Sunday, May 21, 2006

5000 miles and not a drop of rain

Ok, that’s not completely true.   We caught a short shower on the way out of Kansas, a bit o’ misting in the Cascades one night, and about five minutes of light rain today (with a great rainbow on the side.)  Are you kidding?  On a two week trip to the Pacific Northwest!  Are we the luckiest weasels ever or what?  Not a single shoot had to be changed due to weather, though Don still wishes we’d waited to do Dick and Jane til the next morning because of that whipping Ellensburg wind.  And of all things, we actually got hot and sweaty a couple days in Washington and Oregon due to record-setting temps.

  Things went wonderfully well, and once again, the trip’s  been a satisfying reminder that creative people and idiosyncratic urges still have a place in this world.  Corporations don’t own everything, and some people don’t wait for committees to make their decisions!  And that’s pretty fun!


After a long day’s drive, Chinese food in Utah, plenty of crappy snacks and bad coffee, we’re back to Denver for the night.  This is the last of the blogging for now, I’m going to bed!  See you on TV...

—RMason for Mike, Don and the Big Ball

Musical highlights--the new Paul Simon, “Gold”--Ryan Adams, Beatles Anthology 1&2, “Shout, Sister, Shout--Tribute to Sister Rosetta Thorpe”

Saturday, May 20, 2006

On the farm (s) with rasmus and gene

That would be the Petersen Rock Gardens pictured above--the 17 year masterwork of a Danish farmer named Rasmus Peterson a few miles outside Redmond, OR.  In some respects very similar to other rock gardens we’ve seen, but spread out liberally around his acreage, and even out into the parking lot!  His granddaughter Sue runs the place now, with help from her husband George (he does the repairs) and a flock of n very noisy peacocks.  Lots of water involved here too, with bridges and walkways, pools and falls.  Years ago they sold Viewmaster slides in the gift shop, but alas, no more...

The other “agricultural” site is a few miles closer to Bend--the Funny Farm.  Gene, the owner, sells antiques and collectables (Don bought a Supremes album and Alaska commemorative plate) in a ramshackle shop with a giant Yellow Sub totem outside.  There’s an Agitator Wall, a Bowling Ball Garden, the Love Pond, and plenty of homage to the Wizard of Oz sprinkled around the grounds. His rainbow job on the barn roof caused quite a stir at first, but in that case at least, Gene fought the law, and the fun won!

We toasted our final day of shooting with another round at Starbucks, bought the new Eric Clapton CD and a NY Times and started heading for home. 

Musical highlights--The Best of John Hiatt, Nnenna Freelon’s Bille Holiday Tribute,“Transcendental Blues”--Steve Earle, John Hartford Live

Friday, May 19, 2006

Man of many modes

Bomber Gas in Milwaukie, OR is quite the local landmark.  At first, the big B-17 hung over some gas pumps in this small town south of Portland.  Then the owners turned to food, and that’s what the place is known for today.  Since we’d already stuffed ourselves on complimentary hotel breakfast fare, we grabbed our gloves and threw a few under the fuselage.

But before we could even break free of Milwaukie, honorary producer de jour Don spotted a Lady Liberty peeking out over a strip mall. A fiberglass replica mounted on a big stone pedestal in the parking lot shared by several car repair facilities.  Turns out Matthew and Chris, two brothers from Iran wanted to say “thanks” for the chance to prosper, and chose what for various reasons turned out to be a half million dollar way to do it!

Two and a half driving hours later found us at the beach. Newport to be exact, meeting up with our Northwest tipster and “Raw Vision” writer Eliza Murphy.  She led us to Rick Bartow’s home and art complex out on the bay--land owned by his family for several generations.  Rick’s a Wiot tribal member, sober for 26 years, and thrilled that he can make art for a living.  Art that draws from nature and certain Native American symbologies, but wanders into areas (some of them pretty dark) that are all his own.  There’s painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpting and printmaking going on out here, and he plays in a blues band too.  Another in our series of guys who don’t ever seem to stop.  But eventually we did, knowing that a drive back across the mountains awaited.  Through the mist, with darkness falling, we oohed, aahed and held our breath while the Ford Freestar safely carried us to the High Desert on the other side.

Musical highlights--New Neil Young, “Goodbye”--Cream, “Poison Love”--Buddy Miller, “Making Movies”--Dire Straits, the new Paul McCartney (sorry about the breakup)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

va-va-va velvet

Portland’s a pretty place.  That’s a given.  They’ve got two big rivers, lots of greenery and roses, light rail and all kinds of eco-awareness to help preserve it.  They also have The World’s Smallest Park, an officially recognized piece of mini-greenspace on a traffic median downtown.  Only due to construction, it’s currently in storage!!!!  At least that’s the story we got from some nearby office workers on their morning smoke break.  Who knew?

