Old Pasadena Walking Food Tour A Melting Pot of Flavors

Pasadena Food TourStory by Linda Kissam for Vagobond.com

What could be better than to taste your way through historic Old Town Pasadena, California?

Thanks to the popularity and growth of food-obsessed walking tours and local Melting Pot Food Tours (based in Southern California) tourists, visitors, and locals can get to know the unique culinary neighborhood that makes up this special city.

On a beautiful June weekend morning, Melting Pot Tours treated a team of press people to an unforgettable 3-hour, 1.5 mile epicurean excursion to enjoy some of the best off the beaten path artisanal restaurants and unique shops in heart of Old Pasadena.

The tour group met in front of a local wine store and was made up of about 10 people from all kinds of places, ages, and walks of life. The tour started promptly with a quick explanation of the day’s itinerary. The walking pace and amount of information given was perfect. My group especially appreciated that owner/tour guide Lisa kept us on task and on schedule. We never felt rushed, but neither did we feel bored at any time.

Pasadena Food TourOld Pasadena is well known for its food. Delicacies of every variety can be found throughout the city, from dim sum to truffles. Our tour took us to an eclectic mixture of nine great shops, cafes, and restaurants. Each tour is different so you can go multiple times and experience something different each time. Ours took us to an old-world boutique chocolate shop, an award-winning gelato shop, an authentic Mexican torta café, a Mediterranean café serving crispy falafel balls, an edgy Asian fusion restaurant (the group’s favorite stop of the day), an exquisite olive store, a delightful family-owned and operated Peruvian style restaurant, a gourmet tea and herb shop—complete with a tea bar- and an upscale soap shop. If there’s one thing the owners of Melting Pot Tours know—it’s good food!

Pasadena Food TourEach place was thoughtfully chosen to be unique and probably not something I would have found on your own. In my opinion Melting Pot delivered on its promise, “…to entertain and educate locals and visitors alike.” At just $53 (adults) and $28 (children) this is the bargain of the century. I’ve taken similar food walking tours for double and triple the price.

A walking food tour is appropriate for almost anyone, but is best suited to adults with a curiosity about local food, architecture and history. The dining experience will provide enough food to satisfy any appetite. Water is the only beverage served, but you can purchase other beverages if you like. My advice is to wear sun block, comfortable shoes and a hat if it’s a hot day. No time has been set aside for shopping, so you’ll most likely have to go back on your own time if you see a special treasure you want. The route is flat, but if you have knee or hip issues, the course will be a challenge for you. Each stop is less than 10 minutes from the next one and you will be spending about 20 minutes or so at each stop.

Pasadena Food TourTours are given year round (except major holidays). Guides are patient, knowledgeable and engaging. Most are day tours, although April – October an evening tour is added on. Feel free to join an already organized group or you can book a private tour with 10 or more people. Advance tickets are required. So come hungry and be excited about the Old Pasadena Walking Tour, as you eat your way through the best restaurants, and shop your way through some of the most unique shops in the diverse, best tasting city in Southern California, Old Pasadena.

Once you finish your foodie tour, think about strolling back over to the Everson Royce (ER) wine shop and tasting bar (named for owner Randy Clement’s two twin boys). The shop is located across from Memorial Park where the food tour started. April Langford and Randy Clement have created a shop that offers small production, high quality, artisanal wines …and a few surprises. For starters, there’s draft wine – from an eight-tap dispenser to be exact. You can find that treat in the tasting section of the wine shop. The taps dispense four California reds (cooled to 60 degrees) and also four California whites (cooled to 43 degrees). Wines change often, but look forward to small lot beauties such as Butternut Chard, Blue Plate Chenin Blanc, Andrew Lane Merlot, and Hobo Zin.

Pasadena Food TourYou can find owner Randy Clement there on most days. You can feel his driving energy and passion for exceptional customer service and value. He also seems to have a knack for choosing the right staff. As Randy told me, “It’s all about customer service; we want to kill our customers with kindness.” I can confirm that. My experience is that the staff is attentive, knowledgeable and engaging.

Once you’ve finished your tasting, there’s a large selection – about 500 bottles – to choose from, from just about everywhere. Prices run from $7 – $2,000 a bottle. Special orders are welcome. Think eastern European wines, Italian, French, Spanish and lots of California wines showcasing whatever you can think of from varietals to blends. Be sure to ask for your 10% off discount off as a participant in the Melting Pot Tour experience.

Until you’re able to take the tour, here’s a quick and refreshing recipe from our first stop Tortas Mexico to tide you over. It was a group favorite.

Watermelon Agua Fresca
Compliments of Tortas Mexico Pasadena
www.TortasPasadena.com

Tortas Mexico Pasadena offers an authentic casual dining experience with recipes from the owner’s homeland of San Juan Yucuita in the Nochixtlan District of Oaxaca. They use only the freshest ingredients and each food item is made to order.

Serves 6

This light, refreshing drink popularized in Mexico is a terrific thirst quencher on a hot summer day. The trick with making agua fresca (Spanish for “fresh water”) is to infuse the water with fruit essence without turning it into a smoothie or slushy drink. Feel free to experiment with other flavors such as strawberry, mango, cantaloupe and honeydew.

Ingredients

6 to 8 pounds seedless watermelon, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups cold water, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon honey (more or less to taste)
Ice cubes

Method

Cut the watermelon flesh from the rind. In a blender, process half the watermelon pieces with 1 cup of water until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Repeat the process with the remaining melon and water. You should end up with about 8 cups of juice. Stir in the lime juice and honey. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and mint.

160 calories per serving

The Ultimate Adult Pit Stop at Bravo Farms in Traver, California

Article by Linda Kissam for Vagobond

Bravo FarmsThere’s a lot to be said for the adult “pit stop” on a road trip. Long after the kids have left the backseat empty and are on to their own adventures, there comes a time when adults pile in a car and are off on their own wild escapades. No longer is there the constant whining in the van of, “Are we there yet?” Now, just a mild war cry “Is it wine time yet?” floats melodically through the Mercedes.

The most interesting pit stop I’ve experienced lately is at Exit 106 on Highway 99 at Traver, California. Somewhere on my San Francisco to Porterville road trip I discovered Bravo Farms. I’ve heard it described as a “…small, enhanced Knott’s Berry Farm without the entrance fee.” Maybe. I thought more of a casual Bristol Farms or Whole Foods in a sprawling barn kind of atmosphere. I think it just depends on whether you bring kids or not. We didn’t, so I am sticking with a casual gourmet barn kind of experience.

Bravo Farms could be classified as a tourist destinations so don’t forget to bring your camera and a working credit card. You’re going to find wine, cheese and produce shops. There’s also hundreds, if not thousands of antiques. Get ready to cruise the aisles for old artifacts: barrels, antique advertising signs, bicycles, meat grinders, and so forth. What you may think of as a 30 minute stop will surely whirl its way into a 2-hour extravaganza.

