Thursday, July 23, 2009

To Santa Barbara & Back, By Train, Bicycle & Bus

Monday, June 22nd, 5:44 A.M.

Big Bear Lake

~Leaving Home~ Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Peggy and I took a 4-day trip to Santa Barbara last month to visit our friends, Alver & Judyl, and I thought some of you might be interested in seeing how we manage to get around without a car.

In the photo above, we are on one of the footbridges along the Stanfield Marsh Wildlife Preserve, about halfway between our house and the MARTA (Mountain Area Rapid Transit Authority) bus stop, where we will catch the 6:30 A.M. shuttle down the mountain to the Metrolink train depot in San Bernardino. It's about 1 3/4 miles from our house to the designated Off The Mountain (OTM) bus stop, about a 15 minute ride. We left early to go the local donut shop for a cup of coffee.

The shuttle runs down & up the mountain 3 times a day during the week and twice a day on Saturdays. There is no service on Sunday so we have to plan our trips around that. The fare for the forty-some mile trip is $7.00, each way. MARTA considers anyone 62 or older as a Senior Citizen so my fare was only $3.50. Peggy has several years before she qualifies as a senior so it cost us $10.50 to get down the mountain.

6:16 A.M. ~ At The Wrong Bus StopClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

A week or so before our trip I discovered that several of our bus-stops had been relocated to avoid traffic congestion in the shopping center parking lots and assumed that the OTM stop was also moved to the newer location in the Von's lot. I was wrong!

Fortunately, I noticed people hanging around the old bus-stop in front of Rite-Aid, and, sure enough, there are now two bus stops in the same shopping center, one for the local MARTA buses, and another for the OTM shuttles. Go figure?

Each MARTA bus and shuttle has a rack on the front which holds 2 bikes (no extra charge), but we were a little concerned that we might have to come back for the noon shuttle if there was another bicycle rider here before us. We had alternate train schedules figured out if that happened to be the case but we were the only bicyclists there.

6:39 A.M.

On The Shuttle With AngelClick on photo to enlarge -© 2009 jim otterstrom

When the shuttle arrived promplty at 6:30, we were happy to see that our old friend, Angel, would be driving us down the mountain. Angel's been driving MARTA buses for many years and, when you live in a small town, the people you encounter so regularly become like extended family.

Strapping The Bikes Into A Metrolink Rail Car

Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Purchasing tickets from the Metrolink ticket machines is always a bit confusing if you haven't used them for awhile, but there always seems to be some well-experienced Metrolinker there to help as the train rolls into the station and the neophytes (or under-experienced) start pounding buttons in hurried frustration.

Unlike MARTA, Metrolink won't consider me a senior until I'm 65, sixteen months from now, so Peg and I paid the full one-way fare of $10.25 each, for the ride from San Bernardino to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

Each Metrolink car has tie-downs for two bicycles, and a conductor informed me that, during rush hours, some bicyclists bring along bungee cords, enabling them to tie their bike to another.

Metrolink cars are light and cheery, ride very smoothly, and some seats face each other with tables in between for socializing or catching up on office work I suppose. But these are strictly commuter trains and have no food service or snack bar.

Preparing for the trip, I researched the various transit systems we'd be using, for fares, schedules, and bicycle accommodations (again, no extra charge), and our entire experience was extremely relaxing and enjoyable. Trains can be subject to delays though, so it's always advisable to not be on a tight schedule, and to have alternate plans if you miss one of your connections.

Our biggest delay would've been if there wasn't room for our bikes on the MARTA OTM bus, which would've set us back 6 hours, or until the next day. The Metrolink trains leave San Bernardino beginning at 4:18 A.M., until 7:15 P.M., running every half-hour to hour, depending on the time of day, while the AMTRAK Pacific Surfliner we rode from L. A. to Santa Barbara departs approximately every hour from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M.

