|Southern California 2000|
Travelogue: Southern California 2000
By Roger W. Reini
Saturday March 11
Today was the day that I began my train trip to California. For a while, it looked like I would have been too ill to travel, as I had either come down with a stomach bug or a mild case of food poisoning two days earlier. I still had a touch of it, so I took another dose of generic Imodium and packed the bottle in my bag, just in case. I did not want my seat on the train to be the toilet seat. I checked my e-mail for the last time for two weeks, as I would not be bringing my laptop with me, and I set up two of my accounts to send out "on vacation" messages. By 6 AM, I've hit the road.
The Dearborn train station was not open when I arrived, but it would open shortly thereafter. It was cold and windy outside, a big change from earlier in the week when temperatures were in the high 70's. I checked my luggage at the counter and got a bottle of Pepsi and a package of Tato Skins; that was my "balanced breakfast" that morning. The Pepsi fizzed and overflowed when I opened it. There were others waiting for the train to Chicago that morning, including a group of young people going to Havre, Montana. The train arrived early and left on time. I recorded our departure from Dearborn on my video camera, just like I had done in 1990 at the start of my train trip to Texas. The city has changed since then – condominiums built, new businesses started, other businesses like Jacobson's and Highland Appliance gone. And then we spent the next six-and-a-half hours traveling through Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, a trip I've made several times. Through the western suburbs of Detroit to Ann Arbor, then we passed through Jackson. Next came Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, then Dowagiac and Niles. Then came Michigan City, which is actually in Indiana. Finally, after passing through Hammond, we arrived at Chicago's Union Station slightly ahead of schedule.
My suitcase was checked through all the way to L.A., so I had some three hours to kill. For lunch, I went to McDonald's and had a Filet-O-Fish meal. That was probably not a good meal to have when recovering from a stomach ailment; I could not finish it, and my stomach was a bit queasy for the next few hours. That, along with the chilly weather outside and the heavy carry-on bag I was carrying, kept me from leaving the station. So I spent the next few hours in the Metropolitan Lounge for sleeping car passengers, reading a New York Times I bought at one of the newsstands in the station (I was saving the Chicago Sun-Times for later on the train). The lounge is quite full, but I managed to find a seat. Over in the corner, a TV was showing the St. Louis vs. DePaul basketball game. St. Louis would win this game and qualify for the NCAA tournament. Then it showed the Illinois vs. Penn State game, which was being played a mile or so away at the United Center west of the Loop. Michigan State's game would start later, after I'd boarded the train.
Around 3 came the call to board the train. After proceeding to a staging area, we sleeping car passengers are led to the train. The car containing my berth was the closest to the gate, so I didn't have far to go. My berth was on the lower level, which meant that I'd have to go to the upper level every time I wanted to move from car to car. My room was a Standard Bedroom, a room for one or two travelers, containing two seats that fold down into a bed and a bed that folds down from the ceiling. The room did not contain bathroom facilities; those were down the hall. There were reading lights, an overhead light and nightlight, coat hooks and steps, and that was about it.
Our scheduled departure time was 3:20, and that's when we pulled out of the station. But we didn't travel very far before stopping in the yard. We waited some 20 minutes while additional baggage and mail cars were added to the rear of the train, and then we really set off on our trip. We went through the Southwest Side of Chicago, passing through the suburbs of Berwyn, La Grange, Naperville, Aurora, etc. Next came the flat Illinois farmland familiar to me from my trips to Iowa by way of I-80. At 6:30, I went to the dining car for dinner. The dining car features community seating, so travelers in small parties are likely to find themselves seated with strangers. My dinner mates that evening were a British couple now living in Albuquerque. I had the New York strip steak but could not finish it; it was good, but the portion was too large. Afterwards, it was back to my room. It was now dark outside, so I had to turn on the lights to read Bahá'í Proofs.
Around 10, I folded down the chairs to make the bed. Later, when opening a pill bottle, I dropped the lid, which fell under the bed. In reaching for the lid, I broke my watchband, so I was now the owner of a pocket watch. But I eventually found the lid. I expected the car steward to come through, asking if he could prepare the bed for me, but he never did. The upper berth was prepared as a bed, but I didn't want to use the upper berth. So I slept directly on the seats, using my winter jacket as a blanket. It was not a sound sleep; I was not accustomed to sleeping in a bed that rolled and jostled and that had a lot of noise. I would wake on several occasions during the night, but only once at a stop (Kansas City).
When I woke up for good, it was between 5:30 and 6 in the morning, and we were pulling into Dodge City. We stayed there for a while, as we were running ahead of schedule. Then we continued on into the Kansas countryside, which turned into the Colorado countryside. It was time for breakfast, so I went to the dining car for breakfast. I had French toast, bacon and grits. It was good, but again it was too much for me to finish. My meal companions this morning were a family traveling with a relative who was in a wheelchair; their young daughter was a bit on the gabby side.
Later on, we stopped for a stretch in La Junta, Colorado. Many of us got out and stretched and enjoyed the fresh air. The sky was blue and the temperature chilly, but it was tolerable with a sweatshirt. I took some pictures and video of the train and the town, which looked like a nice little town. After resuming the journey, the sleeping car passengers were all given a copy of the Sunday Denver Post. I learned that Michigan State won yesterday's game. Later, I went to the sightseeing car for a time; I was there as we passed from Colorado to New Mexico via the Raton Pass tunnel. We were at 7588 feet in altitude, the highest point we would reach en route. I'd never been that far above sea level before except in an airplane.
Later, I'd have lunch (a burger and chips) with a guy from Cleveland. We talked mainly about sports, and how he'd seen the Lions play at the Silverdome and at Tiger Stadium. On a Tiger Stadium trip, he was the designated non-drinker, yet he was the only one who had a hard time finding the bus for the trip home. And the train chugged on…. At Lamy, we met the eastbound Southwest Chief. I noticed a mariachi band on the station platform; I wish I'd had a camera at the ready, for they looked great in their costumes. I was able to repair my broken watchband, so once again I was the owner of a wristwatch. But the watch had a scratched bezel and was getting difficult to operate, so I was considering getting a new one.
