May 302011

The sun is still low on the horizon this early holiday Monday morning on Wilshire Blvd. The streets are empty.

It’s Memorial Day. Monday morning and the streets are still empty. The first sun rays are making their way to ground level as we are about to start our ride home. These quiet desolate occasions in a city that is almost always abuzz, sure is a peculiar sight. This is a part of Los Angeles few have the opportunity to see. By 9:00 a.m. the roads will be full, shops will be open, and the frenzy that is found in this metropolis will be back in full swing.

Looking south on Wilshire Blvd toward Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean just about 4 miles away on an early holiday morning in May

The Wilshire Motel is on the right. About four miles straight ahead is the furthest west we can travel without requiring a boat. Just down the street is Santa Monica and beyond that, the Pacific Ocean. If time allowed, we would head that way for one more walk in the sand, but we are expecting heavy traffic on the return to Phoenix as we were not alone in heading to southern California. San Diego, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles are probably the three most popular weekend destinations for those of us who need to get away from Phoenix for a break. As I look at this empty thoroughfare, I can easily imagine a no-car day in L.A. where on that occasion, only bicycles would be allowed. All across the southland (as it is known locally) people could explore the various interconnecting cities in the luxury of quiet that we are able to experience on these rare holiday mornings when most people opt to sleep in.

The Original Pantry Cafe has been open for business since 1924 - it is a landmark in downtown Los Angeles.

Well, we weren’t going to leave L.A. without at least a little bit of fanfare. First stop before getting on Interstate 10 eastward was at The Original Pantry Cafe

. I’ve probably told the story on my blog before, but here it is again. This place has been open 24/7 since 1924 – it has never closed. I have been coming here since 1981 and Caroline made her first visit somewhere in the late 1990’s. Besides some furniture repairs and equipment replacements, I don’t believe much has changed about this place in the past 87 years. The breakfasts are huge and very inexpensive. The nostalgic feelings from a time lost is still alive and kicking at this landmark. With bellies, our minds, and experiences full for one long weekend, we leave for the 388 mile (628km) drive home.

May 292011

Caroline Wise enjoying breakfast at Zabies Cafe in Santa Monica, California

Los Angeles is one of those places where you can feel like you have a purposeful life as a part of the city, that your existence is intertwined with the culture that surrounds you – as opposed to a city where you simply exist as an element within the hive. This was our first visit to Zabie’s Neighborhood Cafe in Santa Monica and the owners welcomed us as though we were familiar regulars coming in as we would on any other Sunday, you won’t find that in Phoenix very often. Caroline and I both ordered the Whole Grain Pancakes but couldn’t choose if we wanted blueberry, strawberry, or banana, so we asked for all three and that is what we got. Breakfast at Zabie’s was perfect, starting us off on the right track to enjoy our Sunday.

On the south side of the pier at Santa Monica beach

It was still too early to do much in L.A. – even in go-go Los Angeles. So there was but one thing to do, head on over to the beach for an early morning walk in the sand and surf. In a few hours as the day warms up, this beach like most others along the southern California coast, will fill up with worshippers of the sun. My preference is for a quiet walk on an uncongested strand where for a moment, the beach is an idyllic island setting, and it is all mine to enjoy.

A stop sign with a sticker attached below the word stop, it reads, "Eating Animals"

Free parking is not always easy to find in L.A., as a matter of fact, just around the corner from this stop sign that asks us to "Stop Eating Animals" , we saw our first parking meter that allows the use of a debit or credit card in addition to coins. We kept on driving into the neighborhood and found an empty parking spot free of charge. Approaching this stop sign we saw a placard outside a small duplex advertising a two bedroom unit for rent. I called the number to see what they were asking for, $2,400 a month; I choked. We pay less than a third of that in Phoenix – one of the main reasons we put up with our desert town.

