California Day Three: Carpinteria by Bill Pike

Somehow, I persuaded our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, to go for a morning run today. Might have been just before 7 that we started out for a slow jog. Carpinteria was waking up. The sun had already crept over the mountain tops, and some commuters were heading out just like us.

We went straight up Walnut, made a left on Carpinteria Way, and followed this down to the Best Western. There we turned around, came back up Carpinteria, and made a right on Linden Avenue into the main part of town.

Housing, store fronts, murals on the sides of buildings, and a variety of landscape plantings greeted us on our route.

Once back at the house, we regrouped for breakfast.

We decided to alter our trek through the neighborhood as we headed for the Lucky Llama Coffee House. Espresso, tea, and a variety of breakfast bowls were their specialties. A friendly staff who knew how to handle first time tourists helped us with our choices. A compact building, every inch of space had been thoughtfully put to use including an outside deck. When our orders arrived, we enjoyed every sip and bite.

In the vacant lot beside the Lucky Llama is the Wardholme Torrey Pine. This Torrey pine is thought to be the largest in the world. Stopping to take in the tree and snapping a photograph is worth the effort. The tree dates back to 1888, and it clearly is a tribute to the tree’s toughness— surviving in a California environment that is notorious for making life challenging at times.

After breakfast, we transitioned for the walk to the beach. A week-long camp for junior lifeguards was taking place, and we took note of the flurry of activity around these school aged boys and girls.

But, we had a much larger surprise awaiting us this morning near the entrance of the beachfront. It was hard to miss the deceased California sea lion that the Pacific had washed ashore during the night.

Lifeguards had used bright orange traffic cones to four corner the massive sea lion from all us gawkers. The animal’s girth was enormous, and just like my deodorant sometimes fails me, our once active friend’s decomposing aroma wasn’t too pleasant.

It appeared that a shark had taken a huge bite out from the back side of the sea lion’s neck.

Other than that, our group enjoyed a long day at the beach. It was broken up with walks to the inlet, dips in the ocean, breaks back at the houses, and a walk back to The Spot for another lunch sampling.

As the afternoon progressed, we slowly made our ways back to the houses for cleaning ourselves up for dinner. Sometimes that clean up meant removing tar from our feet. Four oil rigs sit offshore perched in front of the Channel Islands. I’m assuming those rigs have something to do with our feet unknowingly attracting the tar as we walked through the surf.

Anyway, the locals have a remedy for removal— baby oil and a paper towel. This combination immediately removes the tar.

After cleaning up, some of us found our way back to the Island Brewery Company. An easy walk between our two rental houses, we once again enjoy their beer and the hospitality of their open air tasting room.

Abby has ordered Chinese take out for dinner tonight, and this spread did not disappoint.

A planned walk down to the beach for sunset didn’t happen. Late in the afternoon, a gray fog had pushed in from the Pacific. Saying goodbye to the sun for another fine day of work wasn’t going to happen.

With my body still linked to an internal East Coast time zone, I was ready for sleep. So, I started my walk back to our other house on Walnut.

California Day Two: Agua Dulce to Carpinteria by Bill Pike

Daylight came early on Tuesday morning. I know I slept, but I knew we needed to be organized and ready for our next departure. So, I started getting out of bed.

Abby and Art’s daughter, Rachel, her husband, Garth, and their two children, Charlotte and Grayson, were already up. They had flown in a week ago from McKinney, Texas. Abby and Art’s son, Parker, his friend, Brandy, and her son, Tyrell, had flown in from Hawaii, and they were stirring too.

After some chitchat and a great bowl of oatmeal, Abby started getting us ready for the ride up to Carpinteria. Just shy of a two-hour ride, Carpinteria is a beach town 12 miles south of Santa Barbara.  Abby had worked her connections and found two houses within easy walking distance to the beach that could accommodate all 13 of us.


Gradually, we were organized. Vehicles were stuffed with the necessary junk for our four nights in Carpinteria. The youngsters were heading out first. Betsy and I were riding with Abby and Art, and we had one important job to do—drop Lucy, the irresistible family dog off at the kennel.

With Lucy dropped off, Art drove to California State Highway 126 and the trek north started. Near Ventura, the 126 funnels into the famous U.S. Highway the 101 along the Pacific coast.

Farming towns like Piru and Fillmore fill both sides of the highway with active and inactive fruit tree farms and an assortment of other crop plantings. Weather worn fruit stands pop up every few miles with most featuring oranges and some strawberries.