Since my roadies were looking for wine we started at the wine tasting bar. The wine shop is stocked to the gills with hundreds of wines – some local and some not so local. The wine bar is not always open but when they’re pouring enjoy the experience of pre-selected wine and expect to leave with bottles of terrific local wines that qualify as true liquid gems. A slight wine tasting charge is in play, but don’t fret, you’ll get your money’s worth.

There’s also a cheese factory where you can watch cheese being made and a cheese bar where you can sample several different types at your own pace. I liked everything they offered. The chipotle cheddar was tasty, with rich smoky overtones and a nice hit of spiciness. Their sage cheddar surprised me with its herbal notes. I bet it would be magic melted onto toasty slices of artisan bread, olive bread, or a plain French baguette slice. The sharp aged cheddar was also magnificent. Yup, you guessed it…a whole lot of cheese went into our car’s cooler in preparation for a great cheese and wine pairing that night.

Bravo FarmsHaving had our fill of wine and cheese we were off to discover the grocery store area. We found local nuts and olives from the valley, along with an endless assortment of gourmet food including a cold case of prepackaged items. We lingered a bit at the unique nostalgic memorabilia and reproduction signs, greeting cards, seasonal items and garden décor. It was easy to find a gift and score more tasty treats for the road. This is exactly what an adult pit stop should be.

All this sampling primed us for lunch. There’s a couple of ways to go. A stop at the indoor/outdoor 99 restaurant is a good idea. A mix of lively Mexican style dishes as well as Americana staples like sandwiches and burgers are there to please. Or visit the interior patio area for some rocking lip smacking BBQ. I liked the festive picnic atmosphere and the prices were reasonable for the food offered. Leo’s BarBQ is perfect some of the best, slow cooked Tri-Tip or BBQ Chicken roadside stop sandwiches ever. Expect a line…but it moves pretty fast, and its well worth the wait.

Ending our visit we mozied (more like waddled) over to the ice cream shoppe. If creamy ice cream, date shakes, or coffee/lattes/espressos are your thing, it’s a great final stop. It certainly was for us.

If you find yourself with children, these added features will enhance their visit.

Bravo Farms7 Story tree House: 25 cent admission…entered in the Guiness Book of World Records as the Tallest Real Tree House. The kids can climb and climb.

Petting Zoo: A multitude of smaller animals like donkeys, hens and flying rats is sure to amaze and amuse you the kids. For 25 cents, get a handful of grain to feed the animals. You may just get the best parent / grandparent award.

Mini Golf: 9 old time golf holes…some easy, some not so easy. $4round…if the kids get a hole in one on #9, they get a free round and you’ll have time for another bite of cheese.

Shootin’ Gallery: One of the most advanced interactive “shootin” galleries anywhere

Resources

Bravo Farms: http://www.bravofarmstraver.com

Julian, California A Magnificent Four Season Mountain Town

Story by Linda Kissam

So… when I say, “ Julian, California” you probably responded, “Pie.” If that’s what you did then you would be about 10% correct. A recent four-day stay in Julian tells me this place is trending in all the right places: food, wine and unique travel activities… four seasons a year.

The key to getting to know this special place is to stay awhile. It’s about an hour away from San Diego and Palm Springs; add another 30 minutes from Orange County and LA. Coming up for two hours for a cup of cappuccino and a slice of apple pie, just doesn’t make sense. This is a smart hip mountain town that combines all the elements foodies and small-town aficionado’s look for.

Lake Cuyamaca

Think easy to walk downtown area with lots of different shops, a microbrewery, a multitude of incredible restaurants small and large, a charming tea shop, and my favorite of course…wine tasting rooms. Venture out ten minutes past downtown and you’ll find wineries to visit, hill top dining in Wynola, a picturesque fishing lake, an ultra-cool stargazing facility, and killer hiking opportunities like the Pacific Crest Trail. This is Julian? Yup…and there’s even more. Drive 20 minutes from downtown and you’ll be able to do some gold mining, discover a wolf education center, and work those slots and poker tables at a casino. Ahhh, I see I have your attention now.

Here’s a round-up of my favorite places. Use it as a quick guide of what to do and enjoy in and around Julian.

In the Downtown Area
Park your car and enjoy free parking, flat terrain, restaurants, clothing stores, wine tasting and bakery shops. Get your credit card ready, this is a shopper, foodie and wine lovers paradise. Here’s a taste of what to expect.

Julian Lodge Bed & Breakfast – Designed after the Washington Hotel, built in 1885, the affordable Julian Lodge (generally under $90) with modern amenities is just steps away from all things fun: shopping, biking, hiking, dining, wine tasting and afternoon tea. Guests enjoy recently refurbished rooms and a pleasant continental breakfast. Friendly, knowledgeable staff. Open year-round. Be sure to check out their online and walk-in specials. Hikers welcome!

Orchard Hill Country Inn – Book here for a serene and romantic AAA four-diamond experience. I know you’ll love the choice of twenty-two well-appointed rooms, 10 comfy lodge rooms, and 12 secluded cottages near downtown Julian. Stroll the grounds and sit awhile in this lovely mountain top retreat. Enjoy your own personal “Ahhh moment” viewing gorgeous sunsets and wandering through the seasonal gardens. Includes many in-room amenities, Internet, a full breakfast and afternoon hors d’ouevres. Be sure and make reservations for their four-course sophisticated dinner served on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Room rates run from $195 – $450. Check out the Web site for specials and packages.

Julian, California

Julian Tea & Cottage Arts –Despite the name this place is definitely all about the tea. A gracious staff makes your time here a welcome retreat. I loved the way the staff member Jill explained each course and the tea that accompanied it. Tea is served in a charming turn-of-the-century home. Afternoon Tea consists of finger sandwiches, scone with whipped cream, homemade jam and dessert. However, if you just want a cup of tea or tea and cookies, you’ll also be welcomed with open arms. Ask to try the Yorkshire Gold. Seriously, for those of us who love all things afternoon tea, this has to be on your places to visit and do some major shopping.

 

Witch Creek Winery- A boutique winery focusing on quality over quantity, by producing small-lot, handcrafted wines. The result is full-bodied well balanced wines rich in flavor that have earned many medals over the years. Server Tammy told me “We’re all about the Reds.” She was right. Be sure to taste the 2009 Screaming Kitty ($23), the Tre Amici ($29- Gold Medal Winner) and the Cat’s Pajama’s ($21).

Julian, California

Candied Apple Pastry Company –Owner Charles Scott and Executive Pastry Chef Charles Scott bring quality, scratch-made pastries and delicious lunch entrees to Julian. This is the bakery you’ve been longing to find. Sit outside and people watch while munching on unbelievable treats, enjoying unique lunch offerings, sipping some local fresh pressed apple cider (seasonal) or enjoying the full espresso bar. This place has passion for its product and the community it works in. DON’T MISS IT.