We stopped in Albuquerque for a half-hour while the train was being serviced. Several Native American vendors set up shop on the platform, selling their jewelry and other wares. I didn't buy any, but I did get out and stretch. This was my first time in Albuquerque; I have relatives in the area, but I've never met them. When we left the station, a Native American guide had boarded to give a talk on the Indian heritage as we traveled to Gallup. However, the lounge car was full, so I didn't listen to him. Instead, I watched the New Mexico countryside as we roughly paralleled I-40 and old route 66. At 8, I had dinner; tonight, I had a pasta dish that was somewhat spicy, but it was delicious. So were the broccoli and the turtle cake. Then it was time for bed. Once again, I used my jacket as a blanket as I attempted to sleep.
It may have been a fitful sleep, but I did get some sleep. I woke up for good around 5:40 AM as the train went through the Cajon Pass northwest of San Bernardino. The dining car attendant announced that breakfast was being served and would be closing shortly. I did not feel like a large breakfast this morning, so I ignored the announcement. Instead, I finished the package of cookies I'd bought from the snack car yesterday.
The weather was foggy as we traveled between San Bernardino and Fullerton, our next-to-last stop, but that didn't affect our progress, nor did it appear to affect the commuters on the 91 freeway, which we were paralleling. While passing through Fullerton, I noticed a street called Fender Drive. Was that named for Leo Fender, the guitar maker, I wonder? We stopped at Fullerton, and several people got off here for the train to San Diego. I would head to San Diego later today, but it would be by rental car. From Fullerton, it was about a 30-minute trip to Union Station downtown. We arrived, as had been our custom, early – 8:20 AM, to be exact.
My car for the next ten days was a red Mitsubishi Mirage, which I rented from Budget Rent-A-Car. It lacked cruise control, but it had a CD player. By 9 AM, I was on the road. It was a short distance to Highway 101/I-5 and the Santa Ana Freeway. Traffic at the tail end of rush hour was busy as I headed southeast, in the direction of San Diego. It was way too early to consider checking into my hotel in SD, so I decided to spend some time in Orange County. My first stop: the South Coast Plaza shopping area in Costa Mesa, close to the Orange County airport. The business day was getting started as I arrived. An hour later, I had acquired the latest edition of the Thomas Guide map for Orange and Los Angeles counties and copies of the L.A. Times and Daily Variety. It was time for lunch, and I stopped at one of the restaurants, the Back Bay Rowing Club. I had a crock of French Onion soup and a chicken Caesar salad, along with some Mr. Pibb. Everything was delicious.
By this time, it was after noon. I drove to a nearby Borders bookstore, in part because I wanted to look for a "new" CD by the Byrds. Actually, it was a newly reissued CD set of a double album from 1969 or 1970 called "(Untitled)". Because the reissue contained some outtakes from those sessions, it was now called "(Untitled)/(Unissued)". I was in luck; they had a copy, and I bought it. Now I had something that I could play in the car's CD player. But I would not be playing it right then, not as I drove down to San Diego on the 405 and 5 freeways. That would be another day.
After a time, the drive became rather scenic, as the freeway passed very close to the shoreline of the Pacific. In fact, there were some scenic turnoff areas ("vista points") along the freeway, and I turned off on one of them. The ocean was clearly visible in the distance, and the surf was up. Some of the other people there were feeding the seagulls. Those birds could be quite noisy and aggressive as they went after the handouts. I captured some of this on video. Then it was back onto the freeway for the drive south.
Around 2 PM, I arrived in San Diego. It was still too early to check in, but I did drive past my hotel on Hotel Circle South, as I wanted to know where it was. The Holiday Inn Select was not difficult to find at all, being located near a freeway interchange. I passed by the hotel, drove under the freeway, and visited the Fashion Valley shopping center. This shopping center was not enclosed but open-air, a design that one would think is more suited to California than to, say, Illinois; then again, Chicago has two such shopping centers, Oakbrook and the Old Orchard. While there, I passed by the movie theaters and got an advance ticket for a later showing of "Mission to Mars," which had opened last Friday.
By this time, I could now check into the hotel, so that's what I did. I was given room 342, along the western side of the hotel. In addition to having the afternoon sun, I had a view of the Vagabond Inn next door and I-8 in the distance. But the room itself was nice, with a king-size bed, a couch, and a TV that received several cable channels. After unpacking and settling in, my first order of business was to take a shower. I had not been able to do that since leaving home. Well, I could have used the shower on the train, but I didn't feel comfortable with that. Then it was back to the shopping center theaters to see "Mission to Mars." The film had received mediocre reviews, but I enjoyed it. Afterwards, I had a slice of pizza and a pop and then returned to my hotel room. I would wind down by doing the following: a, reading the copy of Daily Variety I'd bought earlier to see who'd won the Screen Actors Guild awards presented Sunday night, while I was on the train; b, watching some hockey games on TV; and c, listening to Hooked on Trivia, the radio game show on KFMB-AM. Of most interest to me from the SAG awards: did Tracey Ullman win the award for which she was nominated? Sadly, she did not. But I did learn that Dennie Gordon had won a Director's Guild of America award for her direction of the "Tracey Takes On…" episode "End of the World."
I woke up around three – shades of Eastern time habits, perhaps? – but went back to sleep until six. I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant (their buffet) and then got ready for the day's outing. Today, I was going to visit the world-famous San Diego zoo. When I arrived after nine, the zoo had just opened for the day, and there were long lines waiting to enter. My first order of business was to take a bus tour of the park, which would familiarize me with the zoo and help me decide where I'd like to spend more time. I had planned to capture it on video, but I had neglected to bring a new blank tape, and the tape in the camera was running low. So I had to be judicious in what I put on tape. I ended up taking more stills than video on the trip. We went up and down and all around the park, past the polar bear pavilion, past the baby giraffes and the zebras. I could have left the bus at any point en route, but I stayed on until we returned to our starting point near the zoo entrance.
I then set off on foot, viewing the koalas and kangaroos, the jaguars and the Arabian wildcats. That Arabian wildcat looked very much like a regular housecat, though the wildcat roamed around more frequently then any housecat I knew. The most popular exhibit was the giant panda one, and after having a taco salad for lunch, I got in line to see the pandas. A baby panda had been born last fall, and it was lounging in the trees as I arrived. Meanwhile, daddy panda was down on the ground. Of course, I took pictures and video of the pandas. Of course, I visited the gift shops and got some postcards and some souvenirs for my nieces and nephew.
