San Diego, day 4


We hadn’t planned any activities for Monday, and with a 6pm departure we had all day to get to LAX. So we avoided the interstate where we could, and stuck to the coast.

We hit the road after a leisurely breakfast and spent some quality time in SoCal traffic. It must be soul crushing to endure this every day. Even with the cost of living so much higher there,  people seem to be able to spend a bit more on their cars. Perhaps that’s a strategy that helps deal with that traffic. We had a Tesla S behind us for quite a while, a nice Bentley passed us, two or three brand new Jags. I caught a quick glimpse of an Alfa 4C and wished I’d gotten a better look. I hadn’t seen one in the flesh before. Very pretty car.

We abandoned the interstate and exited rush hour traffic at Torrey Pines. From here to Oceanside, where Camp Pendleton forces us back onto I-5, the road varies from divided four lane to busy two lane as it rises and falls at each of a half dozen estuaries. Commuter rail runs alongside the road for long stretches as well. For the most part, there isn’t much ocean view except when descending into the estuaries where you get a good view of the beach. It was all very nice, clean, and pretty much all high-rent district.

You have to take the interstate for a while but we wanted off as quickly as possible. Our desire to avoid the interstate led us to a dead end at a beach before we finally got exited into San Clemente on El Camino Real, the Royal Road. In Dana Point, we finally get to the southern end of Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. We got a kick out of the street names here – Golden Lantern, Street of the Violet Lantern, Amber Lantern, Ruby Lantern, Blue Lantern.

After Dana Point, it’s Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, Long Beach. (Fun note: the spell checker doesn’t like “Laguna” and suggests “gulag”.) The farther south you are, the more unique the businesses are. For a long time, we didn’t see any chain fast food restaurants, very few Starbucks, a couple 7-11’s. Lots of little boutiques, antique shops, surf shops.

There were quite a few places where we remarked we couldn’t imagine living in. Not just because of the high-dollar nature of the place, but the houses themselves. Particularly the houses perched at the top of cliffs. It wouldn’t take an earthquake to bring one down, a big rain like we had here recently could do it. Along great stretches, the houses between the road and the beach were jammed side by side, separated by a single gated walkway. Every couple blocks there’d be a gap for beach access. Very similar to Malibu from what I recall.

We stopped in Newport Beach for lunch, at the Newport Beach Brew Co. I had a Cobb salad and a Belgian golden ale but I forget what they called it. Insane Monkey or Crazy Monkey, something like that.

I think it’s Sunset Beach where we got a nice extended stretch with a nice ocean view. The notable feature of the view today was all the container ships standing between Santa Catalina Island and Long Beach. Genae counted 23, but she probably missed a few. And I understand there are others farther from the port. I stopped to shoot a couple pictures and chatted with a guy there. He said it wasn’t as bad as it was last time, back in 2004 or so.

IMG_1726sAt Long Beach we’re back to heavy traffic and more than a few blocks from the water. The pleasant drive beside the ocean was over now; welcome to the megalapolis. There are a lot of lane closures and in places oncoming traffic was stopped for blocks. I know the way to LAX from here. We went the entire distance without navigational assistance except when we decided to find somewhere to eat lunch. I’m not sure whether to feel proud or sad that I know my way around LA as well as I do.

The rental car place was on Century, a couple blocks west of the 405. I went east to find gas. The six block detour saved twenty cents a gallon at 2.89 (much more than we’re paying here). The rental car place is not exactly a well-oiled machine. The office is a bit on the dodgy side but that’s not a big deal – quite a few of the LAX car rental offices could use an upgrade. More telling is that they basically operate out of the alley. There’s an entrance to a multi-story garage where they also do airport parking. When you pick up the car, you have to turn it around in the alley.

We had to when we picked up the car, and when returning it had to wait for somebody else to do it. The guy that recorded the car’s mileage and fuel asked if we needed a lift to the airport. When we said “Yes”, he said he’d probably take us in the car we just returned. Instead, as there was another couple as well, he took a minivan which was obviously one of their rental fleet. I’m guessing they can’t pick us up at the airport because they lack the proper licensing. So how can they legally drop us off?

As of today, by my count, I’ve flown in and out of LAX 190 times, which is the same number as Phoenix, which blows my mind. And in all those times, this trip was my first time for both terminals 4 and 5. I was pretty impressed with terminal 4 for a while. But we were out of gate 44H. There are about a dozen gates out of 44. Here you go down a flight of stairs to a door. Shuttle buses run from here to another terminal for the little CRJs. Signs you don’t see every day: “Stop for Aircraft”.

