Sunday, May 22, 2016


A Church of the Open Road Mini-Memoir
(and this one’s a classic)

About a year ago, when we moved into our new-to-us house, and having left the old pair at our previous residence, we found ourselves in the market for a washer and dryer.  Consulting a leading consumer magazine, we fell into the purchase of the first laundry units we’d ever owned not sourced through a US corporation: Korea’s Samsung.  The new set does a marvelous job cleaning our laundry with more lights, buttons and sounds than we’d ever understand.

For example, whether it’s the washer or the dryer, when the immediate cycle is complete, a sweet little tune is chimed in a brisk 4/4.  I hadn’t heard this rif before and figured, since the company is headquartered in Seoul, perhaps it was the Korean national anthem.  I began to salute, out of respect, and long for some spicy Korean barbecue, a taste sensation unavailable in our new town.

With our transition from the Sacramento area, I’ve had to adjust the presets on my Nissan’s radio to new stations. I’ve always liked classical music and, many times tuned into Cap Radio’s KXJZ after a particularly taxing day.  In our new environs, there’s a fine classical outlet that is based in San Francisco.  The selection of music and their informative commentary has made KDFC (88.9) my go-to when travelling anywhere within their signal range.

About a week ago, while heading south on the 101, a familiar tune aired, played by a piano in front of a string quartet.  Suddenly I was consumed by an overwhelming urge to pull to the side of the freeway, fold t-shirts and remove the permanent press from the dryer before it wrinkled. 

My knowledge of Franz Shubert’s catalog has always been limited, but it grew a little that day.  I’d been listening to his Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667, commonly known as  “Trout.”  Here’s a link to a lovely performance of movement 4, the tune our Samsungs sing:

Still, a week after this revelation, I’m thinking how odd that the Republic of Korea would choose this melody for their national anthem.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, May 20, 2016


…the lies I told my students

Early in my teaching career, I came up with the idea of using read-aloud time with students to prepare them for whatever the next social studies unit of instruction might be about.  So, while I was teaching California geography to my fourth graders, I’d be reading Scott O’Dell’s classic Island of the Blue Dolphins to surreptitiously provide a little background knowledge for the upcoming unit on California Indians.

In preparation for my unit on the westward movement, while teaching about California Indians, I read a compelling novel called Oregon At Last! by a Dutch author named A.Rutgers Van Der Loeff.  It tells the remarkable tale of the seven children of the Sager family.  It seems the family, like so many others during the 1840s, decided to leave Illinois and migrate to the fertile prospects of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Tragically along the way, mother died shortly after giving birth, then a few weeks later, father died.  Alone in a foreign and hostile environment, oldest boy, John, led his brothers and sisters through floods, fires, blizzards and threats of bears and wolves to finally arrive at Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s outpost on the banks of the Walla Walla River. 

The book was a great read, with the savvy reader – me – learning that if I closed the volume about two sentences before the end of each chapter, just before each crisis was resolved, my students would clamor for me to not stop, sometimes even disturbing the class next door with their protestations.  They loved the book and many were in tears at the end when Narcissa Whitman, clutching the eight-week-old infant declares: “Where did you come from?  I cannot believe that I’ve ever seen a child so beautiful as you.”  Or something to that effect.

We used the themes of the book to write our own stories about bravery, perseverance and luck.  All good stuff.  Except…

Long on my list of things to do has been a visit to the grounds of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s outpost near the Columbia River.  The story of their care for the Sager children long drove this desire in me. 

In the 1835, prompted by an evangelical movement known as “the Second Great Awakening,” easterners Reverend Samuel Parker and a young Dr. Marcus Whitman traveled to Oregon country to assess the prospects of establishing Presbyterian Missions in order to save the “heathen natives” who’d long settled in the area. 

Parker remained west while, in 1836, Whitman returned with his new bride, Narcissa – one of the history’s first two white women to venture west of the Rockies – and a group of evangelical volunteers along what was soon to become the Oregon Trail.

