|My dearest friend with Jay Leno at our Saturday
As is often the case with me, the primary schedule for this past weekend seemed simple enough; drive to Burbank, sign books at Auto Books – Aero Books, drive to the Autry National Center, sign books in their gift shop, sign books at the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, meet with Scott Piotrowski (tour guide and historian), get a preview of the landscape that he envisions will serve as the stage for the 90th anniversary celebration of Route 66 in 2016 at 7th and Broadway in Los Angeles, the original western terminus of that highway and a detailed tour of the many faces of Route 66 in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
In my world seldom do things go as planned or even as envisioned. For that, I am usually quite grateful.
The first of my carefully laid plans fell by the wayside before hitting the road. Last minute issues at the office translated into a late rental car pick up (I determined fuel savings over use of the Jeep would pay for the rental car). So, instead of being on the road by 16:00 hours, we left Kingman long after the sun had bid adios for the day.
Stop one, dinner at the Wagon Wheel restaurant in Needles. This old gem, complete with Bob Waldmire art work menus, is showing its age but the food was adequate and the staff friendly as well as polite. Prices do not constitute a bargain but dinner won’t break the bank.
By the time we made Barstow the sixteen hour day was taking a bit of a toll and so we decided to call it a day, and plan for an early start on Saturday. Rest proved elusive as highway and train noise ensured that sleep was fitful.
The next morning we availed ourselves of the basic breakfast available in the lobby, and set out for Burbank. As traffic was light we made excellent time, and with an hour to spare decided to sample the goods at a charming coffee shop in the neighborhood (Details on this and our motels as well as restaurants will be provided in forthcoming posts)
Dating to 1953, Auto Books – Aero Books at 2900 Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank is a true gem. Shelves brim with books and magazines, new and used, about every aspect and topic of possible interest (from biographies to brand histories, from travel books to automotive repair) represented by the stores name.
As a result, a book signing here is always a rewarding adventure. First, it provides me with an opportunity to support a classic mom and pop book store. Second, because of its extensive inventory, the store attracts the most interesting clientele which in turn leads to fascinating conversations. Third, those folks often arrive in interesting automobiles.
This past Saturday the entire experience was greatly enhanced by visits from friends old and new. As a bonus, Jay Leno stopped by in a gorgeous 1931 Bentley.
|Author Jim Hinckley talks with Jay Leno at
Auto Books – Aero Books in Burbank. (john Springs)
During an interview in his garage in 2010, he had teased me about the eclectic nature of my book that profiled the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company. So, it seemed only appropriate that I inform him of the current project, a book profiling the history of the American taxi industry. There was also an opportunity to follow up on correspondence about the electric vehicle museum under development in Kingman.
After the official signing I added an autograph to books in inventory to ensure the store has a little something special to sell during the holidays. Then we joined John and Judy Springs for a trip to the Autry National Center, exploration of the museums excellent Route 66 exhibit, and the signing of books in the gift shop.
Afterwards, as we and the Springs were staying at the same motel, they gamely allowed me to play chauffeur as we set out for a dinner at Casa Bianca with Scott Piotrowski, his charming wife, and young master Sam, their delightful son.
After a delightful game of seek that parking space, we settled in for an evening of excellent food spiced with wonderful conversation. It proved to be a perfect end for a most fascinating day.
Eager anticipation for the long overdue exploration of the many faces of Route 66 in the Los Angeles metropolitan area with tour guide extraordinaire Scott Piotrowski leading the way ensured that I was up and ready to roll long before the sun. So, as a result we arrived at Auntie Em’s Kitchen, our rendezvous almost an hour before they opened, which provided time to explore the neighborhood.
|Anna Grechiskina, the intrepid young lady traveling the
world solo by motorcycle at Auto Books – Aero Books.
Barred windows, signs in Korean, and a sea of graffiti made it quite clear that my dearest friend and I were not in Kingman, Kansas or Arizona. Still, the multitude of historic gems hidden in plain site, the palm trees, and the fascinating nature of the neighborhood fueled the building anticipation for the adventure awaiting us.
The breakfast, shared with Scott, Anna (the intrepid explorer), and her friend was superb and as unique and interesting as the neighborhood. What better way to start the day than thick black coffee from Trinidad, lightly seasoned corn cakes, smoked salmon, fresh salsa, and potatoes fried in a stimulating mix of spices.
