Monday, September 25, 2006

A toast to the Bottle Village

Morro Bay was foggy when we awoke today.  Couldn’t even see that big rock out in the water for awhile.  Still, we jumped on the 101, then over to Highway 1 through Oceano, where a nursery/antiques store has some huge metallic dinosaurs sprinkled around the grounds.  Turns out Bill, the owner, doesn’t actually make them, he just trucks them in to liven up the place.  Oh well...

  On the way down the Central Coast, we passed by Anderson’s Pea Soup empire (since 1924) in Buellton.  Having just read an article in the Eureka, CA paper about our visit, which called him a co-producer-- Don suggested that Mike should go get some shots of the Anderson’s signs.  He also mentioned he’s probably due for a raise!

After a tasty Indian buffet in Santa Barbara, and a near miss on a lane change (my bad), we gave ourselves over to the LA traffic gods, and  headed on into Simi Valley.

No, not for the Reagan library-- for Grandma Prisbey’s Bottle Village, or what’s left of it. The Northridge earthquake in 1994 was not kind to the bottle buildings and decorative pieces that Tressa Prisbey built in a flurry of activity from 1955 to 1961.  But Joanne Johnson rolled out the red carpet for us (one square anyway) and regaled us with stories of the woman she got to know in the last years of her life. A tidy, meticulous woman who didn’t herself drink, but made the most of colorful beer and liquor glass in her art.

Joanne’s volunteer squad, Kathryn and Drew, and her kids Sarah and Kathleen were also on hand with cookies and lemonade (just like Grandma P), tidying up the concrete work, tile and walkways.  They’re doing it for all the right reasons, and we salute that spirit!  We also noted the passing of Seymour Rosen, who played such a big role in making people aware of this and other important folk art sites.  Thanks Seymour.  Happy trails.

Music in the Van--I’m Good Now”-Bob Schneider, “Communique” Dire Straits, “Flying Cowboys” Rickie Lee Jones

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Nittwits unite!

San Simeon was William Randolph Hearst’s showplace, but Art Beal aka Captain Nittwit had a castle of his own just down the road in Cambria. We took the tour with Michael O’Malley, who never met the man, but loved his passion for building and creating a rambling nine level living complex almost wholly from junk. 

Apparently Art was unpredictable in his behavior, and less than loved by all his neighbors.  He sometimes yelled and cursed at the local kids, other times he’d let them come and enjoy his pathways and perches that snaked around the hillside.  With auto parts, old appliances abalone shells and concrete, he fashioned a most memorable way of saying that he was here. 

And we’re glad someone like Michael and his wife Stacey have stepped in to keep the ridge residence running.  But we had to run on ourselves, down to the beach for some Pacific Coast catch!  With Morro Rock in the background, we engaged in some of that impromptu recreation that can irritate viewers from sea to shining sea.  

Oh yeah, San Luis Obispo is a pretty little town too.  There were bands playing in several downtown bars that sounded pretty good.  But we had a mission-- Bubble Gum Alley, which puts the  Gum Tree we saw in D.C. to shame.  It’s a block long two wall stretch of statements in chewing gum, which is both dazzling, and as Dawn who was passing through put it “really icky.”  Of course, she and her friend Kristi ended up helping us post some Juicy Fruit for posterity too!

And finally, when in SLO, no visit is complete without a trip to the Madonna Inn’s men’s room.  Waterfall urinals rule!  And the pink decor and balls-to-the-wall over-decorating all around gave us an end of the day visual jolt par excellence. Tomorrow we head south, where fires are popping up like crazy.   Wish us luck... 


Music in the van--”Blue Train” John Coltrane

Saturday, September 23, 2006

a garden of sub-earthly delights

We left our unusually spacious motel rooms in Madera, heading for Clovis through fields of oranges and cotton, a combination we hadn’t expected to see.  Nor did we expect to see so many folks in the vicinity of Festus--a statue, that is, honoring Ken Curtis, the actor who portrayed him on Gunsmoke for 13 years. (He apparently died suddenly after a day at the Clovis Rodeo.) Turns out the annual Clovis-Fest was going on downtown, and many, many people wanted to know “what channel we were with.”  Highlights included a personal encounter for Mike with a giant Soft Serve, and for Don, sighting a ’63 Corvair Monza (the first car he owned.)

On our way to the famed Forestiere Gardens in nearby Fresno, we opted to get some long overdue car washing done--and who better to do it than trainees from the police academy?  They said “sir” a lot, hosed the copious amount of bugs on our grille with no complaints, and even took our $10 donation in $2 bills as a training opportunity in the fraud division...

