Sunday, August 29, 2010


IN THE HIGHEST REACHES of the Sierra, in the region of Whitney Portal and Kearsarge Pass, the human inhabitants are comprised mainly of sinew. Perhaps some bone upon which to hang the sinew, but mainly sinew. They drape their lean bodies in breathable fabric that expels sweat but guards against the sun's cancerous rays. Food they carry on their backs. Feet are shod in Vibram and heads topped with broad-brimmed hats that would make John Wayne bust a gut.

“Pilgrims,” he’d spit. “Damned pilgrims.” He’d rein his big sorrel round and ride off down the mountain.

I MENTION THE DUKE because six miles east by road and about 6,000 feet below, John Wayne and John Ford conspired to bring the west to the masses. The rolling hummocks of the Alabama Hills still provide Hollywood with its greatest on location location.

Advised by Henrietta, the proprietress of the Mt Williamson Motel in Independence, I straddled the BMW and headed south to Lone Pine. At the light, a right turn placed me on Whitney Portal Road some thirteen miles from the trailhead. The paved strip heads straight for those Alabama Hills and then lilts over some and around others. With each crest or turn comes a new scene. One had the Duke dwarfing his pony. One had Jimmy Stewart trying to talk sense to Henry Fonda who cracked and ate pecans. Chuck Conners spoke to a little boy who called him “Paw.” And John Ford yelled into a megaphone, something about getting a camera positioned while the shadows were just so.

Past this playground of imagination, the road rises in long, steep stretches, perhaps a half-mile at a clip, only to arrive at a hairpin nearly 180 degrees and head upward in the other direction. This it does until the breadth of the Owens Valley, as well as much of its length, is spread beneath one’s feet. The town of Lone Pine, perhaps forty bocks in total, can be covered by a thumb at arm’s length. The century-mark temperature has cooled with each increment of elevation gain. The flora transitions. Sage, mesquite and creosote thins. Tiny thickets of willows cluster in gully bottoms where shade must predominate. Further up, those protected areas yield stands of white fir and Ponderosa Pine. Pinions bravely grow in dry, windy, exposed areas.

Whitney Portal Road zigzags toward the crest. The view with each switchback captures a little more breath than is returned. Three sharp granite arêtes rise from the spine of the Sierra; gleaming testaments to the eons-old conflict between uplift and erosion. Whitney is one of them – highest point in all of California. Lone Pine Creek cascades from above. The meadow at its rest is lush.

Within a mile-and-a-half of the trailhead, cars begin to litter the shoulder. Subarus, Toyotas, VWs, a Saab or two; but mainly Subarus: the sorrel ponies of the twenty-first century. At the trailhead, no parking remains. I quietly putter the BMW through two or three graded lots unable to find a spot large enough to lean the motorcycle on its side stand. I note the pilgrims. The ones made only of muscle and clad only in labels from Sierra Designs or REI or Royal Robbins. In most parking lots, the GS Adventure will raise an eye. Appreciatively, someone will say, “Nice bike.” Or “Beautiful, man.” Or “Where’re you headed?” Here, the pilgrims’ eyes remain down. The occasional one who looks up, does so with unmasked scorn and disdain. John Wayne in reverse. Had they but cotton in their mouths, I’m sure they’d spit.

RIGHTFULLY SO. My journey to the top indeed stole my breath, the views panoramic, with pictures dramatic. But the adventure I had enjoyed, the exploration in which I’d engaged, would neither tax me nor try me in the manner confronting those scaling California’s highest reach.

I will return from a good trip with good stories. The pilgrims will return with better.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Please, Time:

Stop, just for a moment or two.
Moments, you know, you have plenty of.
Allow your precious gift of self,

Before loss sets in
and grief shrouds,
and all that is True is carried off
atop an angry sea of tears
and doubt.

Please, Time:

Allow consideration
of gifts received
and those yet to be received;
Gifts understood
and those not.

Please, Time:

So that when the loss fades,
and grief takes to the winds –
stirred by some tomorrow’s sure sunrise –
Truth returns.

Truth new in form but timeless:
Truth about who we are,
where we fit,
why we exist,
how we love,
are loved,
and will continue to be loved.

