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14 September 2004 @ 07:13 pm
2004: The Biker Babes' California Dreamin', Part Two  
 September 9, Thursday: Las Vegas, NV

 

Today we toured Hoover Dam, cruised on Lake Mead, and dropped in on my old neighbors, Ron and Ruth. Oh, yeah – and I did more laundry.

The Hoover Dam tour was spectacular! Instead of being just a huge engineering project, it’s an art deco masterwork. They are again taking tours down inside the dam structure to show off one of the two monstrous generator rooms. The displays set up in both the new and the old exhibit centers tell the story of the dam’s genesis and construction. We walked across the dam from Nevada to Arizona and back, and I took multiple pictures. A funny: we stopped in the ladies’ rest room atop the dam (you go into an art deco door and up a staircase to the loo) and met a Brit lady who joked that she’d had to come up to the loo even though she didn’t really need to go, just to be able to say that she pissed on Hoover Dam!

 

We ate barbecue sandwiches at the High Climber’s snack bar, which were much tastier than the appetizer ribs at Harley. We bought postcards, and then went on our way. We left behind yet another good parking spot, too: the area right on the first level of the garage, near the attendants, is reserved for motorcycles.

 

We headed off to Lake Mead Cruises for our afternoon trip. We were early, but we used the time to write out our postcards for mailing back at the hotel. The nice bartender we chatted with (we were over an hour early, and were the only folk around) even gave us free popcorn to feed the fish.

 

Two things really struck me as we waited. One was that the lake’s level was really low. Nevada’s in a five-year drought, during which there simply hasn’t been enough winter snowpack up in the Rockies to feed the Colorado River. Despite that, growth in the area has been explosive, with an ever higher demand for water. It shows. The docks had clearly been moved down to meet the shrinking water.

 

The second impression was the desolation. In that regard, although no other, it reminded me a bit of the Great Salt Lake, when I saw it in Utah way back in the early 1990’s. Lake Mead was the first national recreational area – as distinct from a national park – but in part what that means is that there is no community around the docks. Bare dirt and rock shore, commercial dock for the two cruise boats (the larger, the Desert Princess, was built in La Crosse, WI!), and a whole series of piers and slips comprising the Las Vegas harbor; but no real buildings, no shops or services, just bare boat docks. Weird.

 

Anyway, the cruise was both pleasant and informative, and was not dampened by the thunderheads shot through with lightning that we could see all around us. We got a very different look at Hoover Dam from a new angle. It was a slow cruise, very relaxing.

 

Afterward, we drove back up the dirt road and parking lot (“When we got it serviced, I’m glad I told them not to wash the bike,” Terry observed) to take the road to Henderson. We found Ron and Ruth’s place without incident, although nothing looked familiar to me until we got very close – new construction had displaced landmarks and totally changed some streets even in just the couple of years since my previous visit. Ron and Ruth looked good and we had a fun visit. Mushroom the dog is now nearly deaf. She was much more cautious of us than she used to be, but once she got my scent and accepted my touch, she settled right at my feet for some serious petting and scratching. She still followed Ron everywhere he went; a one-man dog, and no mistake.

We’d meant to eat dinner with them, but the time got a little away from us, so we just headed back to the hotel. Not before Ron got pictures of us suiting up and riding away, though! We’re going to be on the Internet ...

 

It was drizzling when we left, and we got dripped on in desultory fashion all the way home. It was just enough to cool us off without really getting us wet. We called out to eat in, and I got that laundry done. Tomorrow, California.

 

September 10, Friday: Las Vegas, NV to San Bernardino, CA

 

This morning we made an uneventful run to San Bernardino. Not far outside Las Vegas, at our gas stop, we saw evidence of the previous night’s storms: the most unusual sight of long stretches of desert under water. It looked exactly like your classic mirage, except that the thin skin of water was real. Both sides of the elevated road were bounded by flooded desert.

 

We watched the land change again as we went through one last stretch of mountains to reach San Bernardino. Our Hampton was in Colton. This one had an outdoor pool, which proved wonderful. My only disappointment was the whirlpool: exposed to full sun, it was no place for my skin!