The amazing thing about the Forestiere Underground Gardens is that from above ground, you really have no idea they’re there.  Hence the name.  Baldasore Forestiere was a Sicilian immigrant who devised a whole way of digging out the rocky soil on his  land to live a much cooler life in those pre-airconditioned days.  There are 40 years worth of tunnels and walkways leading in countless directions, but somehow an amazing amount of light still penetrates, and trees and flowers grow.  We took the tour courtesy of Andre, the builder’s brother’s grandson, and Andre’s mother, who you as you can see in the picture above, still knows a hottie when she sees one. 

Heading back towards the coast, as our plan called for, takes you first through more fields of fruit, then into a petroleum-centric stretch near Coalinga, where a cluster of oil pumps have been artfully remade in animal form.  That’s cool, but it’s kinda troubling when you approach to get a closer look at the cute giraffe, and the sign says DANGER, POSON GAS! We can take a hint...

We wrapped up with a trip down Cal Hwy 46, the same road where Donald Turnipseed and James Dean had their tragic meeting on September 30, 1955. A memorial stands at the Jack Ranch Cafe, but you can’t pee there without buying something, so Mike purchased some tasty homemade cookies to bribe his way in.

Thought you’d want to know.

Music in the van--”Too Long In the Wasteland” James McMurtry, “Has Been” William Shatner, “Long Gone Still” Uncle Tupelo

P.S. Don’s found money total so far--$1.25, 1 guitar pick, 4 marbles

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rubberbands, Racecars & the Future

Imagine our excitement as we approached the Pride Suprette in San Francisco’s Mission District--the home of what’s purported to be the World’s Largest Rubber Band Ball.  Well, OK, finding a parking place was really hard... and then Nabil, one of the two brothers who owns the place (and the ball) got a little testy about whether he oughta show it or not.  I think “a million dollars” was mentioned at one point.  But eventually, fast talking TV Weasel Mike convinced him to put aside his hatred of the Chiefs (like we care) and give us a look before “his crabby brother” Salim got to work. 

What can we say?  It was magnificent, sitting there in its top secret location (not far from the chips) and even better when paired with our own World Record holding ball o’ tape.  Granted, it’s nowhere near as large as theirs, but we do still haul ours around in a van, so throw us a bone here, OK?

Our escape from dense urban lands took us down 101 to Millbrae, just south of the airport.  Stephen Powers lives there, not terribly far from where he grew up as a baby boomer immersed in the magical world of TV and technology.  His early artistic pursuits fell prey to the need to make a living, but eventually he started painting again--bright, colorful works that imagine buildings and potential inventions that the future may yet bring. Some are fairly apocalyptic, some harken back to “Lost In Space” and Spielbergiana.  Stephen also likes slot cars, which he gleefully raced for awhile with Mike--quite fitting since Mr. Murphy never gets to drive the real thing! 

A tasty Vietnamese lunch set the scene for our final stop of the day, or what was supposed to be, anyway--Axel Erlandon’s Circus Trees at Bonfante Gardens.  Only when we got there, the wheels of PR ground to a halt.  Nobody could be found who would say we were theme park certified.  At least, Don did get to try out their facilities, and reports they’re just fine.  No pictures, please.

Which left us scrambling for one last gasp before daylight was completely done--the last Mammoth Orange stand, a fabled big round orange burgerteria near Chowchilla. We beat sundown by about forty seconds, said approximately six witty things about Orange Julius, and decided we’d had enough.  Viewers are almost sure to agree.

Music in the Van-”Magic Time” Van Morrison, “Failer” Kathleen Edwards, the most recent Rolling Stones (it’s late and I can’t remember the name)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Making the Kansas Connection in SF

On the left, Shawnee Mission East ’69 graduate Don the Camera Guy Mayberger, on the right SM West ‘71’s Ron Hengelaar.  We came to see Ron’s incredible collection of San Francisco memorabilia at his giant old Victorian home on Fulton Avenue.  He lives at the top of it, with a stunning “round room” view of the city, which as he pointed out, was where you could have watched it all burn back in 1906.

Debris from the quake, old bricks and chains, and countless pieces of settlements dating back to the Gold Rush and Civil War days somehow find their way into Ron’s collection.  Then he puts them on his walls in assemblages, onto a huge tower in the yard, or in many cases, into the hundreds of one gallon olive and maraschino cherry jars that he brings home from his job as a waiter.  He makes headdresses for those jars, and then they take up residence in the attic or wherever he can find a place to store them.  Wow!

