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Sunday, July 31, 2011


While staying at the beach house we visited my wife’s brother in nearby Watsonville. It’s a few miles inland but a world away from the wealthy white folks that flock the coast. Most of the people in Watsonville are much more brown, working class, and speak another language.

I love it there.

It’s like going to Mexico in fifteen minutes, a border town without poverty, pickpockets, or drug wars. Watsonville produces almost all of the strawberries that we eat. They grow more than any other place in the world. And beyond those endless rows of berries are hills covered with apple trees.

The Martinelli family makes the world’s best cider there. Back in the 90’s when they needed more room for an apple press, they put their historic family home on the market. The sign out front said, “House for Sale. You Move. $1”. My brother-in-law, Antonio Violich, and his wife, Michelle, took them up on their offer. They gave John Martinelli a silver dollar and moved the 3000 sq. ft. structure three blocks west.

They have been

living there ever since.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Francesca’s folks built a beach house on Monterey Bay forty years ago. We spent a few days getting to know this special place. Of course, the Pacific Ocean is too cold to swim in but the beach is perfect for long walks. We could see dolphin and seals swimming offshore almost everyday.


Strolling down the beach at sunset, Francesca invited me to sit next to her on a little log. When I squatted down I lost my balance fallin backwards into the sand. It barely covered a large rotting tuna and immediately the fish and I smelled the same. My wife and dog wouldn’t come near me until I had cleaned up twice.

Friday, July 29, 2011


We started heading west to attend wedding at the end of July in the hills east of San Francisco. Francesca’s niece, Mariana, will marry her boyfriend Daniel. As we drove across America we got spent most of a month in the wilderness.

Now we’re in Berkeley surrounded by millions of people who love this place. There is plenty to love... cool air, sourdough bread and our friends and family who live here.


Francesca’s sister, Carmen and her husband, Doug, live in a work of art. Their house, perched high in the hills of Berkeley, amazes. We opt to camp in

their guest bedroom. I took a few pictures then stepped outside to shoot from the street.

Just then a family marched past with their pet llama. I tried to say hello but they weren’t interested. Llamas must be serious business here.

Brother Doug knows as much as anyone about multiple sclerosis. While we were there he was working on a 26-page paper on the relationship between genetics and MS.

A sample is below.

Yesterday, driving up Cedar Avenue a man had painted his house and car with matching cloud designs.

The weather here seems perfect.

When Francesca’s son, Ruy, arrived from Washington DC yesterday, he stepped out of the airport and kissed the ground. The temperature had dropped, for him, from 98 to 68 degrees. “From Hell to Heaven”, he said.

Coconut Grove’s former resident, Terry Ferrer, lives in Berkeley too. When we stopped by he introduced us to his pet squirrel, Scoogee. She lives in pine tree out back but will come down to snatch peanuts from her master’s mouth.

Berkeley, California, is a different kind of place.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Forty miles northwest of San Francisco lies the Point Reyes Peninsula. It’s another national park where elephant seals lounge on the beach and whales pass by offshore. My family and I saw one when we visited a few years ago.

My cousin and her husband spend their summers there in their 100 year-old house. We joined them for a couple of days to watched hummingbirds and deer eating apples in the yard.

There are many unique houses like the one below built on stilts on Tomales Bay.

Point Reyes seems so rural yet is less than an hour from the Big City.

After had our share of blackberries and bucolia, we headed there.



Heading down the California coast we had more Miamians to visit.

Les Cizek and Norma Watkins bought a place in Fort Bragg after Hurricane Andrew blew their Redlands home away. As you’d expect of the two artists, their home is a beautiful abode.

Norma has just written a book, “The Last Resort”, about growing up in MIssissippi during the civil rights era. Our friends who have read it love it. Norma will be giving a reading at Books and Books (Coral Gables) on September 9.

We hope you can join us there.

Les is one of our country’s most talented wood craftsmen. His work has been featured in many magazines

and books but his greatest achievement was leading his conch blowing band in the first King Mango Strut. His conch shell sits ever ready on a shelf, ready for the next march.

When he took us on a tour of studio, I asked him if he still wore a Rolex.

