Monday, August 23, 2010

Slowing down?

Going Over Sixty has slowed down a bit (with a promise to get more active). The beginning of the semester, which sat like a two-ton elephant on our doorstep on our return from California, demanded our attention.

Above the usual tugs and pulls of a new semester came this surprise on Sunday: Police showed up at the relocated Kansan newsroom, ordering everyone out unless they possessed a key to the building. That left but about three people, so no hope of getting a paper out unless order was restored.

The police had been sent by someone who apparently didn't like that the door had been propped open to let young UDK staffers in. The police officer told the Kansan staffers, all of those sans keys, which was most of 'em, to leave the premises immediately or face arrest for "criminal trespass." They left.

I arrived shortly thereafter and summoned the young journalists back to the newsroom (though some remained skittish about the prospects of being arrested).

I told 'em they'd have to take me first.

The rest of the night was quiet, and today, after a conversation with the campus police chief, a promise came of no more threats of arrest.

I may be slowing down (at least as it comes to my posts on this blog), but life is still damned interesting. And I'm thankful for that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A five-star surprise...

Groveland, Calif., is literally a wide spot in the road, without even a traffic light (or, at least, any we encountered). We headed there to spend the night at the Groveland Hotel so we could slip into Yosemite the next day.

The Groveland Hotel is old, having been a viable establishment since the mid-19th century, at times with a bevy of "working girls." (None encountered this trip.) The porch boards creak, the doors are weathered, and the paint less than pristine. It was great!

More B&B than hotel, the Groveland features, along with the traditional numbers, rooms with the names of local personalities from the past. The room across from ours is advertised as being haunted because a local leader with some notoriety had died in the room. (We ran into a couple of Brits who had stayed in the room for three nights, but they saw no ghostly spirits. "We may ask for our money back," one said.)

Our room, "Just Juanita," celebrated a young woman back in the mining days who was hanged from a nearby bridge for killing a man who was attacking her. Her arguments of self defense didn't sway the mob who thought more of the miner than poor Juanita. Jaded history aside, the room was comfortable, in a Victorian way, and sans TV, which allowed for a quiet evening of cribbage and romance.

On our arrival earlier that afternoon, we had slipped next door to the Iron Door Saloon, the first saloon in California, we were told, for a beer (Malcolm) and marguerita (Joyce). At dinnertime, we returned, but we found the menu mostly burger-ish. We wanted something a bit more enticing with a more serene ambiance, so we ambled back to the Groveland Hotel for the fare in its dining room, the Cellar Door. (Guess "Door" names play well in these parts.)

To our surprise, it turned out to be one of our most pleasing dining experiences ever -- yep, ever! (And this from two people who take eatin' seriously and who have dined in some pretty fancy places.) Truly, it was exquisite, a word I've seldom used to describe a dining experience.

We started with martinis (and, no, that did not influence our use of "exquisite"). Joyce had grilled pesto shrimp in lemon oil on a bed of parmesan grits with garlic spinach. I had a 4 oz. filet mignon with truffle mashed potatoes and crisp vegetables in a green peppercorn sauce and, because of the irresistible lure of garlic, a side of the garlic spinach. Not only delectable, but reasonable. Joyce's was $19, mine $16, plus $4 for that extra touch of garlic spinach.

Did I mention the martinis? They were reasonable (and exquisite), too.

We'll be back to the Groveland for both the ambiance and the food.

And the martinis.

Twice the time, but pleasure squared...

Taking the "rush" out of travel can provide unexpected rewards. Our trip to Yosemite provided ample proof.

Before leaving Alameda for what normally would be a two-and-a-half-hour trip to a gateway to Yosemite, Groveland, Calif., we decided to program the Garmin to avoid highways, toll roads and traffic. Wise move. And not just because California freeways are a lot like white water rafting (an attraction at Yosemite) -- frenetic maneuvering to avoid catastrophe separated by long periods of slow progress (or, in the case of the California freeways even when it's not rush hour, no movement at all).