Please Time:

Blessed Time.


“TIME JUST SEEMS to pass some places by.”

I agreed.

The speaker was a tourist from Santa Monica. “We can’t let a year go by that we don’t spend some time here.” He reached his arm over his wife’s shoulder as they walked beside me along the main street.

(c) Winnedumah Hotel
I’d arrived in Independence the night before and was leaving the next day. I had attempted reservations – both on-line and by telephone – at the Winnedumah Hotel, a classic Art Deco structure in the middle of town. John Wayne stayed here. So did Glen Ford and Cary Grant. Anyone who was anyone making Hollywood films in the Alabama Hills, a few miles south, stayed here. But the Winnedumah’s on-line reservation service was on the fritz and, according to the tourist, “Sometimes Frank he don’t call back.” Out west, when freed of Santa Monica’s influence, this is how one talks.

PRIOR TO BEDDING DOWN the night before, I walked Independence’s tiny grid of streets. North of town runs Independence Creek. Five eight- or nine-year old engineers worked.

“Anyone need a big rock?” hollered one, bent over a water worn stone the size of a healthy cantaloupe.

Two turn to assist. They weren’t asked twice. They just helped. The goal was clearly understood, as was the means to achieve the goal.

It has been fifty years since I witnessed eight-year-olds attempting to stave the current of a rushing stream. Actually, I was a participant. Now, since parents are afraid of what might happen to those offspring who dare venture outdoors, kids play video games – independent of one another – or surf an Internet teaming with predators not found in our city parks or along stream courses.

I SECURED LODGING at the Mt Williamson Motel, a collection of ten by twenty foot “cabins,” each large enough for a shower-toilet-sink bathroom, a queen size bed and a television with a 12” screen. A small air conditioner grunted attempting to cool the 107-degree to something reasonable. By about 1:00 AM, it had.

Henrietta, the proprietress, insisted on fixing breakfast – scrambled eggs, sausage, fried potatoes and toast – and dining along with me and the other two patrons.

She hailed from Switzerland and told six-decade-old tales of the allies dropping munitions in a field near her home in Zurich. She talked about immigrating to Kansas City in the late 50s and of a German-born neighbor was unable to tell the native Missourians where he had been born. She worried about her husband who’d recently suffered a stroke and the influx of illegals who were only coming over to take and not give. She told me that Maria would be cleaning my room should I go out for the day.

“There’s much to see,” Henrietta advised, “just not much in town.” She counseled a visit to the Eastern Sierra Museum, here in town and up to Onion Valley for a close up of the eastern Sierra escarpment and across the Owens Valley to the Inyos; and if time allowed, to Lone Pine and trail head at Whitney Portal. “But before you come back, eat in Lone Pine. There’s really nothing here.”

THUS, I SPENT MY LAYOVER day exploring those suggested sites - sites usually rocketed past on 395 by those racing between the LA basin and Reno. Mid-afternoon found me back in town, hoofing on Main Street with the couple from Santa Monica.

“Any place to get a beer in town?” I asked.

“Nope. Not until 5:30 when the pizza place opens up, if you’re here on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Which you are.” He grinned. “That’s part of the place’s charm.”

I nodded, but I really did want a beer.

INDEPENDENCE HAS NO BAR. No grocery store – the general mercantile closed a while back. No hardware. A café that’s shuttered. Two gas stations with convenience outlets, the Winnedumah and several tiny motels. Two houses on one lot may be had for under $130,000.
In the evening, as the sun sets over Mt. Williamson and shadows creep up from the toes of the Inyos, people walk the neighborhoods on both the east and west sides of 395. They greet me as I wander past. In the little city park just north of town, children build rock dams in the creek.

The Santa Monican’s words echo: “Time just seems to pass some places by.”

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


FOUR PEOPLE STANDING in four different positions at a crossroads witness a collision between two speeding motor vehicles. Each sees the exact same event. Each reports exactly what they saw. But each reports a different story.

Four readers are provided with a story to read. Upon completion they are asked, “What was the story’s theme?” Or, “What is the author telling us?” Chances are, each of the four different readers will have received a different message.