Painting of Whitman Mission as imagined by William Henry Jackson based on written descriptions.
The mission was established and relations developed between the Whitmans and native Cayuse.  Whitman taught the native population farming and irrigation techniques – and religion – and ultimately built a gristmill, blacksmith shop and a large adobe house.

With the influx of immigrants, the mission of the mission changed from that of civilizing the Indians to providing aid and rest to the newcomers who’d suffered immeasurable privations on their journey west.  Among these were the seven Sager children.

But the kids hadn’t roughed it alone as Van Der Loeff (and later, Disney: recall the film “Seven Alone”) would have us believe.  The practice of the times was that if a parent died, others within the traveling company would pitch in – and if both parents passed, offspring would be divvied up amongst other families and cared for.  Such was the case with John and his siblings.  Tragic, but not quite so compelling a tale.

National Park Service
In 1847, a measles plague swept through this section of the Columbia Plateau.  Dr. Whitman’s medicine appeared only to work on immigrant children.  The children of Cayuse died, sometimes several per day.  Believing that the Whitmans were responsible, the Cayuse determined that in order to save their people, the white people needed to die. 

A monument is erected atop a nearby hill with a sweeping view of the area the Whitmans hoped to tame.  The plaque thereon lists the names of those killed in the assault including John Sager and a brother, both of whom had stayed at the mission.

The story of the short existence of the Whitman Mission provides fascinating insights into our movement west, our penchant for believing our religion is somehow superior, the tragedies that befell both the whites who first ventured onto the Columbia Plateau and the natives they encountered.  Remains of the outpost include only the foundation locations of some of the original buildings, a restored pond that had provided irrigation water, a resurrected orchard, and a pleasant interpretive center. 

National Park Service
After a visit to this spot, one cannot but be moved by the enormity of what events here precipitated. Citizens moving west established the Oregon Trail, which might not have taken its soon-to-be-established route, had it not been for the mission.  Word of the tragedy prompted Washington to deploy personnel to protect citizens moving west.  Treaties were written, signed and ignored.  And many brave and beautiful cultures were ultimately trodden to dust as one people overtook another.

You may find yourself driving away consumed in reflective silence.



The Whitman Mission is a National Historic Site maintained by the National Park Service.  Details:

The Park Service has provided an excellent video exploring both the Native American’s and the immigrant’s perspective on the Whitman Mission and the tragic events that unfolded.  It is well worth 25 minutes of your time and may be accessed at

Related: A fine Oregon Trail Interpretive Center has been established by the Bureau of Land Management in Baker City, Oregon another worthy stop while on the Open Road.  Details:

For one man’s contemporary view of the Oregon Trail, check out my little review of this recent book, in which, in the end, the author pays his respects to Mrs. Whitman:

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, May 13, 2016


…a tale of impatience and its resultant stupidity…

The US 101 freeway through Santa Rosa was an afterthought.  The city was built up and a nice, old downtown was bisected by the urge to build a north south four-lane thirty or forty years ago.  The result of this poor, but necessary, plan is streets that dead end and are reborn again, traffic patterns that aren’t really patterns, on and off ramps that send drivers careening into neighborhoods and business districts and a bottleneck of traffic through town during many times of day.

Belatedly, a few years back, a third lane was constructed to be a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) diamond lane.  Diamond lanes are a great idea.  While, years ago, a writer to the Sacramento Bee lamented that Sacramento’s HOV lanes limited one’s “freedom of choice,” in reality, they enhance one’s choice.  You can either choose to commute with a partner and use the lane or you can choose to commute by yourself and be stuck doing about 19 miles per hour in a 65 zone. 

I like diamond lanes and never abuse them.

Well, almost never.  Leaving Santa Rosa in the Subaru Forester after a frustrating forty-five minutes of trying to find an establishment that’d moved from one location to another on the other side of the freeway, at about 4:00 PM, I crept up the on-ramp to a clogged 101.  Once on the slab, I noted a big-rig negotiating a lane change so he could edge off the freeway at the next opportunity.  I flashed the Sube’s lights to give the trucker the traffic break needed.

