Chuck Woodbury's
Roadside Journal

Monday, November 13, 2006

Cheap stuff at fancy places

I wrote below about how the long and formal-looking dining table at Hearst's Castle would always include a ketchup bottle and a jar of mustard. The plates were normal, just like you would find in a cafe. Same with the silverware. Nothing fancy. Hearst was a millionaire many times over. In today's dollars he would be a multi-billionaire. He could afford good china. But sometimes people with new money don't have the high taste of old-money blue-bloods who can't even comprehend the concept of poverty. Which reminds me:

Have you ever been to Graceland, where Elvis lived? The house is called a mansion, but I'm telling you, it's one tacky place -- with ugly shag carpet, couches that look like they came from Woolworth's, and stuff all over the place that doesn't match. Elvis liked junk food, too. I don't think there was anything fancy about his dinner table. I bet he used TV trays.

Years ago, when I was in college, I was invited (long story) to spend an afternoon at Hugh Heffner's Playboy Mansion when it was in Chicago. I remember walking down the stairs to the basement, where there was a tropical, cave-like bar that I had seen a hundred times in Playboy Magazine. There was even a life-sized shark hologram that floated right in the middle of the room -- very, very cool! But what I have always remembered the most about the mansion were the bare colored lightbulbs that dimly lit the stairs to the basement bar. I thought to myself, "This is just like guys put in their dormitory rooms to impress babes." The food was good at the mansion. Servants in formal attire were at our disposal, as they were 24 hours a day. Playmates walked around in skimpy white bathrobes. I was a college guy filled with massive numbers of very young, raging hormones (as opposed to the approximately 57 partially comatose ones that still remain). You might imagine how I felt when one of those centerfolds brushed by me and said hi. Sort of like what the Wicked Witch said before she died: "I'm melting." Whoa! That was tough just looking and not touching!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

This Morro Bay, California business believes in honesy in advertising when it comes to its name. I would have asked the owner about the origin of the businesses name, but as you can see, it was closed.

A fancy pool for commoners

I bet you have never seen a swimming pool as grand as the one at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. This is William Randolph Hearst's pool. But as I said in my entry below, the pool was not popular in Hearst's day. According to my tour guide, people weren't avid swimmers then. Today, the pool gets plenty of use, but not by the rich and famous. Nowadays it's used by the employees of Hearst Castle, which is the main attraction at Hearst San Simeon State Historical Momument. In the summer, when the daytime temperature can reach 90 and even 100 degrees, employees may use the pool in the evening after the park closes, and they can bring along guests. "I never knew I had so many friends," my guide said. The Hearst family uses the pool on special occasions, too. But, mostly, it's for the commoners now. By the way, the pool is heated by the sun. In the old days, oil heat was used, but that's long gone. When I visited on November 11, the water temperature was only 55.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Heart Castle: what a place!

I visited Hearst Castle today. A two-hour tour costs $20, which includes a bus ride five miles to the castle, which is high atop a hill at 1,600 feet overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It's an amazing view. When you get to the castle, you have to make sure you are not chewing gum. Apparently some people have spit it out on rare oriental carpets, which is one big mess to clean up. The castle is packed with statues, paintings, Greek vases and other art treasures. I can't begin to explain them all. Just believe me when I say they are beautiful and impressive. The main castle, called Casa Grande, is where William Randolph Hearst would stay. It alone has more than 60,000 square feet. All together, counting the main castle and the smaller guest "cottages," there are 52 bedrooms, 102 bathrooms and 41 fireplaces. In the big dining room, on the very long table, are mustard and ketchup bottles. Even though he was filthy rich, Hearst didn't go for fancy stuff at the dinner table. Even the dishes were "Blue Plate," the same thing you would find in a cafe at the time. I was amazed at the outdoor swimming pool. It's as big as maybe three average size houses. But my guide said that Hearst's guests didn't use it much. "People didn't know how to swim like they do today," she explained. Did you know that William Randolph Hearst didn't even start the castle until he was 50 years old? That's true. I can't even imagine living in such a place. It's too much for me. I prefer a little cottage or a motorhome. But this is a great tour. If you are in the area you should take it. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time. It's one busy place!