Inside the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles, California to see an exhibit by Jennifer Angus titled: All Creatures Great and Small

Years, it took years for Caroline and I to finally make the time to visit the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd across the street from the La Brea Tarpits. Every time we drove past this small museum, one or the other of us would sound off the reminder that one of these days, we need to stop in. Today was that day. On the second floor is where the exhibits begin, the museum typically hosts two artists or themes. For three and a half months, the second floor would be dedicated a bug art exhibit by Jennifer Angus, titled: All Creatures Great and Small. When you walk in to the main space, you don’t immediately recognize what you are looking at, it doesn’t even look all that striking from a distance. Then as you approach and start to see the detail of what makes up the exhibit, you are struck. You are looking at insects. Brightly colored and arranged in patterns or made up in scenes within the cases, filling in for what might  normally be figures in a dollhouse. Extraordinary and fun.

The artist occupying the third floor was Ann Weber, her exhibit was titled: Love and Other Audacities. Ann weaves together large sculptures created from found cardboard. We should have started up here as her work is really nice, but being overwhelmed from the exhibit a floor below, it was hard to change channels from shock and amazement to interest and subtlety.

Wurstkuche in downtown Los Angeles, California - a hot place for an exotic sausage

Time for lunch on our unfolding perfect day. I had read about Wurstküche on some blog some time ago. They have become somewhat famous and very busy. The line was longer before I snapped the photo, then it snakes through the lobby before you arrive at the cash register and place your order. We split three sausages, the Mango Jalapeno with chicken and turkey, the Rattlesnake & Rabbit with jalapeno – this is one of their signature sausages and it was yummy. The one sausage we didn’t really enjoy was the Vegetarian Mexican Chipotle, it was too spicy, and we love spicy, but there has to be other outstanding characteristic flavors besides just hot – this sausage didn’t cut the mustard. We also split an order of Belgian fries glazed in white truffle oil with two dipping sauces, the first was Bleu Cheese Walnut and Bacon, the other was Chipotle Aioli. Caroline topped off her lunch with a rare find, a bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg, Germany – a smoked beer.

The 2nd Street Tunnel in downtown Los Angeles, California - made famous by a scene in Blade Runner

Over to 2nd street for a drive through one of our favorite landmarks in L.A. – the 2nd Street Tunnel. If you don’t remember this sight, think Blade Runner, Terminator, and recently the movie Transformers. We have on previous visits taken a moment to go over to Union Station, another location used in Blade Runner. One of these days we’ll visit the Bradbury Building where many of Blade Runner’s interior shots featuring J.F. Sebastian’s apartment were filmed.

A Royal Paulownia in bloom street side in Los Angeles, California

When you live in a desert, splashes of unexpected colors can be startling. We were meandering through the downtown area as we were not in a hurry to get to our next location. Along the way, we came across a bunch of Royal Paulownia trees in bloom – WOW. Our destination was Mitsuwa Marketplace at the corners of Centinela Ave and Venice Blvd. There is a Japanese grocery that also features four or five small restaurants around an open court, a Japanese bookstore is near the entrance. We stopped here Saturday night with the hope of eating at Santouka Ramen, a highly rated and super popular ramen shop, but we arrived shortly before they were closing. As we just had lunch and weren’t hungry, we wouldn’t be eating at Santouka today either, we were going back for Caroline to check the bookstore for their collection of Japanese craft books.

We had come back out towards Santa Monica and West L.A. because we had reservations for eighth row center at 4:00 p.m. at The Landmark Theatre on Pico Blvd for a showing of The Tree of Life. This and the Burmese food were the main reasons for our weekend trip to southern California. I was nearly certain that The Tree of Life would not play in Phoenix, or if it did, it might play to near empty theatres for a week and be gone. As it turned out, The Tree of Life would end up playing in Phoenix for almost two months – who knew? Yes, it was worth it, driving to L.A. for a movie – we loved it.