Ron’s an incredible fount of knowledge about this place (he has 3400 books on the city) and a fine photographer too.  We reminisced about his KU days and concerts in Volcker Park, then tried to leave without one of our tripods.  Ron may have been tempted to “preserve” it, but his good midwestern manners won out, and we left with all the gear we brought in.

After a few navigational mishaps, we found our way to Cayuga Park, a small greenspace on the city’s southern edge.  The BART  runs above one corner of it, and in the rest, a city worker named Demi Braceros has fashioned a whole ‘nother world of lush plantings, whimsical carvings he makes from downed trees, and jungle-like nature trails that wind in and around the perimeter.  He wanted to show people that good things can happen, and took it upon himself to make the park a showplace.  It shows!  We only wish that whatever strange electrical impulses were flying around down there would take a rest.  Our mikes were fritzing right and left, but Demi was a good sport, and let us try every trick we knew.  Finally, we decided that the pictures tell the tale pretty well.  Cayuga is a very cool place.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dr. Bailey, we presume

Science lessons were flying faster than our little brains could handle today, thanks to Clayton Bailey, the Mad Scientist of Port Costa.  These days he’s best known for his shiny junk-metal robots, which cluster around him in the studio, along with the space guns and jaw’s harps which he also plays.

In a previous lifetime Clayton was trained to make ceramics.  He still does that too, including gargoyles that rise above the fence to shoe intruders away, though he admits they actually work more as “bait.’  

  We learned from him that old issues of Mad Magazine were a big inspiration in bringing about this sprawling complex of art and mock archaeology.  There’s a Bigfoot dig pit, and plenty of errant robots on the roof, in the yard and hiding amidst the prickly pears.

In fact, Mike snagged some nice ripe figs to add to our California fruit collection, leading us to admit that the show’s really just an excuse for me to weasel coffee while he snags piemaking ingredients.  Big Ball T-Shirts were left behind to commemorate the occasion,and we headed on to San Francisco itself, to meet a man who’s been very helpful in finding good stops for this trip, John Turner.

John’s a TV guy himself, a producer/editor at the ABC affiliate, and writes about outsider art for Raw Vision and other fine publications.  He introduced us to his co-worker Cheryl, who then joined in some impromptu street catch with one of our handy guest gloves.

As the day was about to end, we wandered out to the bay for a look at Alcatraz and a session at the Wave Organ.  It’s an installation of old cemetery stonework and pipes that jut out into the water, and, in theory, transmit beautiful sound back to zenned-out listeners.  This is one we’ll have to fix in post.

Music in the van- “Flying Burrito Brothers Greatest Hits” Don’s Backpacker version of “Shakin’ All Over.”

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The reluctant barker

Who is that man?  And why is he pointing a cane at us?  That’s no man, that’s a genius in a bowler named Ernie Fosselius.  The name might sound familiar to fans of his cult movie from the late 70s, “Hardware Wars.”  Ernie was an early Sesame Street animator and indy filmmaker who’s turned to working in wacky ways with a much lower tech material--wood.  Not just carvings, but mechanically moving pieces that are almost like little movies in themselves.  “I like the characters” he says, and then he puts them into play.

Play that includes a bicycle powered “Crankabout” that can be parked and folded out to display a dozen or so of his wooden automata.  Then, as a piece of street theater, Ernie in the guise of the Reluctant Barker (he made the name up while talking to us) sheepishly implores folks to come turn the gears and enjoy the show.  

Is it profitable?  Not exactly, but he has lots of fun doing it, and watching the way people react...much more immediately than in films, where as he puts it, “you tell a joke, and three years later, hear people laugh.”

There was plenty of laughter all day at Ernie’s place in Sebastapol, not the least of which came during some dueling Walter Brennans with Don the Camera Guy. And his political puppet theater is something else to behold.  And his wedding cake toppers.  And the wine stoppers...and miniature yachts driven by rats...well, you get the idea. Ernie is a hoot and a half.  And on Talk Like a Pirate Day at that!

We Thaid out at a local restaurant with Ernie and his companion Ruth, then headed for Bodega Bay.  Windy as all get out, but we still ran and shrieked like Tippi Hedren down the beach a few times and called it good.  To the Bay Area in the morn!