 

Bailey Pit BBQ & Julian Brewery – This is the place for dinner and live entertainment. Bailey Barbecue has a big-boy BBQ menu, 16 draft beers, in addition to a full bar. Enjoy live music and dancing every Saturday night and some Friday nights. The place was packed and rocking out when I was there. There’s a special vibe to this place that will call to your artistic side. The Julian Brewing Company (brewing facility located in the garage of the historic Bailey house) has released the first brewed beer in Julian in over 100 years. Trust me, it’s all good – the food, the music, the beer. Check out the Web site for the menu and live entertainment schedule.

Julian Pie Company: You know you’ve come to the right place for apple pie when you find out each one weighs 2.85 pounds –give or take an apple slice. Hot, juicy, luscious come to mind. This is the ultimate apple pie stop, don’t miss it. Think about combing your visit with lunch first. It’s a simple lunch menu that’s offered, but its Big Boy sandwiches at their best…for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. One of my favorite places.

Eagle & High Peak Mine –Just a few blocks from downtown tour one of Julian’s original gold mines. Guides lead you through the intricate path of tunnels in the hard rock mine and share tales of the life of early residents of Julian. Great fun! Perfect for all ages.

Just Outside Town
10 minutes away on a charming country road.

J. Jenkins Winery – This boutique winery is ready to run with the big dogs. With 15 year-old vineyards, their wine has finally come into its own. Currently there are 7 wines to taste, all have merit. There is a $6 fee to taste which allows you get to keep the glass. My jaw dropped at the exquisite 2005 Syrah ($22). Big and bold, this ruby colored wine is complex, expressing both bold fruit and a definite earthy quality. I took this one home intending to share it with my wine club as an example of a great local wine find. Melanie was tending the wine bar. She suggested we try the Dolcezza ($16) (apple wine) made from 100% apples. Light, crisp with a slight effervescence, sipping it out on their patio was quite a treat.

Menghini Winery – Just down the road from J. Jenkins , this winery is surrounded by apple orchards and a six acre vineyard. This is country charm at its best and a major site for many Julian events. The winery produces approximately 4,000 cases of wine annually. I think you’re going to like the 2006 Syrah with its berry notes and hints of oak, and the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc showcasing some grassy notes on the nose and palate. Should be an excellent food wine.

In Nearby Wynola
Surprising dining options on this hill top just a few minutes from downtown Julian

Julian, California

Wynola Pizza Express – Located a mere three miles west of Julian on State Highway 78 and 3.5 miles east of Santa Ysabel this is where you go for the best gourmet wood-fired pizza, a variety of entrees, desserts, wine and beer and lively entertainment. Affordable and great for singles, families, or date-night. There’s a variety of places to dine at, from a bistro-style dining room, to casual booths or a group dining area. My favorite dishes were the Fire-Roasted Artichoke Dip (serves 2-4) $ 9.95. Artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, Romano, provolone and mozzarella cheeses blended with herbs and spiced and served with Buffalo crackers; Sausage Pizza $11.95 Sausage, red onions & bell peppers & mozzarella cheese; and the Sumi Salad (an Asian slaw) – $7.95. Crisp green cabbage tossed with crunchy noodles, scallions, shredded carrots tossed with house rice vinaigrette and topped with toasted sesame seeds and almonds.

 

Jeremy’s on The Hill –Heads up foodies! This family owned and operated business specializes in fresh and sumptuous gourmet foods. Put this experience in the fine-dining category without the pretentious stuff . They take pride in providing an atmosphere that promotes family friendliness while still providing for romantic intimacy. Chef Jeremy is dedicated to using only the finest and freshest ingredients available–most of which are locally provided. Because of that, the menu can often change, while still providing guest favorites. Got to love a place that brings in organically grown produce from Julian, Borrego Springs, Valley Center and other nearby locations. Great wine list and the Sunday Brunch is to die for. Put this 24 year old chef on your “to watch” list.

Chef Jeremy sends his love through a yummy recipe. See below!

Country Cellars- Think and drink local beers, wine and hard ciders with owner Trezette “Trez” Gotfredson. Country Cellars offers $6 tasting which include a mixture of local wine and beer choices. Offerings change weekly so you’ll always be surprised at what Trez is pouring. If you’re lucky you’ll come on a day Trez is offering her mini food & wine pairings. This should be one of your first stops on the way into Julian so you get an idea of what the local microbreweries and wineries have to offer. Plan your tasting AFTER you spend some time here.

A Little Further Out
There’s more unique fun about 20 minutes outside town.

Observer’s Inn Sky Tour – This is going to be an OMG moment for you, guaranteed. One of the best ways to see Julian’s star-filled skies is by taking a sky-tour with owner/innkeeper Mike Leigh. He’s set up a small – but mighty observatory with research-grade telescopes. Mike’s evening sky tours are literally out-of-this world. Mike will guide you through the star clusters and galaxies, pointing out planets and nebulae. This ain’t your boring high school astronomy class. Mike leads a lively presentation challenging everyone to think outside their comfort zone. The best $10/person you’re likely to spend.

California Wolf CenterAhhh, the heart and soul of it all. This place is likely to bring you to tears – happy ones – for all this center does. The California Wolf Center is a one-of-a-kind education, conservation. Founded in 1977 to educate the public about wildlife and ecology, the Center is currently home to several packs of gray wolves, some of which are exhibited for educational purposes. The wolves serve as ambassadors representing wolves in the wild. They also host highly endangered Mexican gray wolves, now being reintroduced into the southwestern United States. A visit to the Center provides a unique close up experience involving one of the most charismatic and controversial species in North American history. Perfect for singles, families, and couples.

Santa Ysabel Casino – Escape to a hidden getaway with intimate gaming, breathtaking views and some of the best craft beer and tequila shots around. Enjoy over 350 of the most popular slots, blackjack, 3-Card Poker, Pai-gow and exciting poker tournaments. Full service restaurant featuring lots of variety.

 

Chef Jeremy’s Crispy Brussel Sprouts & Chickpeas Recipe

Enjoy the following recipe compliments of Chef Jeremy Manley. Chef speaks directly to the reader throughout the recipe in an engaging and interactive format. The instructions come with some cooking tips that are essential to a successful dish. Read carefully all the way through before prepping..

One pot of oil (approx. 8 cups)

1 bamboo skewer

½ cup chick peas

1 cup of quarter Brussels sprouts

1 cup of Ponzu- a citrus soy sauce

2T red wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar

1 T red pepper flakes

¼ Cup Brown Sugar

1 garlic clove minced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk rigorously until all combined.

Heat your oil to 350 degrees. Wonder how you can tell what 350 degrees looks like? Once your pot of oil has been sitting on the stove top at a medium high heat for a couple minutes, place a wood skewer in your pot of oil and when the bubbles rise gently gliding up the stick you are at the appropriate temperature. Do not bring to a boil or you will create the biggest mess you have ever seen and burn wounds are dangerous!

Gently place the chickpeas in a wire basket, or straight into the pot. Remember though you must have a tool to fish them out.

After about 30 seconds add your Brussels sprouts and watch out! They will snap crackle and pop on you so protect your eyes! A little grease splat on your arm builds character.