Green Leaves Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood, California

After the movie we took a drive through Hollywood. By 8:30 p.m. we were getting hungry again but with so many choices of small funky little restaurants, it is hard to choose one. We had considered Korean in the Koreatown district but kept on driving looking for something really different. Then at 8:58 p.m. on a Sunday night we spot this place called Green Leaves Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant

on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. Drats, it’s 8:58, they’ll never seat us, but we’ll try anyway. Hey, no problem, come on in have a seat – we are open until 12:00 a.m. Big frowns ensue for the city we live in, is anything open past 9:00 p.m. on nearly any day of the week in Phoenix? I’ve stated this before on my blog, I am not vegetarian, Caroline is, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying something different, and for most of the country, vegan and vegetarian is as exotic as finding cuisine of central Africa. This place rocks, we split the Cha Cha Pumpkin – worth coming back for. The other dish is lost to forgotten memories, but it must have been good too, because we both want to go back.

Now this was a perfect day.

May 282011

Yoma Myanmar-Thai Restaurant on 713 E. Garvey Ave Monterey Park, California

Up early in Phoenix, Arizona for a 380 mile drive to Yoma Myanmar-Thai Restaurant in Monterey Park, California. Our first stop in California was just across the street at Shwe Minthamee where we picked up some desperately needed Burmese ingredients for making salads that we fell in love with back when Little Rangoon was open in Scottsdale. Now well stocked, it was time for lunch. First up we split a laphet thote. Laphet is the most famous salad ingredient in Burma (now Myanmar), it is pickled (fermented) green tea leaves. When these tea leaves are mixed with shredded cabbage, tomato, egg, and a mix of crunchy bits – including peanuts, roasted garlic, sesame seeds, roasted yellow peas, we have the perfect salad – in our book. We had a couple of other items but it was the salad that made our drive worth while. For dessert we visited Beard Papa’s, obviously very popular with L.A.’s Asian population. Beard Papa’s serves up “Fresh’N Natural Cream Puffs”, claimed to be the world’s best.

Shopping in Little Tokyo - downtown Los Angeles, California

Next stop was Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles. This was our first goofing off mini-vacation this year as I had to cancel any pleasure trips in order to focus on writing my book. The first shop and really the only stop we were interested in was the bookstore upstairs in this photo. It is called Kinokuniya and rarely do we leave this place without spending a quick $100. Caroline spent a good hour looking fhrough fiber craft books in Japanese – it is a Japanese bookstore afterall. Afterwards we took our time to walk around Little Tokyo.

Looking at the south-eastern edge of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, California

Coming out of Phoenix with our drab conformist and generic urban areas, it is always nice to visit a vibrant city center. We are looking at one of the corners of Little Tokyo, also in front of us is L.A. City Hall far in the background. A mile north is China Town and adjacent to that is the Old Barrio of L.A. – where Los Angeles got its start. A few miles west is Korea Town, Little Saigon is over in Orange County, Little India is in Artesia, and Thai Town is over near Hollywood. Throughout the greater Los Angeles area, funky enclaves of culture thrive and give Caroline and I wonderful choices to choose from for entertainment and food compared to strip malls and drug stores on every corner out in the desert we live in. If you are wondering why I can complain about Phoenix while extolling L.A., we would live here in the City of Angels, except the cost of living would probably keep us as slaves to work and a small apartment.

Inside our tiny room at the Wilshire Motel in Los Angeles, California

Time to head west and check into our motel, one of our favorite motels anywhere – The Wilshire Motel. This tiny spot on Wilshire Boulevard on the way to Santa Monica is a cluster of cozy and clean bungalows just a few miles from the beach. The lady who operates the Wilshire always remembers us, even if it has been a couple of years between visits, although I don’t think we’ve ever gone that long between returns.

Caroline Wise walking on the beach in Marina Del Rey, California

With our lodging taken care of, we raced to the ocean and headed south through Venice to Marina Del Rey for a sunset walk on the beach. It was almost too late when we arrived as the sun had just dipped below the horizon, but we still had a short while to walk in the water and enjoy the late day golden glow of the setting sun.

