Saturday, February 27, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
it was my birthday yesterday and when asked what i wanted to do, i simply couldn't decide. we're leaving in two months. two months! and we're not just leaving on our trip, we're leaving los angeles. like mr. a-go-go said, l.a. has got some good eats and fun places to visit.
is it sad to admit that celebrations are all about food? and when you have such great choices around you, how do you choose? i feel like i need to cram them all in before we leave. you know, not just go once but go two or three times. so when i was asked i had to think. and think. and think.
would we hit the valley and get french fries at Dagla's?
or should we roam around India Sweets & Spices and get cheap veggie curries?
and i know we just had banh mi but stacey had never had banh mi and i really do love that chocolate dipped strawberry at Fosselman's.
oh wait, what about Blue Hen? they have such delicious food. organic, locally grown and all that jazz plus their turmeric fries are pretty tasty.
which made me think of pho but mr. a-go-go wouldn't be accompanying me and i feel bad getting pho without him.
switching back to sandwiches i thought maybe we should go to Porto's for cheese rolls and cubanos. Porto's also makes excellent coffee but it is so close i think i'll pick something up there next week. potato balls anyone?
i just couldn't decide so i opted to play outside of the city. sort of. instead of Dagla's or Blue hen or Ba Le, i decided we should go thrift shopping in Covina. at the magic thrift. where i scored a technicolor afghan, a handful of doilies and a bag of porcelain bunny heads (thank you stacey!).
and for lunch, since we were driving through Pasadena and i had a craving for pie, we parked ourselves at Pie 'N Burger and enjoyed a classic that rivals In N' Out any day. oh soooo good.
for dinner it was thai food ordered from a local place not a favorite but worked out fine (note to local place, you need to update your prices on your website). when you're happy with thai iced tea, sate and kang ka ree it's pretty easy to find adequate thai.
seriously l.a., i am going to miss your culinary options. big time. oh and i just remembered, why didn't i think of macarons? i've always wanted to try Paulette. phew! it's a good thing they do mail order.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
After the yum sandwiches we had to visit Fosselman's Ice Cream, also in Alhambra. If you live in Los Angeles or are just visiting and you're an ice cream nut, Fosselman's has got to be on your list. We will dearly miss their toasted almond, blueberry, chocolate dipped strawberry, lychee, green tea, horchata, flavors and so many others. They make all their ice cream on the premises, in fact if you stop by in the morning to pick up an ice cream pie for a party they will have the back of the shop open and you can see into where the big freezer/mixers are working. Fosselman's goes way back and started as a delivery dairy in the Pasadena area in 1924. On yesterday's visit while we sat and dug into the three scoops that mrs. a-go-go and I were sharing, I took note of what a true Los Angeles kind of place Fosselman's is. Ice cream has near absolute universal appeal and Los Angeles surrounds Alhambra with a polyglot population like few others. It was a busy day and in the thirty minutes we spent soaking up our ice cream, the shop was visited by two generations of a family from the Indian sub-continent, three generations of a family from Vietnam, Philipinos, Latinos, African-Americans, not to mention us northern Europeans. They had pistachio on a cone, coffee-and-chocolate-cookies in a sundae, strawberry piled in a waffle cone, a four-year-old worked at catching the drips of mint-chip on his sugar cone, dulce-de-leche in a cup, and every other facet of delicious you can come up with.
Oh man... I think we're going to have to go for another visit today too. Fosselman's... I'm gonna miss you.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
That knocks one big important thing off the list of things to do before the Big Trip, but I can't get over the randomness of it all. Last year we had a nice fat refund from both the feds and the state. This year our income was a little higher, our Federal withholding was lower(!?), our state withholding was higher, and the result?... $21 refund from the feds and we owe California $71. Huh? Who figures this stuff? The withholding allowances didn't change, and my income was up a smidge.... how did my Federal withholding go down? All said and done, I'm happy to not have the fat refund. That's just $$$ we couldn't earn interest on during the year, but how did California eat so much more of my wages? State withholding went up and they swallowed last year's refund too. I dug all around looking for where they slipped in the increase, and I'm still not sure how they did it. The tax rates went up but not enough to account for most of the change. I have a degree in economics and I can't figure it out.
