Saturday, December 20, 2008

They Call Her, "Lucky"

California High Desert, 1986 -- After a Coke and a pit stop, we jumped back into the '72 Volkswagen van and rolled down highway 14 toward Los Angeles. Death Valley was a good three hours behind us now.

Dean and I were about ten miles out of the desert town of Mojave when we saw what we thought was a person on the side of the road. It was dark outside and the faint incandescent headlights of the van barely lit up the white clothes of what looked like a roadside casualty. Our first thought: A dead person!

We came to an abrupt stop on the rocky shoulder, between the highway and the railroad tracks. I was the first to approach the person. I leaned over and directed the beam of my flashlight into the sunken eyes and face of what I could now see as an elderly woman.

“Is she dead?” asked my friend, Dean. Hesitantly, I poked her shoulder and she came alive! Dean and I jumped back.

The woman popped up off the gravel and brushed her white pantsuit clean. Curious, I asked why she was sleeping on the side of the road, in the desert, in the dark!

She explained that she spent all her social security money in Las Vegas and had just enough for a bus ticket to Mojave where she usually finds a ride home to Los Angeles.

“So…, this is not the first time you’ve been in this predicament?” I asked.

“Oh dear, no.” The woman explained, “This happens a few times a year—but only when I loose all my money, you see.”

Dean and I offered her a ride home, which she gladly accepted. During the drive I was able to steal a shot of her sleeping.We dropped her off in front of a restaurant where one of the orderlies of the home regularly picked her up. We waited until the man arrived--disgusted yet humored by her tenacity.

The woman was 86 years old.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Get Your Kicks in a Wigwam along Route 66

San Bernardino -- We've seen the Kodachrome photos of families posing in front of windmill restaurants, coffee cup- shaped cafes and the largest ball of string, or was that from the movie "Vacation...?"

Recently I was forced onto a detour and happened upon the Wigwam Motel along Route 66. It was a vision out of Life Magazine! After taking a few photos and talking with the owner, I drove away feeling as if had left a site of an old Disney documentary; all that was missing was an Airstream camper and Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar.

Roadside vernacular architecture seemed more popular during the first few decades of the 20th century. I miss seeing them. As a kid in the 60s and 70s, I remember the giant dinosaurs on the way to Palm Springs and the magic of Clifton's Cafeteria in Los Angeles; all are examples of zany facades designed to entice the curious traveler. These tourist attractions were also a nice excuse to pull off the road and give the kids a break from asking the same, age-old "question" every ten minutes.

During my brief visit, I met up with a family owner of the Wigwam Motel, Kumar Patel. While he was showing me the teepees and grounds, he mentioned that the last owner allowed the old 1949 motel to deteriorate, almost to the point of disrepair.

Six years ago, the Patel family purchased the now historic landmark and renovated each of the 19 stucco teepees complete with air conditioning and free wi-fi. The pool was resurfaced and palm trees planted throughout the grounds. Due to it's landmark status, they cannot add buildings. However, they are allowed to make improvements, and to their credit, they have restored and maintained the personality of the 50s-era motor hotel to a tee.

For about $70 per night (about $10 more on weekends), the Wigwam Motel is quite a deal, as well as a pretty cool experience in lodging--even your pet, Charlie is welcome!

For more information, visit

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Taking Off

In May of 1987, a small group of us drove out to Death Valley. One of our stops was Ubehebe Crater. Ubehebe is about 2,400 feet in diameter and 500 feet deep. The hot wind blows across the east rim, then down inside and funnels through a passage, builds up speed and up the west side of the rim at a 45-degree angle. Sometimes winds can blow up to 100 miles per hour.

We stood at the west rim, opened our jackets and like kites, were lifted up by the force of the wind and all enjoyed a short yet eventful flight.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Working Your Island

Years ago I overheard a conversation between two transients.

"What do you do for money, dude?" said the first homeless man.