Someone driving a car that could go much faster than 42 in the number 2 lane filled the semi’s gap and with traffic pulling ahead in front of him, putted along at about 23 miles per hour under the limit.  And he didn’t seem to have the desire to wick things up a notch.  I followed as the truck exited a mile or so on taking note that Johnny Slow didn’t pull to the right to occupy the now open space in the slow lane.  Still, I rested a safe distance behind and puttered along as the next off ramp / on ramp came and went.

Could I have passed this guy on the right?  As a credentialed Drivers Education and Training instructor, I make it a habit never to pass on the right unless the driver in front of me is signaling for and making a left turn.

At a slight rise with a gentle right turn in the freeway, a nice long gap had opened up in the HOV lane to my left.  I’ll just slip in there, goose it, and pull back into the lane, I thought to myself.  And I did.

CHP Officer Terry is a very nice individual.  He conducts his business with a high degree of professionalism and courtesy.  With a radar gun, he’d been standing on the shoulder next to a black and white Ford Explorer when I crested the rise.  In less than a minute, the big Explorer was in my rear-view mirror with its roof lit up like a Fourth of July parade.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“Yep.  Using the diamond lane to pass that guy going about 40.”
“You do know you’re not supposed to do that, right?”

I handed him my license and fumbled for the registration.  Although I should have a very checkered driving career, this would be my first California citation in over 47 years of driving.

“The good news is that there are no points and no traffic school associated with this.”
“I used to teach traffic school,” I said.
“I’ll only be about five minutes and you’ll be on your way.”

I’ve met a number of CHP officers both as a school principal when introducing law enforcement to elementary students with the “Stop On a Dime” program where I got to drive an old Crown Victoria they used to use; and as a customer of the service department at BMW motorcycle dealerships when they were having their bikes serviced.  Nice folks.  Good talkers.  Always interested in whatever civilian they were engaging in the waiting area.  I like ‘em all.

And I like Officer Terry.  He returned my license and registration with a newly minted citation and explained the process.  “They take diamond lanes pretty seriously in Sonoma County.  I think this’ll be about 351 bucks.”
Then he asked if I had any questions.
“Why, yes,” I said.  “I do.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I noticed you’re in an Explorer.  How do you like it compared to the Crown Vics?”
Terry laughed.  “Honestly? I feel like a soccer mom.”
I laughed as he added a few words of lamentation about “not even having Eco-Boost in this unit.  The young guys get the hot rods.” 
Then he said, “Thank you for being so courteous.”
I replied, “You weren’t the one being stupid. I was.”
We shook hands.
“I’ll wait here until you’re safely back in the lane.  Use the shoulder to get up to speed, okay?  Be safe.”
“You too.”


The “bail” including “fees” came to $490.00.  The check was made payable to “Superior Court.”

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Learning to relax in comfort

The wooden drawer pull on the antique desk had slipped free of its screw.  In order to remedy this circumstance, a trip to the hardware store was in order.  I hoped there’d be such a mercantile in Bolinas, California, because I’d never been to Bolinas before and with clear skies and highs in the mid-70s, it was a perfect day to explore a bit more of the California coast.

I’d purchased a ’15 Triumph Thunderbird new in January.  The local dealer (Santa Rosa BMW/Triumph – ask for Bill) offered this big cruiser at a deep discount and I was eager to try a motorcycle genre different than any I’d ridden before.

Did I say different?  Boy Howdy!

The big cruiser rests heavily on its side stand, generally an off-putting first impression for the likes of a BMW / Guzzi veteran.  But once I balanced it between my bent legs, feet flat on the showroom floor, I knew a test ride would be necessary.  About a mile into that experience, different felt pretty compelling.

Now, with nearly 1500 miles on the clock and while engaging in that 180-mile round trip to the hardware store, I took stock of my new mount.

California’s Route 1 has to be one of the world’s best motorcycling roads.  Except for a very few cliff-side spots where the Pacific Ocean is showing the civil engineers who’s really the boss, the road is well paved and nicely maintained.  Stretches along the tops of bluffs affording views of a vast ocean and gorgeous hills are punctuated by short twisty sections into and out of streams that empty into the sea.  The State of California offers many places where the rider can pause and be enveloped by the grandeur of it all, several with access to beaches.