If the risk is too high for you, just come into the restaurant and I’d love to cook you up some local vegetables. Did you know Brussels sprouts are from Belgium and they are a hybrid of the cabbage family. Enjoy!

 

 

Start Up San Francisco – An Economy Trip to the Capital of Tech in Silicon Valley

Yerba Buena San FranciscoAs those who know me or read Vagobond almost certainly know – I’m a serial business creator – also known as an entrepreneur. When I was around eight-years-old- my grandmother was having a day with me, my siblings, and my cousins – she asked everyone what they wanted to do when they grew up. She chewed on the answers, asked questions, and generally approved. I told her that I wanted to be a scientist and she said “No, that’s wrong. You’re an entrepreneur.” I didn’t know what that was and she told me that it was a person who made things. She was right. I am.

My projects have been many – from a failed beer delivery service in 1995 to Conchsense and Cascadia Magazines in the late 1990s to Sun Sea Adventures in the early 2000s, then to Vagobond itself along with Morocco Blogs, Reedsport Antiques, my little newspaper in Reedsport. I’ve started and run quite a few businesses. Most recently, in the past year, I’ve put together ZguideZ – which aims to automate the tour industry and Iwahai– which lets you record audio on a map. While there has been some aspect of tech in almost every business I’ve started – these two have the distinction of being the most ‘Silicon Valley’ and by extension the most scalable – which is what brings me to San Francisco.

For the past year, I’ve been neck deep in learning what it takes to conceive, build, and scale a start up tech business. I’ve taken part in Hawaii’s East Meets West Conference for two years running, I was one of twelve companies selected for the Hawaii Wefunder Workaway, and I recently graduated from Y-Combinator’s Start Up School. In addition to all of that – I’ve built two pretty amazing tech products and created two corporations from the ground up without anything that could be considered capital. I’ve filled the roles of product manager, CEO, and nearly everything else in my organizations while I have built products that work – even if only in a minimum viable product sense. And this is what brings me to San Francisco.

San Francisco is the global capital of tech finance. There is no event which represents that as well as Tech Crunch Disrupt – a conference where the ‘global elite of tech’ converge to see what the future holds, look for amazing new ventures, and meet the founders of amazing new startups that may become the next big thing – like me.

There is nothing cheap about San Francisco and there is nothing rich about my bank account or finances. The name of this website is Vagobond and that comes because I am one of the modern masters of making something out of nothing. As a quick reminder – in 2000, I became a homeless person by intent to show the world that it was possible to live a life without being beholden to corporate masters – from that point forward I traveled to more than fifty countries, moved to Hawaii, started a family, and have started multiple businesses. I’ve got to tell you though – it’s fucking exhausting making ends meet on the fly and always having to hustle to meet expenses.

So, ironically, here I am asking the masters of global capital to invest in my startups so I can scale them. I had to do it on a budget though. I paid for my flight using my Hawaiian Miles points which I’ve accumulated through paying for nearly everything with my Bank of Hawaii Mastercard. I was able to get a ticket to the 3-day conference for around $300 because I’m a startup founder (regular price is $1500+) and as for hotel – I tried to find a Couchsurfing host without luck and had to get a room but after searching for deals managed to get a room for right around $110 a night near Union Square which usually has hotel rooms for somewhere in the $300-$500 per night range. Four nights of that gave me enough to get a room using Hilton points for another night and finally, I found a room for my last night near the airport for $120.

In terms of meals, I’ve worked the system as best I could. Coffee in the hotel is free. The conference had several invite luncheon sessions where I was able to get the proverbial free lunch while listening to pitches for Taiwan or from big financial services companies. A nearby restaurant offered $10 credit to conference attendees (so lunch was $4). I skipped breakfast and enjoyed modestly priced dinners – a slice of pizza, some Indonesian fried rice, a burrito, some Japanese ramen. Grand total on food has been right around $80. I’ve got a few days left and I expect that I’ll probably spend another $100 on food. I’ve had to use Uber a few times and that has added up to about $70 total.

So, for those not keeping track – here are my totals for a week long trip from Hawaii to San Francisco to one of the most expensive tech conferences in the world.

Conference Ticket: $295

Flights: $0

Hotel: $580

Food: $180

Uber: $70

Grand Total: $1125

I will probably spend a couple hundred dollars on entertainment and tourist stuff while I’m here, but maybe not. In any event, I feel like the price was well worth it. If I’d wanted to go further into savings I could have aggressively hunted for a couch to surf, skimped further on food, and volunteered at the conference for a free ticket – but I’m almost 48 years old and just don’t have the energy to be that cheap any more.

Opportunities – well hopefully they will translate into being worth millions, but we’ll have to see.

 

Places I’ve Lived #23 – Sacramento, California – Squatting in Arden Arcade

Once we had my wife’s green card, I made a plan. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan. I bought our plane tickets – me, wife, and baby. We were flying from Morocco to Dubai then to San Francisco. Using some travel contacts, I managed to get us a three night stay in Dubai at the Atlantis Resort – we were going to do the desert safari, visit the Burj Khalifa, and many other things. However, since Dubai has apparently had a problem with Moroccan residents not going back to Morocco – they require all Moroccan residents to have a return flight to Morocco. This was ridiculous as we were flying onward to the USA – but they wouldn’t budge – my wife would not be allowed to leave the airport unless we bought her a return ticket. Emirates allowed me to change the flight to a 10-hour layover and we missed our chance to do anything in Dubai except wander through the mall-like airport and look at the night lights shining where we couldn’t visit them.

My plan then involved landing in San Francisco where my sister had said we could stay for up to a month while we figured out housing, jobs, etc. Unfortunately, she was going through a nasty divorce and had moved into a security building with uptight rules and my brother and his family had come out to visit at the same time. We had a hotel for the first couple of nights and then tried to stay with her – but it was a small place, there were four small kids there and five adults. My plan was to find a job in a startup – to put my blogging, social media, writing, editing, and magazine publishing skills to work in the USA the same way I had in Turkey, Morocco, and Europe.

Instead, crazy culture shock, astounding jet lag, and dysfunctional family dynamics led us to Redding where not only did I not want to be, but we were very quickly made to feel not welcome at the other place we had been assured would ‘always have an open door for us’. I ran into an old high school friend that I’d always gotten along with. He told me how he and his girlfriend had been squatting in 2008 foreclosures in Sacramento for years. Honestly, my plans had not involved emigrating to America, demonstrating my dysfunctional family to my wife, and then squatting in foreclosed houses with my wife and infant child – but we didn’t really have a choice. Redding was a very unpleasant dead end. We couldn’t afford to rent in San Francisco because no one would rent to me without a job or a million in the bank. I figured we could squat in Sacramento, I could continue job hunting in San Francisco, and we would find a place to rent before we were evicted by law enforcement.