The second man smiled with pride and said, "I don't need to work, I have a guitar!"

Soon after, I heard a gentleman brag about working his "island." Curious, I asked where he was from and what kind of work he does on the island. The weather-beaten man was well-tanned and looked like the beach bum type. He pointed to the three-foot slab of concrete separating the nearby boulevard, pulled out his cardboard sign and asked for a buck.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Walk Through Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the “county fair” of diversity, poverty, wealth and individualism. Some sections of Downtown are dirty and dangerous. Other parts are not. I am more interested in the gritty, the impoverished and spiritually hungry sections of LA than the glitz and glass buildings.

I recently took the Goldline into LA and walked all afternoon. Below are a few of the photos I took during my three-hour jaunt.

A homeless man sits fidgeting on a bench with the decaying Pantages Theater behind him. Built in 1919, the LA Pantages was once the city's most prestigious vaudeville houses. It is now a jewelry center.

The street was blocked off for a car show and skateboard exposition.

Three boys proudly displaying their giant zucchini

"Killer Cops" sprayed above a mural of a police officer overlooking the 101 Freeway

Men crowd around a makeshift table used to play Three Cups and a Ball. One by one, men bet $20 that they could tell which cup the ball was under after being shifted a dozen times.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Rick's Tacos, Burritos, Burgers, etc. has been a staple of my junk food menu since the early 80s. Although I try to limit my trips to Rick's, I can hardly resist ripping open the thin, yellow wrapping of their "combo burrito" and consuming the ultimate in Mexican comfort food.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Freedom of Religion

After I took the shot of a mother and her child in LA, I immediately thought of all the ways I could use this photo. Artistically, it’s beautiful. Politically, it’s correct. Religiously, it is Muslim. And I am a Christian, yet each time I visit this photograph I think how blessed I am to live in a country that accepts people of all religions and beliefs.

“It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”

--Patrick Henry

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just say, "No."

There should be a rule about solicitors at store entrances. Unlike the woman pictured above, who seems to be legitimate, store patrons should not have deal with transients pleading for sympathy, wearing a homemade badge. I often question their authenticity. Quite frankly, I believe most of the front-door beggars are moonlighting; a so-called “second job” from their off ramp gig.

I cringe each time I walk up to the front door of my local Vons to find a card table with a coffee can on top. I know what’s coming; a determined person with a perpetual smile blurting out their pitch, often unintelligible, followed with a guilt-intended, “God bless you.”

I’ve tried talking with them, asking for more information but no one can produce as much as a brochure or website, legitimizing my suspicion that they are in fact pan handlers.

Some stores, however, discourage solicitors. Other establishments have all but banned them, including the Salvation Army and Girl Scouts. I think that's sad.

Rather than ignore the swindlers, I sometimes ask if they take Visa; that usually thwarts their effort and answers their question. And with a wink and a smile, I continue into the store.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rising at Friendship Park

Clumsily, he emerged from his dirty PT Cruiser and staggered toward the Korean Friendship Bell in San Pedro. The man wasn’t drunk; rather he was squinting through sun’s light at a kite fluttering overhead. He gazed at the kite, wearing a smile from ear to ear as he continued to stumble over a curb and clumps of grass.

I recognized the gray, pony tailed man as a free-spirit (from my Venice Beach days). I noticed what looked like a chicken bone on the band of his felt hat. He also sported a few other bones as well as a Donald Duck button with “Party” written along side. The aroma of burned white sage permeated his clothes. White sage is used by spiritualists to ward off evil spirits.

I introduced myself as he wiped the sweat from his forehead and extended his hand. He pausing for a moment and introducing himself as, “Rising of the Sun,” followed with a mumble, “Yes, that’s me, Rising of the Sun.”

Again, Rising looked up at the kite and marveled at its beauty. He lowered his sunglasses, took a deep breath, and sighed, “Isn’t this a wonderful place?”