After my zoo outing, I returned to the hotel to rest for a bit. Then I visited a nearby Good Guys electronics store to view their HDTV products. I saw a 30-inch widescreen TV by Loewe that American Express listed for $4400 in their catalog. The price here was lower, but if you added the cost of the base, it'd be about the same. I did not buy it. After going to the nearby Ralph's supermarket (a major chain in southern California) for some Kleenex and a yogurt drink, I went to a Tower Records down the street to see what I could see. What I saw was a DVD of some Tom & Jerry cartoons, so I bought that. Then I drove to the Mission Valley Center, another outdoor shopping mall near my hotel, for the main purpose of developing the roll of film I'd finished at the zoo. While the one-hour photo lab was doing its job, I went to Seau's restaurant.
Seau's is owned by Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers, and as you might expect, it's a sports-themed restaurant and bar. There are monitors all around the restaurant showing basketball and hockey games from around the country. One monitor was carrying the Nashville broadcast of the Detroit-Nashville hockey game, so I was watching that. I was also eating a meatloaf dinner with homemade mashed potatoes. The portion was quite large, and I could not finish it all. Well, I might have been able to had I not had that yogurt drink, but what I did eat tasted great. I'd have it again. The pictures turned out well, so I was happy about that. On the way "home", I stopped at Best Buy to look at their HDTV offerings. Then it was back to the hotel for the night.
Even though I was tired, I tried to stay up for "Hooked On Trivia", the radio game show on KFMB. It's a trivia game that airs for 3 hours a night on weekdays and up to 10 hours a night on Saturdays. I first became aware of it in June 1998 while on a short trip to L.A. I had attended an Angels-Rockies baseball game, and I was sitting in the parking lot of the stadium, waiting for the traffic to move. I passed the time by twiddling the dial, and then I heard it. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but I kept on listening in the parking lot and all the way back to the hotel. I even put it on in my room and fell asleep to it. When I got cable modem service a few months later, I discovered KFMB on the Net and became a fairly regular listener of the game. And that was why I was trying to stay up for it. I made it through the first hour but finally fell asleep.
The radio was still playing when I awoke briefly a few hours later. It was to the sounds of a CBS news broadcast. The news alarmed me; an Amtrak train had derailed near Topeka, Kansas, and several people were injured. That train was following the same route that I had taken just a few days earlier. Was it a problem with the train or with the track?
Today was payday at work. That was the only thought of work I had all day. I didn't feel like breakfast, so I hit the road around 9 in the morning. I was carrying my passport and the receipts for my cameras in my bag, as I was entertaining the possibility of going into Mexico for a time. I was not going to drive into Mexico; I knew I could park along the border and walk across. So down I-5 I went, past downtown and the bridge to Coronado, past National City and Chula Vista, and all the way to the border. I took the last exit in the US. This went past a small outlet mall and eventually to a K-Mart. My cold was still hanging on, so I bought an inhaler to help knock it out, and I also picked up some snack foods. The border was clearly visible a few hundred yards away; it was a big metal fence/wall, and I saw a Border Patrol detail drive along it. It was quite a contrast from the US/Canadian border, which in Detroit is a natural border: the Detroit River. After leaving K-Mart, I passed by several of the parking lots for border crossers. Would I park there? Would I go into Mexico? No, I wouldn't. I didn't really want to go, so I got back on the freeway and did something that I did want to do: I drove up the Silver Strand to Coronado.
The Silver Strand is a long, narrow peninsula connecting Coronado to the mainland. Driving along it, I was reminded of driving along the western Galveston Island in Texas, the part not protected by the seawall. The city of Coronado also reminded me of Galveston, though it didn't have a seawall and the beaches were wider and nicer. It seemed like a nice place to stay, especially if you were going to stay at the famous Hotel Del Coronado. I had lunch (fish and chips) at Marie Callender's, and it was very good. To return to the "mainland" (a misnomer, since Coronado's not on an island), I drove across a very long and very high bridge. Then it was on to a Barnes and Noble bookstore for a time before returning to the hotel.
Next on the agenda: a cruise of San Diego Harbor. And to get there, I would take the trolley. The trolley was a convenient way to go to downtown. I parked at the transit center at Fashion Valley (free parking), got my round-trip ticket, and boarded the trolley. It was a nice ride, as far as trolley rides go, and before long we’re downtown. I got off at the stop near the train station, got my bearings, and headed for the docks. There were two companies providing harbor cruises; I selected one, paid my fare, and waited for the boat to dock. The tall ship Star of India is moored nearby. A street musician was playing the blues on his dobro (a guitar with a metal resonator plate). The cruise itself was an hour long, taking us past Coronado and the several naval vessels docked in the bay. There was a two-hour cruise which sailed out to Point Loma, the entrance to San Diego Bay, but I’d missed that. After we returned to port, I went back to the trolley stop and hopped aboard for the ride "home." The particular trolley I was on only went as far as Old Town, so I had to get off there and wait for another one to come along.
Back at the hotel, I decided to eat in that night. My dinner was spinach fettuccine with shrimp and scallops. It was excellent, but it was rather filling. I wasn't able to finish it all. This was a fairly late supper, so I retired to my room for the evening.
Today was something of a slack day for me. I had a late breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant, then set off on a morning drive. I located Eva’s Cocina & Cantina, a Mexican restaurant that advertises heavily on “Hooked on Trivia”; it was some 4 to 5 miles northeast of the hotel. Then I reversed direction and drove past Sea World and on to Sunset Cliffs Blvd. But there were no cliffs on the portion I was on, so I went back toward the hotel, ending up at the Fashion Valley SC for a bit. I wanted to eat at Eva’s Cocina for lunch, so I went back to the restaurant, but it was not open. I ended up having a small pizza at a nearby Pizza Hut. The pizza wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the Mexican food I had wanted. If/when I return to San Diego, I’ll have to try Eva’s again.