To be fair – it was a very nice house. My friends were going through a process where they were trying to legally claim the house by paying utilities, keeping the yard up, taking care of appearances etc. They were attempting to use loopholes in the legal system to take a house from the banks who had taken the house from someone else with loopholes. I helped to file some of the writs and papers. We were in the Arden Arcade neighborhood of Sacramento. It was a great neighborhood. We made friends, I looked for work, we had fun and enjoyed life there. I mowed the grass, we planted a little garden, and all in all – it was good. However, the uncertainty of the situation was hard on my little family.

I turned to how I always made money in the past – writing, buying & selling things on craigslist, through classifieds, reselling books from garage sales, and then I started to realize there was a lot of cash being left on the table at the many estate and yard sales in Sacramento. I became a professional picker and I did good at it. I educated myself on what sold and what didn’t, I learned about antiques, collectibles, furniture, gems, jewelry, watches, and art. I began buying and selling a lot. But not enough to pay the first, last, and security deposit on a house in Sacramento (let alone San Francisco) – It was going to be $8000 to move into a place – we’d moved to the USA with right around $5000 after all the flights, the expenses of the green card, and more. I just didn’t have it. I applied for multiple tech jobs in San Francisco and Sacramento but the salaries were always less than my expenses would be. I couldn’t do it.

I was making enough with Ebay, Amazon books, and garage sales – that I figured out that I could afford to move to the cheapest town on the Oregon Coast, rent a decent house, and have a pretty good life for my family without being too far from the ocean – which, for some reason, is important to me. I found a three bedroom house in Reedsport, Oregon just in time – the squat was going to have to be abandoned. The legal maneuvers had failed.

We’d accumulated a lot of stuff from estate sales and garage sales. I rented a trailer and we filled it up and headed up to our new life in Reedsport, Oregon. We squatted in Sacramento from April to August of 2013. It wasn’t part of my plan at all – but I’m grateful that we found someplace to live when my entire plan and backup plans had completely fallen apart.

Sacramento, California

SacreamentoSacramento is the capital of California – which, were it not a part of the USA, would be the fifth largest economy in the world ahead of France, the UK, and India. Without California, the U.S. would fall to just about the same GDP as China – so, Sacramento is a pretty important city. Founded in 1808 by Spanish Missionaries – the city has about a half million people. It rose to importance when John Sutter found gold there in 1848 – Sutter was a Mexican-Swiss citizen and his find led to the eventual stealing of California from Mexico by the United States.  It’s interesting to note that California was an independent nation “The Bear Republic” from 1846-1848 before Mexico re-established control and then the U.S. claimed it. For three months each year, Sacramento is the sunniest place on the planet – and during those months – it’s best to hide inside with air-conditioning. Old Town Sacramento is an area of the city that has preserved many of the buildings from the 1850s and 1860s. It’s a fun tourist area. Sacramento is filled with parks, universities, museums, and a growing tech scene – but the primary business in Sac is and always will be one thing – government. Sacramento is home to the Sacramento Kings basketball team and the Sacramento Republic Football Club.

Places I’ve Lived #7 – Redding, California

Redding, CaliforniaI didn’t go straight from Myrtle Creek, Oregon to Redding, California. Instead, I went back to Big Bear Lake where I lived with my father for a little less than two years – he wasn’t a suitable parent for anyone – let alone a kid who had suffered through the hell that I’d been through in Oregon – so it didn’t really work out. He was still living and loving his rock star lifestyle. He was in bands, had girlfriends, bought a boat, had a nice house on the lake, bought a corvette, disappeared for days at a time (and once came back from Vegas with a new wife – which lasted a couple of weeks). He didn’t have the attention span nor the patience to be the father I needed and as a result I was allowed to fall into company that led me astray. By the time he noticed that I was running around with criminal youth, it was too late for him to do anything about it – we fought and I ran away from home several times. I bounced around from place to place – eventually moving in with one of the girlfriends he’d dumped along the way. She was sweet and while she had her own problems, she was the first adult I’d known in years who acted like a parent.

Eventually, my mom escaped from her monstrous husband and came back to Big Bear. She quickly found a new younger husband. He was a solid and good guy who had no idea what he was getting into – but he stuck with it and somehow made it all work. My sister lived with our grandmother at this point and my brother had gone his own way. After they had been married for more than a year, I moved in with my mom and her new husband. At about this point, they decided to move to Redding, California. All the way on the other end of the state.

There are many people who love Redding. I’m not one of them. It was hot, the town was filled with tweekers, and I was an angry 16, 17, and 18 year old when I lived there. I graduated from Shasta High School and on the advice of my step-father joined the Marines and got out of Redding as quickly as I could. I’d gotten in some trouble with alcohol at the homecoming game. My overworked public defender suggested that the judge would go easier if I was enlisted in the military. I took her advice and joined the branch my step-father had been in. It was a stupid thing to do – I should have enrolled in Stanford and moved to the Bay Area – I was smart enough, but not smart enough, if you get my drift.

Redding, CaliforniaLooking back, a lot of my anger came from other places and the truth is – Redding was pretty good to me. I was dating cheerleaders and had some great quality friends, if anything, my issues were that I chose to spend time with other people who were serious losers – I was surrounded by drugs, guns, and violence. On weekends, we would all drive around downtown Redding to meet up, find parties, and find trouble. It was called ‘The Cruise’ and it was outlawed sometime later in the 1990s.

Redding was the first place I saw a person killed – I was at a party and a local gang called ‘The Winds’ showed up looking for a guy ( I didn’t know him – he was a drifter wandering through). They found him at the party and beat him to death with bottles (I presume he died because I can’t imagine anyone surviving that), they then put his body in a blanket and threw it in the back of a truck and drove off. I saw all of this while hiding in a slatted door closet with the girl who lived in the house. I never saw a news story about it – so maybe he didn’t die, but at the time, I was certain I had just witnessed a murder. We all had – there were at least ten people who saw it – but when the police showed up, none of us wanted to be the one to point their finger at the gang members – we’d just seen what would happen if we did.

I left Redding shortly after that and I never looked back though I have visited my mom from time to time over the past thirty years.

Redding, California

Redding, CaliforniaRedding is a city surrounded by the wonders of nature. Drive in almost any direction and you are sure to find  something mind blowing. Mt. Shasta , Mt. Lassen, Shasta Lake, the Sacramento River, Whiskeytown Lake, the Trinity Alps, Burney Falls, Shasta Caverns and much more. Like many of the towns I lived in growing up, Redding sits on Interstate 5 (I-5). It has a population of about 90,000 and was originally called Poverty Flats. Redding has a rich mining and timber harvesting history and as such – fell into hard times in the 80s and 90s when those industries declined. It has never really recovered, though it has tried. There are a number of prisons that surround Redding and this contributes to the economy – also, many of the prisoners stay in the area when they are released of furloughed and sometimes their families move to Redding while they are incarcerated.

Temperatures in Redding often push the 120 degrees Fahrenheit mark and locals are smart to spend time in the Sacramento River or the area’s many lakes.