A bowl of steaming hot seaweed and tofu ramen from Ramenya on W. Olympic Blvd in Los Angeles, CA

Heading back towards our motel and about a mile roughly east is another Los Angeles favorite – Ramenya. Since our first visit when the line was outside the door, this small ramen shop has since gotten some serious competition, but we are still loyal and enjoy their variety of ramens on offer. This somewhat unappetizing view (I will not claim to be an exceptional or even mediocre food photographer) is a bowl of seaweed and tofu ramen. I opted for the spicy curry ramen. This ended our perfect day in Los Angeles after waking up at 5:00 in the morning over in Phoenix. It’s amazing what one can do with a little effort to get out and have some fun.

Jan 022011

Our tent shrinking from the wind that is pushing it about inside the Nest at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

Where to begin? Last night we arrived at the nest with wind gusts of thirty to forty miles per hour. Caroline burrito’ed herself deep into her sleeping bag while I stood an unwanted vigil to the flap flap flap of our tent fly. Whenever I thought it was getting worse and the mad flapping accelerated, a brief respite would momentarily offer an absolute calm. In a quick second where I had just enough time to tell myself that the worst was over, the freight train would plow right back into my ears. Flap flap flap would drum at five six seven beats a second. All I needed was a thirty second pause in the vitriol of the wind’s lament so I might taste sleep. But as soon as the quiet returned, up in the trees a whooshing sound arose to announce the re-approaching roar and another round of flap flap flap. The nest sits about six feet from the edge of a steep cliff side next to two large trees. The rain fly is tied down and secure, it is stretched taught and still the onslaught from the southeast tearing over the ocean three-hundred feet below and racing up the cliffs pounds our temporary cocoon. The flapping becomes a staccato of nylon tent slaps. After a half hour of this, I rest an arm on Caroline and speak her name over the growing noise, during a lull I hear the familiar sound of her sleeping breaths. I let her sleep and I roll over.

There’s a remote likelihood I fell asleep but it was for moments that collectively could not amount to more than ten to fifteen minutes per hour. Around 11:00 pm the pauses in the wind become less frequent, when there was a short break I recognized how accustomed I was becoming to the constant vibrations affecting the nest. I asked Caroline if she was having trouble sleeping but my words fell on ears buffeted by the roar, whoosh, flapping, and howl of a storm that was becoming a gale. With each successive wave of hostility blowing down on us I entertained thoughts of what would the repercussions of the nest falling over be? What if the direction of the wind suddenly changed and was blowing us toward the ocean? Could one of these trees topple and its root system dislodge the foundation of this hopefully firmly cemented nest? Sadly, an engineering study of this structure’s stability wasn’t attached to the frame for quick middle-of-the- night reference. Maybe the nest’s entire superstructure will act as a parasail taking us aloft for a ride from six feet above the cliff side’s crest to sealevel for some midnight surfing on the angry ocean. My mind reels through endless scenarios that the wind is none too shy to help facilitate.

Caroline Wise outside the Nest on a rainy windy day at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

I grab my headlamp and start inspecting tie-downs to ensure they are still holding fast. Then a thorough look once or twice over of the fly, looking for signs of ripping. This opens the question of what would be the likely situation if the fly were to rip to shreds exposing the flimsy tent to the full force of the storm. The tent is holding up perfectly, so far. Then the rain starts in earnest at 1:30. It stops after a brief twenty or thirty minutes but as it does the wind takes on a new ferocity. My feet at the south end of the tent are being lifted and slightly bounced around, not enough to startle me but this is curious. The sound is deafening, how does Caroline sleep? The tent that should be a foot from my face starts to make contact slapping me as it is pushed in repeatedly by the wind. I roll over. Great, now the bladder joins the chorus of things keeping me from sleep. The wind bears down with renewed threat, the nest is vibrating like a tuning fork. The woven branches click and make increasingly worrisome noises that play to the imagination that the worst could happen. Once again I inspect the tent and fly for damage certain we are near the shredding point.