As we close in on Ventura the Pacific Ocean comes into view on the left side of the car, and the hills and mountains cast a back drop on the right. Art, a native Californian, points out to us in those time and weather scarred hills where last winter’s wildfires changed the landscape and sometimes lives.

California has always intrigued me, but I never have thought I was carved out to live here. For me, I narrow the worrisome part of California down to the three S’s: shake, smoke, and slide.

On this morning, the Pacific is sparkling shades of gray, blue, and green with the white foam of cresting waves adding to that palette. The Ventura County Fair is taking place, and at one exit our movement along the 101 is slowed.

While in the back of my mind, I’m worried about being away from my work for two weeks, I have been quietly excited about visiting Carpinteria all summer.

Pretty soon, Abby is telling Art the exit to take, and Carpinteria is right in front of us.  We drive into the downtown section and work our way to the two houses. Slowly, we unload items into their proper locations, and then it was  time to think about some lunch.

From one of the houses, we took an easy walk to The Spot. This tiny location reminded of a food truck that had been permanently locked into a prime corner location for locals and beachcombers. We placed our order, paid in cash the only transaction accepted, and waited for our number to be called. No pun intended, but our food “hit the spot”.

After lunch, our youngest daughter, Elizabeth had arrived. She had taken a bus from LAX. We picked her up at a local shopping center.

At some point during the afternoon, we gradually found our way to the beach. Carpinteria bills its self as the safest beach in the world. I have no way of confirming that for you, but carved out like a half-moon between two inlets, it seems to be in a perfect location. Loaded with plenty of sand and a level walk to the ocean lots of people were enjoying its charms this afternoon.

Boogie boarders, paddle boarders, kayakers, surfers, body surfers, and swimmers were in the water, water that for the Pacific was warmer than usual.

After the beach, a few of us made the quick walk to the Island Brewing Company. Nestled in a parcel of connected commercial buildings, this local favorite has a sun drenched, open air tasting room, and twelve beers on tap.

We enjoyed the hospitality, the beer sampling, and the conversation.

Soon, we were heading back to the house near the community garden and the train stop for the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. Abby had warned us that the track ran right through Carpinteria. The blasts from the train’s horn and the rumbling of its steel wheels had already greeted us earlier in the afternoon.


Abby had organized a dinner of pork carnitas with all of the trimmings. Those packed tortillas were delicious.

It had been a long day for all of us, but a good first day.

My east coast clock sleep time was calling me. I was ready to call it a day, and walk back to the other house.

California Day One: Richmond to Houston to Los Angeles by Bill Pike

My wife, Betsy, the Commander Supreme, and her sister, Abby, another Commander Supreme, had been in collusion. Abby took the lead in planning and pitching a trip to California where she and her husband, Art reside.

Agua Dulce, about an hour northeast of Los Angeles, in the landscape of the high desert is their home.

Now, don’t blab this to anyone, but Agua Dulce, (which is barely a speck on any map) is a treasure in my mind for one exceptional  reason—it is quiet. Even the leaves on the California pepper tree barely rustle when a late afternoon breeze ripples through them.

This trip would have many moving human components. Abby and Art’s three children and two grandchildren would be a part of this expedition. Schedules would only allow one of our three children to tag along.


Promptly at 2:50 on the afternoon of Monday, August 6, our neighbor, Bobbie Ansell, drove us to the Richmond airport. It was exceptionally hot and humid as a passing rain shower’s moisture had been instantly reheated by the sun that had quickly reappeared.

The drive to the airport was uneventful. We thanked Bobbie, grabbed our luggage, and with a tad of excitement in our steps found the check-in counter.

Thankfully, the Commander Supreme took over, and we made the walk to the security check point. For this flight, the TSA had granted us the less intrusive security check. Once again, I followed the Commander Supreme’s leads, and somehow I cleared the security hurdle.

The walk to our gate was short, and there were no surprises waiting for us. In the summer, flying through the Southeast during the afternoon can be a challenge because of thunderstorms. But our plane coming from Houston was in the air and only running a few minutes late.

Airplanes and flying fascinate me. But getting on the plane, stowing carry-on luggage, and squeezing into a seat that I’m certain continues to shrink as the plane flies irritates me.

