Today I took several hours to cruise the Grand National Roadster Show, a hot-rod and custom-car show at the L.A. County Fairplex in Pomona. The place was jam-packed with people on hand to view what must have been more than 1,000 cars of all kinds.
But wow! Lemme tell you about the people. A little bit of everything - though not many preppy, Ivy League-types. Lots of ink, lots of facial hair, lots of bald heads, some ink on bald heads, saw a woman with tattoos on her legs that began, with the same designs, where the tops of her cowboy boots left off. Also rather more obesity than I would have thought.
The big thing for me was just total awe at the amounts of money folks have spent on these cars. Incredible.
I found lots of the usual, seen-one-you've-seen-'em-all cars, but also a good number of interesting and unusual vehicles. Especially, I liked the race cars - a number of lakesters, several drag-racers. I thought I'd post pictures of just a few of them. When I can remember what the hell they are, I'll make a notation. But for the most part, just check 'em out and enjoy. And honestly, what you will see here barely scratches the surface - the variety was amazing.
Here's a nice, vintage lakester with plenty of patina. These things used bodies made from the fuel belly tanks of WW II aircraft.
Here's another lakester - a car meant for top-speed runs at Muroc, Bonneville, etc. What's cool about this one is the very pretty and carefully made hand-shaped aluminum bodywork.
This was, I gathered, a design prototype for the 1957 Chevrolet line using the old fastback look from the early 1950s. I really like this one!
I also liked this one a lot. A Plymouth, I seem to remember, with kind of an unusual look. And, naturally, a vintage Chysler Hemi engine.
Here's a take on a Caddy that I liked because it is so, so, so - well, wonderfully and extravagantly overdone. It it was a convertible it would be just perfect.
Love this! It's a hot-rodded version of a Lincoln V-12, the engine that powered the old Lincoln Zephyrs. Tell me: When did you last see one of these?
This is the only El Camino I found. It is so wonderfully overdone that it deserves an award, sez I.
Here's an Austin-Healy 100 with a big, honkin, American V-8 engine shoehorned into its flimsy little chassis. I assure you, this thing would be truly frightening to drive. And yes, I want it because, yes, I am crazy.
People will make hot-rods out of nearly anything. This is an ancient Dodge from the 1920s, I seem to remember. Yes, if I was smart, I would have shot photos of the data cards with the cars. It's very well known that I am not smart.
This is special. It's a Ford flathead motor wearing a pair of Ardun hemi heads, hunkering there under that blower. You just do not see these anymore. I once found a pair at the Harrah's Swap Meet in Reno. I didn't buy them. You will remember, please, that I am not smart.
And this, a kind of funky rat-rod that I also liked a lot. I especially liked the interior. See the next photo, please.
See what I mean? My pal Stew Crane, also a ranch kid like me, observed when I showed him this shot that he and I both have spent a lot of time in seats just like the ones seen here.
And that's it, for now. This was a very fun experience, a perfect way to spend a pre-storm Saturday. Yes, El Nino is slated to bring us a huge storm tomorrow. So this was a good day to be out while tomorrow will be a great day to remain in.
I've been kind of interested and, I admit it, perversely amused by, the people finding common cause with the band of lunatics who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Their deal started as an expression of the desire to "return land to local control." Sounds good, right? But that's just code for an attempt by an arrogant and ignorant bunch of hotheads for preserving an archaic and vastly inefficient way of life enjoyed by a relatively small group of people at the expense of the American public.
And now it's resulted in gunfire and death. It's a tragedy any way you look at it. And trust me, we haven't heard the last of it because there are plenty more of these troublemakers/troubleseekers where this first bunch came from. In this gun-rich country there always will be. And let's not even think about the court cases that no doubt will ensue.
That land they want to return to local control is federal property. If it's federal property, it's ours. We own it, all of us, and the feds manage it for us. That's a good deal. They do a pretty good job, given the enormity of the lands involved and the very small budget they're given to work with.
If locals managed it, you can bet its uses would be perverted to answer to prevailing local interests - much more logging, mining, grazing, off-roading and more. There's too much of that being done already but if these troglodytes got their way, these activities soon would go totally out of control and some of the things we cherish – protection for endangered animals and sites, for instance – would disappear.
(Disclosure: I covered a bit of the first so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" when it erupted back in, what, 1979 or so. These were the issues that surfaced then. They still exist now.)
This ranching way of life these people are trying to preserve is archaic because for the most part it involves raising beef cattle on public lands, paying a pittance of the overall management costs of that land for the privilege of doing so. Those costs are borne by the Bureau of Land Management. The feds. That's us. Or at least our tax dollars.
