Sunday, April 29, 2012


In 1960, Richard Nixon and Jack Kennedy sat face-to-face for the first televised presidential debate.  Nixon was said to look nervous and his five o’clock shadow didn’t help.  Kennedy was charismatic.  Being only eight years old at the time, I can’t relate the substance of the debate, but I do recall that Kennedy was declared the winner that evening. 

In every election cycle we are told that the country is at a turning point – a critical crossroad.  2012 is no different.  Nationally, we are slowly crawling back from a monster of a recession and we are winding down two bloody forays into Middle Eastern and Central Asian politics, while necessary domestic programs are going unfunded, schools and infrastructure are crumbling and college kids can no longer afford to attend.  And, of course, too many people are still out of work.  There is plenty to debate.

California’s newly formed Sixth Assembly District encompassing parts of Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer Counties, is a microcosm of America.  Yet no debate is happening.  Why? 

Ms. Gaines
There are three candidates from the two major political parties vying for voter approval in the 6th AD.  Specifically, the Republican incumbent, Beth Gaines, is facing both a Republican challenger and a Democratic challenger.

Mr. Pugno
The Republican is Andy Pugno, an attorney closely associated with California’s Proposition 8 – the constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

Mr. Bronner
 The Democrat is Reginald Bronner, a Naval veteran with experience in high-tech business development, sales and marketing.

The El Dorado County League of Women Voters scheduled a candidate form but was informed by the incumbent that she could not attend due to “a conflict in schedule.”  In Placer County, Sierra Community College in conjunction with the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women attempted to schedule a forum and was met with similar response.

Ever since Nixon / Kennedy, debates have devolved into events centered more on style than substance, more on cool than resolve, more on pitch lines and sound bites than solutions.  And, like cynical fans at a stock car race hoping for a fiery collision, commentators guide viewers to those points when a candidate imploded rather than when someone offered, with sparkling clarity, a viable path forward.  Who’d want to subject him or herself to that?

One can only speculate as to why local candidates in a competitive political race find it inconvenient to debate.  Certainly, witnessing what happens to candidates in nationally televised forums must give one pause.  But local races – where, as Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is” – are not glitzy mud-wrestling affairs arranged to for spectacle.  Rather, local forums are those councils where the public can hear the candidate and respond in a manner unfiltered by a network’s point of view. 

So perhaps the no-debate ploy is about something else.  Perhaps it is about rigid ideological views that do not really offer solutions to the issues facing the district and the nation.  Perhaps it is about views that cannot withstand thoughtful scrutiny of an opponent.  Perhaps it is about sharing views one doesn’t truly hold in his or her heart.  Or, perhaps the candidate indeed has a dental appointment that just can’t be rearranged.

Enter the individual who wishes to have a substantive discussion on the issues of the day: the one who understands that a vast and moderate middle exists in America, the one who believes that joining hands in more productive than standing ideological grounds.  Without a forum for debate, how are voters to determine which candidate can dig deeper than simply repeating platitudes or signing vacant pledges?

It does seem that those shunning the debate are happy to purchase air time on local media and to place placards throughout the district thinking that voters will pull the lever for the one who has greatest “name recognition.”  To their credit, tapping signs into the ground is a safer bet than going face-to-face with someone who can articulate plans to reemploy thousands, refocus government spending priorities, promote education and foster growth in the region.

Curious, ain’t it?  The bottom line is this:  When there is no forum for discussion of the issues, the only loser is the voting public – a public that should demand better from those holding office.


Note:  Absent a robust one-on-one-on-one debate, perhaps the next best venue for determining the stances of those running for office is provided on the Internet through their official campaign websites.  Here are links to those for Ms. Gaines, Mr. Pugno and Mr. Bronner.

A little scratching around on these sites will tell us what the candidate wants us to know.  If the website has an “issues” button, that’s a pretty good place to start.  Understand, however, that a campaign website is a safe place for anyone to express anything without being subjected to public scrutiny or direct challenge.  For that to happen, folks need to meet face-to-face.  And we need to watch.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I like motorcycles.  My wife likes dresses.  We both like eating out now and then.  Especially Italian.  And ever since our trip to Italy six years ago, she loves gelato.