Cute pig and smiling girl

This cute little piggie was in a store window in Cambria, California. I was walking the Main Street after woofing down a Morning Scramble breakfast ($7.95) at the Cambria Cafe, where a very attractive young waiter-person served me with a big smile. She had perfect teeth. I'd say she was about 18. Ever since I spent $5,000 for braces for my daughter, I have noticed the teeth of other young people. This young woman not only smiled when she served me, but all the time. Even when she went into the kitchen, she was smiling. When she brought my Morning Scramble, I asked her, "Do you always smile?" I don't think she was ready for the question. If I were younger, then I would have assumed she thought I was trying to make a pass. But I am nearly as old as a fossil so I know that such a thought could not have crossed her youthful mind. So she said, "I try to," and that was that. It has been my observation through the years that 5% of Americans default to a smile and 15% default to a frown. The rest just sort of look neutral. So this young woman was special. The Morning Scramble had too much meat and not enough egg. It was just okay. After breakfast I walked around town a little, just checking things out. That's when I saw the pig in the window, which I thought was pretty good looking for a pig.

Recycled toilet paper

I happened upon some recycled paper earlier today. It was toilet paper. EcoSoft, "100% Recycled" it said right on the toilet paper packaging. It's good to recycle, that's for sure. For a brief minute this morning as I pondered the paper before me, the thought of recycled toilet paper did not seem right, and provided a good laugh.

Rude behavior on the road

I have been on the road now for 12 days. All together, I have pulled over about 20 times to let the car behind me pass. Of all those times, only one person raised his hand to thank me. The others just went by. Sometimes I wish I could just go back ahead of the people who did not thank me, and then slow down to show them that they should be polite. In most cases I was going the speed limit or faster. I don't get upset about this rude behavior -- not really, really upset, that is. But it bothers me. If someone pulls over to let you by, please raise your hand to thank them or blink your lights if it's dark. It's a very good thing to do and takes almost no effort.

Cotton along the roadside

I drove right through the heart of central California's big valley yesterday on state route 46. It connects the main north-south roads of the state, Highway 99 (the old main highway) and I-5 to the west. There is nothing much to see -- dairy farms, many ugly unattended brown fields, and acre upon acre of cotton fields. I bet many people do not know that cotton grows on plants. As a kid, when my family would pass through this area on family vacations, we would stop alongside the road and pick up cotton that lay on the ground. I did that again today -- to show my daughter when I get home. Cotton is picked by machine nowadays, a speedy process compared to olden times when "cotton pickers" did the job. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a machine that quickly and easily separated the cotton fibers from the seedpods and the sometimes sticky seeds. That was a big deal and enabled the cotton industry to move into warp speed.

Bragging about grandchildren

A car ahead of me today had a license frame that said, "My grandchildren are cuter than yours." Now why would anybody make such a stupid public admission? Everybody is proud of their grandchildren and most think they are as cute as can be. What does a person who advertises such a slogan hope to accomplish? Is to make others laugh? If I were a grandparent, I would be offended if I came upon this slogan. I would want to drive up alongside the driver, roll down my window and say, "No your grandchildren are not cuter than mine!" Don't ever put such a message on your bumper. If someone gives you such a license plate frame as a gift, put it on the wall in your den, but not on your car.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A memorial to the tragic death of James Dean

Actor James Dean died in a violent head one car crash along California State Route 46 on September 30 1955. He was just 24 years old, and already a movie idol to millions. Today, at a lonely outpost on the still-remote highway, a memorial near the crash site pays tribute to the young actor. Dean had just wrapped up shooting on the film Giant and was on his way to compete in an auto race held in Salinas. He had originally planned to tow his Porche Spyder to the race, but at the last minute decided to drive. Speeding 85 miles per hour down a long hill near Cholame, he collided with another car. Dean was killed instantly. Alongside the memorial plaque are a small cafe, a pay phone and a mailbox, and that's all there is for miles around. But people stop all day long to pay their respects. Had Dean lived, he would now be 75 years old.

