Frank Fairfield’s folk (and Margaret Axelrod’s too)

I dropped into Claremont’s Folk Music Center Saturday evening to let them know my Joan Baez column would be in the next day’s newspaper, and they said, “Are you here for the concert?” Er, concert? Frank Fairfield and Meredith Axelrod would be performing in a few minutes.

I had seen Fairfield once before, an instore at Rhino Records in the same block maybe five years ago, and in fact had just seen his name about an hour before as I read about the “American Epic” PBS show and recordings, to which he contributed. And here he was.

So I stayed for the first half, as the duo performed folk and pop tunes from the early 20th century, “Down on the Brandywine” and “Frankie and Johnny” among them. I liked it. Fairfield seems more natural and relaxed than the Dock Boggs enthusiast he was that other time I saw him; maybe he’s internalized the music in the interim. Axelrod was winning too.

I counted 28 in the audience, all of us on folding chairs, and it’s a treat to hear live music in such cozy quarters. The duo joked around and took their time, and audience members interacted with them a bit too. (I’d have stayed for the whole show, but given that I hadn’t intended on seeing a concert, I was desperate for food.)

Fairfield will be in Tuesday’s “American Epic” episode.

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Column: Joan Baez’s Claremont ties involve folk(s), famous cover

Photo of Baez performing in 1973 via Wikimedia Commons

In a way, Sunday’s column on Joan Baez has been 15 years in the making, if you count that in 2002, a list in the Courier of celebrities with a Claremont connection began this way: “Joan Baez — folk musician, lived in Claremont with family for a year.” That was vague, and as it turns out inaccurate, but it piqued my curiosity.

A few other pieces of information came my way slowly, including a mention in a book I read last October, “Another Side of Bob Dylan.” In May, though, after being reminded via an interview that Baez was inducted a month earlier into the Rock Hall, a light bulb went off and I realized this would be the perfect time to delve into the topic.

What followed was a month of research in between other columns: contact with various Claremont Colleges officials and a Honnold-Mudd librarian, two interviews, a few dead-ends, the purchase of an album at Rhino Records, internet searches, a query to a Claremont nostalgia Facebook group, a scroll through Courier microfilm for 1960 and 1991 at the Claremont Public Library, a never-answered email to Baez’s publicist (oh well) and maybe a couple of things I’ve forgotten.

Here it is, the definitive account of Baez’s connection to Claremont. Also, the only account of Baez’s connection to Claremont. But if I was going to do it, I wanted to try to do it right. Hope you find this extra-long column of interest.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mariscos el Puerto

Mariscos el Puerto, 5599 Riverside Drive (at 13th), Chino; open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Years ago I ate Mexican food in a quaint 1920s-style gas station in Petaluma, where the seating was outdoors by the old pumps. In Chino, there’s a Mexican restaurant inside a ’60s or ’70s Texaco service station, the kind where they might have sold you candy bars, checked your fluids and put your car up on the rack for Murph to take a look-see.

A couple of foodie friends in Pomona tipped me off to Mariscos el Puerto, which specializes in food from Ensenada, largely seafood. They both liked their meals, and one later urged me: “You gotta try the gas station. It seems so wrong, but it’s so right.”

So I made a special trip and met a Chino friend for lunch. After four taquerias cycled through the building in five years, Mariscos el Puerto took it over three years ago, a sign it’s got staying power. While the gas pumps and canopy are gone, the building still resembles a gas station from the street.

Inside, you wouldn’t know it, at least not in the dining area. You order at a counter that might be original. Otherwise, it’s just a restaurant, one with colorful wall-filling murals of undersea scenes, and no Slurpee machine in sight.

I got a fish taco ($1.75), a shrimp taco ($2.29) and a limonade ($2), the latter ladled from a jug on the counter and pleasantly pulpy. The tacos were crunchy and very good. Presumably, to live up to their building’s heritage, they change the oil frequently.

My friend got a ceviche tostada ($3) and a taco. Her verdict? “Cheap. Cheap and good.”

Mariscos el Puerto is a good place to pull in, if you brake for tacos. Also, the former gas station sells beer and wine, in case you want to — wait for it — get lubricated.

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The Corona na Freeway

Heading south on the 57 Freeway from the 210 through San Dimas, you’ll see a mileage sign that may make you do a double-take — which is appropriate since it’s got a redundancy: “Corona na Fwy.”