I visit motorcycle shops on the road both as a respite from the seat and for a chance to talk bike and drool over inventory.  Pretty much invariably, motorcycle shops are stand alones in areas that may be slightly more industrial than commercial.  The chances of someone simply walking by and stopping in a bike shop seem slim.

My wife will sashay into a Nordstrom or a Macys without any provocation what so ever.  In smaller towns, no dress boutique is safe.  I wander in with her, hang for a few minutes and then slip quietly out the door looking for a nice cigar store and hoping beyond hope that she’ll not find something to her liking.  (This conveniently ignores mathematics pointing out that the female could buy a hell of a lot of nice outfits for the cost of the male’s $17,000 scooter.)

Since purchasing the Guzzi last year – and having scant knowledge about the sparsity of dealerships for the marque and seeing more and more retail space lay fallow – this thought has germinated:  What if Joe Motorcycle Dealer placed a Guzzi showroom in a small shopping center that already supported (or had space available for) a dress boutique, a fancier pizza palace, perhaps a nicer ristorante, and a gelato bar?  It’d be very cool if a Fiat/Alpha Romeo Studio popped up near by.  Instead of being on some main drag on the outskirts of town next to an electrical parts supplier or a mini-storage, or an RV lot, the cycle shop would be near something of interest to those not so interested in cycles. 

So while Mom is checking out shoes and skirts and singing like Maria from Westside Story, Dad could be sizing up a nice Griso SE or a Norge or a V-7 Classic dreaming of the open road and/or his misbegotten youth.  Add a Piaggio group scooter brand, and when Mom comes in to scoop up Dad, he could say, “Honey, set those bags and boxes down by the door and settle in on that little LX 150.  You’d sure look cute on it.”  (Dad might consider substituting younger, slimmer, or even more beautiful depending on his personal chutzpa/confidence quotient.) After some back and forth, he could suggest pizza, or perhaps lasagna and some field greens with a little Chianti while he continues to coo about how simply stunning she looked on the Vespa.

One thing would naturally lead to another and either there would be a divorce or Dad would follow Mom’s Corolla home astride a new black V-7.

I’d implement this bullet-proof business plan myself except that I know virtually nothing about:
  • the rudiments of running a business,
  • the mechanics of selling or wrenching motorcycles,
  • how to purchase at Italian fashions at wholesale,
  • the complexities of maintaining an Italian wine list,
  • Italian cooking in general, and, clearly,
  • women. 
Need proof?

Quite recently, my wife slipped into a Macy’s in an aging mall in downtown Sacramento.  We were on our way to Old Town for dinner.  Just down the concourse, “The Power Sports Store” had replaced an ill-fated imported-furniture store.  It seems, the good folks at Elk Grove PowerSports had already seized on my concept, placing a Triumph / Vespa / Aprilia / Guzzi / Ski-doo / Sea-doo showroom in the heart of a general shopping center.  Genius, I thought.  Simply Genius.

(Turns out the bikes and watercraft on display are sold out of the company’s Elk Grove location – the better for safe traffic-less test-drives, etc.  But the concept of man entering mall shop stuffed with shiny road hardware and gear seems very solid to me.)

Drawn like a kid to a Toys R Us, I entered and left, minutes later, with something labeled Giubbino umo col.  Ne TESTA DI MORO.  The price was less than I’d seen listed anywhere I’d looked for the item and, on top of that, it hung from the 30% off rack.  How could I resist? 

Moments later, I marched back up the concourse with my new Moto Guzzi-badged, summer-weight, leather jacket only to find my wife exiting Macy’s empty-handed. 

Dinner was very quiet that evening. 


Resources:  Elk Grove Powersports (nice folks, good reviews from customers, great inventory):

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


FLYING IN TO SACRAMENTO International one sails low over it. Crossing over to the west side on I-5 or I-80, one glimpses it and wonders, how do I get to that? “That” in this case is a lovely sinew of pavement that uses the eastern levee of the Sacramento River as a roadbed.

Close to town (exit Garden Highway from I-5 and head west), the tentacles of business park development and subdivisions subdue the old marinas and eateries of yesteryear. But the road quickly changes from four lanes to two as the scenery devolves to expanses of cropland to the right (east) and elegant homes on stilts on the riverside of the levee.