As a kid, I always struggled with “what is the story’s big idea?” questions. I figured, “Hell, he’s just telling us a story.” Regarding Chaucer or Hawthorne or someone else, I responded with those words once in Mrs. Lundin’s literature class at Chico High in about 1969 and discovered immediately, and in no uncertain terms, that I had given the wrong answer. To this day, I still consider myself not nearly as literate as I should be, because sometimes, by God, the guy’s just telling us a story. And isn’t that good enough?

I’D BEEN TOLD, over and over, that a writer gets an idea and then formulates a story to make that idea come to life for the reader. Then, last summer, I heard from Ron Carlson, director of the graduate program in fiction at UC Irvine and author of Five Skies and The Signal – two wonderful short novels. He also authored Ron Carlson Writes a Story in which he says:
The word “idea” has always made me vaguely nervous when I’m speaking about story because it has such a neat and narrow definition. An “idea” can be articulated. And sometimes things that impel me into a story cannot be articulated.” [pg. 17]
I raise this because upon the completion of my own work, I am:
a) never sure there is an idea communicated;
b) never sure I’ve communicated an idea if there is one; and
c) never sure if the communicated idea is universal enough to create resonance with an audience. 
In short, not only did I not get Chaucer’s message back in high school, I can’t guarantee I get my own message now.

I LIKE TO WRITE. I like to create images and tell stories. I like to start with a small incident or recollection, gussy it up a bit and see what comes of the thing. I don’t always know how it will finish or what truth, if any, will be revealed.

I recently provided a draft of a story to an associate, then another, then another, until I reached about six friends or acquaintances. I asked them to “tell me in a sentence or two what the story was about.” If it has some universal resonance, I reasoned, maybe it’ll be a story I can market. I was gratified to receive several thoughtful responses about big, universal truths – none of which were in any too similar to the others and none of which aligned exactly with what I thought the story was about once it had spilled out on to the paper.

I don’t know whether this is good news or bad news. I think Mr. Carlson’s words have taken me off the “main idea” hook so to speak. But I wonder what Mrs. Lundin would say. I don’t know what to do with the story in question, but maybe, that’s all it is: a story.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, August 22, 2010


IT IS AUGUST OF 2010.  In an effort to escape the hyperbole and extremism of the mid-term elections, I decided to check something off my "bucket list" with a quick trip to the east side of the Sierra Nevada and a visit to the War Relocation Center at Manzanar in the Owens Valley. My desire for this pilgrimage grows from the fact that I have made acquaintance of several individuals of Japanese descent who were interned here or at Tule Lake up north or Camp Poston in Arizona.

THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE has done an outstanding job in recreating life for Japanese American citizens during WWII. This is what 10,121 Americans saw as they were relocated to this desolate land east of the Sierra. Some felt it was their duty as a part of the war effort.

A RECONSTRUCTED BARRACKS, sheathed in tarpaper. Photographs from the era indicate the barracks were whitewashed. I toured in 100 degree heat and can easily imagine the conditions. I chose to leave after three hours. The internees stayed for more than three years.

Hundreds of these tarpaper barracks lined a grid of over 14 miles of streets inside this 5415 acre property. Recall that a square mile has 640 acres.

THE MESS HALL where thousands ate three meals daily.

 This room teamed with folks from before dawn until after dark. “Hurry up and eat your hot white rice topped with cold Jello.”

MANZANAR is a derivative of the Spanish word for apple. Some 65 years after having been planted, this orchard remains a testament to the hard work of those who farmed this "Land of Little Rain." Apologies to Mary Austin.

THE INTERNEES BUILT GARDENS and fountains utilizing waters that flowed from the east face of the Sierra. Now dry, it doesn't take much to imagine how folks attempted to make something beautiful where something beautiful hadn't existed before.

Pool in Merritt Park, Manzanar War Relocation Center; Ansel Adams Photograph © 1943

In the movie "The Great Escape," Captain Hilts (the Cooler King), Steve McQueen's character, having been returned to confinement, immediately begins bouncing a baseball for a game of solitary catch. The German guard hesitates for only a moment, but conveys that, "We may win the battle, but we will not defeat you." These gardens and parks convey the same message. Only this time, it is the American guard who must realize the message.