Places I’ve Lived #4 – Mendocino, California

Mendocino, CaliforniaWhen I write about my childhood – it sounds bizarre, even to me.  Shortly after I started first grade, my father once again decided it was time to go someplace new…but once again, it didn’t last long. The dynamics of my parent’s relationship were already terrible – so who knows if this had something to do with it – cause or effect, at this point it doesn’t really matter. In any event, my father had built a fairly successful painting business in Big Bear Lake but when he’d met my mother he had been a musician in several mildly successful bands…at some point in the 1970’s he started playing music again, hanging out in nudist camps and then he started taking tai-chi lessons from a nomadic puppeteer named Rio.

A strange friendship was born. Rio was building a live in gypsy wagon on the back of a RIO truck and he and his love, Nancy – were going to move to Mendocino. While the truck was being built, we started receiving huge numbers of packages from outdoor catalogs because it turned out that Nancy had been married when she and Rio met and now she was sticking it to her husband by maxxing out his credit cards and having all the stuff sent to our house (since they lived in a tent while the truck was being built). Nancy had two lovely little girls (Spirit and Isis) and a cool little boy (Gabe) and we all became great hippie friends. Rio was this amazing young Gandolph figure – he was a puppeteer, a carpenter and tai-chi master – his truck was being built as a traveling stage for his puppet shows.

Once the truck was built and all the dried foods, survival gear, etc was loaded – it was time to go and Dad once again decided he would rent out our house as an income property and leave all of our possessions locked in the garage/storeroom he had built. Off we went…I think my dad was planning on starting a new band or something, but we ended up in Mendocino. We rented a creepy white house that was high on a bluff above the ocean. I’m pretty sure it was haunted or that some Manson murder shit had gone down there. My brother and I were enrolled in school in nearby Fort Bragg and all went well that winter – except in terms of my parent’s marriage. Dad and Rio would disappear for weeks at a time. Eventually, mom had enough and we packed it all up and went back to our house in Big Bear where once again, short term renters had trashed our house, broken into the storeroom, and stolen anything of value.

That’s my personal story of Mendocino – but here is a bit about the town itself:

Mendocino, California

Mendocino, CaliforniaMendocino, just north of San Francisco was founded in 1850 as a lumber town because of the proximity to the mighty and beautiful redwoods. In the 1940s it became a sort of artist colony and has been known as such ever since. The town sits on huge bluffs above the Pacific Ocean and is home to one of the oldest Chinese temples in the USA, dating back to 1854.  The temple of Kwan Yin is dedicated to the goddess of medicine and peace.

Mendocino has appeared in a lot of Hollywood productions, most prominent was the TV Series “Murder She Wrote” in which the town was fronted as being a village in Maine. It’s a beautiful and cool place. Here’s a few bizarre facts –

  • The nearby town of Booneville had it’s own language called Boontling.
  • The Manson family actually did rent a house (well before we lived there) in Mendocino and I’d bet money it’s the same creepy one we lived in
  • It rains a lot in Mendocino
  • Mendocino has less than 1000 people and a lot of Bed and Breakfasts

 

Places I’ve Lived #2 – Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake Ski ResortThere’s no place I’ve lived (with the possible exception of Hawaii) that has had such a huge effect on who I am as Big Bear Lake, California. My parents moved there around 1972-73 from Tacoma, Washington – most of my mom’s family followed us. I lived in Big Bear for two distinct periods – my normal, privileged and happy childhood from 1973-1981 and then an incredibly dysfunctional early-teen period from 1985-1988. Like many kids, my life changed dramatically after my parents went through an ugly and violent divorce. Most of my happy childhood memories come from the 73-81 period. At the time, our family was prosperous – we were surrounded by uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and friends. Here are some of the amazing things I remember from Big Bear Lake.

Massive Snowstorms

Big Bear LakeI’m not talking about little snowstorms or a foot on the ground. I’m talking about full on blizzards where our house got buried. We had to jump out the second floor window to get out! 8-10 feet of snow. Big Bear is in the mountains above Los Angeles but it sits at an elevation of nearly 7000′ feet. One great thing about all that snow was snow days, snow forts, and playing in the snow all winter long. There were two ski resorts in Big Bear in those days Snow Summit and Goldmine (now Bear Mountain). We had annual season passes at Snow Summit and ski lessons were an essential part of being a kid in Big Bear. Our winter jacket’s were festooned with colored B’s to denote our level. If memory serves – the Red B was the expert skiier.

Big Bear Lake, Jenks Lake, Baldwin Lake

There were a number of snow fed lakes in the area, so summer was a time of swimming and water skiing. We would also wander the shallows searching for giant orange carp in the lake or fish for blu gill, bass, and trout. Jenk’s Lake was a tiny lake where school trips would go to learn about nature and do camp activities. In the winter, the lakes would completely freeze over and it was common for ‘dumb flatlanders’ (our term for weekend visitors from L.A.) to fall through the ice.

Fawnskin and Fawnskin Caverns

On one side of the lake is the tiny village of Fawnskin (which is strange because my sister is named Fawn) – as a teen, I wandered and drank all through this area. During all of the time I was living there, it was a fun pasttime to hike and climb in Fawnskin. There was a huge complex of boulder made caverns which were most fun to climb in (and most dangerous) during the winter months when they were filled with ice and snow.

Old Miner’s Days and Hell’s Angels

Every summer there was a festival celebrating the rough and ready miner’s who had flooded the valley in 49′. This weeks long festival included a multi-day burro race around the valley, burro baseball, a parade, a Miss Clementine and Mr. Kadiddlehopper Pageant, and much more. The Hell’s Angels were always around during this time – in fact they loved Big Bear and were frequent visitors – they sponsored school picnics and some of the teachers were even members of the famous biker gang.

Big Dick Rock

Big Bear has huge boulder piles everywhere. I’m not sure what geology created that – but every kid in Big Bear knew about ‘Big Dick Rock’

Big Bear Dam (old and new)

Big Bear has an old dam which is usually under water and a new dam that traffic crosses. The ‘New Dam’ was built in the 1930s.

China Island

There’s a tiny island in an area called Boulder Bay – that has a bunch of Chinese houses built on it. My aunt and uncle lived there for a year. It’s scenic and pretty strange….I’ve heard the owner lives on Maui.

The Rifle Range

There’s a rifle range in Big Bear and as kids we used to go there and collect lead bullets. Sometimes when people were shooting. We got chased away many times – it was incredibly stupid.

Old Mines and Cabins

Big Bear has lots of National Forest land and if you dig around in it (as we did a lot of) you will find mines, old caverns, old cabins, and in the 1970s – things like boxes of dynamite. We did incredibly stupid things with all of that stuff and somehow never killed ourselves.

‘Down the Hill’

When you live in Big Bear – every other place is ‘down the hill’ and people from other parts of California are called ‘flatlanders’. Going ‘down the hill’ meant going to Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, or other places.