I had my sweater in one bag and my jacket in the other. The overhead bins in the CRJ are pretty small, so they took the small rollerboard and I volunteered the duffel. I didn’t know if we’d have to go to baggage claim to fetch them. If that was the case, they might as well take both. So when the pilot announced it was 13 degrees in Denver I hoped we’d have to get them from baggage claim. But no, this was valet service, so I had to wait for them at the end of the jetway.

By now it was down to 10. The jetway isn’t heated and by the time everyone is off the plane, about fifteen of us line each side. The guy across from me says I’m about two months early to be wearing a Hawaiian shirt. He says he’ll be the last one to get his bag. I disagree, it’ll be me. The bags appear two at a time. A woman closely inspects the tag on a dull gray one but a man from up the jetway gets it. A bright green bag comes soon, the woman take it. Was she really confused which bag was hers? We’re down to six of us and the guy says “Told you I was going to be last” just before his bag arrives. I get the first one with 4 people left and the other is one of the last two. Tied for last bag! I can now put my sweater and jacket on.

Icicles broke from the bottom of the car when we got in. The snow was hard, and the ice beneath it was harder and a quarter inch thick. But it was brittle from the cold and came off the windshield quite easily. There was ice on the inside of the windshield, along the darker band at the top. That never thawed on the thirty five minute drive home.

All in all, not a bad way to spend the weekend. We traded a few days of cold and snow for, well, not exactly sunny southern California weather, but mid-60’s anyway. And we had a whale of a good time.

San Diego, day 3


We had reservations for another Hornblower cruise this morning – whale watching this time. A few weeks ago we saw a news story that said the whale migration was a bit early this year, so, not knowing any better, we were concerned the tour might be a bust. As it turns out, we saw exactly one whale.

While standing in line waiting to board, some guys in yellow jackets showed up. They were volunteers from the natural history museum. They said they have to go out on these tours at least three times a month, but some of the retired guys go much more often. They gave us short lessons on whales – baleen versus teeth, where they’re coming from and where they’re going, how we expect them to behave when we see them.

The volunteers and crew serve as lookouts, but I wonder if that was really necessary. A few miles off the coast we came across another whale tour boat and a sailboat. Word was there was a humpback in the area. Within a few minutes we saw the whale blowing and slapping her tail on the water. We don’t really know if it was a he or a she, but everybody always says “Thar she blows!” so I’ll refer to it as “she”.

IMG_1638sShe slapped her fluke on the water for quite a while, announcing to the gathering whale watchers that she was ready for her close-up. There are restrictions on how close we’re allowed to get, something like a thousand feet. That is close enough to hear her blow, but not close enough to smell her breath. Our boat stayed on her left, the other whale boat and the sailboat on her right. She’d exhale, slap her fluke a few times, then make a short dive. It was a bit hard to predict where she’d pop up next; she was moving generally westward, but along a meandering path.

IMG_1665sAfter a while, she quit slapping and started breaching. When whales are swimming in pods, the males will breach to demonstrate dominance or to attract a mate. We’re not sure why they engage in such behavior when they’re alone. We all decided she was doing this because she’s a showoff. Which suited us just fine.

She probably breached forty times. Each breach moves not only tons of whale but tons of water as well. She makes a sound a bit like a IMG_1667sgiant belly-flop, except that she’s on her back or side. This went on for quite a while, breach, breach, breach, dive; repeat a couple minutes later. It was quite a show, so not at all disappointing that we only saw one whale.

It was lunch time when we got back, so we walked over to the Fish Market Restaurant. I had the fish and chips, Alaskan cod, panko style.


Coronado Island skyline

After lunch Genae and I went to the Maritime Museum. I particularly wanted to see the HMS Surprise, having read and enjoyed all of Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin books. Of course, this wasn’t really the ship sailed by Captain Aubrey two hundred years ago but a replica built from the plans of the HMS Rose, a sail training tall ship on the East Coast. It was purchased by 20th Century Fox, then extensively modified to become the Surprise for the move Master and Commander: Far Side of the World.

The Museum also has the Star of India (the oldest active merchant sailing ship in the world), a Soviet Foxtrot class submarine, the USS Dolphin (the US Navy’s last diesel-electric sub), and several others.



We could have easily spent an additional couple hours there as they have a lot to see. We concentrated on the Star of India, the Surprise, the B-39, and the Dolphin. We took a quick look through the exhibits aboard the Berkeley, a ferryboat from San Francisco bay. It’s loaded with large, detailed models of all sorts of ships. Those models are incredible.