MT WILLIAMSON towers 14,389 feet in the background. One can only surmise what these folks must have dreamed about as they looked westward to the high Sierra.

150 CITIZENS DIED here over the course of the camp's existence. Some were initially buried here then removed and reburied by family in their home communities. Most, however, were cremated. One's ashes were scattered on the flanks of Mt. Williamson to the rear of the photo. Fifteen graves remain.

Baby Jerry Ogata.

 SURROUNDED BY BARBED WIRE and guarded from on high, our fellow Americans stayed put. Their only “crime?” Being or being related to immigrants from Japan.

One woman, whose son was released because he promised to enlist, received his Congressional Medal of Honor here, behind the fence. Her son sacrificed his life by falling on a grenade in the European Theater.

All told, about 120,000 Americans were “detained” during the war years from 1943 through 1946. During his presidency, Ronald Reagan signed a reconciliation act offering compensation to 60,000 surviving internees. He stated there would be no good to come from blame, but, “it was a mistake. One we should not repeat.”

 A REMNANT from how many decades back, now choked in sage and creosote. An artifact easy to overlook. Likewise, the Manzanar Encampment as one zooms past on US 395.

 THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is only as strong as the first element we choose to compromise in favor of political expediency. 


The Essential Mary Austin, (2006), Heyday Books. Includes, in its entirety, Mrs. Austin’s Land of Little Rain (1903) wherein she offers vivid descriptions of life and death in the natural community that would become the Owens Valley.

Farewell to Manzanar, (1973, 2006), Laurel Leaf. Jeanne Wakasuki Houston recounts life in camp in this young-adult level memoir co-written with husband James. The National Park Service provides an archive of photographs and print media accessible on line. Original documents may be found at the Manzanar Interpretive Center on site five miles south of Independence, CA on US 395.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


A UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR who’d lived in Chico for nearly two decades, held on to a lilting Australian accent even after all those years. As a young teen, I figured his affectation helped win the hearts of co-eds in the classroom, later adding to that thought, “and perhaps other places.” My mother felt his voice should have assimilated into the melting pot long ago. “Oh, he works at keeping it. He just has a cultivated accent.”

AT A COMMISSION MEETING for a rural California county, members were asked to approve actions that would support “Smart Growth.” The idea revolves around building communities with more efficient transportation networks, walking paths, bike trails; encouraging use of recycled and renewable materials; and encouraging the development of “Green” industries. The commission was unanimous. They voted it down. “Too much bureaucracy,” one stated. “Loss of local control,” stated another. “Global warming is a myth,” said a third.

It can be argued that it was prudent for these guys to be wary of change. Too frequently our legislative bodies respond what's couched as an urgent need only to end up with a solution that is worse than the problem. That said, however, it is not okay, in the face of mounting evidence, for a public representative to make decisions based upon cultivated ignorance. i.e.: "Global warming is a myth."

CULTIVATED IGNORANCE is something one ‘works at’ by being selective about that which the individual allows to influence his thinking. It breeds in people who are unwilling to change the radio dial, pick up a book or read a newspaper. Folks who get all of their news and information from the Internet are easily infected, too. Typically, folks suffering from C I aren’t in too great a rush to hear the other side of the argument.

Individuals and companies that benefit from the status quo are fans of Cultivated Ignorance. These entities know that if they can convince Joe the Plumber that climate change is a myth, regulation is bad, universal health care will kill grandma, and that tax money is always wasted, Joe will vote against his own and his community’s own best interest. And the wealth will continue to flow.

Just not to Joe. Joe will develop cancer or diabetes. His kid: asthma. Gas will continue to get more expensive. The summer droughts longer; the winter weather weirder and more severe. And the cops may not show up when Joe needs ‘em.

THE CURE FOR CULTIVATED IGNORANCE comes to a well-educated society in the form of scientific research; thoughtful, reasoned discussion; personal introspection absent – if just for moments – those influences that stand to gain from maintenance of the status quo; and a willingness to see change as opportunity.

We do need to take actions locally to stem the impact of our way of life on the planet’s natural systems. Such actions may not be beneficial to those to whom the wealth currently flows, but the eco-system doesn't really give a crap about who has money and who does not. Neither should we, because that’s one thing that probably isn't going to change.