While downtown we also scoped out the Mark Wooley Gallery in the Pearl District, where Seattle’s Ann Grgich (who was out of town when we passed through) has co-curated a great show of outsider artists from around the world. Get out the credit cards.  Purchases were made...

Other notable achievements along the way included a Thai meal that didn’t involve any screaming from the kitchen (see 5/14 entry) and Don purchasing the new Neil Young CD in anticipation of long drives to come.

All that said, our real mission here was “the epicenter of art in Portland,” (at least according to its creators) The Velveteria.  The World’s only museum of velvet painting is the natural outgrowth of collecting so many of the danged things at garage sales and flea markets--1100 or so of them.  Carl Baldwin and Caren Anderson genuinely love these crazy colored icons from a simpler time.  Jesus, John Wayne, Elvis and naked ladies seem to lead the league, but they’ve also got plenty of poodles and gringos, Yoda and JFK too.  At just $3 per head, it’s a head-turning expereience, and money well spent, especially since they didn’t make us pay!

Later, we toured North Portland in the art car that Marci McFarlane calls “Trophy Wife” a ’74 Dodge Dart with its top shorn off, festooned with commemorative hardware and a non-factory paint job.  It’s her fifth art car, and a great way to see the neighborhood, including her absent friend Jim Skinner’s place and the oddly autocentric Beaterville Cafe. Portland’s art car community has long been an active one, and our only regret was that the Rev. Chuck Linvell’s world-renowned Danger Car was MIA, but in the what-the-theck-is-going-on-here 86 degree heat, we had to QUIT.

Newport on the coast tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

But not broken

After spending the night at the dubiously named Edgewater Inn in Long Beach, Washington, we figured we’d take the town up on the unusual opportunity to drive along its lengthy strand of beach.  There’s even a posted speed limit of 25 mph.  However, no signs tell you that the really soft sand you have to get through first is no friend to minivans.  Next thing you know, it’s tow time!

Then it was play some catch at the World’s Largest Frying Pan time in downtown LB.  This is the 2nd version (still no teflon) which replaced one they actually would use to fry up piles of the clams so prevalent along these shores.  Of course, when that tsunami hits someday. even a big skillet won’t have much of a chance. 

And as the above photo shows, the other big draw here is a sideshow attraction in itself--Jake the Alligator Man. We’ve seen Mermans before, but never one with its own squished penny and merchandise galore.  Jake’s in his case at Marsh’s Free Museum, along with lots of great old coin-op games and novelties, a collection of glass fishing balls and a Love Chair!  Like Maria the owner told us, it’s the kind of free museum where you can spend a lot of money.  Which we did.  Oh, and that being towed from the beach makes you a local....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

something out of nothing

Two big stops today, and different as they were, the common thread seemed to be taking scraps or minimally desirable objects and making something memorable from them.  The guy in the picture with Don is Dan Klemmert, whose sculpture park sits in the shadow of Mt Rainier, outside Elbe, WA.  He calls it Ex-Nihilo, from a Native American term for making something out of nothing.  Dan’s pretty sharp with a welder, though he’s never had a lesson in it or in art.  He just has the knack, whether it’s ironwork or sculpting with driftwood (he’s working on a 15 foot sasquatch at the moment.)  There’s humor at times, poignancy and drama at others, and a real appreciation for the way craftsmen used to take pride in their work.

After a brief visit to the World’s largest Egg in Winlock, we decided to pay our respects at the famed Richart House in Centralia.  That’s where Richard (Rich-Art) Tracy has for the last twenty two and a half years been transforming his yard into something absolutely unique.  His rules are it has to be something he can make in 5 hours, and spend less than $5 on.  Of course, he also says the tour lasts 5 minutes, even when it clearly can go much longer.  Time in the yard is pretty elusive! Styrofoam is a favorite material here especially after the rain and sun age and weather it.  Poles rise up, antennae wiggle, streamers stream, and the maze of displays winds almost endlessly around the house.  We showed Richart the Big Ball of Tape, and for a moment or two, we weren’t really certain we’d ever get it back!