In The Garden At Union Station DepotClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 peg otterstrom

I love going through L.A.'s Union Station these days to find the grand old building bustling with thousands of travelers at all hours of the day. Most of the time I was growing up, and even after Peg & I moved to Big Bear, Union Station was more like a ghost town, sparsely populated a few times a day by die-hard train enthusiasts who still traveled by their preferred method, or those who couldn't afford, or were fearful of air travel. But, in the 1980s things began to look up for Union Station. Los Angeles re-introduced light rail and, even a subway, to the city which once proudly touted their Pacific Electric Red Cars (my dad was one of their operators and I rode them many times), back when L.A. had the most extensive public rail system in the world. And, thankfully, they made the beautifully designed & crafted Union Station the central hub for the various lines, bringing life and vitality back to the area.

Olvera Street ~ La Noche Buena

Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Every time I find myself at Union Station I also visit my very favorite little Mexican Cafe , La Noche Buena, number E 8, Olvera Street in the historic El Pueblo de Los Angeles.

The friendly staff seems to be family, always the same guys there, and somehow they remember me on my infrequent trips through town. A busy fast-paced place overflowing with locals and regulars who are there for deliciously authentic, affordable Mexican food. I can still taste those great chicken tacos!

Historic Glendale DepotClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

At 12:45 P.M., about 15 minutes after after leaving Union Station, northbound on AMTRAK's Pacific Surfliner, we passed another historic and lovingly restored train depot. The onetime Southern Pacific depot serving Glendale, California was opened in 1923, and is now known as the Glendale AMTRAK/Metrolink Station.

Pacific Surfliner cars have space for three bicycles in each car, but unlike Metrolink, AMTRAK has racks installed where you hang the bikes vertically on the wall near the entrance. It was the first time I'd used these, and, during the task of figuring out how they worked, I forgot to take a picture of them.

The Pacific Surfliner is what I call a fun ride though! There's a Coach Cafe Car with large windows and tables downstairs, and coach seating upstairs. The food is nothing fancier than what you might find on a catering truck, and rather expensive, but they do serve beer and wine, including some very good beers from Stone Brewing Company in San Diego. Be prepared to pay for it though, running a railroad isn't cheap...

We opted for two small bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, at $7.50 each, to enjoy during our afternoon ride, as Peggy and I nostalgically rolled through our old hometowns of the West San Fernando Valley, and chugged northward through Simi Valley, Moorpark, Camarillo and Oxnard, toward Ventura, and the coastline of the Pacific Ocean.

Our one-way fare between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara on the Pacific Surfliner was $25 apiece, with mine being discounted to $21.50, because AMTRAK also classifies Seniors as those 62 or over. We packed our own healthful snacks to eat along the way so the cost of the wine didn't deter us as we meant to thoroughly enjoy ourselves and the casual ambiance of the Pacific Surfliner.

Cruising Along The Blue PacificClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Once you depart the Ventura Depot you're only a couple of minutes from the most scenic part of the trip, where you travel right along the coast, with waves crashing just outside your window, if you happened to pick a seat on the west-facing side of the car. Our wine and snacks finished, we're now just enjoying the scenery and looking forward to visiting our friends in Santa Barbara.


3:48 P.M.
~Santa Barbara, California~Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Santa Barbara is a gorgeous, artsy, people-friendly, bicycle friendly city, with stunning architecture that reflects the natural beauty of the Southern California coast. As far as I'm concerned, cities don't get much better than this!

I was taken by the walkway to the front entrance of the circa 1902 Santa Barbara Train Depot, which is simply a gravel path leading from a residential neighborhood of modest size homes situated between the tracks and the Pacific Ocean. How Old California is that?

Our friends, Alver & Judyl, live about 15 minutes from here, by bicycle, and we had just called to let them know our train had arrived and we'd be at their place soon.

But first we wanted to stop by and say hello to another old friend of mine, Janet, who lives on a tiny houseboat in the Santa Barbara Marina just a couple of blocks from here.