How these ranches remain in business is a mystery because as far as I can tell, not only is the beef market shrinking, but by far the majority of beef we buy comes from cattle raised in feed lots.
This is important. The ranges most of these western ranch cattle wander aren't composed of verdant pastures. Sure, sometimes, in some places, they are, but much more often, especially across the Southwest, they're composed of dry, scrubby near-deserts that cause the cattle to meander for miles to find something to eat and drink.
The inevitable result is that the meat from such cattle is not as tender or flavorful as it might otherwise be. Feedlot cattle, on the other hand, don't get a lot of activity and that means their meat can't get tough and stringy, and it tends to be more heavily marbled, which is better for flavor. Additionally, the feed for such animals can be controlled and they can more easily be given veterinary care.
(Full disclosure: I was raised on a ranch. Our cattle were raised in feedlots, and very humanely, at that. I eat beef and I use leather products. But not very much of either. I've been around these animals far too much, and have far too much respect for their beauty and dignity, to want to be much of a part of their deaths. In fact, I can make a good case for vegetarianism.)
If these people want to be cowboys and ranch people, if they want to exist in some romanticized version of the past in which they can live the cowboy dream, fine. Let them be and do that. But let them pay for their way of life just like the rest of us must. Let them either graze their cattle on lands they own or on BLM land that they pay a fair price to use. I would have no argument at all with that.
For one reason or another, I've not been getting the enjoyment from listening to music that I used to get. Listening used to be one of my reasons for living. Now it's not. I'm not at all sure why. But I think at least part of it is because of the iPod. Or, rather, because of my ineptitude when it comes to the iPod.
I know, I know; lots of people love the things. I do, too. I mean, who wouldn't? It's a miracle device capable of containing a universe of sound and culture. Indeed, if yours has sufficient memory, you can put your entire music library onto it. That's good.
But for me, it's also been bad because I think iPods, in a couple of insidious ways, screw up the listening experience. First, unless you've downloaded your music from CDs, if you've instead downloaded songs from the Web, they resulting files are decidedly compressed and low-fi, especially when listening through the Apple-supplied ear buds. The music sounds like your cat crapped on those ear buds.
Second, if you have your iPod set on "Shuffle," as I do, the number of tunes you'll hear before songs start repeating seems to be alarmingly small, a very annoying thing. It's like a juke box loaded with 100 45-rpm oldies that will only play 15 of them. I find that I've got stuff in my library that I haven't heard in years since I started relying upon "Shuffle."
And third, selecting individual albums, one by one, to listen to is a fairly clunky process. At least for me. This clearly is not good, especially when one is attempting to drive without rear-ending a big rig or T-boning an Amtrak train at a crossing.
Sure, when I'm out on my daily 4-mile walk and I actually take music along, I listen to things on "Shuffle." Using this option helps take my mind off the task of fumbling with the device while trying to not trip and fall over on my beak. I have enough trouble not doing that when I'm paying attention to my surroundings. But whenever and wherever I'm listening, I also find that I'm missing the experience of enjoying an entire album, track by track, whether it's a collection of Beethoven piano sonatas or a record by the Beatles.
But here's the thing: For reasons I have completely and totally forgotten – I do that a lot these days, now that I am more than a little elderly – I have two of the things. One is several generations old, the other is even older. Naturally, I've been using the newer of the two. On that one, it is indeed not possible (I think) to shuffle albums. But I've just discovered that on the older of the two, it is possible to shuffle albums.
So here's my solution. I shall swap iPods. Ingenious, no? The one I plug into the stereo in the garage when we want tunes out on the back patio when we're out there cooking or dining and generally not paying close attention to the music will be the newer one, which is all too happy to serve up whatever crazy musical mix its little silicone brain decides upon. For everything else, I'll use the older of the two.
Sure, it's got a smaller memory than the newer one (and as noted, who am I to bitch about having a smaller memory?), but still contains an immense library of music.
I'm going to give this a go to see how it works out. I'm not sure whether this will reinvigorate my enjoyment of listening and the associated reason for living. But it can't hurt.
Some good amount of time back, catastrophe stuck: The receiver that powers the two small JBL speakers out in the garage failed. Well, hell. Got to have tunes, and also NPR, while I'm messing about in the garage.
So this week I bought a new receiver. This thing is a budget-priced Yamaha, selected in no small part because a Yamaha CR-620, purchased almost 40 years ago with the first payment from my first book, continues to power my office audio system with spectacular results.