After lunch, I went to the Target store near the San Diego Sports Arena, for I was in need of handkerchiefs and socks. Having found those, I went back to the hotel. Then for the next few hours, I rested, passing the time by watching a hockey game and some of the early games in the NCAA tournament. When it came time for supper, I went to a place called Soup & Salad Unlimited, also located near the Sports Arena. The restaurant was accurately named, for their main item was a salad buffet line. It wasn’t bad. Then I went back to Fashion Valley and to the Discovery Channel for one last time; I was debating whether or not to buy a CD from Natalie McMaster; I didn’t, as I thought I could find it for less elsewhere. One “elsewhere” might have been the nearby Borders book store, but that was not to be the case. Then it was time to return to the hotel and pack, as I would be leaving in the morning.
Today, I would leave San Diego and head back to L.A., but not before a major side trip. The morning started with a shower, followed by my packing up. It was time to check out and settle the bill, and after I did that I drove to a restaurant down the road. This restaurant was attached to the Quality Hotel, and it served a good breakfast. At least the Belgian waffle I had that morning was good.
Now for the major side trip: a drive along old route 66. First, I’d have to get to Route 66. I would do that by taking I-8 over to I-15 and then up to San Bernardino. It was a scenic drive in spots, and traffic was generally good, although there was a slowdown at a Border Patrol roadblock. The radio (KFMB) had some Irish guests on, perfectly appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day. The drive up I-15 was uneventful, including the drive through the Cajon Pass. It can be treacherous with high winds, but there were no high winds today. After passing through Victorville and through a stretch of desert, it was time to stop for gas and lunch. The gas prices here were among the most expensive in the area; regular gas cost $2 a gallon. Fortunately, my rental car was getting excellent mileage. The prices were more reasonable at the Harvey House restaurant, where I had a hamburger platter.
I returned to I-15 and followed it to the point where I-40 split off to the east. There was a sign saying that the eastern end of I-40, near Wilmington, North Carolina, was some 2,400 miles away. But I was only going as far as the first exit past Newberry Springs. It was there that I left the freeway and picked up old route 66. It was easy to follow the road back to Barstow, although I had to re-enter the freeway when the old road entered a Marine Corps depot. But it was only a short detour, as I picked up old 66 a short distance away. Barstow looked to be a nice little community, but I didn’t stay there long; I had a journey to finish. The road stretched ahead. It pulled away from I-15 in the desert, but it would rejoin the freeway in Victorville. There was a nice little museum devoted to Route 66 in Victorville, located almost across the street from the train station. I spent a little time there, enjoying the pictures and the memorabilia. I also bought a few things from the gift shop, helping to keep them in business – things like the latest edition of Route 66 magazine, a couple of caps, a set of maps for the old highway, etc.
If I had had more time, I might have stopped at the Roy Rogers Museum, but I had to continue my journey. I-15 had replaced the old highway south of Victorville, so I had to rejoin the highway through the Cajon Pass. When the old highway re-emerged, I took the exit that led to it. This stretch of 66 had been a 4-lane divided highway at one time; two of those lanes were no longer used and were blocked off. I continued southeast for a few miles until the road was completely closed. There was a freeway entrance there, but I stuck to the local roads, for I knew they would take me back to Cajon Road, old 66. I passed by sights that I had passed on the train a few short days ago, such as an old sign for Hancock gasoline. I found my way to Foothill Boulevard and headed west. This road would pass through several communities, changing character along the way. There was the Wigwam Motel, a motel whose rooms/cabins were all shaped like wigwams. There were also modern shopping centers and business parks. It was in one of these modern areas (Monrovia/Arcadia) that I ate at the Souplantation restaurant.
The Souplantation restaurant was part of a chain; they specialized in serving soup and salad. For $7.99, you could build your own salad from a very extensive salad bar, or you could sample their ready-made salads. You could select from 4 or 5 different kinds of soup and from 4 or 5 different types of bread. Of course, there was a dessert bar. There are similar restaurants like this in other cities, notably the Fresh Choice chain in San Francisco and Houston; it would be great if Detroit had a restaurant like this.
When I resumed my journey, it was nearly dark. The Santa Anita racetrack was on the left. Before long, I was in Pasadena on Colorado Boulevard. There were still miles of 66 to go, but they would pass through some somewhat seedy neighborhoods. Besides, I was getting tired and wanted to check into my hotel. So I interrupted my Route 66 journey and took the Pasadena Freeway to downtown L.A. That turned into the Harbor Freeway, which headed south towards San Pedro and the South Bay communities. It was after 7 PM, but the highway was still very busy. I passed by the Staples Center, where a sporting event was about to begin. I passed near the Shrine Auditorium, site of the Academy Awards. Soon, the exit for Highway 91 lay ahead. That was the road I would need to take to get to my hotel in Redondo Beach. The hotel, the Best Western Galleria Inn, was nowhere near the beach, but it was near a shopping mall called the Galleria at South Bay. I checked in and received the key card to room 311, my home for the next six nights. It had a Jacuzzi whirlpool bath in addition to the regular shower/bath. It also had a refrigerator and a TV with flaky reception.
Today would be a busy day, with my first desire being to complete the drive of route 66. I had the continental breakfast in the lobby; the hotel did not have a proper restaurant. Nor did it have a gift shop or newsstand, so I could not get the morning paper. I had to content myself with the LA Weekly. That was difficult as well, for the first copy I picked up was missing several pages. Back to the lobby I went for another, complete copy.
My travels started around 9. My first destination: the Los Angeles Bahá'í Center, located generally north of the hotel. It was fairly easy to reach from the hotel: just get on the 405 heading north, get off at La Cienega Boulevard and proceed north for five or six miles. The center was near the northeast corner of La Cienega and Rodeo Road. For some reason, I had pictured it as being in a downtown area, but this was not a downtown area by any means. I wanted to learn how to find it while it was daylight, for I would be returning there in two days but at night.
An aside: If you've been reading this, and if you're familiar with the Bahá'í Faith, or if you are a Bahá'í, then you may be wondering why I was not observing the Bahá'í Fast. The period from March 2 to 20 is set aside for fasting during the hours between sunrise and sunset, abstaining from all food and drink. Since I am a Bahá'í, I should be observing the fast, yet I've mentioned having lunch throughout this trip. The answer is simple: Travelers are exempt from fasting, and I was definitely a traveler. According to my understanding of the traveler's exemption, as specified in the Bahá'í writings, I believed I was exempted from fasting. And at the very beginning of my trip, before it had reached the nine-hour mark (the length of journey that triggers the exemption), I was ill, which also exempted me from fasting. It was perhaps in an attempt to compensate for the exemption that my reading material on the outbound trip consisted mainly of Bahá'í books. Perhaps that would enable me to capture some of the spiritual nature of the fast.