Les rolled up his sleeve. It had not left his wrist and he likes it so much he’ll probably be buried in it.

These two talented people still spend winter in their Brickell condo but plan to go full-time in California next year. “We like the small town thing”, they said.


No visit to Fort Bragg would be complete without a visit to Glass Beach.

For decades this lumber town dumped its garbage off of its cliffs and into the sea. The waves took away everything but the glass bottles. Smashed and smoothed,

millions of pieces of “beach glass” now cover the shore.
Tourists collect them, some by the bucket full.
There’s less of it every year as they stopped dumping there forty years ago.
In a few years the glass will be gone and it’ll become just another beautiful beach.


Our friends in Eureka, California, just opened their fifth bakery/cafe, “Ramone’s”.

Brian, Berit and their 85 employees enjoy great success serving fabulous, fresh food. Their latest cafe has been packed since it opened two months ago. After a delightful meal there we could see why. We wish they’d open one in Coconut Grove.


How does a town get a name like “Eureka”?

We guess it could have been “Wow!” or “Hot Damn” but learn it is California’s state motto. It’s supposedly what the 49‘ers yelled when they discovered gold here. I probably would have yelled something different

but they could not use it to name a town.

My wife, Francesca, grew up in the Berkeley hills with her best friend, Berit Meyer, living next door. Berit took to baking early on and now she and her husband, Brian Ferguson, have several bakeries and cafes in Eureka, California.

Somehow they are able to run their business while raising children, chickens, and horses. Camping out on their farm had us surrounded by 20-foot wide redwood tree stumps.

They seemed like the feet of giants and I suppose they once were.

After Brian explained the intricacies of bread baking (“It’s more an art than science”) Berit showed us how to collect eggs and feed her 45 chickens. The used

to raise goats but mountain lions kept eating them.

A bear ravaged a plum tree two nights before we arrived. Humboldt County is a wild place where marijuana is a huge cash crop. Driving around you could sometimes smell it in the air.

Berit and Brian prefer to make their living selling cookies, cake, and coffee.


While marijuana is a big deal in Northern California its next to nothing back in western Illinois. We were humored to see it growing along the fence line at my cousin’s house. We visited them last month.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


As we drove through southern Oregon the pine forests gradually turned to redwood. Roadside signs beckoned us to take detours through “Valleys of the Giants”. Following them had us meandering through magical, dark forests. They made us feel both small and exhilarated.

Here we stopping to enjoy blueberry scones amongst the tall trees.

Roadside vendors were selling chunks of the trees, a chance to drive through a hole cut into one of them, and a tour of this unique one-log house.

“Mystery Trees’ had a 40-foot Paul Bunyan standing next to Highway 1 with his blue ox, Babe. His plastic jaw moved slowly as he spoke to us. It was strange to be addressed by a fiberglass giant. Someone inside the buildingwas speaking for him like the professor did for the Wizard of Oz.

There are bears here too but what we’re worried about now is Bigfoot.

Roadside vendors keep reminding us that he lives in these parts. In my head I am preparing for a “Harry and the Hendersons” experience.

We never a Sasquatch or a bear but we did witness our odometer turning to 100,000 miles today. We’re luxuriating how many miles we’ve watched pass by (6000!) and we still haven’t yet turned homeward.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


An amazing thing occurred as we were leaving Seattle. The sun came out. Eyes widened, jaws dropped, and rain jackets were stashed away.

Locals call this phenomenon a “sun break”. We called it “God getting it right”.

We drove on regretting we had no time for a nearby cherry festival. I might have entered the cherry pit spit. Their current record holders are Leslie Strake (32 feet, nine inches) and the men’s champ, Mike Stephens (42 feet, 2 inches).

In Southern Washington we stopped to see the trees surrounding Mount St.Helens. Locals swore the famous volcano was right in front of us but grey clouds obscured whatever was there.

Forty miles south we stopped in Portland, Oregon, to have lunch with another former Miamian. The beer at Deschutes Brewery was great but the rain outside was not. We headed south once more.