With each pause on the T-bird, I was greeted by at least a wink or a nod and frequently a question or comment that lead to conversation.  The thing invites attention: those seeking anonymity need not apply.

 At about 3:00, fellow on a bruised Gold Wing eyeballed the engine and the seat and the acres of chrome and asked how I liked it.  Since early morning I’d been studying for this exam.  I shared some of the following with the Wingman:

  • The motorcycling press says that Triumph has set the standard for seating comfort on this ‘Bird.  After over seven hours in the saddle, I have to agree.
  • Many cruisers emit quite a bit of heat from either exhaust heads or from rearward cylinder (if a Vee-twin) but due in part to the parallel twin design of this 1700cc engine, I’ve felt zero discomfort in this regard.
  • The exhaust note is a soft rumble.  Others may prefer something that announces to folks in the next county that somebody on a bike may be coming, but I like the tenor of the music this machine plays.
  • The thing is not awash in technology.  I don’t need to know my lap time, the altitude, my average speed, current status of the Dow Jones Industrials or my MPG.  I do like to know the current time, number of miles until empty and length of my trip.  A button on the right grip offers this and only this.  (I also didn’t pay for a radio I wouldn’t use.)
  • The T’bird has a couple of hundred pounds on my former GSA, but it plants itself well on the pavement and seems much more stable when crossing those stiff, late afternoon on-shore breezes.
  • The bike likes sweeping turns and the engine’s massive torque doesn’t necessarily require me to downshift when powering out of one.  Tight, twisty turns are a bit more work for the rider.
  • It is really easy to throw my leg over the low seat and being flat-footed in filling station is a pleasant change that I was ready for.
  • The nature of the powerful bike – perhaps due to the cruiser style seating position – allows me to feel more relaxed, engaged in the ride in a different way that the brisk Moto Guzzi or rugged BMW (both very fine scoots!) of my recent past.  That takes a little getting used to.
  • A downside?  The thing is so flashy with its Caspian blue and white livery and hand painted coach lines that I feel obligated to keep it particularly clean.
  • Did I mention that you meet a lot of people?

The story goes that the folks in the village of Bolinas guard their privacy so greatly that they’ve removed the directional signs on CA 1 indicating where you turn in order to find their coastal Brigadoon.  I used a map.  A gentle hill with a nice two-lane separates the town from the world on the east side of the San Andreas Fault.  From the county beach a few blocks through town, the Farallon Islands – some twenty miles distant – seem close enough to touch.

A homemade chicken tamale waited for me at the Coast CafĂ© (Think Globally – Eat Locally) and the tiny hardware store did, indeed, have just the piece my old desk needed.

Clouds began to slide in on the way back up the coast offering a graying cast to the roiling sea.  With slightly muted light, the ride seemed different, but just as delicious reminding me that any road you take in the opposite direction is a different ride. 

Seven-plus hours in the saddle and, now, a thousand-and-a-half miles on the clock and I am beginning to feel one with the bike.  The different I was looking for has proven to be so captivating that today, when my wife suggested I could use a haircut, I found there was a great barbershop in a neighboring town about 28 miles north of home.


Today’s Route:  From San Francisco and US 101, head north on CA 1 toward (and past) Stinson Beach; from Santa Rosa and US 101, follow any route to coast range and coastal towns such as Guerneville and Jenner (on CA 116) or Bodega/Bodega Bay, head south on CA 1 through Valley Ford, Tamales and Marshall.  Coming from either direction on CA 1, good luck finding the turn off to Bolinas.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Last week, I visited New York City for only the second time and I could never rid myself of the perception that I was somehow a latter-day Dennis Weaver playing a bumpkin-esque Deputy McCloud navigating a land that might as well be foreign.

The buildings seem taller than some of our western mountains.

The favored hue for automobiles seems to be yellow.

Park trails look somewhat like sidewalks and the songs we hear are not from meadowlarks.

