Archive for May, 2015

My son Jack is living in San Diego, and he wanted to do a bicycling trip down the California coast, but without him taking more than one day off work.    Together we came up with a Saturday though Monday plan. We would both fly to San Jose airport.    I arrived San Jose late Friday night and stayed in a motel.  Early Saturday morning, I picked Jack at the San Jose airport, and we drove a one way rental car sixty miles south to the small Monterey airport.   We left the car there, pulled two bicycles out of the back, and biked off into the California morning.

Our destination was San Luis Obispo 142 miles to the south; we would need to arrive there by 1:30 PM Monday to catch the southbound Amtrak to Los Angeles and San Diego.

California Highway One south of Monterey and Carmel is a coastal road of dreams.   Parts of it are remarkably isolated (in much of the area cell phones do not work, very few stores and restaurants) especially for a region that is within driving distance of two huge metropolises.

Just as we were starting,  Jack stopped to take a work phone call.




Carmel was our last stop before we heading into the coastal wilds.    Carmel is a cute and very rich town, apparently for people who do not have to work, since it is not near any employment  centers.   Appropriately, we had a nice brunch before taking off down the highway.


Ferrari and Mercedes, Carmel

Ferrari and Mercedes, Carmel



The coastal highway dips up and over cliffs, with the occasional bridge over a ravine.   The cold ocean generates fog, and the blue sky pokes through only on occasion.   The temperature moves back and forth with the sky, from warm sun to damp chill.






There is so little development on this coast that finding a place to stay is a challenge.   Sixty miles south of Monterey we ended up at the one motel in the “town” of Lucia, south of Big Sur.   Once you got over the very high price, and the fact the restaurant had thirty dollar entrees, it was actually a quite informal and friendly place.  Little 1930’s cabins overlooking the ocean.



The next morning we headed out into the cold fog.   There was no major town until our day’s destination of Cambria, fifty miles south.    The scenery the entire day was lovely.    We passed the Hearst Castle, seeing it up high on a ridge several miles away.  We did not take on that uphill climb to actually see it up close.




At 12:30 PM on a Sunday we stumbled into Ragged Point; a restaurant by itself on the highway, with an outdoor space full of people with barbecue, hamburgers, beer, and a live band.   You could not ask for more.

Down the coast, the mountains move further from the sea, and the road flattens out.




That afternoon we tiredly rode into Cambria; the kind of place that I thought California no longer had; small town, great food, nice weather, no apparent traffic or pretentiousness.  From Yelp we found what is clearly The Best Restaurant in Town; Robin’s.  It is the kind of place that would have been in the movie Sideways.    Gourmet food and local wine, but casual.   Jack had never tasted dessert wine before, so we shared a $12.00 glass of red dessert wine grown and made in Paso Robles, about thirty miles away.


The motel was a similar vibe, less than a third of the price from the place the night before, but friendly, quiet, and clean.


We had only thirty-five miles left the next day to San Luis Obispo, home of Cal Poly and another place that seems like The Way California Used to Be, in a good way.

Extra credit for anyone who knows the significance of this street.  Hint: what song by what band mentions this street?

Johnson Avenue in San Luis Obispo

Johnson Avenue in San Luis Obispo


We got ourselves and the bikes on Amtrak, no problem.   Jack got back to San Diego at ten something that night, but I got off in downtown L.A.   Much of the train ride went right on the Pacific Ocean.








I arrived into Union Station, downtown Los Angeles at seven thirty on a Monday night.     I left Jack behind on the train;  he was going another couple hours south to San Diego; he had to go to work the next day.

I had never been to downtown Los Angeles before, and had no agenda.    I had just found a room a couple hours earlier on

Union Station is a beautiful art deco building that opened in 1939.




Especially considering the low price I paid, the Westin Bonaventure is an impressive place.    Built about 1975, it had mesmerizing patterns on the wall behind the front desk, and fetching interior design in the lobby, which led to four high rise towers.   I now have learned that it is supposed to be a great example of postmodern design.    Pretentious words about the hotel from Edward Soja (via Wikipedia)
 (It is) a concentrated representation of the restructured spatiality of the late capitalist city: fragmented and fragmenting, homogeneous and homogenizing, divertingly packaged yet curiously incomprehensible, seemingly open in presenting itself to view but constantly pressing to enclose, to compartmentalize, to circumscribe, to incarcerate.



That night there were all sorts of expensive restaurants within walking distance.  I went to the sushi place Chaya.  It cost a lot, but I kept the entire evening at less than fifty dollars by ordering the cheapest a la carte sushi.  It was the only time I remember being served sushi by an actual Japanese person, who exhibited the professionalism I imagine you would see in Japan, including bowing to me after the meal.


Starting the next morning, over the next two and a half days, I bicycled a big loop through some of Southern California.   The first day I cycled from downtown to Hollywood, then to Santa Monica, then on the bike path down the beach to Redondo.

The view from my hotel room was Jetsonesque; about five layers of freeway circling high rise buildings.  On leaving downtown, the scene became gritty while being multicultural in the extreme.