I asked if his collection of charms around his neck had meaning. He raised his hand to a bracelet illustrating all the world religions. He said he tries to be a good Christian but believes in all the religions.

“You see, my father is Aztec and my mother is Cherokee and Shoshone,” Rising explained. “I was brought up near this park, and as kids, we used to think we would fall off the edge of the grass into the ocean if we got to close.” He laughed out loud, and like a cowboy after a long dusty ride, he lifted his water bottle to his lips, took a long slurping swig and continued his walk to the Friendship Bell.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Death at the Dairy

A cow leaves her stillborn calf to the flies...

... and quickly moves on with her life.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ice Cream and School

The last days of summer—what a sad time it was as a kid. The thought of going “back to school” used to send chills down my back. No one likes school, do they? As a kid, the Back to School ads depressed me. The JC Penny and Sears ads seemed to run around the time I finally got acclimated to summer. Gone are the days of freedom, roller skating all day, trips to the beach, and of course my birthday season.

Although school was anything but a joy in my life, I do look back at the first day of school as an exciting time. The thrill of the new classroom, meeting the new teacher, new friends and the scent of new books was not all that bad now that I think about it. Remember the smell of the blue, freshly-printed mimeograph paper?

Today at Bethany church, the kids graduated to their new Sunday school classes. Awards were given, a stimulating curriculum announced and new faces introduced. The primary-aged kids were all smiles. Afterward, a special ice cream fest was given for the kids and adults to help kick-off the new season.

Full-size scoops of vanilla were piled high in white, styrofoam bowls. An assortment of rich sauces and bright shining cherries tantalized the wide-eyed kids as they created their own masterpiece and slurped up the sugary dessert in the hot morning sun. Oh, what to be a kid again! But then again, there’s school to deal with….

Monday, August 25, 2008

Acceptable Devices While Camping

The packing list did not include an MP3 player, nor did it list any electronic gadgets. I brought my iPod because I am an adult and can make that decision on my own. Plus I will be alone in my tent and I have ear buds. I do have the Bible, Focus and Hillsong sermons occupying a few gigs on my device so that must count for something…

I ended up only listening a few minutes while going to sleep the first night (and not to any of the three selections above). I woke the next morning feeling refreshed and enjoying the sounds of birds and kids splashing in the many trout ponds. Campers in nearby sites stood over their stoves flipping bacon and making coffee. This is camping.

Walking towards the restrooms, a blue glow radiated from one of the camp site tables. A family brought their TV and the kids were playing games at 7:30am. I marveled at the nerve of those people bringing a TV camping with them—especially when there is no signal, cable or satellite dish. They could not go a weekend without their games?


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lessons Learned at Summer Camp

Not all my memories of camp were happy. My first experience was a boy’s camp; there were no girls. At eight years old, girls were not supposed to matter, but they did. Nevertheless, my first day at Green Oak Boys Ranch I rode a horse and quickly learned I was highly allergic. Soon after, I lost my Bible and discovered my best friend found a new buddy and I was on my own. I bought a rabbit pelt for 25 cents and it became my muse for the weekend.

When I was a little older, I went to a camp that finally had girls! There was a pool with cold water and bathrooms below in a "dungeon," under the pool.

As a day-camp, we brought our own lunches, lovingly prepared by our Moms. One morning, one of the boys didn’t bring his lunch and Mary Ann, our leader, made an announcement at the front of the bus: she asked if someone would share their lunch. I remember a cold wave of selfishness engulfed me as I slipped down below the sweaty, green seats of the bus. I didn’t want to share. I remember one of the not-so-cool kids offering her lunch and I immediately felt convicted. Some how, and for some reason, that skinny little girl with glasses became “cool” in my eyes and equally as cute! I later offered my apple to the lunch-less boy, making sure that she noticed.

Big Rock Creek Camp , I believe, is that same camp. It has been over 30 years since I was a camper there. I remember many of the camp’s features, especially the pool and the “dungeon.” This weekend I was very content being alone, at least in my tent. Although I know many of you, I did enjoy meeting new people and making new friends. No need for a rabbit fur, I had my camera!