And the trains look far different than the freights that rumbled through my boyhood town.

Food is plentiful – but very expensive, unless you know where to look.

It is crowded and noisy and busy and, at first, confusing.  But the music and the rhythm and the change of pace is somehow good and refreshing. 

There may be more culture in any four-square-block area of Manhattan than in any other so-sized spot anywhere else on the globe.

Art is on display for all to behold.  Sometimes, just like riding along the road with a writer, you find yourself standing elbow-to-elbow with a master in his studio.

Bridges invite you to cross.

Corner cafes invite you in for a bite.  Memory if the pastrami here at 52nd and 6th still causes me to salivate.

Central Park in spring rivals the almond orchards in Butte County (CA) of my youth and I can’t imagine Paris being much more beautiful.  Ask me again once I’ve been there.

Coney Island was nearly empty of people – the rides don’t fire up for a few more weeks. 

And I was surprised when I snapped a picture Under the Boardwalk, that this is all I got…

The subways are not the cleanest places on earth, but they are efficient and run on time.   

Note: the best way to get from point A to point Q is to toss away the cell phone with its NYC Transit App and simply stand on the platform with a quizzical look on your face.  In under a minute one or more gracious citizens will ask “Where ya goin’?” and offer spot on advice as to how to get there: “Ya take the C line to 54th, get off and catch the L across town two stops.  Your restaurant’ll be a five minute walk…”

New York City presents big lessons to folks from small towns like me.  The biggest is at “Ground Zero,” the monument for those who perished on September 11th in 2001.  Two huge reflecting ponds no lay in the footprints of the original towers.  Into each of the 176-foot long sides is engraved the names of the nearly 3,000 people who perished that day.  

Most impressive was that fully one and a half sides eight sides of the pools was used to honor the first responders who rushed in while everyone else was rushing out.

In place of the Twin Towers is a new structure that, dominating lower Manhattan, inspires the visitor to look heavenward.

My thoughts upon visiting this place were two.  One:  I had many, many difficult days over my career as a teacher and school principal – one was explaining to parents on 9/11 that no, we weren’t going to close schools in light of the attack.  “If we did,” I improvised, “we’d be letting the bad guys win.”  But that difficult day for me didn’t hold a candle to the day the men from the ladder company directly across the street experienced.  Few survived.

And two: When looking at the memorial grounds we are filled with a range of silent emotions.  If dominant in those is anger coupled with a need to “get even” with those who flew the planes into the towers – even though it is a very palpable and realistic thing to feel – if we allow that emotion to command our behavior, we will have missed the bigger lessons: the ones about might and restraint; about power and diplomacy; and about peace and its necessary coupling with understanding in order to be realized.

I harbor no regrets if the reader does not share this final conclusion.

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, April 11, 2016

Suggested Reading: “The Oregon Trail – a New American Journey”

by Rinker Buck (Simon and Schuster, 2015. $28.)

Embedded deep within every Church of the Open Roader is an urge to see new places, confront challenges (either real or in one’s simple mind) and enhance our perspectives on self and the world.  And maybe resolve a thing or two.

Rinker Buck, a my-aged writer for Connecticut’s Hartford Courant, disenchanted with the change that is thrust upon most of us during our careers and harkening back to childhood days camping from a New England horse-drawn wagon with dad and family, undertook a Church of the Open Road adventure of a lifetime.  Starting near Kansas City bound for Baker City, Oregon in a replica Schuttler wagon, Buck and his brother traverse half a continent tracing a perilous route used 140 years ago, the route that opened up the west: the Old Oregon Trail.

With a reporter’s eye, he tells of verdant fields, thunderstorms, flooded camps, treacherous descents down rocky cliffs, parched desert runs, busted axles and of people – wonderful people whose spirit embodies that of our westerners: curious, helpful, joyful and strong.

As a historian, he weaves stories of 19th century heroism and pig-headedness, politics and plague attached to the place names through which he passes.  On this romantic journey, Buck dispenses with the romance of the west outlining how cholera decimated hundreds, how helpful natives were abused and how religious persecution played a large role in seeing the land west of the 100th meridian settled.