Now, back to the story: The center did not appear to be open, so I returned to northbound La Cienega Blvd. Not far from there was the home of See's Candies. Many years ago, See's had stores in Houston, and whenever I went home, I would typically return to Detroit with a 2-pound box of See's Soft Centers for my grandmother. The stores are no longer in Houston, though one grocery store chain still carries them. Also, some stores in Detroit carry them as well. But I digress….
Next on my agenda: resume driving route 66. I picked up the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10), headed east towards its intersection with the Harbor Freeway, took that north until it became the Pasadena Freeway, and took that north until it ended and I was back on Colorado Blvd. After a failed attempt to find the Rose Bowl, it was time for lunch. I ate at a place called Yoshinoya, which specialized in serving bowls of rice and meat. It wasn't bad. One alignment of Route 66 followed the Pasadena Freeway, so it was back on that until I reached the exit for Sunset Boulevard. This portion of Sunset is not the ritzy and glamorous Sunset Strip but is instead a lower-middle-class Mexican-American neighborhood not far from Dodger Stadium. I followed Sunset a few miles until the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard, and I took that all the way to the end. It passes through the south part of Hollywood, and it's a fairly busy road there. It passes through West Hollywood; this portion of the road (between La Brea and Doheny) was under construction. It passes through Beverly Hills and west L.A., and then it reaches Santa Monica.
I'd been listening to S.M.'s public radio station and their "Weekends Become Eclectic" program; one of the songs I heard was "Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks, a big European hit of theirs from 1967 but somewhat obscure over here. In fact, I don't think I'd ever heard it on the radio before – American radio, that is; I heard it on a Dutch station once. And it is a good song.
There was a Sav-On drugstore ahead on the boulevard, and I was in need of a TV Guide and a newspaper. I found both there – well, the newspaper came from a rack around the corner. Then I took the road all the way to its end at Ocean Avenue. The ocean was not visible, as the shoreline was shrouded in fog. I could see the fog from several blocks away; it extended inland only a few blocks. Beyond that, it was sunny, but inside, it was quite foggy. The beach was barely visible; as for the ocean, forget it. I parked at a parking garage, offering a silent prayer for no earthquake to strike. I got out my cameras and took some pictures and video in Palisades Park, finishing a roll of film in the process. I visited the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian mall and shopping district that has developed a street scene. I saw a man all made up in silver pose as a statue. I saw Sixties radical Jerry Rubin drumming up support for his campaign for city council. I saw a store called "Ye Olde King's Head Shoppe." That took me aback because, although it's probably meant to be read as "King's Head Shoppe," I read it as "King's Head Shoppe." A head shop is a store that sells drug paraphernalia. The comedic possibilities seem endless – bongs and rolling papers bearing the royal crest, anyone?
I didn't stay long enough in the area to trigger the payment for parking, as stays of less than two hours were free. I headed out on Wilshire Boulevard towards the 405 and my next destination that day: the Ronald Reagan presidential library and museum. The literature I picked up at the motel said it was a 45-minute drive from downtown L.A.; that would have been about right. It was located in the mountains near Simi Valley. The drive out there on the Ventura Freeway was rather scenic, though the packed highway diminished the effect. I made it around 4 o'clock, which gave me an hour to tour the place. And it was a nice exhibition devoted to the life and career of our 40th president, with some memorabilia from his days in Hollywood, various political memorabilia, gifts he and his wife had received while in office, etc. Of course, it covered the issues and crises he faced while in office – the assassination attempt, Iran-Contra, the air traffic controller's strike, etc. There was a recreation of the Oval Office as it was during his administration. Outside was a piece of the Berlin Wall – one side covered in graffiti, the other spotless except for a spray-painted "E." That must have been on the East Berlin side.
As the sun headed toward the western horizon, I headed east, back towards the 405 freeway. There was an accident on the northbound side involving several vehicles and what appeared to be a vending machine for pop. Farther down, traffic slowed for no good reason. It remained slow all the way from the Sepulveda Pass (gateway to the San Fernando Valley) to L.A. International Airport ("where the big jet engines roar", from the song "L.A. International Airport" as sung by Susan Raye – my folks liked it when I was growing up). So while I waited to get through there, I turned the radio to KFMB and "Hooked On Trivia." The signal was weak, as the station operated at lower power during the day, and the sun was still up. But the sun would be setting as I arrived at my destination, the shopping mall near my hotel. I wanted to develop the roll of film I'd finished earlier in the day, and I was sure there would be a store there that had one-hour film processing. There was, and I had my film developed there. The pictures turned out all right.
Some people would be out partying on Saturday night, but not me. I'm not that kind of person, and even if I was, I was too tired out from going all over town today. So I spent my evening in my hotel room, reading the papers and listening to "Hooked On Trivia." I fell asleep to it, in fact; when I woke up, it was after 3 AM, and "Imagination Theater" had just started. But it wasn't on for long; I turned off the radio and re-hit the hay.
I would have had breakfast at the Marie Callender's restaurant on the corner of Artesia and Redondo Beach Blvd., but there was one problem with that plan. The restaurant did not serve breakfast. They did have a Sunday brunch, though, and I went to that as soon as it opened, which was 10 AM. I had an omelette made to order, along with a few other things. Then I headed back to the L.A. Bahá'í Center for their weekly devotional service. The bookstore there was very well stocked, but the only thing I got was a CD recitation of "The Dispensation of Baha'u'llah." The service consisted of performances from the choir, readings from the Bahá'í writings, and a brief talk on obedience.