For the ride to Houston we would be flying an Embraer 175. Four seats, two on each side lined the fuselage. The overhead bin did not want to take the Commander Supreme’s over stuffed carry-on. I thought I was going to crack the flimsy plastic edging of the bin as I shoved the bag overhead.

Despite appearing to be a relatively new plane, the brain-trust at United Airlines wasn’t thinking about the comforts of their passengers. Clearly, they were thinking— shrinking the size of the seats means we can cram more seats into the plane—meaning more seats = more passengers = more opportunity for profit.

As a passenger, this compression made me feel like a sardine packed in a tin of sardines, or like three bulky stalks of romaine lettuce shoved into a too small plastic bag.

Finally, all of the sardines were packed on the plane. Safety procedures were noted, and the pilot made no promises about making up lost time in the air.

Taxing out to the runway for take off added another half-day of travel to this cross-country trip, but we eventually gathered speed and lifted off. Visibility was good as the plane scurried us away from Richmond.

The first attempt to serve beverages and a pitiful bag of pretzels was aborted. The pilot warned us about some choppy turbulence. Eventually, items were served, but the unsettled air continued to taunt the plane most of the way to Houston.

As the pilots lined up the approach into Houston, I could see a stormy skyline with rain showers falling. The wing on my side of the plane easily sliced through the summer clouds. Our descent was slow—slower than a slug moving through a flower bed.

But eventually, we did touch down with a hard thud. If you had been napping, you were awake now.  The pilot taxied the plane toward the terminal. Again, it seemed like we were driving  into downtown Houston to unload the plane it took so long. This Houston airport named after the first President Bush is massive.

Finally, we reached our gate, and it took us a bit of time to figure out the gate for our next departure. Of course, our next plane was departing in a different terminal. This meant catching a ride on the airport’s shuttle system.

I had hoped to sample a Texas craft beer while waiting to depart for Los Angeles. A single craft beer on the plane cost a mere $7.99!!  But, we barely had time for a bathroom break as we found our next gate. United personnel at this gate had already started lining up the sardines and romaines for entering the plane.

For the flight out to Los Angeles, we were on a Boeing 737/900, a much bigger plane, but with continuously shrinking seats too.

As final preps were being made for departure, the pilot highlighted the flight plan and weather conditions along the way.

Without too much delay, we took the twenty-mile trip out to the runway. With the engines revved up, we quickly were above Houston. The fading sunlight created a colorful backdrop of pastels on assorted clouds as the pilot steered the plane west.

Darkness timidly encroached the sky. Soon, the lights of cities and towns were dotting the landscape. Occasionally, I would spot a remote singular light with vast darkness surrounding it. I wondered how lonely that light was and if the people out in that spot were lonely too.

Our pilot did a nice job of keeping us updated along the way. The crew actually made up some time in the air as he announced many passengers on the flight had international connections to make.

As we made the approach into Los Angeles, lights were everywhere, but even with all of those lights, I know there are lonely people in the city of angels.

Even at this hour of the evening, the freeways were still buzzing with high volume traffic. We had another hard, jolting touchdown, and another long taxi to the jet way for deplaning.

Just as all of the sardines and romaines stood up to start their exit, we were told one passenger had a medical emergency. We were asked to sit back down.

Out the window, I could see emergency trucks had been waiting for us to arrive. The delay wasn’t long, and as we exited the plane, medical personnel were working with the person.

We found our way to the luggage carousel, made a pit stop, and exited into the chaos of LAX with other departing sardines and romaines searching for their rides.

The Commander Supreme had been texting our outside position to Abby and Art. There were lots of cars, buses, and taxis jockeying for curb position.

Just before we were picked up, there was a commotion to our right. We notice shrieks and quick footwork and the picking up of luggage. Soon, we realized what was causing the commotion—a rat, not mouse was looking for a ride home. As he scampered by us, the lady beside me jumped on top of a safety bollard to avoid the rat.

Just as she made her leap on to the bollard, Abby and Art drove up. Abby wondered what had caused her to do this.

That rat was a nice welcoming touch by the city of Los Angeles. Maybe the rat heard that weary, compressed sardines and romaines were going to be piling off the airplanes this evening.

Art managed to get us out of LAX unscathed. More importantly, no extra passenger hitched a ride to Agua Dulce with us.

It was well past my East Coast bedtime when we crashed into bed.

Sleep was what I needed, and, luckily, I had no nightmares about sardines, romaines, and rats.