Professor Nick Gerlich often refers to individuals enamored with vintage signs, specifically of the neon variety as sign geeks. The various alignments of Route 66 in the LA area is truly a sign geek paradise. The imagination staggers at the thought of how bright and colorful the nights once were in some of these neighborhoods.
I find it rather ironic that, perhaps, the most unexplored segments of Route 66 are not found in the deserts of Arizona or New Mexico. Nor are they hidden by the encroaching forest in Missouri. They are hidden in plain sight in the largest metropolitan area in America and Scott Piotrowski knows each of them intimately.
Without reservation I can honestly say that if you have any interest in the exploration of obscure alignments of Route 66, a fascination for urban exploration, or are simply intrigued with forgotten and overlooked history, you owe it to yourself to arrange for a tour led by Scott.
We spent more than four hours winding through neighborhoods and the city center. There were fascinating little detours and side trips where we were awarded near perfect locations to photograph Route 66 treasures. We were introduced to intriguing stores, architectural gems, and obscure historical treasures. In short, the adventure was nothing short of astounding.
At this point I need to provide you with a bit information about some exciting Route 66 developments in the coming year, and a bit of insight about the plans for a 90th anniversary celebration of that highway at its original western terminus in LA.
First, Cheryl Eichar Jett has shared some interesting news on her blog, Route 66 Chick about developments in Edwardsville. This includes the conference and Route 66 related activities next October.
Now, about the proposed event in 2016. When Scott first approached me about the idea I was intrigued. Route 66 in the LA area is often overlooked by all but the most ardent Route 66 enthusiasts, and to the best of my knowledge a major Route 66 event hasn’t taken place in a large metropolitan area in decades.
I know that Scott has been laying the groundwork for this incredible event for more than a decade but it still seemed like a daunting task. Now that I have been to the proposed ground zero, now that I have a more personal understanding of logistics and transportation, now that I have experienced Scott’s passion and enthusiasm for the project in person, I am quite confident that it will take place, and that it will be an unprecedented event in the highways history.
He is building an impressive coalition of support, and has carefully evaluated ways to address two of the primary concerns (lodging costs and transportation) expressed about the event taking place at the heart of a major city. Neither of these are as daunting as one might think.
|For sign geeks everywhere.|
As but one example, in the surrounding area (Pasadena, Eagle Rock, etc.) there are an array of lodging options that range from upscale to moderate, and even a few Route 66 classics such as the Saga Motor Hotel in Pasadena. As an example, during our weekend visit we stayed at the centrally located Eagle Rock Best Western.
Even though the price ($98 per night with AAA discount) was higher than the Chalet Inn in Groom, it was less than similar motels encountered in Oklahoma City or Amarillo. It was also clean, quiet, and is managed by a friendly helpful staff.
A number of these lodging choices in neighboring communities are mere blocks from access to a superb light rail system, much of which parallels an alignment of Route 66, that will whisk you to within blocks of the area proposed for the event in less than a half hour. It should be duly noted that Scott is also evaluating the possibility and is working on arrangements for a host hotel in the historic heart of the city. It should also be noted that he still has almost two years to go!
|Ground zero for a proposed 90th anniversary celebration of
Route 66 in 2016.
Now, as it looks as though I am almost out of time for today’s post, let me share one more little item from from our recent adventure. In forthcoming posts I will close out the story of our recent California adventure and provide detailed information and recommendations, as well as reviews of restaurants and motels.
It should also be noted that I may not be posting between Wednesday and Saturday this week resultant of my attendance at the meeting of the World Monuments Fund steering committee in Albuquerque.
Okay, after an unfortunate incident at Fair Oaks Pharmacy in Pasadena, we were forced to forgo lunch and hit the road. As a result, by late afternoon hunger was starting to dominate my thoughts.
So, we set our sites on a few Route 66 classics on our way to Rialto where I was to sign books for the gift shop at the Wigwam Motel. Option one did not open for Sunday dinner until 5:00 PM, it was 4:30. Option two did not begin serving diner until 6:00, it was 5:30.
|The Route 66 corridor in the heart of historic LA.|
So, being the adventuresome folks that we are, we decided to give Boba Planet a shot. It was a bit over priced but the food was good, nutritious and filling even though it was basic. The drink department was where things got a bit strange.
Have you ever tried an iced chai tea smoothie, sipped through over sized straws to accommodate boba balls? Interesting, most interesting.