain for historical purposes have been shrink-wrapped while the City of Ontario builds yet another business park here.

Luckily for us, the other winery that still exists in the area, the Galleano Winery in Mira Loma, still sits in a time-warped property of barns, animals, tractors, and vineyards amid the giant warehouses with names like "Costco" on them.

It's like driving through a portal into the past where one second, you're in the sterile land of factories and warehouses. The next, you've stepped through a portal with barns, fields, animals, and their smells permeate the area.

At the end of the old tractor garage, a shack invites you in for a friendly round of wine tasting. It's $5 for five tastes...refundable with purchase, of course...and you're bound to find something you like from the ultra-cheap jugs of local zinfandel, chianti, and port to some of their award winning reserve wines.

There's also a small branch of Los Angeles' San Antonio winery nearby in Ontario but it's just a tasting vineyards or winemaking there.

We'll go with some sherry for cooking and a bottle of chianti to go with our dinner later from Galleano.  If you have some extra time, you can also bring a sandwich or two and have a picnic with their barn animals in the little park across from the wine-making barn.

(Check out our California's Hidden Wine Country article for a more indepth look and a video about these Cucamonga Valley wineries.)

Heading back west a few miles, not far from the old downtown section of Ontario on a quiet residential street, we pull into Graber Olives. Since 1894, the Graber family has been processing olives here for canning. The original Mr. Graber planted orange trees, like everyone else around him (you can still see a tiny plot of the original trees just west of the gift shop) but wanted to do something to stand out.

Olives were the solution he hit upon. One thing he did different than other olive farmers was to let the fruit ripen on the trees. Most other growers picked green and artificially ripened them for easier canning. The Graber olives became very sought after because of their tree-ripened flavor.

Take the free tour here and see how they still brine and pack the olives the old-fashioned way. You won't even see a computer in the office where the bookkeepers still add everything up on old adding machines and send out paper bills in the mail.

We'll grab a bottle of olive oil from here. See our Tasting History article and video for more about this Olive ranch.

Next up, while we're still in Ontario, we'll head to the southern section of the city where there is still a bit of the farmland that gets gobbled up at every housing boom. Amy's Farm is a small one that hangs on by not only growing crops, raising animals, and selling the output but also by charging groups to come through, take tours, and learn about farm life.

You don't have to pay if you just want to come to the farm stand and maybe walk around to see the animals.

That's the fun part...going snout-to-snout with a cow, scratching a goat behind its ears, or watching the piglets scamper about their pen.

We do know that farm life isn't about raising some different kinds of pets, though, so we pick up a little of their farm-made Italian sausage, garlic, onions, and tomatoes for our dish.

If we weren't cooking, however, we would head to nearby Centro Basco, on Central Avenue in Chino, for an authentic Basque dinner.

Since 1940, this boarding house for a area's Basque shepherds has been slinging their hearty food in the communal dining hall up front. In the back is a regular dining room where you can have a table to yourself.

Either way, you might want to come a little early to have a strong Picon punch in one of the two bars.

We'll finish up at Claro's, a local chain of Italian delis that's been around sine 1948, to pick up some lasagne noodles and a couple of cans of San Marzano tomatoes. Out here, we can stop at their Upland location or just swing by the easier Covina location on the way home.

Now that we've spent the day picking through some of the remaining historical gems of this former agricultural Mecca, we'll head home and put it all together for a fantastic, historical, scratch made lasagne...sherry from Galleano winery in Mira Loma; olive oil from Gaber Olive House in Ontario; sausage, garlic, onions, and tomatoes from Amy's Farm, also in Ontario; and some pasta from Claro's.

We'll sit back and enjoy our haul with a glass of chianti and hope that civilization can be slow to erase these gems of the Inland Empire.