Ms. Garmin (her affectionate name when she sends us to nice places; at other times her name begins with a "b") took us through neighborhoods we'd never have seen, each with a personality of its own with quirks of architecture (and, even, one with a Kansas Street and another, on the way back home, with a Topeka Street). We were greeted with store signs in seemingly more languages than found in a Rosetta Stone catalog. Individually and collectively, it was a billboard for what America is (and should be): a place for everyone, no matter your birthright or what word you utter for "freedom."

Leaving the city, Ms. Garmin sent us into the hills, where it literally gave a new meaning to the word serpentine. Braking became an life-saving adventure, and 25 miles per hour felt like 70 in the straw-hued hills dotted with blotches of green, stubby trees. The vistas reminded me of those celebrated by one of my favorite artists, Slava Brodinsky, a Russian-born Israeli citizen whose favorite scenes are the rolling hills of Tuscany. (Check it out at if you'd like a better idea.)

We then headed into the flatlands of the San Joaquin Valley, where we encountered fields of vegetables, groves of walnut trees, and double-trailered trucks piled high with tomatoes, which would hop out of the truck, as though to escape the cannery's fate, with every bump encountered.

Flatland soon gave way to the hills that grew into mountains, with more twisting and turning amid breathtaking sights. And all on two-lane blacktops.

That got us to our destination, the historic Groveland Hotel (more on that soon) in Groveland, gateway to Yosemite. A two-and-a-half-hour trip in five hours, but one filled with wonder and surprise.

Slowing down and taking your time can make many experiences richer. It did for us.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Getting there...

I kid that Joyce and I are travel sluts. We'll go anywhere. Have passport; will travel.

We love going "to" places. But destinations are just half the lure because, often, we don't even know where we'll end up. It's the travel of travel that we tend to enjoy just as much.

On our bucket list are two trips once time permits: the first, a repeat of the freighter trip I took from Brooklyn to Cape Town in 1971; the second, the trans-Siberian railway trip from Moscow to Vladivostok (where we have a friend).

This past week, in our trip to the San Francisco Bay area, we avoided what has now become the dreaded airport experience for the Amtrak station in Lawrence. Not too long after midnight, the #3 rolled into Lawrence. Joyce and I lugged our luggage (with no removal of shoes, belts, etc.) a few steps onto the Southwest Chief's sleeper car, where our accommodations -- a compact but comfortable roomette -- were ready and waiting with clean linens on the well-made bunks.

The rockin' and rollin' of the coach and the frequent song of the train whistle (one of Joyce's favorite sounds) literally served as cradle and lullaby.

The next day was filled with leisure, changing landscape, a terrific thunder-and-lightning show that lasted for hours outside Flagstaff, Arizona, and palatable, even enjoyable, dining experiences.

Late that second night, the cradle and lullaby greeted us again.

Fifteen minutes early into L.A. that morning, we then waited two hours for the highly anticipated (and recommended) Coast Starlight to take us to Oakland. The Coast Starlight, after an hour or so of L.A. suburbs, offers what has to be one of the most alluring train experiences anywhere. The Coast Starlight cuddles the beaches and bluffs of the California coast for hours, literally coming mere yards from the waterline at times. We sat for hours in the observation car just simply looking, each turn of the track providing a view unique to the previous and the next.

Disembarking at Oakland, just a few minutes from our son's apartment in Alameda, a lament crept in: the flight home. Alas, the airport awaits.

For the trip home, the travel of travel will have lost its lure for the moment.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

King of Spices

A TV chef, whose name and recipe escapes me but not his sage advice, was tossing in healthy pinches of diced garlic. Pinch. Toss. Pinch. Toss. Pinch. Toss.

"You can never have too much garlic," he said, as he tossed in another pinch. Then another.

My sentiments exactly.

As some of you may know, I was once sent home from 3rd grade with a note from my teacher to my mother. It said, "Please do not feed Malcolm so much garlic."

We ignored the request.

I cook with garlic often. It finds its way into just about everything I cook, including scrambled eggs.

Last night, Joyce and I, along with our son, Ian, and his girlfriend, Andrea, were in garlic heaven. We ate at The Stinking Rose in San Francisco. From appetizer to dessert, everything garlic -- except, regretfully, the beer.

Which begs the question (given that, as you know, I relish, savor, celebrate good beers):

Why no garlic beer?

P.S.: I have found a recipe for garlic beer at Hmmm.