Vacant lots – fewer now than a few years before – still provide space between the upscale homes close in. I picture the well-off sitting on patios, watching the sunset and having recurring Huck Finn fantasies as errant logs flow south with the current. Fantasies that culminate in a soft Euro-foam mattress – not on a bed of cotton wood duff – at the conclusion of the sun’s display.

And about those cottonwoods: Further up the winding lane, the riparian habitat is less impacted by population growth. Except for the fact that one is riding a levee, it would be easy to picture the entire broad expanse of the Sacramento Valley dotted with stands of valley oak, and along tributary courses, willow and cottonwood.

This spring day, the cottonwood was in full flourish. Tufts of fibrous, pollen laden, well, cotton drifted through the air and around my helmet. I pictured the flow of air blasted across some new vehicle design in a wind tunnel. Some of that pollen, however, migrated through vents striking home in my eyes and nose. The former feeling like a gravel pit and the latter, a faucet. It takes practice and skill to sneeze inside a full-face helmet and not have to interrupt the journey for mop-up operations.

The river is full this late-April day. A cold and wet three weeks was followed by a day or two in the nineties. Snow fell in the mountains and then quickly began to melt, filling reservoirs and filling streams.

Prior to the construction of the levees, the months of March, April, May and into June would find the entire valley floor deep in water waiting to soak in or drain away. John C. Fremont noted this as his troops took hiatus just north at the Sutter Buttes during his march toward Monterey to wrest California from the Californios. Joining him on that speck of high ground, he reported, were black bear, deer, cougars, rattlesnakes and all manner of rodentry.

The river’s lode, called Valley Loam, is perhaps, the richest combination of soil ingredients anywhere on earth. Prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, wheat from the fertile Sacramento Valley was shipped from Colusa, just a bit north of here, around the horn to bakeries in cities along the east coast. Now, the flatland is home to stonefruit – peaches, plums, apricots and almonds, pears, row crops and rice.

Water is the life blood of the valley. Pumping stations to the west of the road feed farmlands to the east.  The lack of annual flooding leaves the land, perhaps, depleted, but life blood is life blood.  There'd be little or no agriculture here without the river, regardless of what we do to tame her.

Within sight of the urban center where a pickup truck is a bauble with deep shiny paint and wide chrome wheels, farmers use these vehicles for their intended purpose – ferrying feed to cattle, lugging fenceposts and wire to the job site and towing tractors, plows or a springtooth furrow. When not so engaged, I suspect the pickup rests atop the levee while the farmer fishes some slough, contemplating the simple wonder of it all.

THE RUN FROM SAC-METRO to the hamlet of Nicholas takes one thirty or forty leisurely minutes and carries the rider from a hectic yesterday to a pleasant past. Just before turning around to re-ride the section from the opposite direction, I pass a barn.
Peeking from behind the broken firewall and windshield frame of rusting 20s era Ford, positioned next to the barn it may have once lived in, a little boy in ragged cut-offs and torn t-shirt, undoubtedly playing hooky this day, waved at me as I passed on the Guzzi.

My first thought: Huck Finn? 


TODAY’S ROUTE: I-80 (business) to I-5, north. Exit “Garden Highway.” West toward the river, then north along its eastern levee.

 © 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


THAT WHICH SEPARATES MAN FROM THE LESSER FORMS is his ability to take common items in his environment and creatively utilize them as tools.

This, teacher-wife attempted, Tuesday afternoon, employing a student desk in her classroom as a ladder in order to reach the far, high corner of a bulletin board. Children off to PE, she reasoned, this would be an okay time to break the rule. At least that’s what she reported to the paramedics. Personally, I’da come up with a better story.

Catastrophic results were miraculously avoided. Fire personnel checked her out as I arrived at school. She was refusing to be tied to a backboard and a young man was gently probing her neck and back to assess tactilely for fractures, swelling or other signs of out-of-jointedness. There were none. The gurney came with an adjustable section, one that could be tilted up for the comfort of the passenger. Thus reclined, she enjoyed the fourteen-hundred-dollar, five-minute transit run to Kaiser.