Music in the van--”Rubber Soul”, Jacksonville Nights”--Ryan Adams

Monday, September 18, 2006

all eyes on florence avenue

Still very hot and dry in north central California.  You feel like one match, and it would all go up in flames!  Luckily, it didn’t, and we got to see Litto Damonte’s Hubcap Ranch in an isolated pocket of wine country near Pope Valley.  The road’s still winds around, but a whole lot less than when Litto first started collecting the shiny wheelcovers that would pop off cars coming past his place.  He’d put them on the fence for folks to retrieve, but instead they just brought him more, and more, and more...

   Litto loved the socializing opportunities that being a folk art environment brought his way, and now his grandson Mike is carrying the tradition on. Mike’s wife Shannon showed us around, and another grandson, Dan, reminisced about how Litto would art direct while the kids did the work, with his cane as a motivator!

We think this is good fro Don to hear...

More hilly driving followed, then we lunched in Calistoga, but declined numerous chances for mud baths and healing waters. No sooner had we reached Sebastapol, when we spotted one of Patrick Amiot’s big junk metal sculptures--a cow in a field of, well, cows.  Many more are sprinkled around this funky little town that he settled in after migrating down from Canada and up from LA.

Florence Avenue, i.e. the street where Patrick lives, is chock full of metalworks in almost every yard--from Batman to a soccer player, a farmer, a fireman, biker and surfing girl, not to mention some that are just plain wild and silly.  And they’re drawing lots of attention, nearly all positive.  Patrick’s a busy guy these days, and was only going to give us an hour, but then the talk turned to hockey (hey, he’s Canadian), fabulous self-taught artists (we’ve met quite a few) and the merits of Starbucks vs mom & pop coffeeshops (we agreed to disagree.)  Next thing you know, it’s three hours later, and he’s wearing a Big Ball T-Shirt.  You know, I think he even posed for a picture or two.  Thanks Patrick.  Now get back to work!

Music in the van--new Allison Moorer, Rolling Stones Starbucks “Favorites” Collection, new Tom Petty

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Colossus yes, e-coli no

All of a sudden, that spinach salad we ate the other day doesn’t seem like such a good idea!  But other than the phlegmy remnants of colds that Mike and Don are lugging around California, we’re doing alright.  And after moving inland quite a ways on some tight and windy roads, we emerged in Auburn,a pretty little town on the edge of the Sierra Nevadas.

We were  drawn by giant concrete sculptures that a dentist named Dr. Ken Fox has been making for almost 40 years.  The tallest is 42 feet, and very naked, as are several other of  the graceful behemoths he has standing out front of his office.  At age 81, he still sees patients two days a week, and makes all kinds of art, some of which shares storage space with vintage dental machines.

The Chinese laborer above, which he made to honor the work that was done to build the railroads, now sits out front of the Chamber of Commerce offices.  And another, a gold miner with plenty of clothing, pans a bit at the edge of Auburn’s charming Old Town.  

“Your floss is my loss” he told us, but being the TV Weasels we are, we still snagged a free toothbrush for the road.  After lunching on some tasty Mexican food, the scenic drive down Highway 49 led past a fence full o’ boots which sounded better on paper than it actually was. Nearby Placerville, which Don recalled being mentioned in a John Stewart song(the musician, not Comedy Central guy), was teeming with tourists, which for the few moments that it took to grab beverages, included us.

We couldn’t resist stopping in Sacramento to see if Gov. Schwarznegger would grab a guest glove and play catch, but all our bellowing on the front lawn was to no avail.  And didn’t get us killed either, although a passing train almost did the trick a few blocks later!  Don’t ask.

In Davis, we tried to see where the town toads have had their own tunnel built to cross the road, but man, oh man, that’s pretty hard to show.  None were anywhere to be seen.  And dry, this part of the state is frighteningly crispy underfoot.  Salads may be the least of our worries.

Music in the van--”Long Black Cadillac”--Rosanne Cash, “California Bloodlines”--John Stewart, “Bob Dylan XM Radio Baseball Theme Hour

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reuben of Redway

Ferndale was first on the agenda today, the Victorian village where the great Kinetic Race finishes up each Memorial Day weekend.  Stan Bennett, who makes kinetic marble sculptures in the back of the local museum was a participant in the earliest days of the race. He spoke of Ferndale as being kinda like Brigadoon, a place that time pretty much forgot, and artists descended upon, though many have now moved on. 


We did too, dropping back into the Avenue of the Giants, for some serious redwood tourist action.  Our plan to enjoy the Drive-Thru Tree was thwarted though, by our taller than 7’ roof rack.  But a friendly couple in a white sedan let Don hop in back for a roadside thrill none of them will soon forget.  “Hey, pipe down in back...”