So, this new piece of electronics? Better than I could have hoped. It delivers crisp, clean sound, with terrific stereo separation. You remember stereo separation, don't you? That's where there are not only distinct left and right channels of sound energy, but also noticeable zones between the left-and-right extremes so that one can hear, and place, the instruments in the entire arc of, say, a concert orchestra in a recording of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which is in my view the finest musical composition known to mankind.
This new Yamaha receiver sounds, I think, even better than the device powering the primary audio system out in the living room. That would be a solid mid-fi piece built more than 30 years ago by NAD, purchased with the proceeds of yet another book. I mean, this thing is a serious piece of hardware. But to my astonishment, I think this new receiver sounds better.
As a result, I have kind of rediscovered the wonders not just of stereo, but also of high fidelity, with highs that freeze one's ears and lows that rattle the bones of one's core.
We've lost our appreciation for those values, I think, not least because of laziness, indifference, and the evils of the iPod.
I've had an iPod for years and have listened to a lot of music over the thing. But the thing about music is that it is composed of sound waves. With anything that requires earphones or earbuds, you don't get that. Or at least if you do, they're tiny, emasculated sound waves. What great music requires is great, heaving, powerful waves of sound, waves that pick one up and deposit one in a towering country of sublime art and consciousness.
And there's another thing. The ethic always has been to listen to a record all the way through. But not with an iPod. With one of those, so many folks, me included, listen with the "shuffle" mode, so that whatever is contained in the device's ice-cold, uncaring memory is delivered in random order.
Nooo! I want all of Beethoven's 9th, all of that Crosby, Stills & Nash record, all of "Abbey Road," delivered at one time so that I can concentrate on the music, not hop from musical flower to musical flower like some demented, deranged honey bee.
I think we've lost our image of musical quality, not least because of the march of technology. I want to hear not just stereo separation and faithful fidelity, but also nuance; I want to hear the bass player cough, the clacking of the keys on the oboe. Don't you?
If you don't - well, if you don't, then I reckon you have different expectations of music than I do. That's fine. But I'm happy with my new garage receiver, enjoyment of which has me thinking of all these things. The neighbors, however, who so far are tolerating the expanded sound pressures emanating from our garage while I'm out there fooling about at my workbench, may be somewhat less happy. But hey, those little JBLs can only be cranked up so far before they explode and catch fire. I plan to avoid that situation, if at all possible. So it's all good. I promise to not push things that far.
Today is the eve of Christmas Eve so I thought that in keeping with the holiday, I'd post a recording of a little Christmas tune that we like. It's called "Follow Now, Oh Shepherds." It's one that you generally don't hear.
Performers here are former members of the infamous folk duo, the Songdog String Band. If you know who they are, fine. If you don't, it doesn't matter.
Somewhere, folks will be anticipating a white Christmas. But not here.
Here, where we are, we don't get those. What we get are crystal-clear winter days that allow us to be out and around, after Christmas breakfast, in shorts and aloha shirts. Call it a SoCal Christmas. Father Christmas, whose photograph you see here and whose form graces our home every year during this season, seems to not mind. And it doesn't change the sense of celebration that Christmas always seems to bring, snow or no snow.
Some celebrate Christmas for its religious significance. Some celebrate it as an opportunity to spend time with family. Some celebrate it for the season's glorious music and some celebrate it as an opportunity to ignore, for just a little while, the strife and trouble around us in this badly tarnished old world. And almost all of us, whether we realize it or not, celebrate it for its significance as the close-out party for the end of another year.
They fly by so quickly, these Christmases, these years - especially as we grow older. But that does not alter their importance. We gather with people that mean the most to us and provide them with gifts designed to express that meaning. We remember the warmth of absent loved ones even as we savor the light of our candles and the warmth from our fireplaces – yes, even here in Southern California, where December evenings often are cool – and we look forward to the family favorites that will grace our Christmas tables.
And when it's over, when the dishes are washed, the guests departed for home and our houses tidied, we sit, relax, maybe give a small sigh of relief, and reflect upon the joy the holiday has brought, however we celebrate it, whatever our tradition.
So here's our wish for you and yours this Christmas: We wish you good health, good cheer, good food, good visits, good gifts, and much deep affection.
Back about 13 zillion years ago I worked at Cycle World, a motorcycle magazine. It was fun, kind of. I was able to do some stories that I was pleased with. This is one of them, covering the exploits of record-breaker Rollie Free at the Bonneville Salt Flats, riding what must be the world's most famous Vincent, the first Black Lightning. Free and the bike collected the record. Then the bike disappeared. The story covers the bike's history and its amazing reappearance. Here it is, for those of you with too much time on your hands.