Oh well it's done and I can move on to the next item on the list. So long adjusted gross income. See you next year.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Our favorite place, Pho Huynh, (so far, we're always sampling new ones) is in El Monte, and requires a half hour drive from us. It's worth it. The majority of patrons at the place are Vietnamese, and I figure that's a good sign. It's family style seating at long tables, cash only, and when it's busy you may feel like they are itching for you to finish up and make room for the next hungry group. None the less we come back for more.
A good bowl of pho is a delight. The hot broth could stand on its own. Add lime juice, tear up some leafy Vietnamese basil like herb, stir up your choice of meat (or no meat), and dig in. When my bowl comes I don't even take a breath until I am at least half way through the noodles and have slurped up a belly full of broth.
Los Angeles isn't the only place to find pho, and we are researching places to find it on our trip. It will be hard to replace the pho I know.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
After uploading this photo mrs. a-go-go found on Flickr many portraits of the same chair from the previous two years. The chair seemed to be making the rounds to visit all the neighbors and see how they're holding up.
The Salton Sea and the developments on its shores are much maligned, but it's an extraordinary and surreal place. A number of structures on the Bombay Beach shore line have been left to shrivel as the sun and the salt whittle them down. It feels a little sad but the place has earned that ghost town charm of splintering dried out frames and scattered odd debris. I've heard tall tales about the stink of the lake, but that day there was just a hint of under-the-pier-damp smell. The horror stories are probably overblown unless it's bacteria bloom season. There are still a significant number of residents at Bombay Beach. Some of the houses are kept in a reasonably good state, others are suffering in spite of the efforts of the owners.
The late afternoon was warm and still. Looking up, the sky was a deep blue, but standing at the edge of the dead calm lake it was impossible to distinguish lake from sky in the distant sand colored haze.
Just before sundown we piled back in the car to continue on our way home. The raking light brought out the very best in the Chocolate Mountains to the East. They really did look edible. I checked the map and was delighted to learn such an appropriate name for the range. Then looking closer, I noticed that a large area in the Chocolate Mountains is an active aerial gunnery range for the Navy and Marines. That put to bed any notion of visiting there on future trips. Apparently, there is a rich gold deposit in the mountains and a little research hinted that gold mining rights to the mountains have been bought up in anticipation of the eventual closure of the gunnery range. Sorry to imagine the worst, but I can't help grimace at the likelihood that once the military is done making pot holes the mountains will be strip mined. It's a shame... the area has kept its beautiful desolate face in spite of the accidental salt lake and the ill fated resort development. I wonder if the mountains will still make me think of rumpled bon-bons after the gold is rooted out.
Friday, February 12, 2010
I hope to complete our Federal and State tax returns (that alone will be a victory). Then I will start the packing process and get our plans together. We have a good idea of how the trip will go but it is time to nail everything down and start contacting all the people we hope to visit and give them our expected arrival date.
Giving notice and telling my coworkers that I'm getting out has been an odd process. I'm excited to have a change and to start a new cycle. It's been a long time since I was last unemployed, and I hope to make the most of it. Meanwhile, the people at work have all reacted with that strange mix of, "Oh, no. We're going to miss you." and, "Congratulations!" The place where I work is kind of a clunky bureaucratic circus, and most people who work there have mixed feelings about it. Those mixed feelings are the source of the congratulations, as so many of my coworkers seem to have a perpetual vague feeling that they need to get a job somewhere else. It's nice to hear that I will be missed. A few people have responded with dismay as though I'm the only thing holding up the walls. I think I have been an important part of the machine and at times a critical part but I can't believe the place is going to implode without me. Things ran smoothly before I worked there and I'm sure they will continue with out me. When I describe our plans for the Big Trip the people I will be leaving behind at work all have that glassy-eyed response, "Wow, really? I wanna go do that too." Now how the devil will we get by without the health insurance?