Now that we are all back from the weekend, I can’t help but reflect on my days as a kid at camp and what a wonderful time I had this weekend.

I brought back with me a conviction, much like the one I had from not sharing my sandwich. There was no shortage of lunches or material supplies; rather, there were missed opportunities to give of myself. I choose to spend time with people I knew; one might say my “best friends” for that weekend. I probably missed out on meeting more people, learning their stories and making both of our camp experiences more enjoyable.

In some ways I wish I could get a “do-over,” and spend time with those who kindly introduced themselves to me. The good news is I will see them again, most likely this Sunday. There is no reason why camp cannot continue.

Another lesson I think we all learned: leave your food in the car because “Mama” and her cubs are watching....

Thank you everyone for a great experience. I look forward to next time!

Photos from the weekend Click here

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Happy Hour Now Serving Vino

Although the Happy Hour Backpacking group is not even six-months old, its history is rooted in Heineken. Each Wednesday night, our fearless leader would haul up a mini keg and graciously distributed foamy plastic cups of brew to the well-deserved hikers.

Over time, people began bringing other forms of spirits to help compliment the miscellaneous finger foods atop Echo Mountain.

Recently, the beer was replaced by wine. The selection of wines sparked a new
enthusiasm for both newbie’s and connoisseurs alike.

Last night, people began bringing their own favorite wines. Jubilant trekkers toasted to friendship and the sunset with the sound of acrylic wine glasses clashing in the warm August air. Talks of varietals, regions and makers engaged many as they stood overlooking the twinkling lights of Pasadena.

The ambiance of tradition is real, yet each week there are different people and serendipitous experiences. Like the wines we take pleasure in, our group is an ideal example of diversity, complexity and good taste.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stiff Competition

Mannequins fascinate me. Like clowns, they rarely imitate reality. Why then do they demand our attention, especially the female mannequin not wearing a..., you know. It must be a guy thing.

LA's garment district is littered with those female mannequins cut off at the waist; the ones with long legs and the J. Lo back sides. They look forged but they are quite effective. What woman wouldn’t want one of those behinds?

Then there are the plaster dummies that inspire us; they encourage passersby to purchase their outfits, go on that vacation or at least start working out again. Are we supposed to measure ourselves by them? Oh, and you know those sexy mannequins in the window at Victoria’s…? Come on guys, you know it's weird but you still look.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Happy Hour Hikes

For years, if I didn’t have a buddy to hike with me, I went by myself. I have hundreds of miles logged solo, mostly because I couldn’t find anyone to pack up at the "11th hour."

A few months ago I was hiking up Sam Merrill Trail—alone—and came across a group of enthusiastic hikers. The group of about 20 were sharing food and drink on the ruins of the “White City” hotel on Echo Mountain. It was sunset. As a joke, I pretended to be part of the group by throwing up my arms and announcing, “I made it.” I was immediately offered a beer, a glass of wine and aged cheddar. Within minutes, I was taken in and officially one of them.

The weeks following, I attended a few of the’s “Happy Hour Backpacking”. They meet at the top of Lake Avenue, about two hours before sunset each Wednesday night. They hike three miles to the top of Echo Mountain and share food and drink. After an evening of conversation with the city's lights as a backdrop, the Happy Hour group packs up, switches on their headlamps and in single file, march down the hill.

The Zion Loop

Today, we did a ten-mile loop into Big Santa Anita Canyon via the historic Gabrielino Trail to Sturtevant Camp, Mt. Zion and Heogees Camp.

Like always, the group is as diverse as it is fun. Good people who truly enjoy the out of doors.

We met at the bottom of the hill and car-pooled up to Chantry. There, we met up with Dana and we began our hike down into the canyon. Our first stop was Sturtevant Falls, then on up the trail, past a couple miles of cascading streams to Stuertevant Camp.

