Column: How do you break in a new car? Road trip!

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Wednesday’s column is about my vacation, from which I returned Friday. (Unless you paid attention to my Twitter feed, you wouldn’t have known I was gone, as columns and blog posts kept appearing. Neat trick, eh?) I took a road trip up to the Bay Area and back along the coast. Really nice.

Above, the CDs I brought along, atop my California road atlas. Below are a few paragraphs I cut from the column, picking up right after I respond to my friend’s comment about mp3s. I chopped ‘em for space and maybe relevancy.

A few sights along the drive up:
• A shared sign for a new shopping center in Delano has space for logos of a dozen tenants. Only two slots were filled: McDonald’s and Walmart. Well, that covers the lowest common denominators.
• “It’s Happening in Soledad,” a billboard read. Next line: “Gateway to the Pinnacles.” This left me confused where “it” was really happening, Soledad or the Pinnacles.
• Rest stops are a true blessing to the weary traveler, and a couple of the ones on the 99 in Tulare County were especially clean and modern-looking. Nice job, Caltrans. My sole complaint: California maps on display at the rest stops tend to be about water use or Spanish missions and never pinpoint where you are. Is it a secret?
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Cleaning out the glovebox

glovebox

I keep a relatively neat car, I like to think, but you can’t have a car for 12 years without a few unnecessary items accumulating. I cleaned out my car recently, prior to selling it, and was surprised by some of what I found. This photograph presents a carefully curated selection.

Clockwise from lower left: a handwritten list of Chinese restaurants on a desk calendar page from 2007; a “gold card” of unclear benefit from the Grove when I bought a computer circa 2005; one of perhaps a dozen Wet-Naps, saved but never used; a 1994-copyright Auto Club guide to emergency services; a punch card for Burger Bar in Claremont, marked once only (I didn’t really care for the meal) and now even more useless because the restaurant closed probably three years ago; an ArcLight theater card a friend pressured me to sign up for and which I never remembered to carry; a Virgin Megastore “Virgin Important Person” card for a chain that closed in 2009; a Ben and Jerry’s “Mood Magic Card,” date and purpose unknown and never used; and a keychain that came with an “Office” DVD, a miniature stapler in a miniature Jell-O mold.

What’s in your glove compartment, or what have you found in the past with embarrassment?

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Attempted interview

interviewAt Fairplex last Thursday for a Cub Scout tour of the RailGiants Train Museum, I tried interviewing Gerhard Kramer’s 7-year-old son, Elijah, with spotty results, even with dad’s help. “I liked it” was Elijah’s most pithy remark, but my attempts to get him to elaborate failed, hilariously.

Trying to keep a child’s attention and elicit a comment is among journalists’ most difficult tasks. Someone captured the moment and Kramer forwarded the photo. He commiserated: “Eventually you’ll get the hang of interviewing!” Yes, eventually.

A column on the exhibit is forthcoming next month.

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No column (sigh)

Our newspaper chain’s “content management system” was offline Thursday, and virtually offline Wednesday, which made producing the last two issues a challenge. It doesn’t seem to be back up today.

I had an items column more than half-written prior to all that, but I couldn’t access it, nor did I think I could recreate it from memory and scattered notes. Thus, no column today. It was all the editors could do to get a newspaper out, so my column’s absence wasn’t an issue. An editor managed to infiltrate the system and retrieve that column yesterday afternoon, after my deadline, as well as my draft of Sunday’s column, and emailed them to me.

It’s enough to make you wonder if we wouldn’t be better off returning to the typewriter era, when all reporters had to worry about was typewriter ribbons and correction fluid. (And their livers and lungs.)

I busied myself Wednesday writing blog posts ahead, and on Thursday by writing items on my desktop and replying to emails. In a way, I’m now a little ahead for a change, even though in another way I feel behind.

So, sorry for missing a day, and cross your fingers for Sunday’s column.

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Ol’ St. Lou

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View at a Cardinals game, May 14.

A mere three readers said they wanted to hear more about my vacation, and I can’t blame the rest of you, so I’ll limit this to my blog. St. Louis, the nearest big city when I was growing up, has a certain mystique for me, but it’s not a city too many Californians would choose as a vacation destination.

As with any big city, there are interesting things to see and do, and St. Louis is old enough (founded 1764) that some of them are quite old. This visit, in fact, I visited Cahokia Mounds, an Indian site that is thousands of years old. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a village that at its heyday, around 1250 AD, had a population of roughly 20,000, comparable in size to London or Paris of that era. (The traffic must have been terrible.) It’s also got the largest manmade earthen mound north of Mexico.

Other activities this time were more modern, at least relatively. Ted Drewes frozen custard (since 1930) and Carl’s Drive-In (since 1959) are reliably great. The Delmar Loop has been named one of America’s 10 Great Streets. And the Public Library, after a recent $70 million renovation, has been restored to its 1912 Beaux Arts glory while updated where appropriate. It may be more impressive than L.A.’s Central Library.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg that is St. Louis. Every visit I do a few new things and a few old favorites. Sometimes the new things become old favorites. There are plenty of intriguing-sounding places I still haven’t been despite numerous visits. For one, U.S. Grant’s home. Or places I want to return to, like Crown Candy Kitchen, where the 14-slice BLT has become nationally famous since my last visit; I go for the ice cream.

The moral is that you can go to almost any city of size, not just the obvious ones, and find beautiful, inspiring, tasty, fun things to do.

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