 

We checked in at 12:20 and walked to a nearby Denny’s for lunch. Then we came back to the Hampton and spent the afternoon loafing in the pool. After days of travel and looking, taking a rest felt good.

 

Come the end of the workday, around 16:30, Pam returned our call to invite us to dinner. We drove over to Pam and Mike’s house, met the dogs, and had a great visit with the two of them and daughter Jen. Because the house was quite warm – the power company can shut off the AC during peak use hours – Pam decided not to cook, so we went instead to a local Mongolian barbecue place. The food was wonderful, and the company was better. Before dinner, Pam, Mike, and Jen took us on a driving tour of the area of the big San Bernardino wildfire a few months back, which burned quite a few homes on the hills.

 

After dinner, we went back to their house for more talk. We didn’t leave until after 22:00 – long past Mom’s usual bedtime! Pam can certainly talk up a storm. No mistaking that she’s part of the family.

 

We came back to the Hampton to find a message from Brenda. Terry called her back, and arranged for us to drive up to her place on Sunday after church. She was excited that she would finally be able to show off her house and have us swim in her pool.

 

Tomorrow we’ll join the cousins in a drive to Pam and Mike’s condo in Oceanside, where we should be able to rendezvous with Jen and her husband Brian, and with Kristen, who’s staying at the condo. Should be fun!

September 11, Saturday: Oceanside, CA

 

Today was relaxation and talk. Pam picked us up and drove us to the condo that she and Mike bought in Oceanside about a year ago. Oceanside is beside Camp Pendleton, so it has a flavor of military courtesy about it. The drive up took about 90 minutes. The condo isn’t on the beach – that kind of property comes with impossible price tags attached! – but is only about a ten-minute drive away. The community seems very pleasant.

 

We spent the bulk of the day at the condo with Pam and Mike and their daughters Jen and Kristen; Pam’s brothers, Fred and Bill; their wives, Melissa and Caroline, and daughter Mallory; and Jen’s husband Brian. We nibbled veggies, chips, and dip, and Mike fired up the grill for burgers and hot dogs. It was a day for telling tales and laughing out loud, and we did quite a lot of both, all the way around. There was way too much going on for me to process individual bits and pieces; I just enjoyed it all.

 

In retrospect, we realized that we shouldn’t have accepted Pam’s offer of a ride: everyone there was disappointed at not getting the chance to have a ride on the bike. The only one who got a ride was Pam, when she dropped us off again at the hotel. She’ll have photos and bragging rights, but the rest will have to wait.

 

On the way back, Pam showed us Jen and Brian’s new house, which isn’t quite finished. The place is huge! As we drove, I couldn’t help but take pictures of the sky, because it was magnificent and painted with clouds. Pam was ecstatic, because clouds aren’t all that common in southern California, and she was looking for cloud pictures she could use in her teaching. I promised to email her the good ones, along with the family shots.

 

This was a satisfying day in many, many ways, and a happy time all around. And tomorrow – Brenda! The virtual fourth daughter in our family, just with a different last name ...

 

September 12, Sunday: Chatsworth, CA

 

We started the day with Spanish mass at the church of San Salvador. We did kind of stick out – Anglo bikers in a Chicano neighborhood! – but at least I remembered enough Spanish to catch the hymn numbers so I could join in. It was definitely a singing parish!

 

From church, we hit the road for Brenda’s, about an hour and a half drive north, past Los Angeles. The ride was uneventful except for an unexplained delay in Rialto, just a couple of minutes up the road from San Bernardino, that closed the two right lanes, and another odd detour that totally closed 118 west for a couple of miles. But we found the place just fine following our Mapquest directions.

Brenda’s home is lovely. She had a lot of damage in the Northridge earthquake several years back, but the place has been fully restored and then some. The earthquake insurance enabled her to do modifications to the house that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford for years, so the earthquake turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Evidence of the quake remains in the master bedroom and master bath: Brenda incorporated many of the broken pieces of her belongings – dishes, glassware, vases, pitchers – into the new mantel of her bedroom fireplace and into an accent wall over her indoor Jacuzzi.