I found the Star of India and the Surprise fascinating but I don’t really know anything about sailing vessels. There was a docent on the Surprise talking about the materials used in the rigging, but I really had no clue what he as talking about. On the other hand, I really enjoyed getting to compare the two submarines. The B-29 is a few years newer but the Dolphin is much more modern. Obviously, it’s been upgraded since it was launched in 1968 – the electronics and the microwave oven give it away. It’s a smaller boat, but doesn’t feel nearly as cramped. The Soviet sub looks almost “steam punk” in comparison, and moving through the ship was fun. The watertight doors between compartments are round and wide; going through them is a bit like getting in and out of the Elise. Oh, and we looked through the periscopes on both subs.

When making our way to the Dolphin, we chatted briefly with crew members of the America. The America is an America’s cup boat. I’m not sure if it’s a replica of the original America’s cup winner from 1851 or if it’s a later design. This boat was just tying up at the dock, returned from whale watching. They had heard about our humpback and tried to follow it but arrived too late.

It started raining just as we left and stopped by the time we got to the car. It rained just long enough and just hard enough to soak us thoroughly. We collected the folks and made our way back to their motel where we said our goodbyes.

For dinner we went to Pizza Bella for dinner. Their menu claims they were voted “Best Pizza in the World”. I don’t know who did the voting. It was good pizza, but falls short of Beau Jo’s. As usual, I managed spread molten sauce all over the roof of my mouth, burning it badly. So it goes.

San Diego, day 2


IMG_1477sWe didn’t have any specific plans for the day, but we had a list of possibilities. The only constraint was that our activities should have minimal walking, as my mom’s mobility is somewhat restricted.

We stopped by their motel a bit after nine and after discussing the possibilities decided to do a two-hour harbor tour in the morning and visit the Cabrillo National Monument in the afternoon.

Littoral Combat Ship

Littoral Combat Ship

The weather was on the cool side and overcast. The first part of the tour is a loop of the northern half of the harbor. We passed the boats of the San Diego Maritime Museum (the Star of India, the HMS Surprise, a Soviet submarine), the live bait barges and their attendant sea lions sunning themselves, and the submarine pens below Point Loma. A small flotilla of pleasure craft raced ahead of us, exiting the harbor. We turned around and concentrated on Naval Air Station North Island.

IMG_1538sThe USS Ronald Reagan, CVN-76, is berthed there undergoing repairs and refitting. It was in the same place last time we visited the area, ten or twelve years ago. (How long has it really been? I was still using a film camera at the time).

The tour boat went back to the dock to disembark the folks who only bought the one hour tour and load up another set of folks for the southern harbor loop. This loop took us under the San Diego

US Naval Ship Bob Hope (T-AKR-300)

US Naval Ship Bob Hope (T-AKR-300)

Coronado bridge to Naval Base San Diego. I can identify the various classes of naval ships of World War II and describe their purpose and function. But modern naval vessels are a mystery to me, slab-sided, opaque, lacking obvious armament. But we did get to see a couple of helicopter aircraft carriers, a supply ship described as the Costco of the sea, a littoral combat ship (tri-hull, angular, loaded with stealthy attributes) and the Sea Slice, an experimental ship built by Lockheed which seems to be available for purchase.

Sea Slice - experimental littoral ship

Sea Slice – experimental littoral ship

Back on shore, we made a quick visit to Tuna Harbor Park. This little park is directly south of the Midway Museum. It attracted my attention because of the giant sculpture of the kiss – that famous photo of the sailor and nurse kissing on V. E. day. It’s called “Unconditional Surrender”. Also in the park is a set of statues – Bob Hope and an audience of fifteen life-sized bronze sculptures. Pretty cool.

After this, we piled back into the car and headed to Coronado Island

The Kiss

The Kiss

for lunch. We made our way to the Brigantine Seafood restaurant, across the street from the Hotel del Coronado. I couldn’t decide which fish to eat and ended up with their Steakhouse Burger – Grass fed California beef, smoked wild boar bacon, tomatoes, chopped lettuce, blue cheese, caramelized onions, white truffle-black pepper aioli. Yes, it’s wrong to have a burger at a good seafood place, but so it goes.

Next we headed to Point Loma and the Cabrillo National Monument. Ideally, we’d be there during low tide and wander through the tidal pools searching for sea urchins and starfish. The tides weren’t right, the parking lot was full, and my mom wouldn’t have been able to make it down to the water anyway.

