Thursday, June 17, 2010

California Day Four

California Day Four
Saturday, February 20, 2010

Waking early I serenely fell back to sleep until my late alarm at 8 a.m. Amazing that, because the hotel was filled with girls youth soccer teams. They were up early, boisterously so.

Next door there is a diner and the hotel offers, in lieu of free breakfast, a five dollar voucher. It was not nearly enough. This is not a diner, at least not East Coast style. Maybe all diners in California charge $4.75 for a glass of orange juice. And it was a regular size glass, nothing jumbo about it. Five dollars? Really? Don't they grow the freakin' fruit just down the road?

I got a short stack of pancakes, which was more than enough and a cup of coffee. That's it. My voucher still covered just half my breakfast expenditure.

Guess the Greeks haven't found California yet.

Last night I was perusing the hotel information booklet. A listing under “area attractions” caught my eye, a warbirds museum. This morning I arrived at Estrella Warbirds, walked in just behind a classic car club, one of whose members apparently was also a member of the museum. The delightfully sweet, older lady who took my 10 dollars, suggested I join the car club's tour as it was just getting started.

Notice how you always find old people at museums?

The guy leading the tour was a WWII pilot, met Pappy Boyington, in person. He gave a delightful tour. I ended up spending more time here than even Monterey Bay Aquarium. The old fellow had a story for every exhibit. He kept promising to speed up the tour, then drifted off into another story. We won't have these guys around for very much longer. Hopefully they will be replaced by other old guys who flew in Vietnam or Iraq.

It is the same at the New England Air Museum. If you go there on certain days, they have pilots who actually flew, in combat, the same type of plane you are viewing. Each pilot stands next to the kind of plane he flew and tells stories. What it really was like.

How amazing it must be for those who were there and came out alive. I am too old now to serve. But I always wonder how my life would have turned had I accepted a Marine Corps commission straight out of college. I would not have been a pilot. My eyes require correction.

I am not sure where, or how, I would have served. And that is a big factor that kept me out of the military. I was not afraid to go to some troubled land. It was that I was not so ready to surrender my destiny so completely. With my college and writing ability, I could well have ended up behind a desk. What good is joining the Marines if you don't get to blow something up?

“All man's achievements pale in comparison to war.” It was a tank commander who said that, a Californian named George Patton. And when you look at the millions of dollars of airborne death machines, now museum pieces, you glimpse only a sliver of what Patton said.

The museum encompassed most all of aviation. There was a not so good model of the Wright flyer. Some very interesting WWI artifacts, the war to end all wars.

All the WWII planes, except for a Douglass Bomber, were in hangers. They have some scout planes, small stuff and the big bomber.

Parked outside are a collection of fighter planes from various wars, starting with Korea. They have the Saber Jet, a plane I have always admired. It was the jet plane model I played with as a kid. Famous MiG killer. Compact, powerful and those menacing six, 50 caliber machine guns sticking out of the nose.

Also is the similarly built Douglass A6 Intruder. I have been fascinated with the plane since reading “Flight of the Intruder.” Like the Saber, the Intruder is a stubby plane. Pilot and bombardier sit side by side. Unlike the Sabre, Intruder carries no guns or missiles to defend itself. It relied instead upon its speed and radar jamming equipment.

My morning melted into the past.

When I suited up to go the sun was so bright I optimistically donned my fingerless gloves. I was hoping to come back from California with the telltale tanned patches on the back of my hands that only a fellow biker would recognize. After an exit or two on the Interstate, I got off to switch to winter gloves. It was warm enough, at least, that I did not need my heaviest set of insulated winter gloves.

Clouds were all around, hovering over the mountains again. Intrinsically I understand convection and precipitation. It is another thing to see it demonstrated so clearly. You don't get the same effect back East.

Here you are riding down Route 101 South on a pool table flat plain. On either side of you are what appear to be scrub covered hills. Except some of these rise up 1, 2, 3 thousand feet, some up to five, in a very short distance.

Our mountains are much more gradual. There are lots of trees disguising the rise in elevation. You can't get so close to Eastern mountains without first traveling through Piedmont and hills. In California you look across the plains and, zoom, the mountains leap up from the plain. Can you imagine getting here in an ox-drawn wagon? Knowing where the passes are would be critical.
Again today I had to squeeze through the mountains at the end of the valley. When I did, I got rained upon again. Not a lot. On the other side I was back skirting the Pacific Ocean. It's winds drove the clouds inland to the mountains. The air was cool still, too cool for what I had hoped from this trip. But at least today the sun shown most all my ride.

My target today was the Santa Barbara zoo. They have meerkats and I was hoping to get some good pictures, or at least see how they were exhibited. (Such are the sumer attraction at The Maritime Aquarium where I work.) Only when I approached the ticket booth the sign said the exhibit was closed today. I did not go in.

By now it was 3:00 and I was maybe an hour above L.A. I'm thinking I don't want to stay in L.A. I don't want to ride into L.A. anywhere near 5 p.m. And I am not sure I have enough time, or warmth, left in the day to cross the sprawling city for something better on the south side.

I backtracked through Santa Barbara and found a boutique hotel for tonight. It's a little pricey at $124, that was $20 off the regular rate, or so they told me.

Santa Barbara says it is “America's Riviera.” Funny, South Beach, Fla., says the same thing on the right coast.

Santa Barbara has more bums than South Beach. Here the bums are very scruffy looking. The ocean front is littered with them, gathered in clans, sleeping alone surrounded by their piles. The dodge is on and they all have their hands out, some with signs declaring their hunger.

I always wonder what these guys were like in high school. They had access to the same free education as us all. I wonder, did they waste it? Were they too young to see the value?

Well even Jesus said, “The poor will always be with us.” That's some cold hearted reality from Emmanuel, the God among us.

Santa Barbara offers a long jogging, walking, bicycling path sandwiched between the main road and beach.

I had time to go for a run along the beach on the path with the sound of waves and seagulls. Geeze, I gotta get back in shape. My hotel is at the northern end of the path. I never ran far enough to see the southern end.
Tonight I am eating out on a pier, overlooking the harbor, channel buoys blinking red and green outside the window; remember, red right return.

After dinner I now walked the long path back to my hotel, enjoying a good cigar picked up in Monterey yesterday. A chilly wind comes off the ocean. I zip my rain jacket all the way up my neck and fasten the snap to hold it close, push my free hand (one required to tend the cigar) down deep into the pocket. Shouldn't complain. It is February after all.

Just as I am finding my relaxation, I am nearly out of time. Tomorrow, Sunday, is predicted for rain. I haven't yet decided what to do. Riding all day in the rain is not my first choice.

Los Angeles is like a gulf, a dead zone of urbanization, that I must cross to get back to scenery. I have to MapQuest it out to see if I should try. The bike isn't due until Tuesday morning. But I have IMAX meetings at 6 and 7 pm on Monday. So I will turn the bike in Monday before Eagle Rider closes at 5. That means I really have one and a half days left of vacation.

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