 

The living room boasts a new baby grand piano that Brenda hasn’t learned to play yet, as well as a carved antique wooden horse smaller than mine, which Brenda teasingly envies. A large painting on the wall, done by a friend, depicts Brenda with some of her previous pets, who have heavenly aspects. Her master bath includes a fog and steam shower as well as the Jacuzzi. Her backyard boasts a garden and a large swimming pool with a spa built up at the deep end. The overfill from the spa waterfalls down into the swimming pool. The backyard also includes a spacious chicken coop, complete with chickens! Two of her hens are “movie chickens” – they’ve been used in films or TV shows. They’re gorgeous birds, and keep Brenda in fresh eggs.

 

All the house floors are polished concrete, some with tile patterns. She’s laid down rugs in some areas, but most places are bare floor, which is amazingly comfortable on bare feet. It also helps her keep up with cleaning in a house with three medium to large dogs (antic piebald Jack, placid golden Charlie, and crazy black Chloe) and a cat.

 

When Brenda remodeled, she turned the kitchen entirely around and put in an island, and then transformed the wall to the backyard into a series of sliding glass doors. You can go into the backyard from the kitchen, the den (fittingly equipped with a very large-screen television, suitable for someone in the business!), through the laundry room off the master bedroom, or from the master bedroom itself. Basically, the back wall of the house is mostly glass, and the backyard view is an absolute delight.

 

There are some large pine trees in front of the house, defining the walk from the driveway and garage to the front door. All in all, Brenda’s is one of the nicest and most welcoming homes I’ve ever been inside.

 

We had a great time loafing in the pool and spa (I got careless in the spa and wound up with burned shoulders – having too much fun to pay attention to the moving sun). The spa includes a deep section that you can stand in, with jets playing all the way up and down your spine. A friend of Brenda’s named Carol – a former lawyer turned Hollywood assistant director turned reference librarian – joined us for fun and nonsense. We reminisced about old times, and Brenda even cued up a videotape conversion of some of her family’s old Super 8 movies, showing off one from 1961 or ‘62 in which we’re playing ball in our backyard. (I was singularly inept, and wearing a pair of downright embarrassing pedal pushers.) The tape cut to additional footage capturing us visiting the horses and ponies that used to live out on Loomis Road: particularly the beautiful and feisty Welsh Prince, tossing his heels in irritation that he couldn’t get at the carrots that Brenda offered and then carried at a run just outside his paddock! I’d forgotten all about horses being that close to home, but seeing the tape brought it all back.

Brenda is currently working as assistant director on Girlfriends, the half-hour black sitcom on UPN, shooting at Paramount. She loves it, and laughs that she’s getting paid the same for a lot less work than when she was doing one-hour dramatic shows. They only shoot for two days a week on the sitcoms, one of those days with a live audience, and only rarely need effects experts doing their thing. She laughed about dropping by the Angel set, where she used to work, during their last shooting season this year, teasing them by pointing out that she was on her way home from work, leaving the lot when they were only beginning their shooting “day,” which ran from 16:00 until the early morning. And after all the stunts and explosions and general effects craziness on Angel, she chuckled over needing an effects guy one day on Girlfriends – for the tricky task of opening a mock elevator door!

 

We had a marvelous time, and Brenda served a Mexican dinner mostly ready to heat and eat from Trader Joe’s (ah, woman after my own heart!) – tamales with black beans and rice. Yummy!

 

We drove back to the hotel at the end of a very full and satisfying day, arriving about 18:00 in good time for laundry. Tomorrow we haul the 312 miles to Phoenix.

 

September 13, Monday: Colton, CA to Phoenix, AZ

 

Well, our trip was only supposed to have been 312 miles – not all that long a run, and not taking very much time – but we didn’t count on a major accident shutting down the interstate.