So we went to the visitors center, enjoyed the view of the harbor and city to the east and the

Bob Hope entertains the troops

Bob Hope entertains the troops

ocean to the west. The folks watched a short film about whales while Genae and I went to the lighthouse. There, we found a docent, or perhaps not actually a docent but someone dressed in period garb, knowledgeable in the lighthouse and its times. We had a nice little chat. His character wasn’t the lighthouse operator IMG_1611sbut a newspaperman.

I asked if he felt isolated there. “Look around you – there are lots of people!” He told us that in 1887, many folks would visit the lighthouse on Saturdays and Sundays, make a day of it. I asked if the water catchment basin provided a sufficient supply and he described the effort required to bring water from the nearest spring. Next I asked if he was a Cleveland man or Harrison man. He enjoyed the question, being in actuality not a newspaperman from 1887 but a former fifth grade history teacher.

We left the lighthouse and wandered along the paths. Past the old WW II gun emplacements, to the ocean overlooks decorated with a whale’s spine and kelp, to a nice view of the new Point Loma lighthouse. On the way back to the visitor center we stopped at a small blockhouse holding exhibits of the shore defenses – a 155mm artillery shell, a cross-section of the howitzer’s barrel showing the rifling, binoculars and telescopes used for spotting.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

By now we’d managed to wear out my parents. We dropped them off at their motel and returned to ours. We’re in Old Town, so after a short rest we took a walk and looked for an interesting Mexican restaurant. We found ourselves at Café Coyote. I had enchiladas – one beef and one guacamole. I’d never heard of a guacamole enchilada before. Like the dinner in general, it was okay but nothing to write home about. That’s the thing about Mexican restaurants – it’s pretty easy to find average food but above average is fairly rare.

After dinner we walked up and down the streets of Old Town. Lots of Mexican restaurants, a few bars, a number of stores selling trinkets and souvenirs of the area. Kitschy stuff we’d never buy, but didn’t mind browsing.

San Diego, day 1

Back in December it was obvious I wouldn’t be flying USAir before my miles would expire at the end of February, so we needed to use them or lose them. We considered all the big west coast cities and picked Seattle until we realized the only flight we had enough points for was an overnighter. So we went with Plan B: San Diego. My parents like to go there so we suggested they meet us there. And we timed the weather perfectly, missing a big winter storm at home.


Up at 5:30 and out of the house a few minutes before six. Bad traffic on I-270 cost us twenty minutes, but we arrived at the gate only a few minutes behind my target time, no worries. Our first flight was DEN to PHX. There were two youth soccer teams aboard and the flight was noisy. Not because the kids were loud, but because the two chaperones in the row behind us were the loudest people on the plane.

We had a short layover before our flight to LAX. Not long enough to grab a meal, but enough to grab a snack. This was a quick flight, about an hour gate to gate. We were out at the waiting area for the rental car shuttles a few minutes after noon. We watched patiently as Hertz, Avis, Enterprise shuttles went by. Waited more – Alamo, Fox, Budget. I asked one of the drivers what color van Economy Rent-A-Car uses. Never saw one. I got the phone out and searched for Economy. Panicked a bit when the nearest one according to Google was 38 minutes away. Went to the info desk where they gave us a phone number and told us to take the parking shuttle to lot C and call for the shuttle there.

I wasn’t sure why Economy didn’t run shuttles to the airport like all the others. They’re on Century Blvd like most of the others, and they’ll drop us at the terminal when we return, so why not pick up customers there as well?

So we were running a bit later than hoped. The plan was to meet a friend at the In-N-Out in Costa Mesa at something like 1:30. By then we were getting fairly hungry: skipped breakfast, had a snack at about eleven, and it was actually 2:30 for us rather than 1:30 because of the time change.

We had told my folks it would take us a couple hours to get down to San Diego. We didn’t account for lunch, and we certainly didn’t account for southern California traffic. After lunch we followed the smart phone’s navigation instructions which put us on a toll road. Because we didn’t opt for the express pass for the rental car, we decided it best to avoid the toll road. So we turned around intending to take the 405 south but, typical for the area, that was not an option. We ended up making a u-turn in front of the In-N-Out after driving eight or ten miles.

So we finally arrived at the hotel in Old Town a bit after five. We called my folks, found our way to their motel, and from there to the Bali Hai restaurant. This is a Hawaiian themed seafood place on Shelter Island. Our table had a beautiful view of the harbor, the San Diego skyline brightly lit, mirrored in the water. I had the braised swordfish (with grilled orange, forbidden rice, and black pepper sauce). It was delicious. And all the waiters were dressed like me!