Afterwards, I returned to the area around my hotel and visited the nearby electronics and computer stores. My main interest was HDTV's; I saw several. It was around 2 when I returned to my room. I had thought housekeeping would have been by to clean up the room, but they had not been. That upset me; I wasn't going to leave the room just so that they could do their job, so I hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. I took it easy the rest of the afternoon. At one point, I turned on the TV to watch the first period of the Detroit-Anaheim hockey game, which was being played at the Pond. By that time, I felt like supper, so I got in the car and headed south. Where would I eat? At a Carrow's restaurant at the corner of Hawthorne and the Pacific Coast Highway, that's where. The steak and shrimp were delicious; so was the dessert. The waitress got a nice tip that night. Then I returned home the long way around, via the PCH. It took me through what appeared to be nicer parts of Redondo Beach; maybe I should have stayed in this part of town. I did notice a brightly lit hamburger stand called Fatburger and made a note to myself to return sometime and try it out. I could not actually see the coast from the highway, but I knew I was never far from it. Occasionally, I'd see signs for marinas and piers and beach access. I stopped for some gas, then continued on my way back to the hotel, where I had an uneventful evening.
Today, I did something that would make two people very envious of me. I went to Disneyland for the first time. The two people to whom I referred are my nieces, who have not been to either Disneyland or Disney World. But that will change someday.
When I woke up, I was undecided between visiting Disneyland or the Queen Mary. Both were worthy of a visit. Then I made up my mind. The Queen Mary could wait, for today, I would visit the house of the Mouse. I set off after 8 AM, traveling first to a nearby 7-11 for a paper, then heading down the street for McDonald's, where I'd have breakfast. I had a Sausage McMuffin with Egg meal, though I took off the egg because I didn't want it. Unlike the McDonald's here in Michigan, there was no Sausage McMuffin without Egg meal available. Then I set off for Anaheim.
The traffic on the 405 was at typical levels, meaning it was busy. I'd take it to the intersection with the 22 freeway, and then I'd take that east to Harbor Blvd. I then took that north a couple of miles until I found the entrance to the park. There was no problem parking, but getting to the park from the lot was another matter. Due to construction, the only means of transport was via tram. I had to wait for three trams to load before I could board one. Then I waited for about twenty minutes in the ticket line. A one-day ticket cost $41, up from the $39 mentioned in my guidebook. That is not cheap, especially for someone who rarely visits amusement parks. But it was Disneyland, so I paid and went inside.
The first thing I saw was a floral garden shaped like Mickey Mouse. It was accompanied by two "45"s, which were in honor of Disneyland's 45th anniversary, the park having opened in 1955. This was a popular photo spot, for obvious reasons. I was no exception, for I took a picture of the floral Mickey. I was well-equipped with film and blank tape, so I was prepared to catalog my Disneyland experiences for myself and for my relatives.
My first experience, beyond my first entering the park, was the Disneyland Railroad. It encircled the park, stopping at all of the lands except for Tomorrowland, where the station was closed for construction. One of the highlights of the ride was between Tomorrowland and Main Street. There, riders could see a recreation of the Grand Canyon, both as it is today and as it might have been millions of years ago in the era of the dinosaurs. One of the dinosaurs was chewing its meal, a rather convincing illusion courtesy of animatronics.
When I got off of the train at the Main Street Station, the Disneyland Band was playing nearby. And the guest conductor was none other than the resident pessimist of the Hundred Acre Wood, Eeyore. Nearby were Alice and the Mad Hatter, who along with Eeyore would set up a miniature parade with several young children. After the parade and concert concluded, I set off to view the recreations of Walt Disney's offices and the animatronic recreation of Abraham Lincoln. After that, it was time to get some souvenirs, not for myself but for my nieces and nephew. There was a hat store that sold personalized Mickey Mouse ears among other things, and it was there that I bought two child-size and one baby-size sets of ears. Into the bag they went. Nearby, Pluto was busy signing autographs and posing for pictures, as were Eeyore and either Chip or Dale (I can't tell them apart).
Down Main Street I went. I stopped in briefly at the Main Street Cinema, which was continually showing early Mickey Mouse cartoons. One of those being shown was "Steamboat Willie," Mickey's first cartoon and the first sound cartoon. Next, I felt like a bit of a snack, so I went to the Gibson Girl ice cream parlor for a strawberry milkshake. I normally get vanilla shakes, but today I felt like strawberry, so that's what I got. It was good. Then it was on to the main plaza. In the center was a statue of Walt Disney hand-in-hand with his partner and most famous creation – or should we say "most fa-mouse creation"? Surrounding it were statues of other beloved Disney characters – Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Chip 'n' Dale, the White Rabbit, Goofy, etc. Off to the right: the Matterhorn. But nobody would be riding it today, as it was closed for maintenance. Ahead lie Sleeping Beauty Castle, gateway to Fantasyland and symbol of Disneyland in general. While crossing the bridge to enter Fantasyland, I noticed a swan in the moat. It was feeding on grass or whatever swans eat.
The rides were rather busy, as one might expect. I took some video of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party and the Dumbo ride. I saw a character meeting area, where one could meet various characters. At that time, I saw Pinocchio, two of the villains from "Pinocchio," Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, and possibly Brer Bear and Brer Fox. Then it was on to It's A Small World. The air-conditioned environment felt wonderful as I cruised through the exhibit, recording it along the way.
Next stop: Mickey's Toontown. I was the victim of a sassy water fountain; whenever I would take a drink, it would make sound effects and deliver comments like "Thar she blows!" Minnie Mouse was in front of her house, greeting everyone; Mickey was not in sight, but you could meet him by going through his house. I did. The house itself had some funny things, such as Pluto Dog Chow and a Mouserola TV set. Behind the house was a small theater and waiting area that showed clips from various cartoons edited together as a coming attractions reel, which was ostensibly being shown by projectionists Donald Duck and Goofy. Those were hilarious. Finally, we met Mickey himself. As I was by myself, I just took some pictures and video and went along my merry way. After stopping at Donald's Boat, I went over to Tomorrowland. There was an exhibit of props from the recently-opened movie "Mission To Mars." Then it was time for lunch; I had some garlic bread and a slice of pizza. Next, I wandered over to Frontierland. I didn't do much there except take the riverboat ride. Then it was up to Critter Country and a chance to see Pooh. I might have seen the Country Bear Jamboree, too, but I was beginning to get tired. Also, I could not stay much later due to plans for the evening.