Musical highlights-- “Hollywood Town Hall”--Jayhawks, “Hearts & Bones”--Paul Simon, “Live In Aught Four”--James McMurtry, “Blue Trane”--John Coltrane

Monday, May 15, 2006

By the time we got to Blackstock

Greg Blackstock plays accordion and makes what some have called list paintings.  They’re meticulously hand drawn illustrations with cleanly lettered explanations of everything from knots to bells and saws and mackerels, power boats and Vermont’s historical attractions, and well, whatever he gets the urge to make. The walls of his basement apartment are covered with prints of his work, letters about his retirement from a kitchen post at the Seattle Athletic Club, and autographed photos of his favorite celebs.  He loves Phil Silvers, and barks out a mean Jimmy Cagney impression.  He and Don even went toe to toe with a round of dealing Cagneys!!

A book of Greg’s amazing pieces (and a few recipes) will be out by Labor Day. Congrats are in order...

We hit Greg’s place near Green Lake after a morning run through Frement, the self-proclaimed Center of the Universe.  It reminded Mike how much he loves “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, but really, what doesn’t?   We saw the statue of Lenin by the Taco del Mar there and took the Big Ball under the bridge to visit the VW crushing Fremont Troll.

On the way out of Seattle we ate “the best chips of the trip”--Tim’s Cascade Chips from nearby Algona, prompting us to consider a morning visit to the company HQ in hopes of copping some freebies!  TV Weasels to the end...

But the day actually ended with a visit to Bob’s Java Jive, a still standing coffee pot shaped structure in Tacoma. Never really made money as a restaurant the owner told us--so it’s been a bar for fifty plus years.  The inside was fabulously folk artsy, and only a wee bit dank.  Karaoke tonight didn’t float our boat, but someday it’d be fun to come back and rock out with ‘em on the grounds of this classic roadside attraction.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A rocker and a ranter

Mother’s Day was a beaut in Seattle, mid 70s and plenty of sun. But inside the workings of this crazy blog thing, it was more like a meltdown.  I did write eloquently, I swear, about our two Seattle stops, but they got “corrupted” or something.

So now I’ll just do a quick thumbnail sketch of our day.

1) The Walker Rock Garden--a Boeing worker named Milton Walker transformed his sloping backyard with rocks and concrete that have held up incredibly well. Milton Walker’s daughter Sandy turned the fountain on for us, and even let us use her dad’s old wheelbarrow to shuttle the Big Ball back up to the van. 

2) Tim Fowler--here’s a guy who likes to rant.  He’s very good at it, and not just verbally.  Some of the art that adorns his yard in an old neighborhood that’s starting to gentrify has a noticeable bite to it.  He carves wood, works with tile and likes to race motorcycles.  He is, as he puts it, a pre-existing nuisance.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Starbucks on every corner

No, we didn’t actually replace Don with a four-year old.  That’s camera guy-in-training Truman, son of Karen Light, owner of Seattle’s Garde Rail Gallery.  Karen’s a southern girl who’s been bringing outsider art to the Northwest.  She called Don a crazybutt at one point, so you gotta like that!

She’s been instrumental;in helping us track down some good local artists to see and shoot around here. And today, we started with Ree Brown at the gallery. He’s a soft-spoken retired accountant, whose small scale paintings are, much to his surprise, finding an eager audience.  His subjects are often African-American, though he’s not.  Ree turned 80 the other day, and is more than willing to share his feelings about the current administration, though not in his work, 

I almost forgot to mention that we stopped in Roslyn on our way in.  It’s the little town 85 miles east of here, where Northern Exposure was filmed back in the day.  Many have visited, but perhaps none have played catch in front of The Brick.  Viva Maggie & Joel, Hollings, Shelly and Ed...

Dinner tonight was Polynesian, pu-pus and all, with a great crusted asi dish for moi and a tasty garlic green bean tofu that made Don quite happy.  As of this writing, no ice cream yet for Mikey. He’s probably getting some now, or at least reading the flavors somewhere near Pike Market. Best of all, our quest for good coffee has taken a most positive turn.

Friday, May 12, 2006

art with dick and jane

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.  We started the day passing a milk bottle shaped building in north Spokane, then strolling up to the giant Radio Flyer in Riverfront Park.  The Big Ball rolled along with us in a standard size TV Flyer that’s been definitely saving my spine some trauma this trip.

After a wee bit of technical difficulties that resulted in lots of head scratching and a call back to the station (thank God for Richard Carr) we got back on the road west to Grand Coulee.  The dam’s quite the deal, but we were most interested in Emil Gehrke’s homemade windmills, which covered his yard until he died in 1980. Then they were moved to a park in nearby Electric City.  Problem is they’re now protected by a Guantanamo type fence that makes taking good pictures difficult. Nobody on site had a key, the bolt cutters they brought weren’t strong enough, and finally Don and Mike both just climbed in to do what had to be done. It appears a muscle or two may have been strained...