 

We left Colton at about 7:30 in fog – not a common occurrence in this part of California, where the humidity is normally quite low, but the non-standard weather was continuing. We rode out of the fog pretty quickly.

 

Anyway, we were only about 40 miles down I-10 East when the traffic came to a virtual standstill. Terry switched from intercom to eavesdrop on the CB radio, and we learned from truckers’ chatter ahead of us that there had been an 8-car pileup several miles ahead of us. Things were moving at a bare crawl, when they were moving at all. The one upside was that we were stalled in the midst of a huge wind farm. These massive windmills were spinning on both sides of the road, hundreds of them, covering acres upon acres of land. This was an area where high wind warnings were posted, where the road ran in a canyon and the wind just came pouring through. Wow!

 

We crept forward inch by inch, and as we approached the junction with 111, we saw the road shrink from four lanes down to two, and then to nothing as all of the eastbound traffic on I-10 was diverted to 111. As we made the cutoff, we could see the traffic still solidly blocked on 10, beyond the exit they were pouring us through. We pitied the folk who were stuck on 10 beyond the diversion exit.

The shift onto 111 carried us on an impromptu tour through beautiful downtown Palm Springs, after which we finally made our way back to 10, beyond the accident scene. How many miles this diversion added to the trip, I don’t know, but we must have lost fully an hour and a half to the delay and detour. And we’ll likely never know anything about the accident that caused it.

 

The rest of the journey was mostly uneventful, although we did wonder a couple of times if we were going to find a gas station before we ran down to fumes. Once, the bike took 4.599 gallons; another time it was only around 4.2.

 

We made it to Phoenix about 15:00, and checked into our Hampton Inn for the night. we walked over to IHOP for dinner (cheese blintzes – yum!) and then went into the pool after we got back. The pool was in sunshine most of the day, making it problematic for me (warm pink shoulders after the time in Brenda’s spa ...), but later in the day the sun hid behind the neighboring hotel and put the poolside in shade. The pool was about the same temperature as Terry and Mom keep theirs, mostly because of the radiant heat from the sun. It was delightful swimming. The hot tub proved a disappointment, because the jets didn’t work: we reported it to the front desk.

 

We found another reason why this hotel was cheaper than some of the others along the route: we got only a bare handful of TV channels. We learned that the hotel had just changed owners, and the previous owners had obviously made some very poor choices.

 

Tomorrow we’ll go to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Papago Park (hey – an attraction that opens at 7:00; made for us!), catch a light lunch, and then go to the Commemorative Air Force Arizona Wing museum in the afternoon. We’re unlikely to see the star of the Arizona Wing’s collection, because I’m betting that the beautiful CAF B-17 Sentimental Journey is still on tour. We’ll end the day with dinner with Terry’s old crew from Emtek.

 

September 14, Tuesday: Phoenix, AZ

 

This was a long day, but also a good one. We started off at the Desert Botanical Gardens, got lunch at one of Terry’s favorite restaurants, Sweet Tomatoes, went to the Arizona Wing CAF museum, and then wrapped up with dinner at the New York Uptown Brewery with a slew of Terry’s coworkers from her Emtek days.

 

The Gardens reminded me of the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson. It’s a great place to walk in the morning before the day’s full heat. The main path has several branches. One leads to a garden of flowering plants. There are gardens devoted to attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. One walk highlights the uses that desert dwellers make of various plants, including yucca roots for soap and leaves for weaving into baskets. Shelters built by contemporary Native Americans in the styles of their ancestors demonstrate the Pima and Apache ways of life.

 

The displays include saguaro forests on hillsides and cattails growing in a lowland oasis. The variety is surprising, although some plants, like agave, palo verde, and mesquite, turn up in many places and microenvironments.

 

One unexpected exhibit was a house in the heart of the Garden. This house was built to incorporate energy and water-saving technologies, and to show them off. To learn how well they work in practice, the builders put a family into the house to live. Sensors throughout the house record temperature and water and energy use, and visitors to the Garden can see the readouts and the positions of the sensors. What would have been the garage of the house is an exhibit area with information on the house’s architecture, materials, appliances, and power systems. Cool!