It was because of those plans that I left just before the first parade of the day at 4:30. I went back to the hotel by way of the 91 freeway, as it would take me directly to the hotel. But first, I went to the camera store at the shopping mall and dropped off the film. I rested for about an hour, went back to the camera store and got the pictures, then set off for my evening destination: the Bahá'í New Year celebrations at the L.A. Bahá'í Center. I wanted to get there early to be assured of a parking spot; I got one. While waiting for the program to begin, I reviewed the pictures and wrote out one postcard – a Disneyland postcard, of course. The lobby filled up, and I didn't know a soul in the place. That made it a little hard to break the ice, so to speak. Once the program got under way, things were great. Several musical acts were scheduled to perform, and they would be recorded for the Bahá'í Newsreel and other teaching projects. I could not stay for the whole celebration, though, as my Disneyland outing had worn me out. On the way back to the hotel, I caught some nice views of West L.A. (behind me) and the airport area (in front of me) as I traveled through the hills along La Cienega Blvd.
After a big day yesterday, I wanted to stay close to "home" today. I visited the Borders bookstore on Hawthorne Avenue and got some reading material there for the trip home. Then it was across the street to lunch at the Souplantation, where the food was just as good as the other place but at the nicer lunch price. Next came a stop at the Ken Crane's store, which had a number of HDTV's on display. I spent a lot of time talking with the salesperson, who'd grown up in Detroit. He showed me several models and said he could arrange to have them shipped to me in Michigan. I told him I'd think it over. I then went to the Del Amo center just up the road. That was a deceptively large shopping mall; in fact, it was more like two malls butted together. You got from one to the other by going through the Robinsons-May store. At the Museum Store, I noticed a child-size guitar that was very well constructed and quite playable. If my nieces or nephew ever expressed an interest in learning to play guitar, I'd get one of these for them. But that would be for another time, if ever. I checked out the HDTV's at the Good Guys store; they were the same ones I'd seen at the other GG's stores in the region. I stopped at McDonald's for a milkshake break, and then I decided to go back to the hotel.
Once I got back to the hotel, I settled in for a rest. I knew I was beginning to suffer from vacation burnout. That may sound like an oxymoron, but it's not. Whenever you're constantly on the go, whether it be on vacation or your daily routine, you're going to wear out and need to rest and relax. Vacations should be relaxing, but that's not always the case. Sightseeing over several days may start out relaxing, but doing it without a break is not. Driving the L.A. freeways is definitely not relaxing!
Later that evening, I went back to that Fatburger restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway, at the corner of Palos Verdes Drive. As I was leaving my room, I noticed that the air was quite clear and clean. I could easily see the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance, and I noticed a long line of airplanes on their final approach to the airport. This was thanks to the high winds in the area. But further inland, nobody was thankful for these winds; they were knocking down power lines and overturning high-profile vehicles, especially in mountain passes. Back to Fatburger: they specialize in old-fashioned hamburgers. I had a burger, fries and a strawberry pop. Mmm, was that good! At least my taste buds and stomach thought so, though I wonder about my heart and arteries. If/when I return to southern California, I'll have to go there again, or to one of the others in the area.
Today would be my last official full day in the area, although I would not be leaving until nighttime tomorrow. There were several places I might want to visit today, but I couldn't do them all. The Petersen Auto Museum, the Museum of Television and Radio, drives along Sunset Blvd. or Mulholland Drive – all these would have to wait for another time. Today, I wanted to visit two places associated with McDonald's: the site of the very first McDonald's restaurant in San Bernardino, and the world's oldest McDonald's that's still in operation, located in the city of Downey.
First, I went to San Bernardino. It was easy to get there from the hotel, as Highway 91 became the 91 freeway, allowing me to scoot (more or less) across town. The site of the first McDonald's is on old Business Route 66 (E Street and 14th Street). The restaurant was torn down several years ago, but the site is occupied by a building serving multiple functions. It's the headquarters of the Juan Pollo Mexican restaurant chain, and it also hosts two museums, a Route 66 museum and a McDonald's museum.
When I left the museum, I was hungry, for it was lunchtime. I decided to find a Juan Pollo and try out their cuisine. I found the one on 5th street, about a mile or two away from the museum. The restaurant was not fancy at all, but the food was good. I ordered a tostada and a pollo bowl (chicken, rice and beans). However, the tostada was so large, I couldn't finish it all. It was the size of a large paper plate. If I hadn't had the pollo bowl, I might have finished it. When I left, there was a line extending outside the door; the place handles a lot of take-out business.
My next stop was the Ontario Mills outlet mall. Like others of its kind throughout the country, it's a large collection of outlet stores. I got a pair of jeans and a new shirt, and I spent a lot of time at the Virgin Megastore, but I didn't get anything there. It was getting later in the afternoon, so I thought I'd better return to my hotel before rush hour started in earnest.
Around 4:30 in the afternoon, I decided I was going to visit the world's oldest McDonald's after all. It was a good half hour away from the hotel. But it took me over an hour to get there during rush hour. And I passed two or three other McDonald's in the process. But simply eating a Big Mac or whatever was not the point; the point was to visit the world's oldest McDonald's. And as I drove up Lakewood in Downey, I could tell from a distance that this was not your ordinary McDonald's. I almost wrote "not your father's McDonald's", but that would have been wrong; that's exactly what it was. The sign was not the typical double arches; there was only one arch, towering high into the air. Atop the sign was Speedee, the original mascot of the chain. The sign said "over 500 million served"; not billion, just million. The restaurant itself, located at the corner of Lakewood and Florence, was of the original design: an arch on either side of the building, with no inside seating for customers. The garbage cans may not have been original, but they did have a 1950's vintage McDonald's logo (with Speedee). However, the menu was thoroughly modern, and so were the prices. No 15-cent hamburgers here, not anymore! Still, one could get the original All-American Meal: hamburger, small fries, and a milkshake. But most people were getting the modern Extra Value meals, and I was no exception. I got a Double Quarter Pounder meal and ate it at one of the tables next to the restaurant. Fortunately, the sky was clear, with only a hint of chill in the air. Afterwards, I got out my cameras and took some pictures and video of the sign, the restaurant, and the museum next door.
A sign in front of the restaurant said that this location was the fourth McDonald's to open, back in 1953. The earlier ones were in San Bernardino, Azusa and Phoenix, and none of those exist today, not in their original forms. The franchise owners got their franchise from the McDonald brothers, before Ray Kroc became a franchisee and then owner; it wouldn't be until 1990 that it became part of the McDonald's system established by Kroc. It had been damaged extensively in the 1994 earthquake, and there was talk of tearing it down, but it was restored and reopened in late 1996.