After a quick stop in Soap Lake to see where the World’s Largest Lava Lamp will someday be installed, and for some coffee at the tres chic Caffeine Couch, we motored on to Ellensburg.  We saw Dick & Jane there.  We saw Dick & Jane’s Art Spot.  It was very cool. Literally.

The wind was blowing mercilessly most of the time this couple of 36 years showed us around their always changing corner lot across from the police station.  Dick’s best known for his reflector art and totems, Jane’s a painter, and they just like to make people smile.  So they’ve taken their art outside.  After a wild and wooly tour through the sun-dappled, wind-blown, surprisingly chilly grounds, Don reported that it was the hardest hour of video he’s ever shot.  That seemed to please Dick immensely. We talked awhile longer inside their much more serene studio, packed up our gear, bestowed 

commemorative T-shirts and all went out to eat Thai.

Musical highlights--The new Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits, Crosby & Nash Live

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A lady named cleo and a lotta time in the van

Cleo Swayne is nearly 93, and when the weather’s nice enough, she rides a red scooter down from her house to the Nature Trail at Cleo’s Ferry Museum on the Snake River near Melba, Idaho.  It was a little too windy today, so she stayed close to home, but we walked the 3/4 mile trail, which is lined with hundreds of birdhouses, mirror balls, statuary (store bought and home made) and signs-- lots and lots of signs that express Cleo’s thoughts about life and how to enjoy it.

  There’s no charge to get in, and besides the trail, there are great old stone buildings, a chapel and various other remnants of the life she and her late husband “Doc” Swayne lived out here.  “If we even suspected there was an antique for sale, we were there,” she told us.  And the grounds of this most unique private outdooor museum bear witness to that compulsion. Did I mention there’s giant fiberglass animals sprinkled around too?

After our departure, we ate some tasty Mexican food in Nampa  and made a slight course reversal so Mike could retrieve his AMEX card from the Holiday Inn where it apparently wanted to stay.  That’s usually my job!!

Then we settled in for a long, and utterly beautiful drive up through the Cascades, heading for Spokane.  Turn after turn with fast running rapids and stunning views made seven and a half hours of driving time go surprisingly fast.  Though Mike is reporting some knee pain from yesterday’s catch...

Musical highlights:  “Deja Vu”--CSNY, “Fox Confessor Brings the Blues”--Neko Case, Beatles Anthology 3 (Disc 3), “Nighthawks at the Diner”--Tom Waits

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

spuds make the world go round

When a day starts with a guy in a coffee truck giving you free stuff, you know it’s gonna be OK.  Not actual coffee unfortunately, but cool travel mugs from a local distributor.  We filled them up twenty miles away at Martha’s Cafe in Blackfoot, which advertises itself with a Muffler Jackie retrofitted to carry a plate of fries.  The girls inside asked if we shot up her skirt, which of course we didn’t.  This encounter marked our first time to hear the term “choneys.”  

Blackfoot is also the home of the World Potato Expo, complete with Guinness Book record-holding chips, a burlap tuxedo and a Dan Quayle spelling exhibit.  All in a great old train station with a big tater outside.  Much memoribilia was removed from the premises--once they got the credit card machine to work.

We also hit Arco, the country’s first town to be lit by nuclear energy.  We ate an Atomic Burger.  And there’s a mountain outside town, where high school classes have daringly written their graduation year each year since 1920.  We also played our first catch of the trip in the shadow of a nuclear sub conning tower in a small city park.  Dan Quisenberry, our all-time favorite submariner, was foremost in our minds the whole time.

Most of the day was spent driving, past the lava strewn Craters of the Moon region, where some serious road construction prompted Don to try a little roadside comedy on the captive audience... and then eventually on to the spectacular Shoshone Falls on the Snake River  We thought they said Viagra of the West, but all that rushing water must have confused us!!

Musical highlights -- “Tumbleweed Connection”--Elton John, “Spike”--Elvis Costello, The Little Willies, “This Perfect World”- Freedy Johnston.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

a backyard bonanza

The Mormon Church has its world headquarters in Salt Lake City, visited by millions, including us for a few minutes in the middle of this sunny, slightly chilly spring day.  The flowers at the Temple are incredible, though Sister Stephanie (who was intrigued by the microphone I was wearing) did not OK Don’s request to take home a bouquet or two. 