Leaving seems to do the trick as the sun came out once more. We set up camp in Oregon Dunes State Park. As usual, a ranger stopped by to remind us to keep our edibles in the van, “We’ve got crows here that’ll take your food apart!”. “Crows?, we asked, “That’s it? No bears? She told us that bears occasionally wandered through but birds were the biggest threat. Images of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” suddenly entered through my head. It was filmed south of here in Bodega Bay.

We decided to forget about bears and birds so we could enjoy the dunes. As the clouds covered the sun again we climbed the one between us and the ocean. At its peak we witnessed another magnificent cloudset.

As you can see, there were no bears on the beach.

That thing Francesca is dragging up top is a small brown dog.


I write this blog using something called “Blogspot”. It allows people like me to create a body of information with about five minutes of training. It does not allow me to use more

than a few photographs at a time, Here a few more from our visit to

Yellowstone two weeks ago...


Sunday, July 24, 2011


It rains most of the time in the Pacific Northwest. Our friends there told us, “You get use to it and it doesn’t rain that hard. It’s a great place to live”.

We heard a guy on the radio saying, “We’’ll have some rain this morning and showers in the afternoon”. Our former Miamian friends told us out here they have many words for rain, like the eskimos do for snow.


Camping in the rain/showers/sprinkles/downpours/ liquid air was no fun for us.

We drove the van onto a huge ferry and enjoyed its warm, dry interior. After a half-hour it had carried us over Puget Sound and plunged us into Seattle. We enjoyed having lunch with our friends then checked out Pikes Place Market. It’s the perfect place to pick up fresh fish, flowers, and balloon hats.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Our trip odometer was approaching 5000 miles on what we thought would be a 3 or 4000 mile drive across the country.

What the heck, should we go all the way to Alaska? Attempt to cross the Bering Strait? What if we ran into Sarah Palin up there? Nah, she was probably far behind us scrounging for votes in New Hampshire or Iowa..

We voted to stretch our journey another 700 miles to the Northwest corner of the country, we’d proceed to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

The next day we drove into the national park there where a ranger asked, “So what do you want to see, the 8000-foot alpine region, boulder-strewn seashore, or a fantastic rain forest?”

I told him I wanted really wanted to see the sun.

He had no idea what I was talking about.

There is no word for sun in the northwest corner of the country.

It has never been seen by the pasty-faced folks who live there. Yes, it does get light in the morning and dark at night but they have no idea why. Its all clouds and rain.

In the evening people gather at the shore to watch a faint orange glow on the misty horizon. They call it “cloudset”.


We had raincoats and opted for the full rain forest experience. We camped on the Alwha River and learned that later this year it will set free. A hundred years ago they put in two dams that created fake lakes, a lot of electricity, and kept the salmon from coming home every year. In September they will begin to remove the dams.

It will be the largest dam removal project ever attempted in our country. The locals are excited. So are the fish.

That evening the Elwha was raging past our campsite. This year’s massive snow melt puts on quite a show.

We marveled at the life around the river. Moss

and ferns grew on everything as twelve feet of rain

fall here every year.

In Olympic National Park we are told to watch our for mountain lions as well as bear. We are instructed that the lions are predators, much more aggressive than bears. If you see one you are suppose to “back up a bit, never take your eyes off of it and to appear as big as possible”.

I practice flexing, puffing my cheeks, and widening my eyes.


“What a silly name”, we thought approaching the rural town called “Ritzville”.

The sun was setting on the Montana prairie and we needed a place to sleep. There were no campgrounds in this tidy town of 2000.

We stopped at the Cedar Inn and asked the manager if we could camp in his parking lot. “Sure”, he said, “and for $15 you’ll get a hot shower, Wi-fi, and a

heated pool”. It sounded like a deal. We parked and enjoyed the sky fading over an

endless fields of wheat.

Later the manager

told us we had just missed local blues festival. Tiny towns putting on major music events amazes us. If we were to stick around for a few more days, and drive a hundred miles north

we could hear Jimmy Vaughn and Booker T.

We’ve only got a half-hour for Ritzville so we tour its outdoor Farm Machinery Museum, Pretty Good Grocery Store, and enjoy the surprisingly plentiful public sculptures.

People seem happy in Ritzville. We were happy to be driving again, pointing our prairie schooner towards the Pacific Northwest.