I noticed this a while back on my first drive on that route in quite some time and thought, Did I really see that? Then last week, a local official who commutes daily on the 57 happened to email me about it.

He says Caltrans closed the offramp to the 71 (Corona) Freeway a year ago for some work and covered the exit sign. When the offramp was opened and the sign uncovered, “lo and behold, the sign read ‘Corona na Fwy.’ It looks like they put a new Corona sign over the old Corona sign, but didn’t cover the last ‘na’ in the sign underneath,” he says.

That’s the sort of attention to detail we expect from Caltrans. I wonder, though, why the new “Corona” takes up so much less room. Maybe the sign read differently, like “71 Corona Fwy”? Whatever the reason, it’s amazing, but dispiriting, that the mistake has stood there for a year, give or take.

“I keep thinking that one day some Caltrans worker will notice it and tell someone to fix it,” my source says. “But in reality I like it because every time I drive under that sign, I can’t help but giggle thinking that it is a Caltrans tribute to Sha Na Na: Coro Na Na. I also wonder if I’m the only one who notices the sign typo as I’m whizzing by at 75 mph.”

Doubtful. For one thing, traffic rarely moves that fast.

Google Street View, rather hilariously, documents the misspelling, from whence the above image came.

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Author, author

Photo: Lisa McPheron

In Chino Hills last Wednesday, 21 people gave up an evening to listen to a newspaper guy blab, a pretty good showing in the scheme of things. I talked about my career, read selections from “Pomona A to Z” and “Getting Started,” and fielded questions on all manner of subjects, from social media and libel to restaurants, politics and music. It was fun.

My friend Lisa McPheron of the Chino Hills Arts Committee, the host, introduced me and gave me a swag bag from the city. It’s almost unheard of that an actual friend as opposed to a complete stranger introduces me, so that was neat. And unprecedented was what happened at the sales table afterward, where my Pomona book outsold my new one, by a single copy. I’m happy it’s still selling.

As you can see below, from a photo I shot as I was being introduced, they were a little optimistic when they set out chairs, bless their hearts.

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Farewell, Rounds Burgers

Rather than a Restaurant of the Week today, let me say goodbye to one of my regular haunts, Rounds Burgers in Claremont, which (sob!) closes Sunday (May 28). It’s previously been subject of a RofW post, in 2013.

The fledgling chain started in Claremont and West Hollywood and expanded to Sherman Oaks and Pasadena, but WeHo and, er, SherO have closed. Is Pasadena closing too? The Claremont location appeared to change hands a couple of years ago, leading to an exodus of employees, some of whom ended up next door at the ill-fated The Rim. But I kept eating there.

I never introduced myself to the staff or sought to learn about the business. I’m writing this simply as a regular. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why I ate there so often.

It was at the south end of Claremont on Auto Center Drive, not in the Village. The burgers were good, but not my favorite. The custom order sheets could be a pain to fill out. Preferred items were dropped: first pesto mayo, which went great with the Swiss and mushroom burger I assembled, then the whole wheat bun, then the pretzel bun.

Once I had a chicken sandwich that was overcooked and rubbery, which put me off ordering it for a while; not long afterward, they phased out pineapple, a favorite topping for the sandwich.

So Rounds wasn’t perfect. But they offered coupons often, and I liked the place aesthetically. It was spacious, with high ceilings, and generally was at least half-empty. For my purposes, it offered a psychic comfort level, where I could take the Sunday paper or a book, relax for 90 minutes with a buffer zone around me, and not worry about anyone needing my table. At rare times when most of the tables were taken, there were two communal tables, often unoccupied, where I could sit in peace.

The benefits of this kind of semi-public space are not to be taken lightly.

Also, despite the shrinking menu, I belatedly found a sandwich I love: the mucho mushroom (my beloved mushroom and swiss combo), but as a turkey burger. Let me say, generally I don’t order turkey burgers, but this one had a better taste than the beef. Better for me, and better tasting? That’s rare.

Last Sunday I ate lunch at Rounds for what is likely the last time, ordering the sandwich I like, and splurging on chili cheese fries as a last hurrah. Consider this post a tribute to a fallen eatery, one where I spent many an hour. Thanks for feeding me and for the use of the space, Rounds.

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