PEOPLE SPEND A LOT OF TIME and energy bitching about health care. Kaiser (and, more than likely, most health care facilities) gets a black eye more often because, quite naturally, patient and family expectations exceed reason rather than for anything Kaiser personnel do or do not do. On this Tuesday afternoon, the ER was pretty quiet – not at all like the moments several years ago – also a Tuesday, as I recall – when I visited with chest pains while the older person in an open-curtained room down the way succumbed to a fatal coronary. “Better get next of kin in here,” someone said, as compressions were ceased and that curtain was drawn. I thought: I don’t know how these people muster the strength to show up every day.

No, yesterday’s emergency was only an emergency because it was necessary to ensure no structural damage occurred as teacher-wife cascaded to the floor of her classroom. X-rays proved such. Yesterday’s care was excellent: more than 90% of the folks in the world might expect under such or any circumstance. “Call if you need anything,” attending Dr. Lee said, extending a warm hand upon her discharge. Then he winked and assured us: “It’ll hurt more tomorrow than it does today.” Thanks, Doc.

PROPHESY FULFILLED: Today she rests at home, lying covered by a blanket on the davenport in the front room, taking prescription strength Motrin and rubbing a concerned and attentive black lab-mix’s ears. Both the drug and the dog (Edward) share equally in pain relief therapy. Bruised and scraped more than her backside – she has a doozey of a strawberry across her back – is her ego. “This can’t be a workers’ comp claim,” she claims – and she’d shake her head if it didn’t hurt so damned much – “it was my own stupid fault.”

I make it a practice never to disagree with my beloved. There is no point is starting now, when she’s so down and out. Besides, tomorrow will be a better day – the following day even more so. The injury was blessedly minor when the consequences rightfully could have been pretty dire.

Lesson learned.

Note:  The drawing herein represents an example used by former area schools assistant superintendent for incoming staff at “boot camp,” and does not depict the actual situation in this story.  But it’s a cute picture and it makes its point.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, April 13, 2012


Navigating the Church of the Open Road Blog-site

PICTURE/POST CROSS-REFERENCE! By popular demand (well, actually, one reader asked if this could be done) I have linked many of the pictures in the right hand column to the story in which they first appeared. By simply clicking on the picture, magic will happen, and that story will pop onto your screen. To quote Gomer Pyle: “Shazam!”

Further, at the bottom of each post is a list of labels. By clicking on a word in the list, “Shazam, agin!” stories related to the one you’ve read, the place where the story took place or the road taken will appear.

MORE ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHS found in posts: The vast majority of the photographs in the posts are those of the author. By clicking on any photo, it will expand – Gomer? – and provide a strip of photos related to that post with front and back arrows. Why it needs to do this, I don’t know. But many of the pictures look better when they’re bigger. Sorta like a one-per center’s stock portfolio.

WHEN A POST HAS ONLY A PICTURE of the old typewriter, know that the post is opinion and likely non-motorcycle tour oriented. The author would opine that he is pretty middle-of-the-road on politics. Neo-conservative readers will argue this point. True liberals wish he’d just keep his mouth shut.

REGARDING THE MARCH 17TH POST: Why Local Boards Make Lousy Choices was published that day in the Sacramento Bee. Thanks, Editor Reed for the ink. I’m looking forward to hearing from the Pulitzer folks any day now. Comments from readers outside my corner of the blogosphere proved to be interesting.

REGARDING THE FEBRUARY 27TH POST: Why Our Democracy Doesn’t Work got at least one concept wrong. The uptick in gasoline prices, true, has little to do with actions taken by Mr. Obama, as his opponents may claim. But sinister oil folks are not exactly manipulating the prices either. The fact of the matter is that US oil companies can make more money exporting refined gasoline to markets overseas than they can by selling it here. The price of gasoline here at home is influenced by demands elsewhere on the globe. Damned inconvenient, capitalism is.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS AT WORK: I long ago resolved not to make New Year’s resolutions. But since I no longer answer the bell, I had to do something to keep myself on some sort of straight and narrow. So now, posted where I can’t avoid looking at ‘em, is a to do list. Some of the components include

Writing and Literacy:
  • Compose no more than two blog posts per week. Proof ‘em better to reduce errors.
  • No more than one in every four post should relate to politics, but at least one in four should be non-motorcycle/non-travel in nature because life isn’t all about a breezy spring day on a strip of asphalt on a finely crafted and balanced European motorcycle.
  • Finish reading a book every two weeks. (Already falling short of that one.)
  • Find a local fiction writers group to attend regularly. (Found one – but not attending regularly enough.)
  • Dust off the “Pug LeBreaux” novel draft; get a good rewrite done and hand it off to an editor or a publisher. This is why you can’t afford to spew out so many blog posts in a week. (In progress.)