But we should collectively care for our eco-system, which will change. And is.

Monday, August 16, 2010


A WINDOW STICKER. A pleasant one with a pleasant message. Two children, in white vinyl, praying under a white vinyl cross. Peace. Tranquility. Patience. Love: the unquestioned type.  All that Christ-like stuff.

The window sticker was affixed to the aft window of a late model Camry. Tinted. So the image looked white on black.

Pretty damned cut and dried, in my opinion. If existed both good and evil, this represented good.

CALIFORNIA STATE ROUTE 12 is a two lane affair heading west from Interstate 80 toward US 101 below Santa Rosa, through rolling hills and vineyards.  The road adequately bears the traffic that it is asked to. Everyone moves along at the legal limit and only curses blue when a semi, laden with cases of Carneros region wine struggles to make one of the hills.

I keep a safe distance and am generally well aware of how many seconds separate me from the fellow in front and how many seconds separate me from the motorist behind.

Where this lady came from to me is still a puzzle. A mystery. How she got there is not.

The first bit of road that had an inkling of straightness proved to be her opportunity to pass. I braked and pulled dangerously close to a gravelly shoulder as she rocketed by on the curving up-hill grade.  Mrs. Andretti? I presume.

Once the adrenaline cleared and my bearings were restored and I’d thanked BMW for putting anti-lock brakes on this motorcycle, I oriented myself toward this new situation, slowing, as necessary, to again achieve the two-second safety gap.

Ahead of me now, the Toyota’s rear window, was the cherubic window sticker. So pleasant. So docile. Saying so much without any words what so ever. Peace. Love. Brotherhood. All of those things her Lord and Savior might have preached. Yea, verily: did preach.

IN A MOMENT, the road shifted from two lanes to four. Shortly, there stood a stoplight and an option for motorists to head north to Napa or West to Sonoma. The Camry yielded at the light, detained by a vehicle or two in the lane ahead of her.

As she waited, I motored along side and gave the driver a meaningful (or a questioning) glance. Catching her eye, I motioned to her as she glanced at me while I lifted the shield of my helmet.

She lowered her window, although I could see the trepidation in her face, me being on a motorcyle and all.

“Nice window sticker,” I said, blipping my throttle.


I cocked at thumb over my shoulder to the tinted rear window of her Camry. “Nice window sticker!”

She nodded. Smiled. “Oh. Thanks.”

“Say,” I began before the red light turned, “How would Jesus drive?”


“I said, ‘How would Jesus drive?’”

Her face whiplashed from the smile of approval into something less. Something different. Her eyes narrowed and her lips tightened. Her trepidation regarding me was clearly founded. “How the hell should I know?”

The light toggled to green and she was gone.

Onward I continued, quite happy that she was far in front of me.

© 2006
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I WAS DOING RESEARCH. Well, just researching the meaning of a word. I leafed through the ancient Webster’s – five and a half inches thick – lost in lists of words I would never use, let alone know.

Dad had built a stand for this gold-cloth-covered behemoth from plans in a handyman’s magazine back in the fifties. I’d perused this volume before, but today I was thumbing through it again. Looking for “philoprogenitoveness.”

Didn’t find philoprogenitoveness.

I did find, however, tucked in at about page 742, a hundred dollar bill so old that I learned Ogden L. Mills was treasury secretary in 1932.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, August 9, 2010


“It was great fun, but it was just one of those things.”
- Cole Porter

I COVET MY NEIGHBOR’S Ducati. But not just his. Damned near any Ducati. The other day, somewhere along highway 49 between Downieville and Sierra City, as I was going up the hill, a couple of Ducatis were coming down. One, a red GT 1000, had the after-market Termignoni exhaust creating a bike that not only looks intoxicating but sounds sensual. I coveted it.

