Friday, September 21, 2012

Real roadside attractions

On this last day of summer, I must say that I have traveled a lot these last few months, going to Northern California three times in my van. As I mentioned in recent posts, I went to the California WorldFest music festival in Grass Valley where I camped in mid-July, Pacific Yearly Meeting in rural Marin County in mid-August and the California Men’s Gathering near Santa Rosa over Labor Day weekend. Each trip involved a hotel stay on the way up and down, and it seemed crazy to return to Claremont between the latter two, being so close together, both in terms of time and geography. As much as I love traveling, I have to admit that I’m glad to be home for a while!

Over years of traveling, I have learned several things, including the fact that it taking six hours to drive between here and the Bay Area on Highway 5, or 8 hours on Highway 101, really depends on there being no traffic and hard, steady driving. I have also come across some nice surprises - really good places where I didn’t expect at all to find them. Here are a few.

*Taste of India, right off Highway 5 at the McKittrick Exit near Bakersfield. Although the selection is somewhat limited and basic, it’s downright exciting to see a sit-down, authentic Indian restaurant among all the nasty fast-food joints along this nasty stretch of the 5. It has tasty to-go wraps, a thoughtful nod to Highway 5 travelers who like good food, and the coolest thing is that its billboards along the freeway advertise its vegan entrees.

*In Bishop, of all places, across Highway 395 from the Motel 6, which, as far as I know and as I have written about here, is the only one left with a wheelchair-accessible room with two beds, there is a pretty good Chinese restaurant. It’s called the Imperial Palace or Imperial Garden, and it’s a nice, surprising bonus after a long, spectacular, rural drive. (I also can’t help but note that it’s in front of the county’s small Department of Public Social Services office.)

 *Also in Bishop on the 395 is Schats Bakery, which turns out to have awesome chili cheese bread. I always thought the place was just a tourist trap. You can actually order the large loaves and lots of other stuff by phone at (760)873-7156 or (866)323-5854 between 9 and 3 on weekdays. By the way, Jack’s, a few blocks down the highway, is good for breakfast.

There are a bunch of other places that I love and always return to when traveling in California, such as the Saturn Café in Santa Cruz, which I have written about here (on my visit this summer, my waiter was a cutie with a mohawk featuring four long spikes), and a few restaurants in San Luis Obispo, but these are weird, out-of-the-way treats. Who knew?

Friday, September 7, 2012

One more light in Claremont - even in the dark

Following is another of my columns that appeared earlier this summer in the Claremont Courier, this one about something else that makes Claremont a cool place to live - and perhaps to visit! It is interesting to note, by the way, that the artist James Turrell has Quaker roots, where the concept of light is paramount.

Meanwhile, I can use all the light I can get right now. In addition to having to be catheterized when I was not able to urinate several weeks ago while on a trip up north (I should get the catheter out next week and want to find out why this stoppage happened, as it also did about ten years ago, and how to prevent it from ever happening again), I now can’t use my new chair (and also my Vmax speech device). Two weeks ago, the rear left wheel fell off! Crazy! I got it fixed before going on another trip north last weekend, but when I returned, it was evident the wheel was about to come off again. The shop now says it has to request funding from Medi-Cal to replace the wheel. Who knows how long this will take? I am extremely frustrated and disheartened. Shouldn’t this be under warranty? (The trips - the first to an annual week-long Quaker meeting in very rural Marin County and the second to the California Men’s Gathering a bit further north - were both awesome despite my medical problem. Too bad I couldn’t just stay up there between!)


When Cameron Munter grew up in Claremont, it was special. Indeed, it was magical. Claremont was “a sun-dappled place where peace and all was possible.”

This is what Mr. Munter remembers, as he shared in his commencement address at Pomona College two months ago. The career diplomat, who recently served as U.S Ambassador to Pakistan, a faraway place that cries out for the possibility of peace, waxed fondly about growing up in Claremont, saying that it prepared him well for a life of trying to make the world a better, more secure place.

He spoke of spending hours playing in the street and then roaming around the college campuses. He remembered Claremont as a safe place to take off on a bicycle to explore and find what happens and what is possible.

I also spent hours exploring the college campuses when I was growing up in Claremont , although I wasn’t on a bicycle. This was after I went around more and more blocks in my neighborhood in my first motorized wheelchair. After I ventured across Indian Hill Boulevard, the world of the colleges opened up to me, and all that stopped me, really, was how much juice was in my battery (more limited then).

I would spend afternoons on the Scripps College campus, venturing down every path that didn’t have steps and into every courtyard. I would imagine - and still do - that in a few hundred year, the campus, with its jewel of a garden setting and its Mediterranean, Spanish and Moorish architecture, will be a three-star attraction in a guidebook, like a cathedral in a small, out-of-the-way town in Italy.

Or maybe not so small and out-of-the-way. It could well be that all or most of the Claremont campuses will be a tourist destination of note for future generations. I also imagined this as I enjoyed tooling around Pomona College and the other colleges, getting up close to the monumental buildings.

I don’t explore the campuses as much as I used to (I am more engaged with what goes on in the buildings), I have written about the stunning, world-class Prometheus mural by Orazco in Frary dining hall - quite a remarkable and lovely building itself - at Pomona College. Last summer, I wrote about getting reacquainted with the renovated Greek Theater, as well as the Wash and the Farm, also at Pomona.

Last summer, I made another discovery, again at Pomona College. Actually, I have heard about it for several years, but it was a year ago when I went with a group of friends and found out exactly where it is. I have since taken a couple friends. It is truly something magical.

“Dividing the Light” literally does that. It is a permanent light installation - a light show always playing - in the Draper Courtyard of the Lincoln Building at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Columbia Avenue, between Bridges Auditorium and Honold Library. The artist, James Turrell, who attended Pomona College and is known for such work, calls it a Skyspace, and, with it, he uses light to gently, playfully asks us to think about how we see things.

The Los Angeles Times called the piece, which debuted in 2007, “one of the best works of public art in recent memory.” It is that and much more. It is a trip.

The installation consists of an atrium above a simple square reflecting pool and framing the sky. At timed intervals, the atrium is bathed in changing colored lights which also, in deep contrasts, dramatically changes the color of the sky above.

This effect is heightened at sunset, when the sky itself changes color as color leaves the sky. As the atrium is filled with blue, red and yellow, the sky goes from rose to green to teal to jet black and back again. It is a brilliant, breathtaking sight - or sight trick - magic, as I said, and mind-blowing.

For those who like getting up early - perhaps appealing on these hot days - I suspect the experience is at least as spectacular at sunrise, when color blooms and fills the sky.

The college campuses are certainly more exciting when the students are around, with all that goes on during the school year, but there is much to explore when things are quiet in the summer. And, whether at dawn or in the cool of the evening, the Turrell Skyscape at Pomona College is a wonderful discovery, a refreshing, eye-opening treat.