  • Ride the bikes regularly. Give each equal time. Practice riding in the rain. Wear all the gear all the time: ATGATT.
  • Exercise more. (Not doing it.)
  • Acquire less. (Doing it.)
  • Patronize locally owned businesses. (The cigar store is locally owned.)

Family Stuff:
  • Repair the brickwork out back that’s been sagging for six-and-a-half years. (That took less than three hours.)
  • Fix the roof and the side door to the garage. (Okay! Okay! Quit nagging myself about it!)
  • Digitize mom and dad’s slides. (On going.)

FINALLY, to those who read the blog regularly, “Thanks.” Your comments and feedback - whether directly to this site or to a linked site - are part of the conversation and make the effort worthwhile.  Thanks also, for sharing with your friends and doubters.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, April 12, 2012


"Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American should see."

President Theodore Roosevelt on the Grand Canyon

I HAVEN’T WALKED the Bright Angel trail from the South Rim to the North Rim and suspect, at 60, I probably won’t. So what business have I to try to convince anyone that the Grand Canyon is, indeed, grand?

Kolb Bros. Studio - Nice digs!

LAST WEEK, with friends, I engaged in a two-day buzz-by of one of the earth’s seven natural wonders. In a rented Jeep Cherokee Laredo – not on the Beemer or Guzzi – we participated in an exercise begun in the 1910s by the Kolb Brothers: something they said would never be completed – photographing the Grand Canyon.

DESERT VIEW is located at the east entrance to the Park. Here, a tower was commissioned to provide passers-by with a platform from which to view the depths of the Canyon. Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter designed and supervised the construction of the tower. Fred Harvey Company began a process that has evolved into sales of trinkets and curios more or less flying in the face of Teddy’s admonition –

– but the climb up the tower affords not-to-be-forgotten vistas. It is one of the few places where the actual work of the Colorado may be viewed.

Wind, weather and time work on so many elements here. This skyward reaching dancer of a branch speaks to the rugged and subtle beauty of the area.

Click to enlarge
SORRY FOLKS: for those who believe Scriptural references to a world being but 6,000 years old, understand that at the time those words were written, that opinion was credible. Now, we know more and we know better. Still, there are secrets locked in the rocks we may never uncover.

A WALK ALONG THE RIM WEST of “the village” (more like a little city with traffic and restaurants and lodging and even some crime now and then) exposes the depths of the canyon, the depths of our knowledge and the depths of our wonder.

Colored layers evolve with each degree of the setting sun’s movement. Shadows enhance the mystery.

AT PIMA POINT – eight miles by trail or by shuttle bus (gladly, the road to the west is closed to private vehicular traffic) another view of the canyon bottom is allowed. From this point one can hear the erosive work of the river as the rushing sounds of the water echo up the canyon walls.

The clouds did not offer a dramatic skyscape this evening, but the drama of the canyon never fades.

MEANWHILE, back near the population center, a maiden perches atop of rock wall and faces that setting sun. The dark hair and the woolen serape were too much not to photograph. Perhaps she was simply a plant adding "authenticity" for tourists such as myself.
But perhaps she embodied the spirit of the peoples who preceded us in this remarkable place.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: On my short list of things to do is a stem to stern motorbike navigation of US Highway 89 from Tucson to Glacier. It visits the neighborhoods of the Grand Canyon, Brice, Zion, the Central Rockies, the Tetons, Yellowstone and a whole bunch of country in between. I suspect it might be the most beautiful "run" in the entire United States.  This is a theory I need to test, so to speak.  Continue to watch this space (probably for years) to see if I ever do.

RESOURCE: The Park Service’s fine introduction to the Canyon should be accessed at

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press