For a few moments, my suddenly lunky R1200GSA was transformed into a lithe Italian exotic, one with which I imagined myself dancing. The bends in the road were merely steps in a grand waltz composed off-handedly by Puccini, perhaps as he took a break from writing Tosca. The steel tank, cold and smooth, the work of Bartolini, sculpted from pure Carraran marble. And the sound? Lyric poetry. An endless loop of Sophia Loren whispering the works of Eugenio Montale inside my helmet. I traced the clear waters of the north Yuba with its spangles of sunlight glinting and reflecting off this confluence of art and engineering and song. Dancing. Singing. No longer on 49, I’d gone to another place. The Dolomites? Maybe heaven.

THERE’S A BRAND NEW TWO-YEAR-OLD GT 1000 sitting at a local Ducati showroom. Gray with a silver stripe applied as only the Italians can. It’s been there for some time. I make excuses to run errands down that way, simply to drop in, see if it’s still on the floor – perversely hoping that it's not – and settle on its broad sculpted seat. I lean forward and place both hands on the grips, twisting the throttle, pulling the clutch. Instantly, I am riding the Stelvio Pass with its 48 hairpins to the top of the Alps.

The salesman approaches: “I’m Bob.”

“I’m Dave.”

“I thought so.”

He sees my quizzical look.

“Yeah, I knew it because this bike’s been calling your name ever since I unlocked this morning.”

“Ahh,” I muse aloud. “The covetation is mutual, I suppose.”


THERE’S A POINT on Highway 49 east of the scenic overlook of the Sierra Valley where a primitive road breaks off and courses north and west through broken granite and past twisted pines into the heart of the Lakes Basin. I adjust the big Beemer’s pre-load and rumble over rocks and through ruts imagining myself the first to have experienced the crystalline Sierra Buttes sprouting up over the ridge beyond. I find myself back in reality, surrounded by incomparable beauty atop a machine that can do “Ducati” – and do this.

Thus, my face is slapped. I wince and shake my head.

I vow that I will never again visit that showroom and straddle that temptress, never again run my hands across her cool and shapely tank, never picture her in my darkened garage waiting eagerly to take me for another ride of my life. Never again wonder “what if?”

Never again covet.

FIRST, HOWEVER, I must go to the dealer and tell the gray GT that we’re through. It’s the honorable thing.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, August 6, 2010


THEY APPEAR MOSTLY IN THE SUMMER. And mostly in the afternoon. They are very disconcerting, even dangerous.

I’ve driven a motorcycle with a flat rear tire, more times than I’d care to count. The handling becomes dangerously imprecise. There is no cornering. And, pretty soon, the back end moves around like a Zamboni on an ice rink but driven by a drunkard. Sometimes I encounter a very similar phenomenon, yet the rear tire is properly inflated. Each time I stop to check, my tire is properly inflated. What is this all about?

I asked Dave, my resident sales guy at A&S, if, when riding his BMW GS, he ever encounters a rear end that seems as if it wants to, at least, unnerve him and at worst, kill him. His response? “Tar snakes.”

I NOTICED A MARKED INCREASE IN TAR SNAKES upon returning to California after touring five other western sates. We’re pretty hip about building new roads, but a whole lot less enamored with maintaining them – because, after all, road repairs require tax dollars and taxes are a drag on the economy. A quick and cheap fix to cracked pavement is trace developing surface fissures with hot tar. With tar sealant on worn roadways, the surface begins to look like a map of eastern Europe prior to the break up of the Soviet Union: a lot of little non-descript areas bordered by random black-lines. The tar seeps into the crack and seals the opening so that water cannot collect and settle inside, expand and contract with freeze and thaw and, ultimately open up a jillion miles of mini grand canyons cris-crossing our pavement. The tar also keeps plant seeds that blow into the cracks from germinating and breaking the tarmac.

The road guys apply tar sealant at a slightly warmed temperature so that it may easily be manipulated and routed into the offending ruptures in the road surface. It quickly cools, sticks and seals.

The cracks tend to develop where the road surface is most heavily used, thus it is not uncommon to see long, irregular lines of tar wriggling parallel to the direction of travel right where the wheels of automobiles and trucks route themselves.

HEREIN LIES THE PROBLEM. We motorcyclists normally use the innermost car tire path as we travel. Such positioning allows us two outs in the event of an emergency: to the right of our lane should something occur to the left and to the left – dangerous, on-coming lane – should something occur in front of us or to our right.