If you'd like to make the lasagne, just click here for the recipe.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018
All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 23, 2018

Ojai, California

It’s a bit warm, dusty, and the bees are swarming around the rosemary.  A couple of friendly dogs wander around, a weimaraner and one of indeterminate lineage, as Ron Asquith leads a tour into a nearby olive grove.
After turning off of the highway; onto a side road; onto another smaller road; fording a creek in our car; and then up the final dirt road; Letty and I decide to skip the tour and head into the Quonset hut that serves as the Ojai Olive Oil Company’s production facility and tiny tasting room…

Watch the Video!

From Los Angeles, Ojai is a 90 minute drive away, tucked about a dozen miles up the hill behind the coastal town of Ventura.  If you’d like to skip the drive, AMTRAK can take you from L.A. to Ventura.  From the train station, you can catch the SCAT line 16 bus which will take you up to Ojai.  A local  trolley can get you around town. The entire route is wheelchair accessible.
Our trip was a driving trip.  While Tim spends the night with his uncles, Letty and I are having an anniversary getaway.
It’s still early when we arrive, so a side trip to the olive farm at Ojai Olive Oil is in order.
Ron’s wife, Alice, mans the counter inside and chops up bread cubes. 
Stabbing a cube with a toothpick, we dip it into the first of the oils.  The extra virgin oil tastes a bit grassy…I don’t know if that is how it’s supposed to taste, but not one I particularly enjoy.  Better are some other oils down the line that exude a pepperiness, one that is infused with basil, and another tinged with garlic.
Also on sale here are a range of Balsamic vinegars imported from Italy.  While most of the tasters in the room are wild for the peach flavored vinegar, I’m partial to just the plain variety.
We pick up a few bottles and pay.  Outside, up against the rocky hillside, is a great picnic area.  Up above, one might see a giant bird flying in the distance if they’re lucky.  Nearby is the habitat of the extremely endangered California Condor, one of the largest birds in the world.  Saved from the absolute brink of extinction, they are gradually being re-introduced in the wild here.  We’re not lucky today and have no food for a picnic so we make our way back down the hill to Highway 33.
Once back at the road, a quick couple of blocks takes us to Boccali’s, a roadside Italian restaurant just outside of town.  There’s a quaint, roadhouse feel to the place with its lively patio, large lawn area (closed today), and small dining room out in the country.  At this cash-only restaurant, we just have a salad, some bread, and a glass of beer from their tap.
The pizzas and sandwiches looked delicious, but we’re also saving room for a good dinner later.
After lunch, we figure it’s time to check in now.  Our lodging would be at Casa Ojai, just east of downtown.  Although the outside looks pretty generic, the room is a bit beyond that with a very comfortable king size bed, a nice sized living area off to the side with love seat and coffee table, flat screen TV, small refrigerator, and a large closet area.
Casa Ojai makes it known that they are the “greenest” hotel in town.  That means various things are done to reduce waste and the hotel’s carbon footprint such as using saltwater in pool & spa, putting recycling bins in each room along with the trash cans, using low flow shower heads, low flush toilets, and putting all soaps, shampoos, and lotions into wall-mounted dispensers instead of little, plastic bottles on the counter.  Even the coffee mugs are ceramic to eliminate Styrofoam cups.
We’re traveling without Tim so our room is a non-accessible, second floor room with an amazing view to the east.  Two barrier-free rooms are available with roll-in showers, one with a king bed and the other with two queen size beds.
After check-in, we go over to the small downtown area to do some shopping.  Not a lot of bargains to be had here but Rains, an actual old-town, independent upscale department store, is a great place to browse around.  It’s kind of amazing that it still exists in this world of big mergers and disappearing stores.
After parking back at the hotel, we walk a couple of blocks to the Ojai Beverage Company where wine and beer tasting are offered for a nominal fee.  The store has a huge selection of wines, beers, and liquor.  We get a couple of Belgian-style sour ales and a regular Belgian tripel to take back to the hotel where we enjoy them while swimming a sunning by the pool.
For dinner, we go back into downtown and get a window table at Azu, a Mediterranean-influenced bistro serving tapas and entrees.
Starting off with a great salad and creamy tomato soup, we get three tapas to share…a crawfish dish that was on special that night, lamb kababs, and a chile relleno.  I have to note that it was all delicious and the relleno the star of the show.  It was not like a Mexican relleno with the thick batter and sauce, but more European in the lightness of taste and the tomato based sauce it was served with.  It was incredibly good, different, and the pepper was spicy.  The ingredients only served to enhance the natural flavor of the chile.
After a good night’s sleep on the very comfortable bed, we head to the west side of town and have breakfast at Egg’s ‘n Things.  This is the Ojai branch of a small, Ventura based chain.  After ordering our food, the server pops a couple of crepes on the table.
“This is your complimentary Swedish pancake while you wait for your food,” she says.
It’s perfect with the buttery crepe, sprinkled with powdered sugar and topped with a dollop of jelly.  Breakfast arrives and we have a little feast with omelets, pancakes, biscuits, and bacon.  Not a bad thing on the table.
After eating, it’s a stop at the local farmer’s market, held each Sunday morning behind Rain’s.  We pick up some tangerines and sample some great oranges…this is citrus country and this is the season.  We also meet some orchid growers that worked at the same nursery we did many years ago and pick up a plant for my wife’s mom.
We check out, and head home via the back road…a continuation of Highway 33 through Santa Paula and Fillmore.  Numerous fruit stands line the road, beckoning us to sample their citrus.  We stop at one and buy some of the tastiest navel oranges I’ve had in years.
With that, and a toast with one of our newly purchase oranges, we say goodbye to another quick trip and head back down Interstate 5 into Los Angeles and then home.

Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

LAKE TAHOE - Skiing Memories

Kirkwood Ski Area
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Roman Fuchs under CC-BY-SA license

Lake Tahoe is a very special place for me. It was my annual Spring Break destination for a week of skiing and...uh...other activities while in my younger days.

Lots of memories from those days...winning over $400 on roulette starting with a dollar and treating my friends to a midnite Billy Preston concert at Harrah's with the money; nearly skiing off a cliff while following someone we thought knew what they were doing (he did go off, we didn't...luckily it was deep powder at the bottom); being there the year over 240" of snow fell in just a few days setting off a deadly avalanche at Alpine Meadows; and sitting in a hot tub when it was five below.

Now that this year's storms have arrived, the snow around the lake is better than it's been in years. Tahoe is home to over a dozen ski areas.  Here are my favorites:

1. Kirkwood - about 25 miles southwest of Tahoe.  Simply the best place I've ever skiied.  Very challenging with some remote open bowls and skinny chutes.  Worth the effort to get to.  Limited adaptive skiing available (mostly for blind skiers).

2. Alpine Meadows - Large, open bowls.  Great crowd, little attitude.  Skiing available late into the season...I've skiied here in June.  Full adaptive ski program.

3. Mt. Rose/Slide Mountain - Scary steep slope with unbelievable views of Reno on the Slide Mountain side of things.

4. Sierra-at-Tahoe - Known as Sierra Ski Ranch in my Spring Break days.  Mellow, fun place.  Not too challenging, but this is where we almost went off the cliff during a run through the trees.

5. Heavenly Valley - Massive.  Expensive.  And a bit overrated.  I do like the extremely long runs and being able to start in one state and end in another.

6. Squaw Valley - Eh, I didn't really have too much fun here.  Much better at any of the resorts above.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Living High in Ojai

I hadn't seen Jim in over 30 years. In the intervening years, he'd done a stint in the Navy, gotten married, had a bout with cancer, and earned a degree.

He's also a very good woodworker and I'd contracted him to make a piece for me. Instead of having him ship it to me, I thought it'd be nice to drive up to his town...Oxnard, California...pick it up in person, and spend a little time chatting with my old friend.