Having torn the paltry remains of our woodpile down to nothing, tossed out the ancient debris I found there at the very bottom and lined the area with paving tiles, I had a nicely productive Thanksgiving morning. In this photo, you can see what it looked like. Nice and tidy, for a change. If you'd like to see it a bit larger, you can. Just click on it.
But allow me to back up a little. We've burned wood here in this house's fireplace for the entire 31 years we've been here. I used to go up into the forest with a permit, a chainsaw and a truck and cut it myself, back when you could still do that in the Angeles National Forest. But for the past decade or more, we've just hauled home that good almond wood from the ranch.
I had intended to do that last weekend, thinking we'd take the company van up and bring home a load, something we've done many times. But no. Lee Scully, Laura's nephew-in-law, who with Cathy, Laura's niece, lives on the property, volunteered to bring down a load. Good deal! It's needed, because for the first time in recent memory, we're almost completely out. Down to stems and seeds, as weed enthusiasts used to say.
The cleanup was a mess. I found remains of old chunks of firewood that I'm certain – no exaggeration, here – have been there since we first moved into this house and I cut my first load of wood for this fireplace. I also found a nest of mice, some black widow spiders and lots of insect life. Loaded all that junk up in our rubbish bins and stuck those bins out on the street for the rubbish truck to haul away. Good riddance!
Then I put down those pavers, which will keep this new batch of wood up off the ground and will, with luck and help from a tarp I've got at the ready, help keep the wood dry. Here's a photo showing what the area looks like now, with our load of wood delivered and stacked. A cord? Four by four by eight feet, tightly stacked? I think it's probably closer to three-quarters of a cord. A lot of wood, in other words. It will last us through the winter.
So we're ready to go for the winter. Bring on El Niño, bring on the rain, bring on the cold weather. Our fireplace is ready to go to work.
When your house is as old as ours is, it's always something. This week, it's the bricks in the fireplace box.
The house, built in 1927, is graced with a terrific fireplace. It uses a gas starter, it draws well and it throws out heat like crazy, especially since we burn that good almond wood. But every so often, thanks to the inexorable forces of earthquakes, gravity and age, I need to re-stick the bricks in the back of the box.
These are the ones that stacked are vertical-plus, cantilevered out toward the center of the fireplace as the box narrows toward the chimney. They're not often a problem. It's been probably 15 years, or maybe more, since I last had to fix this. And you have to fix it. It's bad when a problem with your fireplace causes your house to burn down, you know?
We have been graced with an almost endless supply of firewood, so we burn fires often. And Saturday night, as I got the fire going because it's been cooler than usual here this past few days, I noticed that three bricks were lose - hell, they were about to fall out. That would not be salubrious.
But the fix is an easy one, fortunately. Pull out the loose bricks, knock the old mortar off of them, apply new stickum – I've been using stuff that comes in a tube and that can be applied with a caulking gun – and reinstall the bricks.
Since they're cantilevered, they resist the notion of remaining in place so I had to find a way to brace them so that they'd stay in position while the stickum – special stuff designed for just this use – dries. The grate, a great old wrought-iron thing that we've had for 30 years, worked well for this, braced on end with a foot on each of the two upper bricks.
Hey, presto! Job accomplished. And we're looking forward to many more fires through the holidays and beyond. Wish you were here to share them with us.
Just uncovered, in a pencil box in my desk drawer, a really handy little doo-dad that I've had for a long time. It's a little thing called an EZE-Lap. What it is, is a small file that comes in a container that has a cap much the way a fountain pen does.
Under that cap is a small wand, maybe a quarter-inch across and four inches long, that is coated with diamond dust. This makes it ideal for sharpening stuff. That's it, on the bottom of the photo on the left.
I just used it to sharpen a blade on an X-Acto knife, which I've had since I worked at Autoweek in the 1970s, back when it was a weekly newspaper, where we not only had to write and photograph material for the paper, but also paste the thing up.
Paste-up? It's how we used to build pages. We don't do that anymore. But doing it required an X-Acto knife. In any case, my ancient X-Acto now is sharp enough to use for surgery, much less building pages.
Thing is, I've got two of these gadgets. Sort of. The other one is slightly larger. It's called a Crystal Saver. It's the one at the top of the photo. It's the same deal, only opposite. It doesn't sharpen, it dulls. Chip a crystal glass, for instance, and you use this thing to take the sharpness off the edges of the break so you don't, like, cut the living crap out of yourself every time you handle the item.
Clever stuff. It's good to have these cool little tools handy. Both, in their own way, make life easier. And it's little stuff like this that makes me happy. You may not know that you need these. But trust me, you do.