Chris, the camp host, took us on a tour of the 100-year old retreat center. His friends, Dennis, joined us as we toured the kitchen as well as the old ranger station; one of the first and oldest in the USA.

After lunch, and after a little exposition from the personal trainers, we packed our bags and headed up and over Mt. Zion to Hoegees Camp where we took

off our shoes and cooled our feet in the crystal-clear water of Winter Creek.

Three miles back to where we started nearly six hours earlier!

So, it looks like my solo hiking days are thwarted….

Photos from the hike

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why D40?

An admirer asked the famous photographer, “Where did you get the camera that took those great photos? The photographer replied, “The same store Shakespeare bought his pen.”

Why the Nikon D40 and not the D80, D300 or D3? I would like to own one of the latter three because in many ways they would help make my life easier and heck, they have cool features. I chose Nikon’s “entry-level” Digital SLR because I was once told that “it’s the eye behind the lens that makes great pictures, not the camera.”

The D40 is my way of hopefully living out that philosophy, while saving a few thousand dollars at the same time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New member on the used car lot

With gas prices nearing $5 bucks a gallon, it seems the simple transport gets the corner spot on the used lot. Hey, 117 mpg; not bad! I filled my Vespa up last weekend. I had to break a twenty, but I was still able to buy dinner, tip the waiter and had enough change to add weight to my rainy day jar. I’m good for another six months of scooting around town, baby. So, how much for the red sled…?
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Back in the 60s (not to be confused with the 1860s or the future), our family used to visit the Pasadena Sears. The four used to walk in through the rear entrance of the store next to the batteries and tires which, gave off a pungent, rubber odor. We usually had a specific item to look for so we didn’t waste much time. However, the hardware gauntlet of temptation would catch Dad’s attention giving Mom a good excuse to sneak peeks in the women's section.

The smell of tires quickly turned to the aroma of popcorn and chewing gum. The ever familiar soft chime of the elevator was a dead give-away that we were in America’s department store!

Sears was a special place for us kids because they had everything: color TVs, stereos, cool toys, everything a kid could ask for.

Over the years Sears became the stepchild of the department store chains. Wal-Mart, Target and the big electronics store made Sears somewhat of a joke.

While out on the road, I noticed a Sears. The sign was fading, the landscaping was a month or two overgrown and Old Glory was tattered and tired. A sad sight.
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Friday, June 27, 2008

The 1986 Photo Tease

My family teased each other a lot. I knew how to invoke a reaction from my little sister; I simply whispered, "Witchy Poo." Those were fightin' words. It took a lot to get me to react but I became a master at touching nerves and rattling emotional cages. I was taunted as well, and eventually learned to laugh at myself. Then I discovered the "lens."

During collage I discovered photography. An embarrassing shot at the right moment creates “special moments” that potentially last for ever.

In `84, I bought a 1972 VW Westfalia. Despite its problems, I loved that van. The engine had to be replaced as well as much of the interior but it gave me a project. My friends and I drove that white bus everywhere, spreading peace, love and Pennzoil from San Francisco to San Diego and the entire span of the Mojave Desert. We spent an average of two weekends a month for a few years camping mostly on the sides of dirt roads, desert alluviums and crowded parking lots—anywhere free. It was then I began experimenting with candid camera shots.

In 1984 I began working as a writer and photographer for an off-road publisher. During that time I learned about photography from the pros. I learned how to take photos that sell. One rule is to be different; to catch people off guard. I also learned not to count to “three” and shoot—start shooting when they are least expecting. And if they insist on saying “cheese,” take the shot and then a few more. Those will be the keepers. That helps eliminate the dreadful "Polaroid pose" and allows the camera to capture a person’s true personality whether they like it or not.

So with that, we always took a few shots at each other looking our worst or making a face. Those photos are some of my favorites. I cannot speak for my friends.

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