Physics reminds us those materials of different densities heat and cool at different rates. Physics also tells us that black surfaces absorb heat while lighter surfaces reflect it. Thus, on hotter summer afternoons and evenings, the tar heats, melts and becomes slippery. And the Tar Snakes become active, their nasty black forked tongues slipping in and out of their mouths, sensing our approaches and salivating over how nice a bloody ankle or shin would taste.

Bending into a sweeping turn on a canyon road and having that rear tire placed atop the run of tar transforms an enjoyable turn into an adventure. Too much so. The rear tire wants to slip out of the chosen line. Centrifugal force? When the rubber finds dry surface, it urges the bike to stand upright. The rider wants to lean and correct, thus pulling the tire back on the gooey surface. It’s a battle of wills that if the tire doesn’t win, the Tar Snake does.

There is no sure-fire, safe solution for driving when the Tar Snakes are active in the mid-afternoon. Strategies must include:

1) Slow down,
2) Seek a path between the tire lanes,
3) Allow the guy in the Buick behind you to pass, and
4) Forget about the view of the canyon! Watch the road.

A fifth strategy would be to understand that, like all other services we demand in California, if we want good roads, we’d damned well better decide we're gonna pay for them.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Our crack fact-check team here at the Church of the Open Road offers these follow-ups and corrections to previous posts:

REGARDING “THEME SONGS” (AUGUST 3, 2010): Our beloved Boxer Sadie died way back in 2001, shortly after I’d changed principalships within a local school district. Six years later, having taken the position of Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, I was attending a Junior High musical fundraiser when the glee club began singing a medley of standards. Jerome Kern and Dorothy Field's The Way You Look Tonight snuck up on me and there, in the darkened multi-purpose room, tears began streaming. I didn’t know why as I rushed out the door. Wouldn’t be right for my public to see a District Office official bawling. Driving home I thought of Sadie. Thus, the story was spawned.

REGARDING SIERRA NEVADA NATURAL HISTORY (JULY 23, 2010): Correspondent Brother Bill, having looked up something regarding Mule’s Ears in SNNH found that the following entry about Fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia) omits information that consumption of Fiddleneck by horses may be fatal. Therefore the book’s content is questionable.

The Church responds: Sierra Nevada Natural History is among the gold standard field guides. It is not intended to cover all details about toxicity of all life forms found in the Sierra. Horsemen either know Fiddleneck is poisonous or should. It is very unlikely that the readers of SNNH consume Fiddleneck – even if sautéed for 30 seconds in olive oil and garlic (DON’T DO THIS!!!) – thus the omission is of little consequence. Sierra Nevada Natural History: Still the gold standard.

REGARDING “MY KINGDOM FOR A CINNAMON ROLL – TRUCKEE” (JUNE 28, 2010): I intimated that leaders of single issue groups - the example I used was the NRA - use emotional, irrational, fear-based arguments to coax us into support of their positions. Recall how, in 2004, the terrorist threat level fluctuated between yellow and just-below-red and then the sitting administration was reelected. Shortly thereafter, the threat meter sort of disappeared.

The Church does not want the religious right or the neo-conservatives to actually shut the hell up. Rather, the Church would appreciate a strong conservative voice to provide a rational counterpoint to discussions regarding paths that will lead our nation forward.

A Church correspondent opined: “Maybe gridlock in Washington is a good thing.”

The Church responds: “Bullshit.” (The Church of the Open Road believes you can use the term Bullshit when its use fits a particular situation.) We elect representatives to address problems and work together to find solutions – not to gum up the system until a new party assumes power. A democracy mired in irrational responses and straw-man arguments is destined to fail its people.

REGARDING THE TOURATECH WINDSCREEN SPOILER (MAY 26, 2010): I had been slightly disappointed in the fuel mileage of my new R 1200 GSA – averaging just 43.7 mpg according to the whiz-bang on-board computer. I affixed the Touratech Spoiler just before my trip to Wyoming and found that mileage had increased to 46.something. I thought this might be due to the sustained riding or riding at high elevations. However, having put another 1500 miles on the bike since my return from the high-grass country, I’ve noticed my mileage averages a touch under 50 mpg. Better'n a Prius! The only new variable is the Touratech Windscreen Spoiler. An excellent addition to a very fine bike.