Looking south from the Nest at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

ROAR, screams the blast of rushing air, we are in a gale. At 2:30 I reach out in earnest and stir Caroline from the depths of her sleeping bag to let her know I have to pee and that I’m having difficulties falling asleep. We agree we can’t open the tent and climb down the ladder into this maelstrom and dig in to try to sleep through this barrage – what else can we do? But now Caroline’s slumbering ignorance of the situation has been destroyed. After another half hour Caroline reaches over and with a near panic sound of urgency in her voice she says, “We need to get of here now” and something about the Three Little Piggies and a Wolf at the fly. As quickly as she voiced her concern a large gust pushes down so hard that our tent momentarily collapses upon our faces and for a second I’m not sure if this is wind or the nest starting to break apart, the tent bounces back up as the wind down throttles. I turned on our little hanging LED lantern agreeing with emphasis that we need to leave now. To be sure there would be no doubt in our resolve the wind pounded down a second time wrapping us with a skin tight layer of tent canvas testing our fear of entanglement with a nylon straight jacket.

We put on what clothes we could, piled up everything else in the center of the tent hoping to leave enough weight that we might still find the tent here in the light of day. Just this side of panic we open the tent and brace ourselves as I start to open the rain fly. Ten wet steps down the ladder with only headlamp lighting the blackness, thoughts that my rain gear will act as a kite are quickly put to rest as I reach terra firma. I need to focus my light on Caroline who will climb down next, she attempts to zip up the tent getting to the point of agitation as the wind whips the flapping materials making finding the zippers difficult. She gets everything closed up and steps over the threshold and down a few steps before zipping shut the fly. We move as quickly as we can away from our cliff side adventure feeling slightly defeated.

Our guest book entry at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

Ah, the discomfort of a cramped cold car, yet we bask in the luxury of it. Even here the wind continues to rattle us, but who cares, the heater is on and I’m about to get some sleep. Four hours later we go for breakfast, tell our story, and leave for the long drive back to Phoenix, Arizona. This will quite possibly stand out as one of the greatest New Year’s adventures of our lives having given us great views, unique lodging, thrills a minute, all the beautiful landscape one might dream of, and non-stop fun. Thanks Treebones for a great ride into 2011.

Jan 012011

Looking south down the California coast near Gorda

The tempest rolled in dragging with it the bluster and fury needed to dispose of one year and usher in the next. Inside our oversized bird nest we were cozy and protected from the elements, the expectation for some rain wasn’t going to deter us from our night outdoors. We were like two snuggling birds side by side bringing in the new year. What we hadn’t anticipated was the wind which came on well past the time we had crawled up the ladder to take shelter. Somewhere in the middle of the night and day it started to howl forcing us to tie down the rain fly in an attempt to stop it flapping against the tent. While the wind would wake us with an occasional gust it never rose to the point of dislodging us.

Dining room at the Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California

It would take the light of day to rattle us out of our cage and push us from our nest to perform ablutions. Finished with that we fluttered over to the feeding grounds to hunt and peck out a morning meal. There were no worms destined for us highly evolved birds, although I will admit to a bit of a fetish for the seeds and nuts that were readily available in this spread laid out before us. Human beaks being what they are, we resorted to eating Treebone’s locally made peanut granola with instruments and bowls. Grazing ain’t nothing if not taken seriously so once done with the first course it was on to the make-’em-yer-self-waffles, throw on some banana and syrup and we were in sparrow heaven. We lingered for a while near the fire with a cup of coffee and enjoyed watching the day come alive with the rest of the flock joining us here on the hill over the ocean in this forest of treebones.

Caroline Wise and John Wise on the California coast under a rainbow

When we do finally take off, we fly into rainbows. If I were to write a blog entry about the number of rainbows Caroline and I have seen on our travels I am certain that dozens if not a gross of rainbow photos would accompany the narrative.