I can't decide if getting out feels more like walking off a cliff or if it's more like activating my jet pack and waving good bye.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Sunday, February 7, 2010
We couldn't help but notice that Kia will be running an advertisement during the Superbowl showing a sock monkey (and friends) driving a Sorento. I love the disclaimer in the picture. It doesn't mention the hazards of letting your sock monkey drive. If you watch the advertisement at the link above you'll probably notice that the flavor is not quite the a-go-gos, but I can't help thinking that Kia couldn't get closer to real sock monkeys driving the Soul than having the a-go-gos drive the Soul 20,000 miles across North America in three months. Case in point:
For years I have been making unique sock monkeys as gifts for mrs. a-go-go, each based on a recognizable sculpture. Add to that the hundreds of armless spazimals I've cranked out and we've got an unstoppable army of sock plush toys. They all thought I was crazy, but who will be laughing when I rule the world? Huh?! Yeah that's what I though... Not to mention that mrs. a-go-go really IS a sock monkey.
We make idiot costumes and take them to silly places for photo opportunities. Who but a couple of real live sock monkeys would get married jumping off a fountain? (and who else could pull it off for less than $600 including the dress and rings?)
We may not be stuffed with fiberfill or some other fluff but we are truly full of beans.
Heck, we jump everywhere we go. We're silly, we're creative, we're adorable, squishy, fun, and spazy. Couldn't get closer if we were made of socks.
Now for some shameless cross promotion: We have had some initial positive response about our Big Trip from the marketing company working for Kia that put together the new Superbowl spot. No promises and it's all very preliminary but I really appreciate the responsiveness. So, if you are reading this and you are a sports fan or just happen to watch the game I hope you will vote for Kia's spot and throw them some positive feedback for doing something fun. Here's a place where you can do just that:
And if you're not watching the game you can see the advertisement and send postcards from here. Take a look. It's silly.
Confidentially... sock monkeys don't really ride jet skis (the one in the commercial clearly was coerced), but mark my word, put one on a toboggan and get out of the way!
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Next, it was on to Badwater, the lowest spot (and sinking) in North America. The parking area and boardwalk here had been enlarged since my last visit. The salty mud and small ponds are sensitive to foot traffic and the boardwalk is an attempt to protect the few things that survive in the small patches of water. The true lowest spot is apparently some distance out into the slat flat and there is a sign placed in the rocks above the road showing sea level more than 200 feet above the parking lot. A short stroll takes one into the blinding white field where there are few other people wandering. The vast virtually flat space felt like standing on the concrete floor of the earth's basement. Perhaps it was just being below the ocean surface but something.... some THING.... lifted us into the air.It was time to head out the East side of the valley toward Death Valley Junction. We had some back tracking to do and we were running out of day, but on our way out we made time for a stop at Dante's View.
The narrow road to the vista takes you a long way off the road to Death Valley Junction but it is worth the detour. The panorama of the valley and high peaks on the far side is hard to beat and not to be missed.
Not long before sun down we arrived at the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House. We had reservations for an overnight stay and tickets for the one woman show by the inimitable Marta Becket. For more than thirty-five years Marta performed her unique ballet, pantomime, and story telling for whoever made their way to the tiny town for the weekend shows. The short recording of her show at the link above is from our visit. Her health was clearly faltering that evening and she sat and told stories with props at a small table on the stage. She needed some assistance just to take the stage and get to her chair so we knew she would not be attempting to entertain us with dance. The theater was close to full and I think the audience was particularly patient as they all knew she might not be doing her show too much longer. Her voice creaked and she had to think to remember some bits but her dry sense of humor came through. I recently checked in to see if she was still performing and sadly it seems she is not. At the opera house link above you will find the schedule for this season's shows but no notice of Marta's health. I was glad to find that someone, Sandy Scheller, is carrying on the tradition and appears to be performing Marta's material. I can't vouch for the performance but the hotel and opera house should still be worth a quirky visit. I only hope Marta is doing well in her old age and has retired from the stage gracefully.