Today was the start of my trip home, but that wouldn’t begin until later that night. But I had to pack and check out of the hotel fairly early on. I’d showered and had a small breakfast in the hotel lobby. When I mentioned my TV reception problems to the desk clerk, he knocked $5 off of the bill for each day of my stay. That was nice of him; he must have been the manager or owner, not a mere clerk. After I left, I went to the Borders near Del Amo and picked up a Times and a Daily Variety. Then it was on to Long Beach and the Queen Mary. I got confused on the 405 and took the exit for the northbound 710 freeway when I should have gone south, but I was able to turn around. There were lots of trucks on the freeway, which would be natural for the freeway leading to a major port.
My bag was packed for the trip home, so it was extremely heavy. It was far too heavy for me to carry for hours; I would have hurt myself. But that bag had served as my camera bag, so I had to choose which camera I would bring. Would I bring the still camera or the video camera? The last time I had to make this choice (the Reagan library), I chose the still camera; today, I would choose the video camera.
I started the tour in the engine room. One of the highlights was a chance to see the last remaining propeller screw still in place. It was huge! It'd have to be, or else the ship could not have sailed. Then I went up to the main decks – to the bridge and the bow, to the recreated staterooms and officer's quarters. I even had lunch on board, though it was nothing like the meals in the ship's heyday. Berthed near the ship was a Russian submarine, which I could have toured but chose not to. The tour required that my hands be free of encumbrances, and that was not the case, not with the video camera in hand. So the Russian sub would have to wait for another day.
While on deck, I got a great view of downtown Long Beach, the harbor, and the Palos Verdes hills. I'm not sure about this, but I might have seen Santa Catalina Island in the distance. I am sure that I saw the Sanyo blimp and most likely the Goodyear blimp in the distance. I'd passed by the blimp earlier that day; it was moored in a location quite close to the 405.
When I left the Queen Mary, it was around 1 in the afternoon. I thought it best to head in the general direction of the train station. To pass the time, I thought I’d drive around and see some sights. I took an exit off of the Hollywood Freeway that I thought would take me to Burbank and past the NBC studios, but I was mistaken, so I had to backtrack. I drove on Hollywood Blvd. for a bit, but it was busy, so I moved over to Sunset Blvd. That allowed my to park in front of the Guitar Center and check out its stock of new and vintage Rickenbackers, along with the stocks of the other stores in the area. Then I set off down the Strip. This was a mistake; traffic was bad, and my gas was getting low. So I turned around and set off for the train station. Traffic was still bad.
It was shortly after 4 when I arrived at the train station, turned in the rental car, and checked my bags. Yes, I had several hours before my train would leave, but there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do. So I sat down in the elegant waiting room and read my paper. I walked around for a bit, taking some pictures and video. The station bar was showing the Michigan State-Syracuse basketball game; I caught the last few minutes of it, seeing my alma mater win and continue on in the NCAA tournament.
Around 6:45 came the call to board the train. I settled into my cabin, which was identical to the one I had on the outbound trip, but this one was on the upper level. We left right on time at 7:15, but we didn’t go far; we backed into the station again to pick up the mail and baggage cars. Then we were under way, for real this time. Before the train reached Fullerton, I was eating dinner with an Australian woman, a retiree from Buffalo who had been recently widowed, and a consultant for Amtrak who worked on their Disneyland vacation packages. When I returned to my room, the attendant had prepared the lower bed for me. I read for a little while then attempted to turn in for the night. Once again, sleeping on board the train proved to be fitful.
I woke up around 6:30 or so and used the downstairs facilities. Then it was time for breakfast in the dining car. I was enjoying pancakes as we stopped at Flagstaff. With all of the pine trees in the region, Flagstaff looks quite different from the desert terrain that I normally associate with Arizona. We followed old route 66 out of Flagstaff and into Gallup. I read for a while, and I napped for a while between Gallup and Albuquerque. Lunch today was a burger with potato salad and a bowl of clam chowder soup.
The stop in Albuquerque was just like the first stop; the same vendors were there selling their wares. I bought a local paper so that I could learn Michigan State's opponent tomorrow night; that game had finished too late for the paper we got in Flagstaff. Iowa State would be the opponent. The winner would advance to the Final Four.
I spent the afternoon reading "Off the Planet" by former astronaut Jerry Linenger, who had spent several months aboard the Mir space station. I was on a plane with him once, flying from Houston to Detroit. Dinner came at 7:30; tonight, I had a broasted chicken. I was eating as the train passed through the tunnel into Colorado, though we couldn't see it as it was dark outside.
Once again, I didn't get the world's greatest sleep aboard the train. The train was rocking a great deal in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. And somewhere in the back of my mind was the derailment in Topeka. I got up around 7; I dressed, used the facilities, and enjoyed the rest stop in Kansas City. Our car attendant was talking about preferring this train to the Coast Starlight, which travels between L.A. and Seattle. This train has a better turnaround time than the other one, giving him time to actually do something in Chicago. In Seattle, there would be just enough time to get to the hotel for a few hours sleep. When it got too chilly outside, I went back on board and had breakfast (oatmeal). We passed through Missouri and Iowa, and then it was time for lunch. My last meal on board the train would be a chicken pot pie, which was delicious.
We arrived in Chicago a bit early, which surprised me, as we’d been consistently late throughout the trip. Now I was confident of making my connection to Detroit. I had supper at McDonald’s; this time it was not the Filet-O-Fish meal that had upset my stomach, but rather a Double Quarter Pounder meal. It was good. I picked up an advance copy of the Sunday Chicago Tribune at the newsstand, along with a copy of the Weekly Telegraph from London. The chairs in the Great Hall had been removed, so I went to the Amtrak waiting areas and waited for the train. The ride home was uneventful; when we arrived in Dearborn around midnight, my car was still there, and my suitcase had made it from California. I loaded the trunk and set off for home. The first thing I put on my radio was the news; Michigan State had won again, and they were in the Final Four (they would go on to win the national championship). By 12:30 I was home.
©2000 R. W. Reini. All rights reserved.
Written by Roger Reini