The Old Juniper Tree fort in Whispering Forest

Generations of kids have built tree forts in the old Juniper tree that sits across from my childhood home. Despite the itchy bark, the big drops, and the territoriality of kids like me – this tree has been the dreaming and hanging out space for many growing kids.

Holcomb Valley

Holcomb Valley Big Bear LakeHolcomb Valley with it’s decrepit town of Belleville, the abandoned shacks, hidden gold mines, rifle and shotgun casings, herds of mules and packs of coyotes, hidden springs, and deep desolate and lonely hidden places – there should be songs written about this place.

The Crow’s Nest, The Poop Deck, Chad’s, and The Bear’s Den

I don’t know how many of these bars remain – but Big Bear Lake had the most colorful drinking establishment names of anywhere I’ve ever lived. Sure, maybe Chad’s doesn’t sound that exciting until you see three hundred Harley’s parked in the streets in front of it. As kids, we spent a lot of time at the Big Bear Arcade across the street and would all pile out to watch bikers beat the hell out of each other in the streets during the middle of the day.

The Bear Statues and Octoberfest

Big Bear used to have these beautiful standing bear statues that would welcome you into town. Visitors and residents would dress the bears which stood on top of rock pillars. Sometimes in snow jackets, goggles, hats, or winter gear – other times in bikinis. They were the childhood mascots to the town.

Each October there would be a week long drinking festival – I don’t think there were a lot of Germans in Big Bear but there were certainly a lot of drinkers so it was a big deal. Our parents put us in a children’s dance troop called the Polka Tots and we would train in Bavarian dance and travel to events throughout Southern California to dance in leiderhosen for the boys and frilly  dresses and braids for the girls. It was a very strange thing to do.

Pan Hot Springs

Pan Hot SpringsI learned to swim in beautiful thermal pools that smelled slightly of sulfur. I was never a particularly good swimmer but I will always appreciate the fact that I learned to swim in pools created by mountain hot springs.

Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Coyotes, Raccoons, Burros, Mountain Lions, and Bears

There’s a lot more to remember about Big Bear – it was an amazing place to be a child – but probably the most striking memory is the proximity of nature to us. We used to encounter rattlesnakes on a regular basis – we would flip stones and catch snakes and scorpions with old glass jars. The yip yip of coyotes was a part of the lullaby that would put us to sleep and the braying of the wild burro herds would startle us awake – at which point we would watch them be chased from yards and gardens in the neighborhood. We didn’t see a lot of bears in those days – but they and the mountain lions were about – we’d catch sign of them on the trails – pawprints, piles of poo, the acrid musky odor of a mountain lion or lynx.

This was my childhood. It sounds like a time long ago – and I guess as I write this it was generally four decades ago – but when I look at pictures or think about how different the world was then – it seems like it was much much longer. I love the memories of my childhood in Big Bear Lake, California.

Exploring San Francisco from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge

In 2013, I emigrated my family to the USA. We landed in San Francisco, a city I have loved since I first visited it in 1976 when I was 5 years old. We were unable to find a way to live in SF because of the insane cost of housing, but have gone back many times and will continue to do so. 

In all the cities that I’ve travelled, there are some that stand out as extraordinary more than others. A few come to mind right away Istanbul, Rome, Paris, New York City, Barcelona, Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Honolulu, Fez, and of course, San Francisco.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco has a rich and interesting history, a vibrant culture, and for a city which is so young – an amazing amount of things to do and incredible things to eat. San Francisco is a melting pot of cultures and you can find restaurants ranging from classic 1930s diners to Punjab, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Lao, Indian, Pakistani, Ethiopian, French, Italian, Bulgarian, Basque, and there’s probably even a Martian restaurant somewhere in Fremont…in short, San Francisco offers more than just something for everyone – it offers many things to everyone.

San Francisco, California

My wife is still a new immigrant to the USA and while our four years together have taught her much about my culture and people, there was still something that she seemed to not understand – the dark underbelly of America – the poverty and homelessness. When you grow up on the other side of the planet watching rich people on television and hearing everyone dream of the promised land – it’s hard to understand that America is filled with homelessness, drug problems, the mentally ill, and prostitution. Aside from places like Detroit and Philadelphia, there may be no better place to witness this than San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.

 

The Tenderloin has always been a rough place, in fact, the name comes from back in the days when police officers were given a bonus for patrolling the most dangerous part of the city – a bonus which allowed them to purchase better cuts of meat for dinner from the butcher – the tenderloin cuts. Today, the Tenderloin is still a place that it’s not advisable to wander through after dark – during the daylight hours hundreds, perhaps thousands of homeless and crazy people wander the streets, sleep on the sidewalks, and openly use drugs.

San Francisco, California

This was, of course, where I decided it would be a good idea for us to stay. Before you start cursing me under your breath, I should point out that I booked us into the COVA Hotel on Ellis Street, a four star boutique hotel that offers amazing service, comfort, and value right in the heart of the city. The hotel was superb with fantastic views of the city, a free breakfast service that included fresh fruit, waffles, and more and that the staff took great care of us while we were there. Our room was quiet, cool, comfortable, and, in fact, it was hard to recognize that twenty feet to either side of the hotel we would encounter homeless drug addicts and mentally ill street people. Most guests chose to use the hotel’s free shuttles which took them directly to Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, or Union Square and back. Not us though.

San Francisco, California

Our walks took us past the people of the streets – my poor wife was terrified, but I felt like it was important that she be exposed to this aspect of America. One tall black man with crazy eyes said “You look like a little nun!” – “I’m a Muslim!” she responded, clasping my arm. “Oh, well you look like a nun,” he told her. Thank you Crazy-Eyes. You can take a homeless tour of the Tenderloin on Vayable, run by a homeless man named Milton…we didn’t do that, but may in the future.

San Francisco, California

My friend Joshua points out that Palm Springs has no homeless people and offers no homeless services but San Francisco offers lots of services and so has lots of homeless. It’s a fair point. America should be ashamed of this problem. Herewith, I offer a solution.

 

The government should buy all the houses in Detroit that are selling on Ebay for $500 – maintain them, and offer them to the homeless. Offer free services, job training, food, and healthcare in Detroit and only in Detroit. Offer free transport to Detroit. Close down all the other services in all the other cities and start works programs that give people who want to stay in other cities jobs and cheap housing – no job, no housing – off to Detroit with you. We can’t make Detroit any worse and we can certainly make other cities better. My family once owned all of downtown Detroit in the 1800s. My fourth great grandfather was the Mayor of Detroit. Maybe if they move all the crazies there, I can be the Mayor of Detroit too…

But, back to San Francisco. Our walks took us out of the Tenderloin and into Little Saigon where Hanane had her first bowl of Pho. I had forgotten just how delightful Pho can be. Oh man, it is sooooo good. Little Saigon is San Francisco’s ‘newest’ neighborhood and borders the Tenderloin. From there, we walked to Union Square and marvelled at the corner where Levi Strauss, sold the first pair of Levi’s to miner forty-niners back during the Gold Rush. The first Levi’s 501 jeans were created in the 1890’s and people all over the world still wear them. That’s some classic fashion! Strauss used sailcloth from the abandoned ships in San Francisco harbor (because many ships made a one-way trip to the Gold Rush), dyed the cloth blue, and re-enforced the stress points with rivets. It was the merchants who sold to the miner’s who made the enduring fortunes.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