We spent the morning at an amazing folk art site just east of downtown SLC called Gilgal Gardens, built from the 1940s into the 70s by a stonemason named Thomas Child.  He was a well-read, devout Mormon who wanted to take the things he was thinking and make them tangible and permanent. And like he told people, it was his yard, so why not?  There’s a sphinx with Joseph Smith’s head, a pile of Nebechanezzar’s body parts, Isaiah’s cave and an awesome self-portrait with Thomas wearing what appears to be some darned dapper plaid pants. The rocks are huge,and beautifully cut, with inscriptions that probably mean more to people of faith than heathens like us!   But with the Friends of Gilgal doing their part, the site has been reclaimed from years of overgrowth and reborn as a city park that’s open virtually year round.  Score one for the good guys...

Speaking of which, score one for Don today.  He got lunch at “the top vegetarian restaurant” in town (great coffee too.)

We didn’t do quite so well, however, in our search for “gravity hill,” a mystery spot where cars are said to appear to roll uphill.  We did,in fact, get yelled at by some joggers while attempting to defy gravity!

And after a long, seemingly fruitless search for an actual pyramid that houses something called the Church of Summum and I’m not making this up, a mummy-making operation, we finally found the darned thing (smaller than expected.) Kudos to the map-savvy Patty Bear, and an unnamed barista at Pioneer Square for their roles in helping get THAT monkey off our back!

Traffic out of SLC was aggravatingly slow, but eventually we broke free and bolted for Pocatello.  Mike napped, but awoke in plenty of time to cross the Idaho line, now RVRR’s 41st state.

Musical highlight--Neil Young’s Prairie Wind, the Rolling Stones Starbucks Music We Listen To compilation, Ralph Stanley & Jim Lauderdale “Lost In the Lonesome Pines.” 

Monday, May 8, 2006

a rocky start

Utah is brand new to us, one of those few states we have yet to encounter.  And even though it meant veering slightly south, we couldn’t resist the lure of a place that wears its name in bold white paint, the Hole ‘n the Rock south of Moab.  We took the scenic route that winds down along the Colorado River, oohing and aahing all the way.  

HITR is a one-of-a-kind tourist trap built by a guy named Albert Christiansen, who cleared out a 5,000 square foot living space in the side of a mountain, ran a diner in it for awhile, carved a tribute to FDR, and in his “spare time” taxidermied a little too.

The Big Ball got to pose out front, and then we turned back to the north, for a long stretch of what Mike aptly called “inhospitable” land, where people and cell phone signals are pretty scarce.  Then in Wellington, we stumbled across one of those small but striking places we’ve learned to love, Carl & Elaine’s Deer Crossing--an explosion of fences and an arch all built from antlers!

The town of Helper is just down the road.  Not only is it the last name of Dick Van Dyke’s neighbors, Millie & Jerry, it boasts a Muffler Man like no other on the front lawn of the old Civic Auditorium.  They’ve put a pick in his hand and covered him in black--a Mutant Miner on the city payroll!

We then climbed back into the mountains and made tracks for that Great Salt Lake, to pay tribute to our old friend from Lawrence, Herk Harvey.  Horror film fans may know him as the director of “Carnival of Souls,” a cult classic which was shot at the old Saltaire Pavilion in the early 60s. Herk’s gone now, but Don snagged a pair of his shoes in an unnatural shade of green at a garage sale some years back. Herk said you shoulda seen the suit they went with...leading us to believe he’s rhumbaing in heaven tonight!   

Sunday, May 7, 2006

off we go

This photo was snapped by Don the Camera Guy’s lovely wife Tressa at 8:47 a.m.  Don proceeded to say goodbye to her and trusty dog Nokona (once again the Best Boy) and climb into our brand new rented Ford Freestar (thanks Jake at Avis!)for the nothing but driving portion of the show.  Well, we stopped and ate in Russell,KS where we encountered RVRR fans John & Judy in the next booth.  They actually knew what time the show runs on their Bunker Hill PBS affiliate, and John claims he even complained once when they took it off for awhile. Wow!!

Other than that, we purchased Kansas shot glasses. had my AMEX card declined, and learned that Don has a new line for fans who catch him off guard--”Sometimes I forget I’m me.”  The jury’s out on that one.  Then much more driving, a little rain, homemade cookies (thanks Kelly) and eventually the charming old Colorado mining community, Georgetown. We had a nice meal and in my case, the nagging sensation that I’d been there before--with these guys.  Which apparently I haven’t.  We figure that someday when we’re all in the nursing home we’ll pretty much attribute everything that ever happened to us to this show! 

Music highlights-the new Springsteen Seeger sessions, some old 78s from Don’s collection, Shelby Lynne,Amazing Rhythm Aces and the Elders Live At the Gem. 

Sixteen hours after we started, our Comfort Inn for the night in Fruita, CO welcomes us with open arms... and we head for bed at 11 or so, knowing it’s Moab in the morning.