The Sun-Maid maiden, then and now

Some people never age. Oh, in real life they do, but in other ways they never do. Like in advertising. In 1915, Lorraine Collett Petersen posed for artist Fanny Scafford in San Francisco. The result was a smiling young Lorraine wearing a brilliant red bonnett and holding a basket of grapes. At the time Petersen was earning $15 a week as a part-time seeder and packer. Chances are good you have seen Loraine's portrait hundreds of times on packages of Sun-Maid Raisins and other Sun-Maid products. Soon after posing for the artist, Lorraine landed a small movie role in ''Trail of the Lonesome Pine." Later, she ran a Fresno restaurant for two years, then converted a former hospital into nursing home and retired as a nurse. She died in 1983 at age 90. The watercolor portrait of Lorraine was recently modernized, but the current image closely resembles the original. I don't know when the photo above of her was taken, but you can see it in person and learn more about Lorraine at the Sun-Maid Visitor Center in Selma, California. Be sure to stop at the Sun-Maid store next door, where you can buy lots of good stuff made with raisins. I bought a big jar of chocolate covered raisins. Selma is a few miles south of Fresno on I-5 and is the "Raisin Capital of the World."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Multi-level marketing at Starbucks

I am at a Starbucks in Madera, Calif., to work on my blog. I'm trying to write, but a guy named Tim and his wife are a few feet away, pitching a multi-level marketing program to another couple, and it's hard to concentrate because Tim has a loud voice. "Don't worry about money, it will come," Tim just told the other couple. Tim says he and his wife are Masters -- that's some sort of level they've achieved in the organization. Tim said he and his wife have been in other multi-level marketing programs, but this one, which involves nutritional products, is the very best. Tim said they took out a second mortgage on their house to finance the business. The other couple seems interested, but it's hard to tell. Tim and his wife have a big chart that they keep flipping. I can only see the back, but the type is too small to read unless I stare, which would be impolite. Tim's wife said to the other couple that "Tim and I are pioneers." Tim said that everyone needs the product. He just told about a couple that started this business and only four months later were making $4,000 a month. I'm sorry I can't tell you the name of the product, but I can tell you that I have learned that it is powder-based. Anyway, I'd write more, but I have to leave. Tim and his wife look to be in their early 40s. Tim said that he plans to retire in less than four years, which is pretty impressive.

Businesses that rhyme

These businesses need to get together. Ho Hum is in West Yellowstone, Mont. Yum Yum is in Madera, Calif. I think they should open side by side. You could stay at the Ho Hum and eat donuts at Yum Yum. When someone asked you your plans, you could say, "I will stay at the Ho Hum and eat at Yum Yum." People would be impressed. Really, though, these two businesses should merge into the Ho Hum Yum Yum. That would get a lot of attention. The world needs more places like that -- places you can remember. Staying at Motel 6 and eating at Krispy Kream Donuts is boring. I say stay at Ho Hum, eat at Yum Yum. That has a nice ring to it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The aroma of Blind George's Newsstand

If you are downtown Grants Pass, Ore., and you are hungry, then you may end up eating popcorn. At Blind George's Newsstand on G Street, the popcorn machine is almost always popping, and a vent pipes the buttery aroma right outside. If there is even a slight breeze, the yummy smell will travel a few blocks. Blind George's was founded in 1922 by blind man George Spencer, who first operated out of a tent with an investment of less than $50. Today, the business has a huge magazine rack -- as big as you'll likely ever see outside a big city, plus a big selection of out of town newspapers and a cafe, too. But popcorn is the star attraction, not just to local folks but to people around the world. Every day, countless packages in several flavors are mailed to all corners of the USA and even the world. If you are in Grants Pass, you owe yourself a stop at Blind George's Newsstand and a bag of popcorn. Chances are good that you will smell the store before you see it.