REGARDING STATE ROUTE 49 – DOWNIEVILLE TO SIERRAVILLE: This piece has not been written, although I take this route at least three times a season. It seems my words fail me as I try to describe the intoxicating mix of curves, gold rush history, woodlands and meadows and the North Yuba River: running clear as tomorrow and pure as the breath of God; teaming with trout not-so-eager to be tonight’s repast. While I can’t express it, all who read this space need to mount a bike or get in a car and take this fabulous route stopping in Downieville for a walk-about, Sierra City for a soda at the store, Bassett’s for a great burger, and the Sierra Valley overlook just to ooh and aww with others who stop there.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Theme Songs

EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US has a theme song. Some of us, if we’re lucky, have several. A theme song is a melody or a set of lyrics that does something. Something that may not be described in mere words. A theme song is not simply heard. It is absorbed. Like air. It is breathed. It affects the heart. It affects the soul. It affects the eyes. Specifically, the tear ducts.

In the classic movie, Casablanca, Ilsa Lund asked Sam to play “As Time Goes By.” Clearly the music and Dooley Wilson’s singing of it was something that Ilsa absorbed more than any other popular numbers of the day. Conversely, when Rick, Ilsa’s lost love, heard the tune, it enraged him as it kindled something deep inside that, at the time, seemed better left buried. Therein lies the crux of, perhaps, the greatest love story ever filmed.

I HAVE SEVERAL THEME SONGS. I’ve collected them over time. They vary by incident and by memory. About twenty years ago, my daughter wanted a puppy. We’d never had a dog as a family and I didn’t relish the idea of cleaning up after a dog. Or the barking. Or the fleas. Or the fact that owning a dog from puppydom is an eight to ten year commitment.

When I was a kid, one of my dad’s old hiking buddies had a dog named Jovanna. A Boxer. A good outdoor dog. Friendly. Obedient. Good companion and hiker. So when it came time for me to get a dog for my daughter, I first wanted to look at Boxers.

Sadie was the runt of the litter. She lay curled alone in the kennel away from her mom and the other stronger pups. She was three weeks old and soft as an over ripe peach when we first saw her. But she was a little one and we were told we could have her when she was seven weeks old, “if she made it.”

Daughter Jessica had picked up Sadie first among all the others and would not hear of a bigger, stronger or, seemingly healthier example.

We left, hoping that in the long, intervening weeks, Sadie would not die.

I LIKE SWING MUSIC. I like big bands. I like music I can sing to. You know: songs with melodies. And great lyrics. George Gershwin. Cole Porter. Harold Arlen. I like to sing songs to my wife, my granddaughter and, yep, even my pets. One of the great lines from my theme song for Sadie matched her blunt little face perfectly. It goes: And that laugh that wrinkles your nose, touches my foolish heart. And I would laugh and gently massage her snubby little muzzle from when it was jet black until, fourteen years later when it had turned snow white.

SO IT WAS that one Sunday morning, after a few weeks of “idiomatic seizures,” probably brought on by just being an old dog, Sadie collapsed on the way to her food dish. Her once peach-like fawn colored fur was all white and gray by now, and her once firm and athletic body was a swarm of uncontrollable tremors. Her deep warm eyes stared up at me and I flashed on fourteen summers of romping through meadows of lupine and poppies and fourteen winters of curling up in front of a fire place at my feet.

Her eyes asked for rest.

I stroked her head and sang to her as we carried her to the car and headed to the vet.

“Would you like her on the table, or would you care to hold her?” asked the pretty young lady vet who was on call that Sunday.

I wouldn’t let go.

“She may have an involuntary reaction and, well, defecate on you.”

Didn’t matter. I held on.

Sadie looked at me with those deep, now distant eyes. The doctor slipped in the IV ever so gently.

Sadie’s eyes flickered a brief spark as if to say, “Thanks,” and I began to sing.

Our theme song. Hers and mine.

Some day, when I’m awfully low; when the world is cold; I will feel a glow just thinking of you…

© 2007
Church of the Open Road Press