As a brother and a son, he chronicles trying relationships with a father and a sibling – a sibling who turns out to be an excellent muleskinner – sharing how both resolve.

As pages turn, vast expanses of Kansas plains or Rocky Mountain crossings are vehicles for Buck’s examination of his greater circumstance and the circumstance in which, we, as a nation, find ourselves.  Western wanderlust is elemental to who some of us are as individuals.  Western expansion is most certainly elemental to our narrative as a nation.  What we learn on our journeys can, and must, inform our tomorrows.

Looking at the possible history of our future - through the author's eyes after 2000 miles of heat, cold and hunger, self-doubt, worry and, finally, jubilation - one can take solace in Buck's conclusion:  

The impossible is doable as long as you have a great brother and good trail friends.  Uncertainty is all.  Crazyass passion is the staple of life and persistence its nourishing force.  Without them, you cannot cross the trail. 

Rinker Buck has given us a rewarding look at our country and ourselves.  He has engaged in an ultimate adventure.  And whether he knows it or not (or cares) he clearly has earned membership in the Church of the Open Road.

See your local independent bookseller.

Monday, February 29, 2016


…make that “endearing…”

The Avenue of the Giants was once US 101, winding through Humboldt County’s majestic and humbling redwoods.  Now, it’s the old road.  About thirty miles in length, it had been the sole artery – outside the ever-present Eel River – serving the lumber and small farming communities of the area; bergs bypassed when progress gave us a new 101.  Today, it is easy to miss those little points of history as we efficiently travel north or south, rocketing through the stands and groves as if it were just any old forest.

Yet, finding that old road and spending a day exploring, hiking, listening to the whispers of the woods, proves to be a day well spent.

The “Avenue” offers many places to pull out …

… and many trails to explore.

We can be dwarfed by the massive trees …

… and easily miss the subtle beauty resting on the forest floor.

Heads up: Your pictures won’t do justice.

Due to our modern day need for speed, those quaint farming and logging communities are stuck with a lousy choice: either find happiness (and a living) in service to of those of us who’ve found the old road or simply die becoming a historic place name with no ‘there’ remaining.

I’d purchased gas here once, a while back.  No longer.

This rig used to haul produce between some point A and market, I suppose.

Perhaps this one, too?

Maybe from a farmstead like this one?

But the attraction – the profits – would always come from the standing timber.

Before the commercial logging boom of the 19th century, the coast was covered with redwoods from Big Sur to the Oregon border.  What once accounted for 2.4 billion acres of old growth forest had, by the end of the 20th century been reduced to a mere 120,000 acres.

More would be gone had the Texas financier who succeeded in a hostile takeover of Scotia’s once-sustainably managed Pacific Lumber Company been able to cash in on the old growth remaining on the company’s land holdings back in ’65 by cutting 'em all down.

Cal State Humboldt archive
 What, one must wonder, is the legacy of the man who plunders, pollutes and renders intractable harm simply so he can die with stacks of money in his account?

Thankfully, the forest is dotted and laced with groves and trails commemorating those with the wisdom and tenacity to protect the grandeur of it all.  Isn’t our collective heritage better served by folks like these?

These folks understood something.  Something about place.

Something about balance.

Something about beauty.

A day wandering through the forests and glades along the Avenue of the Giants will linger for quite some time.  As, one hopes, will the forests.


Notes and Resources:

Here is an on-line guide to the Avenue of the Giants:

Regarding the Humboldt Redwoods State Park:

The Save the Redwoods League has taken the forefront in preserving our north coast forests.  Here’s a little bit about their history:

The “Profit Above All Else” mentality some may decry isn’t something particularly new.  Here’s a piece about the corporate raider who, in a hostile takeover, wrested the historic Pacific Lumber Company from a sustainable, responsible operation (I recall touring the mill back in the 60s) to a poster child for short term profits and bald faced greed:

Need a place to stay while visiting the area?  Want to step back in history for an evening or two?  Check out: Be forewarned: You may never want to return to the present…

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press