A mist and cloud enshrouded California coast on the Pacific Coast Highway

Out of the band of color back into the gray low cloud mist hugging the cost and shortening the more typical long distance views that are a major attraction of visiting the wild coast. Even this light, this dark and for some dismal weather is beautiful to Caroline and I, it adds mystery to the environment and makes having the heater on in the car feel extra cozy.

A rainbow over the Big Sur coast in California

Not satisfied with a singular rainbow, we are so lucky as to enjoy rainbows! An hour and a half up the road and not very far from the first and easily assumable only rainbow of the day, spectacular squared happens and we see another rainbow. Peaks of blue sky escaped the hold of the gray shroud of a weather wishing to be bad. Onward and upward we fly against the instinct that commands we go south for the winter. We are determined to follow rainbows and continue on this northerly trek. With this commitment we flew hard covering almost 60 miles in little more than 2 hours.

Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The prospect of a rainy windy day on the sea made the warm shelter of an old favorite hangout throw sunny enthusiasm upon us for a return to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We couldn’t swim with the fishies but we could enjoy watching them doing their swimmy thing. For hours we walked along and took great pause to revisit the jellyfish, silver dollars, the octopus, the giant kelp forest, a sea cucumber that needed petting, even the good old chiton. More fish than you can shake an eel to are here at the aquarium.

Seahorse at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

So are screaming little s#%@$. This could have been a perfect day but it seems that parents forgot that parenting in some small way implies a minimum of guidance and sense of decorum should be instilled with their charges. But these parents were having none of that or maybe New Years day is scream-your-head-off-day and no one told us. Enough of the these cackling chicks and hens, time to face facts and fly south.

Inside the kelp forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

En route we stop at “Our Beach” that had been skipped on the way up due to the little ground covered during the meander north. Too many of those, “OH stop, this spot is even more beautiful than the last” moments lend themselves to those two hour travel times to go but miles taking forever to get somewhere – this is not a complaint, it is a fortunate happenstance we imbibe at all too often. If we were to stop nowhere else this afternoon, it would be here at our beach.

The Big Sur coast in California

A small amount of sun graced our presence with a poke through clouds here and there. It sparkled on water and waves borrowing some of the glitter from the stars far overhead. The waves are roaring as they typically do on this beach. On previous visits we have seen that the ocean churns so ferociously here that the sand levels rise and fall changing the character of the beach with dramatic effect.

Crashing waves and blowing spray on a beach in Big Sur, California

The walk from roadside to beach as seen two photos above is one of the more dramatic views up the coast, it never fails to impress us. Directly in front of us while on the beach the waves tower and stack up to roll in with one after the other in rapid succession. And then to the south as seen right here, the sun lights the beach and rocks with golden repose. We melt into this landscape every time making us one with our beach.

Late afternoon on the Big Sur coast in California

We now must race against the setting sun to return to our perch as we don’t want to find ourselves squatting in some random nest on an unfamiliar branch. We arrive in the nick of time to the last embers of available light. The wind is howling here near Cape San Martin, a quick check of our nest and the tent inside assures us that nothing has blown away yet. Time for dinner and a wonderful one at that. A bread basket and dipping oil was brought with glasses of water from their own well. The olive oil was infused with herbs grown right here at Treebones garden plot including lemon thyme, sweet marjoram, dill, parsley, chives, and tarragon. Next up was the homemade butternut squash soup with roasted pumpkin seeds followed by a beet salad with orange wedges and mixed greens, both the beets and greens were grown right here in the garden. Caroline opted for the butternut squash ravioli with sage sauce and I the pot roast with roasted winter veggies atop blue cheese potatoes au gratin – both meals were the perfect comfort foods for a chilly winter night.

A bit of sun and blue sky on an otherwise rainy day on the Big Sur coast in California

A dip in the jacuzzi with the wind and cold rain beating at our face was on order before returning to the fire warmed dining room for a shared dessert of sticky date cake with caramel drizzle and a homemade hot chocolate chai. By 9:00 pm the wind still rips at the trees outside, we will try to fall to sleep in a flapping wind tunnel and dream of the best New Years of 2011.