 

We stopped for a fruit smoothie (well, since the day’s flavor was strawberry, Terry opted for an iced mocha) at the little patio café and watched the local birds. Hanging out in the vicinity of crumbs were desert wrens, thrushes with long curved pointy beaks, a couple varieties of doves, and the stars of the avian show – an extended family of Gambrel’s quail. They were a riot! These quail have a topknot of feathers on their heads that sticks up like a bent finger pointing forward. When they move, their heads all bob in unison, and those little crests flutter like crazy. They’re also very talkative birds.

 

Elsewhere in the Garden, we saw round-tailed ground squirrels, antelope squirrels, and lots of lizards. This Garden, in the heart of Phoenix’s Papago Park, does not appear to have any large wildlife comparable to the javelina and coyotes of Tucson’s more outlying Sonoran Desert Museum.

 

From the desert, we went to lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, which turned out to be a salad bar place also offering a line of soups, salads, pastas, baked goods, and deserts. Yummy! All the big salad bar places out my way died long ago, and they’ve been disappearing from Milwaukee as well, ostensibly on health concerns for those long open “serve yourself” bars.

 

After lunch, Mom and Terry humored me and we went to the Arizona Wing of the CAF, whose museum is at Falcon Field in Mesa. (Driving in Phoenix, you’re very likely to find yourself crossing into Tempe or Mesa – the “cities” just blend into each other.)

 

The main stars of the attraction – the B-17 Sentimental Journey and a Heinkel 111 bomber – were away on tour in Kansas City, but the rest of the collection, including a half-sized (but flyable!) P-47; a replica Jenny; two B-25’s, one undergoing restoration; two Mig 15’s, ditto; an A-26 and a B-26; a Piper Cub; a Cessna O-2; and F-4 Phantom; and vintage ground vehicles were on display. There are two hangars, one display hangar that’s air-conditioned and lined with exhibit cases, poster displays, models, and World War II memorabilia; and the other, their restoration hangar, which opens onto the tarmac. The restoration hangar had some fun set dressing, including a room labeled “Combat Damage Repair” and another named “Hangar Queen Parts.”

 

It was a small museum that doesn’t really take too long to go through, but it was nicely done. It was particularly nice to see almost all the aircraft under cover, which beat the South Dakota air and space museum. The nice gentleman manning the front desk told us that they’d recently expanded to acquire the second hangar. I was particularly happy to see, among their souvenir collection, jewelry from Port to Port Air. Nothing I didn’t already own, however.

 

Outside the museum were a couple of warbird replica windvanes, which were really lovely. Terry was very partial to the F4U Corsair, and even picked up a copy of the brochure for the company that makes them. They didn’t have a P-51 on display, but I know that’s what I’d go for!

 

Also on display outdoors was one four-bladed prop from Fifi, the CAF’s B-29 – the only plane of its kind still flying anywhere in the world.

 

From the CAF, we went to the restaurant to meet with Terry’s friends. It was something of an old home week reunion, because all the folk there – with the exception of Mom and I, and the young daughter of someone else – had worked once upon a time for Emtek/Eclipsys, although several no longer did. I know I’m missing some names, but they included Cindy, who’d set it all up; Greg, whom Mom and I remembered meeting on our very first biker trip to Branson; two Kim’s; Alex; Tony; Jamie; Tom; and Barbara (with the young daughter newly acquired to marriage to the girl’s father). we had great food and a fun time, so much so that we didn’t get back to our hotel until 22:30.

We came home to discover an uncomfortable oddity: there were supports for larger mattresses and box springs sticking out from the bases of the beds. Terry banged her leg on one, and promptly called the front desk. The offered pillows and blankets to pad the extrusions, but when Terry collected the stuff, she realized there simply wasn’t enough to pad all the things sticking out, which we would definitely hit getting out of bed. She brought up her toolkit from the bike and disassembled the base extensions from the bed Mom and I shared, and just padded hers with the blankets and pillows.


Read Part Three