Union Square itself got it’s name from the pro-Union rallyies that were held there during the American Civil War. The beautiful golden statue called “Victory” that commemorates President McKinley and lost sailors was modeled on a San Francisco Beauty named Alma de Bretteville. While she was wooed by many, she went where the money was piled highest and married a sugar baron named Adolph Spreckles who was 25 years her senior – the newspaper’s at the time mocked the union, calling Spreckles her ‘Sugar Daddy’ – which is where the term originates. The couple built the largest home in Pacific Heights which today is the home of author Danielle Steele. One of my personal heroes, Jack London, used to attend parties at the Spreckles mansion. She was one of the most influential art collectors in the USA and San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Fine Art’s Museum was one of her pet projects – she also brought a number of Rodin sculptures to the city which are still there. The Legion of Honor sits high on the headland’s above the Golden Gate Bridge…

And this is where I will stop for now. We’ve gone from the poorest to the richest and from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge. More soon to come…

San Francisco, California

Ah, one last word about Alma Spreckles – she started a chain of thrift-shops to help the poor, they were eventually turned over to her favorite charitable organization – The Salvation Army – which is why the Salvation Army operates thrift stores all over the United States….including the one in the Tenderloin which also operates a shelter there…it’s astounding how everything is connected if you know where to look. Crazy-Eyes gets his meals and bed from the woman on the statue in Union Square…

Great thanks to SanFrancisco.Travel for providing so many great resources and fantastic information for our trip. More to come soon….

Vagobond in Big Bear Lake #saturdayslideshow

Big Bear Lake, Belleville Cabin

When I tell people that I grew up in the mountains above Los Angeles or a ski area near L.A. – they often look confused. I grew up in a small town called Big Bear Lake. 7000 feet above Los Angeles in Southern California. Big Bear is famous for skiing, Hollywood shoots, gold mining, and – not surprisingly – big bears.

On the left is the old Belleville Cabin in Holcomb Valley. Hard to believe this is all that is left of what was once the largest Southern California gold rush town. Belleville was nearly 25,000 people and had more than it’s fair share of prostitutes, miners, and desperados. The town was named for Belle, the first baby born in the community. It brought the nearby communities of Big Bear Lake, Big Bear City, and Fawnskin to life but then died.

The last time I visited was 2009. Big Bear (which is what the whole area is called by locals) was a lot smaller than I remembered it and was filled with quite a few odd people. If someone told you they had just spent a fun-filled weekend at a popular southern California resort called Yuhaviat, you probably wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Yuhaviat is a Serrano Indian word that means “Pine Place,” and it is the name Big Bear had for more than a thousand years.

Big Bear is no longer called Yuhaviat, because back in 1845, Benjamin Davis Wilson rode into Yuhaviat Valley with a posse of 20 men. They were chasing Indians who had been raiding their ranches in Riverside. As they entered the valley, they found it swarming with bears.

Wilson divided his men into two-man teams. Each team went out, roped a bear and brought it back to camp. They had eleven bear at the camp all at the same time. This prompted Wilson to come up with the name Big Bear Lake. However, it should be noted that Big Bear Lake is a man-made lake that didn’t exist in 1845. The lake Wilson named Big Bear was actually the natural lake at the east end of the valley, now known as Baldwin Lake.

Ben Wilson is not only remembered for giving Big Bear its name, but he went on to become an important figure in Southern California history. Among his accomplishments, he is remembered as the first mayor of Los Angeles. He was also a two term California state senator, and he built the first railroad between Los Angeles and San Diego. Wilson died on March 11, 1878, but before he died, he donated land and buildings for the construction of a college. This new college eventually became the University of Southern California.Wilson’s energy and leadership qualities were passed down through his children to his grandchildren. One of those grandchildren was the famous World War II General, George S. Patton.

Today, Big Bear is a tourism town. Sometimes it seems like the main industry is making ugly chainsaw carvings of bears, but actually the big draw are the ski resorts of Snow Summit and Bear Mountain along with weekend camping and mountain getaways by the people that we used to call ‘flatlanders’.

About 15 years (1860) after Bear Valley was discovered by Wilson , prospector Bill Holcomb discovered gold in nearby Holcomb Valley . After abandoning his prospecting and mining efforts in Northern California and Oregon where he spent 10 years searching for gold, Holcomb and his partner Jack Martin came to Bear Valley in the winter of 1859. Although the partners worked hard they made only a modest strike. Martin returned to Los Angeles to get his family.

Meanwhile, towards the end of April, while Holcomb was hunting bear, he crossed the meadow in the center of Bear Valley and climbed up the west side of Bertha Peak and saw what he described as “the most beautiful mountain valley I have ever seen”. A few days later, he returned to that valley with companions, and while tracking a grizzly he had wounded, along what is now Caribou Creek; he noticed glittering specks of gold in a quartz ledge.

News of his find spread fast and soon prospectors began staking and working their claims. The population of Holcomb Valley swelled to over 2,000; buildings and businesses sprung up, including a General Store, Saloon, Grocery Store, Blacksmith Shop and the famous Octagon House where the “glitter girls” danced and otherwise entertained men in small dimly lit cubicles. As more and more prospectors came to Bear Valley in the hunt for gold and silver ore, the Bear Valley Mining District was founded.

When I was a child, that history was still celebrated in a big way. Each year we had a two week festival called “Old Miners Days” during which there were pageants, dances, parties, a parade, and an annual event that I always looked forward to – donkey baseball and the annual burro race. There were large herds of burros and donkeys that lived wild in Big Bear in the 1970s and each year they would be rounded up and people would race them around the lake and play baseball with them – with runners having to ride wild asses around the bases.

As kids, we were allowed to run wild in the San Bernardino National Forest – we were real natives and would catch rattlesnakes and scorpions, explore abandoned gold mines, and hike off in any direction for as far as we wanted. Most of our parents were busy with the booze, drugs, and sex of the 1970s – so there was no one to bother us.

We all went to North Shore Elementary School in those days (which always gets a funny response when I tell people in Hawaii – they say “You mean Sunset Elementary School?” – then I explain my school wasn’t on Oahu’s North Shore but Big Bear Lake’s). Big Bear was a great place to be a kid and the 1970s were a great time to be a kid. Below are a few photos that have meaning to me – the old Juniper that generations of kids built tree forts in, my spaceship looking elementary school, a couple of my childhood homes, my first job at the Alpine Slide, and the little market I used to buy Lemonheads and play Defender and PacMan in. Also a couple of pictures of the lake – look for the tiny white building in the distance – it’s the world’s most important solar observatory – which might be where I got my love of space and my universal outlook on life.

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Originally published 07 June 2009

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