Catching up over a late breakfast, or lunch if you're Tim, at a very good Golden Egg restaurant patio overlooking the adjacent boat harbor, we decided that we'd make the most of the rest of our day.

Saying our goodbyes to Jim, we head over to nearby Somis. It's a little town just northeast of Camarillo.  

Last year, we got a tour of the Sriracha sauce factory at Huy Fong Foods in Irwindale, California. That's the end of the line for production of this very popular hot sauce.

The beginning of the line is in Moorpark at Underwood Farms where special jalapenos are grown for the sauce. Here in nearby Somis is another branch of Underwood Farms.

While not the mothership, this smaller farm is still well worth a visit.  Out back are pens for chickens, alpacas, and sheep.

A large goat pen allows feeding of the pigmy goats but, unfortunately, no petting.  Stairs and elevated walkways let these natural climbers to what they do best.

Picnics can be eaten in the area set up in a persimmon and orange grove. In fall, a corn maze and pumpkin patch beckons the small set.

Of course, there's also the farm store with an excellent selection of fresh produce. We buy some incredible strawberries to munch on through the day and head out.

Back on the Ventura Freeway, we head through the road's namesake to the north end of town where we turn up highway 33 for the short drive up the mountain to the lovely little town of Ojai.

Along the way, we pass through Casitas Springs, which has a sign saying "the home of Johnny Cash." Cash did buy a trailer park here for his parents and built a house up on the hill but this was his dark, drug filled days where he was out on the road 250 days a year.

First wife Vivian and daughter Rosanne spent more time here than he did.

Ojai is just a right turn away a few minutes later. Sitting at the bottom of the Sespe Range, home of the rejuvenated population of California Condors, Ojai is now a town of tony B and B's, expensive restaurants, and spas.

I remember there is a parking lot one block north of the main drag, behind the shops that line Ojai Avenue in the heart of town, and head back there to find a prime spot in the little plaza hidden back there.

Decent, accessible public restrooms are there along with a myriad assortment of shops, restaurants, and one of the last remaining independent department stores, Rains.

We stroll through the passageways, Tim and I usually waiting outside while Letty browses the goods within the shops, before ending up at Rains .  

We're about done here but just have one last thing to do, eat. It's about 4:30 and the restaurant we were originally going to eat at, Azu, doesn't serve dinner until 5:30.

I remembered an Italian place we walked by earlier with a happy hour sign in the window. Going back, we find Osteria Monte Grappa. It's a dollar off beer, two off of wine, and three off of their wood-fired pizzas.

We decide to give it a try.

Turns out that the only food they serve at happy hour is the pizza so Tim and I share their inferno pizza...pepperoni, olives, and a spicey tomato sauce...while Letty enjoys a pizza Margherita.

It is very, very good.

Stomach's sated, it's an easy and relaxed drive back down the hill.  Shoulda took that left turn at Thousand Oaks, though, because the traffic back in the San Fernando Valley was a nightmare.

Lucky, we had some great relaxation to help get us through.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Baltimore-DC-Baseball Nexxus...the trip index

Here's the index to all our recent posts from Baltimore and Washington, D.C.


Part 1 - Getting through the airport, onto transit, and to our hotel was a bit of a pain in the rear. Read about it here...Arriving in Charm City.

Part 2 - Soaking in all the history Baltimore's public transit can provide for us...Chasing History in Baltimore.

Part 3 - Game Day in Baltimore as we visit #24 on our list of stadiums...Game Day in Charm City.

Part 4 - Leaving is almost as hard as arriving...Riding the Rails to Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

Part 1 - A day long, non-stop journey to sample some of the city's monuments and museums...A Monumental Journey Across Washington, D.C.

Part 2 - Now it's time to visit #25 on our list, a very fun and festive Nationals Park...Game Day in Washington, D.C.

...and, of course, two more accessible stadium reviews for you on Fields of Dreams.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Nationals Park