The ceilings, walls, and doors of the theater have been painted by Marta over the years lived and performed there. As part of her story telling, Marta related that the decorations began when she decided she needed a permanent audience for the evenings when very few people came to the show. Many of the rooms at the Amargosa Hotel are decorated with Marta's paintings as well. Our room was circus themed. When we called for the reservation and mrs. a-go-go informed me of her room choice I dreaded that we'd be sleeping under the beady eyes and creepy smiles of clowns. Fortunately, circus theme in this case meant acrobats. Thank you Marta. It's a peculiar place and I recommend it to anyone who is really into something strange and quirky. Beware if you require nice carpet and up-to-date plumbing. Things are a little ragged around the place but it is unusual enough to be completely worth it.
In the morning we explored the worn old buildings of the small town and the stark cemetery before starting on our way home. Our return drive took us south on 127 to Shoshone and Baker. We saw many incomprehensibly wide, far away, and impossible to photograph things on that drive before turning on to grim interstate 15, but listen to this for a sense of what is really there.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Next we headed down the road to Salt Creek for a hike. The creek is one of the few places in the valley that has flowing water nearly year round. There had been some rain so the water flow was higher than is typical, but it was still a small meandering burble. The morning was still ours and we saw only a couple of photographers out on the trail. The soil and plants around Salt Creek are sensitive to foot traffic so a boardwalk and small foot bridges are provided by the park service. There is no shortage of signs pleading with people to stay on the boardwalks but evidence of peoples' disregard is scattered at the edges of the creek. The thick salty mud holds foot prints for months if not years. In the early morning, in spite of the cold, there were small birds dashing from place to place in the low growing marsh plants. Salt Creek holds one of the few surviving populations of the Death Valley Pup Fish, a living relic from a time when the valley was an enormous lake. The water of the creek shrinks every summer to just a few stagnant pools of hot water. On our visit the overnight temperatures had been near freezing and we could see little activity in the water. The pup fish muddle through from icy cold to scalding hot, and salt concentrations that would kill any less hardy fish. We could see through the clear water lots of small oblong shapes littering the muddy bottom of the creek but no fish activity. As the sun got higher and things warmed up the shapes in the mud began to creep leaving faint trails. We still didn't spot any fish. We squinted at the shapes and wondered if these could be small sluggish cold fish. Nah... can't be. Those must be some kind of insect larva. We waited patiently and watched the water almost holding our breath. I figured that maybe the fish would only show themselves if we were still. We never did have a clear sighting but there were quick flashes of movement at the edges of the pools. We figured that these fast moving small phantoms must be the pup fish grabbing a quick meal.
After Salt Creek we took a short detour to the Harmony Borax Works. The sky had opened to a deep blue by then and the few clouds asking for their portrait kept mrs. a-go-go busy between photos of weathered adobe and folding chairs. Noon was almost on us, and it was time for lunch and a nap. The Furnace Creek visitor center offered bathrooms, natural history exhibits, and a quiet parking lot where we could recline the seats and sack out in the car after lunch. There were a few picnic benches but they were occupied so we ate in the car. After our meal we noticed a flurry of activity at one table on the far side of the parking lot. When the people had cleared out, a herd of opportunistic kangaroo rats quickly swept through to clean up any crumbs from the primate lunch.
After about a forty-five minute nap we were collecting our thoughts about what would be next when we were approached by a man with a very full gut. He asked if I could help him load his mow-ter-sicle in the back of his truck. What is it about us that every Tom, Dick, and Harry can tell from a mile away that we'll help if asked? Maybe it's the bunny masks. Anyhow, I wish he had found someone with more heft than me. His truck was up on too big tires and we struggled and struggled for a half hour. The ordeal took long enough that I was sure he wasn't stealing the bike. He explained that the bike was a new toy and he brought it out to the valley for his first ride but he was still afraid to ride in town.