Graffiti in some unknown Asian language


Despite the movie star names embedded in the sidewalk,  I found downtown Hollywood tacky and depressing.    I turned toward the ocean, cycling through prosperous neighborhoods, ending up in the beach town of Santa Monica.  On the outskirts, I ate salad for lunch at a low cost ethnic place.   Across from me these guys seemed very Southern California; casually dressed but with a determined formalism that one would not see back here in Chapel Hill.



I have written before that cycling along the coast through a string of beach towns is some of the best urban bicycling in America.   In Southern California the wind generally blows from north to south, so going in that direction increases the smile factor.

This particular ride went from Santa Monica, to Venice Beach, on the beach under the LAX airport runway, to Manhattan Beach, then Redondo Beach.    The entire ride is a delight.




That evening I stayed at this nice little motel in Redondo,  two blocks from the ocean.    I bicycled in the dark a few blocks to a gastropub.


The next day I rode a big loop, first south to the hills of Palos Verdes:



then through the suburbia of Torrance (home of Jan & Dean!)


I turned onto the bike path following Ballona Creek.   It feels very California as you remember these concrete rivers that continually appear in the movies.


I had lunch in downtown Culver City, which is the town born of the MGM movie lot.    In a Mexican restaurant, the guy on the right first sat down alone at the table next to me, and looked almost like a homeless person.   Later when the dreadlocked guy on the left sat down with him, I realized these two are probably serious creative types in the movie industry.


I then biked up into Beverly Hills, looking at rich people’s houses.   I also enjoyed seeing the hubbub that surrounds the “public” elementary schools in a wealthy enclave like that.  (Expensive cars lined up at 3:00 PM; several hired police officers standing around)


I stayed that night back in Santa Monica, at an Airbnb six blocks from the beach.    The next morning, I walked over to Starbucks for a coffee and an oatmeal.    It was a neat L.A. experience, both this young woman and this guy clearly were aspiring actors, working at the coffee house.    The guy says he has done a couple commercials, and also does D.J. work to pay the bills.

The young woman showed everybody her cheerleader routine.



At a UPS Store I recovered my bicycle carrying suitcase that I had sent there from north in San Jose.   I then did something I have only done once or twice; ride with my suitcase to the airport.   Because the ride along the beach was so nice, I strapped the almost empty suitcase on the back of the bike, rode the 6 – 7 miles to LAX, and then put the bike into the suitcase for my flight a couple hours later.



I had gone to the Wednesday practice round of The Masters golf tournament; an event with tickets so scarce that you have to win a lottery to be able to pay a hefty fee to just watch the guys practice.    My friend Tom was gracious in inviting me to this event.  Driving the four hours down to Augusta, Georgia also gave me a day to bicycle around South Carolina on the way home.

Jordan Speith, Ben Crenshaw, and Tiger Woods

Jordan Speith, Ben Crenshaw, and Tiger Woods


There are never hotel rooms available in Augusta during Masters Week, but I found a very low cost space that Wednesday night seventy miles away at the Super 8 Motel in Orangeburg, South Carolina.   Now that I have lived in North Carolina for 28 years and can comfortably call myself a North Carolinian, I can seriously start giving South Carolina a hard time.

It was early April, but the evening was already steamy as I sprinted across the wide but lightly traveled highway between my motel and the Original House of Pizza.   I had biked around town a little before dark, and searched on the internet, and this Eye-talian place seemed to be the safest bet.  And it was really quite nice; the menu had a lot more than pizza.   They even offered “chableese” by the glass.



The next morning I spent about four hours bicycling around Orangeburg and its vicinity.  I guess they do not see a lot of tourists here.    “The Garden City” (population 13,964)  has some lovely gardens along the Edisto River.   I do not take too much offense that separation of church and state is apparently not taken seriously.




The rich people in Orangeburg choose to live out of town in what looks like a flood plain along that same Edisto River; new houses in a new neighborhood,  mostly in a traditional style.     Golf always adds panache to any address; what seems to be the toniest street in town is called Putter Path.  It is right down the street from the Orangeburg Country Club.

houses on Putter Path, Orangeburg SC

houses on Putter Path, Orangeburg SC


Relatively close by, on a different street, there was even a piece of modernism.



I guess some people do not realize that other people may take offense at the idea that the wealthy and white want to live on a plantation!

just outside of Orangeburg SC

just outside of Orangeburg SC


Back downtown there is a Confederate monument.

Caption reads: to the brave defenders of OUR RIGHTS, OUR HONOR, AND OUR HOMES

Caption reads: to the brave defenders of OUR RIGHTS, OUR HONOR, AND OUR HOMES

Despite this monument, the heart, soul, and current economy of Orangeburg seems to be with the African American community.    Orangeburg is the home of two predominantly African-American universities; South Carolina State, and Claflin University.   It is the site of the “Orangeburg Massacre” of 1968, where three African-American students were shot and killed by the state highway patrol in a demonstration over the integration of a bowling alley.


Claflin University

Claflin University