The real mission for the day was to find Reuben Sorensen in Redway.  He’s a Wisconsinite who hoboed around for years and ended up in Humboldt County.  Reuben paints from visions that give him the images from which to begin.  He’s made are hundreds of small papier mache cars that form a freeway perimeter (though he’s never driven), paintings of basketball and baseball players sans heads (“can’t draw faces well”), and a whole series of adventures centered around a mysterious red box and “headwrapping school”. Oh, and Scrabble-styled letter arrays that scream to be deciphered even when they can’t.

Reuben went to considerable trouble to pull things out of storage and display them for us in and around the yard.  And his friend Katie served up huge mugs of hot coffee, fruit and desserts, though somehow the luscious looking cheesecake never quite made it to the camera guy’s mouth! We’re still hearing about that one...

Today’s music in the van-”Neko Case”,”Por la Vida”--Tribute to Alejandro Escovedo, Best of Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash “American V”, “I Believe to My Soul” Soul Music Sampler

Friday, September 15, 2006

Kinetic and kinda frenetic

A day in Eureka can be pretty enervating.  That’s what we discovered anyway, with a first-thing-in-the morning visit to see what remains of Romano Gabriel’s garden. RG was an Italian emigrant who created what can only be called a top tier folk art environment in his yard, completely obscuring the small home he lived in with wooden flowers and figures that he built from old grocery crates.  After his death in 1977, the city managed to move most of the pieces to a glass-cased display in Old Town Eureka. Kind of a cross between a department store window and museum conditions.  (Don’t ask ‘em what happened to his hat!)  Anyway, the townsfolk were most accommodating, and a reporter from the local paper came around too.  Do we follow a script, she asked, which brought the requisite laughter, and hopefully some good press.

Then it was a short journey to a place called The Studio, where developmentally disabled adults learn to use art as a way of expressing themselves. The sign says ‘visionary” artists, and the results bear that out, especially in Bette Kuehnele’s “buffets”--food that’s both painted in a wonderful series of  “still lifes” and rendered colorfully in ceramics. The program’s been going for ten years under the supervision of Kristi Patterson, and remdinded us of GRACE in Vermont, without the funny accents!

And finally, though Duane “the most entertaining man in California” Flatmo stood us up, Ken Bierman delivered on his promise to show off the world-famous Kinetic Lab in Arcata.

That’s his “Flash Gourd’n” bike pictured above, one of last year’s entries in the annual Arcata to Ferndale Kinetic Race.  Ken’s a 5 time winner in that Lost Coast mechanical adventure, which calls for vehicles that can navigate with pedal power on land, sand and water, up hills and over dunes.  These guys are crazed, and deliver big on both art and engineering.  Rumor is they know how to party too!

A slightly overexcited Big Ball almost sent Ken to the ER, but he’s clearly a pretty tough character, and ultimately emerged from our visit unscathed.

Though we were invited for post-show beers at the Lost Coast Brewery, our prime ale tipper, Don, was starting to catch the coastal crud, and we declined. Rest is in order if we’re going to see more redwoods and art tomorrow.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

royal tree-tment

Well, look at this.  The TV Weasels are still on the loose.  And looking down on the world from up above for a change!  That’s Mike showing his complete command of heights at the Out ‘N About Treehouse Resort outside Takilma, OR.  As the name implies, its owner Michael Garnier has, as he put it, “found a way to make a living doing something fun.”  He’s built a series of treehouses around the property, ranging from romantic little  passion perches to a split-level Swiss Family Treehouse.  He’s also got horses, a stream fed swimming pool and zip lines for racing through the trees at breakneck speed.  Score one for “Strap Me In & Let Me Go” Murphy there too!  

All this action actually occurred yesterday, as did a visit to the giant Caveman and Cowboy Corral Muffler Man in Grant’s Pass, but computer issues put the kabosh on this overdue blog--until now.  

Today also turned out to be quite tree-centric, with a trip down scenic 101 into northern California that detoured into a redwood grove near Klamath for what else--some quick forest catch.  When the ball rolled into the woods, we expected Bigfoot might toss it back, but no go.  The awesome beauty of those ancient giants kept our wise-cracking to a minimum. However, the talking Paul Bunyan at the entrance to the cheezmoriffic “Trees of Wonder” was another story. As Babes go, his blue companion was quite well-endowed!

Don had a terrific veggie-laden lunch in Arcata at the Daybreak Cafe. Who says we’re not treating the geezer good?  Tomorrow’s a big day, with much art and adventure in Eureka.  Stay tuned!