The Rental Car

The car this trip is new to me, a Chrysler 200. I found much of its operation alien. No gear selector in the console, must be on the tree. What I thought was a skinny shift lever was instead a fat windshield wiper control. I didn’t so much put it in drive as turn on the wipers and spray the washer fluid. The gear selector is a knob. As is common now, there’s a fob with no key. Keep the fob in your pocket, press the brake, push the button and the car starts. I found it unnatural to pocket the fob. I’ve driven cars for forty years and I’ve always had a key and I’ve never changed gears with a knob.

It spends quite a bit of time shifting. It’s a nine speed automatic. You’re in third by the time you hit 15 or 18, sixth at 40. This is just cruising around; I didn’t put my foot to the floor the entire four days. Quite often the shifts were pretty harsh. The brakes were good, but kind of touchy.

The back seat passengers hit their heads every time they got in the car, even when warned “watch your head!” I’m a bit too tall for the car. With the seat all the way back, the pedals were too close. This made for more fatigue on longer drives. There was no manual in the glove box and never figured out many any of the controls. Managed to mute the radio but never could turn it off. How long before I tell kids to get off my lawn?

It’s a nice car, seemingly well built (this one was brand new), and has nice lines. When I was picking everybody up once, a couple of guys said they thought it was sharp. I’m sure it would be a wonderful car for folks who only cart short people around.

Cars and Hiking

Not only was Saturday the first Saturday of the month, it was forecast to be a gorgeous day. I decided it was time for the first hike of the season, so I planned for my umpteenth hike to Emerald Lake. Being the first Saturday, it was also time for Cars & Coffee in Lafayette. As Emerald Lake is a short hike, that left me plenty of time to check out the cars before heading to the Park.

Kent showed up this time in his new BMW i8. It’s a beautiful car and drew quite a crowd. IMG_1455s IMG_1458s

For some time I’ve considered taking the Chrysler instead of the Lotus. That’s sort of a joke, but only sort of. I still think they’re one of the better looking cars produced in the last few decades. But mine is starting to look rough around the edges. The clear coat is starting to peel off one of the repairs. But not a bad looking car for going on 16 years old.

Just after Kent rolled in with the i8, I saw a 300M show up. His is a 2000 (mine’s a 1999). He’s entered it into a number of shows and won some awards. He takes real pride of ownership, in spite of telling me he’s had all sorts of problems with it. As mine is finally starting to exhibit problems other than cosmetic, we chatted a bit about possible solutions to my undiagnosed problems. I may have to see if he’s willing to give me an assist on my repairs. Anyway, it was good to see the 300M represented.

As for the hike, not much to tell. I’ve done that hike dozens of time. Saturday, the wind was fierce at the lake. I was prepared to shoot a time lapse, but it was just too windy to sit there for any length of time. I made my way back to Nymph Lake for my picnic. The Park was quite crowded. From Nymph to Dream, I take the “winter route” while most take the summer route. There is one place where I can see hikers on that trail from below. There were about thirty people in a line, all within arms length of each other.

In spite of the crowds and the wind, it was good to get back on the trail after a few months off.

Last Week’s HPR Video

I’m not the most creative guy when it comes to putting these track videos together. I have three basic types – a lap, a highlights reel, and ‘passing fancy’. This time I opted for the latter – nothing but making passes and getting passed. Every pass from all three sessions.

When I was driving, I never realized I was ever more than fifth car in line. But studying the tape, I see I was 18th in line at one point. That’s a lot of cars on track. I also couldn’t help but notice that every time I make a mistake, it messes me up for three turns. Something to work on.

Obviously, passing cars is more fun than getting passed. I admit to enjoy passing Corvettes and Mustangs, BMWs and Acuras. But for some unknown, irrational reason I really get a kick out of passing Porsches. Boxsters, 911s, 944s, doesn’t matter. I really like passing Porsches.

Eiskhana Images

Got the results of the timed laps. Twelve cars were registered in my class (non-Porsche, non-studded, 2wd). One was a no-show, three ran the course once, and eight ran twice. That’s 19 runs. Mine were 11th and 12th fastest, so mediocre would be an improvement. The video is from the untimed course, my only run with any drama.

I only shot about a dozen pictures on Saturday. Only managed on of Doug, but the lighting was bad. So it’s just white Porsches and an FF.

IMG_1443s IMG_1445s IMG_1450s