In the next episode of our Death Valley adventure... Badwater and the Amargosa Opera House.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
i like to think that mr. a-go-go and i share an equal amount of the work it takes in planning a road trip but truthfully, i'm not so sure. i think he does more. much more. at least, he's much better at the planning part than i am. i would be perfectly happy picking a road and just noodle along but he, with his engineer brain does things like estimate mileage and um...reading maps.
me? i'm not so good with the map reading. but i'm learning. even with the maybe or maybe not equal planning of our road tripping mr. a-go-go and i strike a nifty balance to it all. he is a linear thinking and a planner and i'm a daydreamer with an eye for pretty. so while he gets us from one place to another in one piece (and with plenty of gas), i make sure we have fun and good eats. some people think that two people nestled inside a car for hours and hours on end may result in tensions but when you have a list of places to stop off at for quirky photo ops, pretty skies, npr podcasts, homemade gingerbread, hot water boiling on your engine and a couple of pairs of stripey socks, how could you not have a smile on your face?
when it comes to driving we kind of share the experience. if i know we're going to be passing giant artichokes and such, he drives so i can snap, snap, snap away at the scenery with my trusty powershot. if our destination is tricky and we need to keep checking the map, i drive so we turn the turns mr. a-go-go determines from his excellent map reading skills. but don't get me wrong, sometimes mr. a-go-go plays the role of fun captain as well. if it weren't for him. i would never have seen the Amboy Shoe Tree or The Wig-Wam Motel.
he preps a notebook full of details and distances, i prep a notebook of diner stops and old motels. he writes out the supply list and i pack for a pretty sleep. he plans the meals, i provide the snacks. he keeps us safe on the road and i keep the ipod loaded. we couldn't have asked for a better partnership. go team a-go-go!
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Our drive to the valley took us north on highway 395. About thirty miles from Olancha someone had placed signs advertising "really good jerky" at regular intervals. The repeated signs were effective. By the time we reached Olancha we had a hankerin' for that jerky. The price was a bit high but it was indeed really good jerky. The stuff was like crack. When the bag was empty, too soon, we had to dig in the snack supply for something to scratch the itch it left. The sky was thick with low clouds for all of our first day out, and the damp had been persistent enough to wet the desert. Things were smelling a little funny. When a little surface water sticks around in places that are bone dry for most of the year all the tiny organisms take full advantage right away. Swampy mossy smells are not what I expect in the desert.
At Olancha we turned East on highway 190 which would take us to Stovepipe wells where we planned to spend the night. It had been some time since I traveled 190 and when we stopped at an overlook I was perplexed. I thought we were looking down into Death Valley but it just didn't look right and I was sure we had more miles to go. It turns out we had to cross Panamint Valley first. I had completely forgotten about this part of the road. The view above is so typical of the Great Basin washboard that stretches across the middle of Nevada. I was reminded of another trip on highway 6 through Tonopah. That drive was an endless series of deja-vu views like this.
The overcast came as a blessing that kept the day cool and when there was an opening in the clouds we'd get a storybook sun beam. The possibility of rain and the forecast below freezing overnight temperatures kept us from trying to camp out, so we checked into the Stovepipe Wells Inn. It's a motel really just with higher prices as it's one of only a few places to stay in the Death Valley. We spent the late afternoon exploring the sand dune field near Stovepipe Wells. We took a slew of jumping pictures that mrs. a-go-go had planned for the soft sand. Walking in sand tired us out and soon we were ready to hike out and go have comfortable evening reading on our motel bed. On the way out we stumbled on a small mystery. There were two pairs of shoes left in the sand. By their appearance they had been deliberately left at least a day before. There was no other car parked along the road near the shoes so we crinkled our brows and looked around wondering what happened to these people. We decided that they couldn't find their shoes among the rolling dunes after taking them off for a barefoot, sand between the toes stroll. We tied the laces together and hung the shoes on the roadside didactic sign and hoped the owners would pass by there again.
Next up, more early morning shenanigans, but in a corn field this time.