~Small Is Beautiful~

Janet's Lovely Little BoatClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Janet has classes during the day and is somewhat difficult to get in touch with by phone at any given moment in time (kind of like me), so we just followed her directions to the location of her boat, and how to gain access to the dock. Once there, of course, Janet wasn't home, but the boat was open and an ice-cold Pilsner Urquell awaited me in the fridge.

~Waiting For Janet~
Or... How You Know You're On Vacation!Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 peg otterstrom

We waited around for about half-an-hour, enjoying the light & airy feel of this pretty & well-organized little boat, but no Janet, so we decided to try again another day and headed off to Alver & Judyl's place.

Did I Mention That Alver Is An Artist?Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

I've known Alver for forty-some years, since the good old days of Topanga Canyon, and visited him a couple of times shortly after he moved to Santa Barbara around 1970, before losing track of him. About a decade ago I ran across a mutual friend who had Alver's current contact info and it's great to be back in touch with him.

On a previous trip to Santa Barbara, for a family wedding two years ago, we had the chance to visit with Alver for just a few minutes on our way home (the first time in almost 40 years), and met Judyl, his significant other, for the first time.

Peggy and I felt so much at home in the presence of both Alver & Judyl that we really wanted to get back up there and spend some time with them, so, over two years later, we finally made it.

In the picture above, Alver is demonstrating how the spinner in the center of his somewhat prophetic 1981 assemblage piece, 'Suckabuck', works.

JudylClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

And this is Judyl, one of the strongest, most creative, and interesting women I've ever met, possessed of a deep-rooted beauty which shines from within her like a beacon of honesty radiating from some special place where we all wish we had spent a lot more time.

Among other things, Judyl is a poet, a former publisher of poetry books, a gardener, an excellent cook, and, a gifted weaver, of enormous talent in so many ways.

But, most of all, she's simply inspirational to be around!

Two Old Coots In Judyl's GardenClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Alver and I in Judyl's garden Monday evening, shortly after Peg and I rode in from the train station. It seems that a large number of my old buddies, oddly enough, are afflicted with HFS (Hairy Face Syndrome).

Judyl & Peg On The Porch

Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Peggy & Judyl share a chuckle on the front porch Wednesday morning, at my expense I believe. Something about, "does he ever put that camera down?".

Judyl's GardenClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Peggy spent a lot of time here during our visit, doing good-work in Judyl's garden, and what better hours might anyone ask for than those spent in the bountiful garden of a dear friend?

Judyl With Her LoomClick on photo to enlarge - © 2007 jim otterstrom

This photo was taken in what I'll call Judyl's weaving studio back in 2007, during our previous and very short visit. I believe she had recently finished the shawl she is wearing.

I was, and still am, completely taken with the beauty and quality of her weaving, and in a subsequent post will be sharing more of that here, but you can see already why Judyl is such an inspiration to Peggy and I.

Alver In His StudioClick on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

One of my reasons for making this visit was to convince a somewhat reluctant Alver to allow me to photograph some of his work for him, much of which hasn't been documented.

During our four days at their place I managed to photograph over 50 of his assemblage pieces, many of which were large works that had to removed from walls, and all of which, had to be moved outside to a makeshift photo studio. Time was short, my equipment is not what one could call professional, and we had to make do with less than ideal conditions, so Alver was, I think, justifiably skeptical that the results would be worth the effort. But, little by little, I've been sending him some of those results, which I'm quite happy with, and I believe Alver is pleasantly surprised as well.

Alver honored my efforts by generously sending me one of my favorite pieces, 'Spin, Twist, Traverse', constructed in 2004, which you will also see in a future post.

All of my time wasn't spent taking photos though!

I too worked in the garden a bit and we had some really delicious meals together. We visited the Santa Barbara Community College Adult Education Floor Loom Class Judyl is involved with (an amazing 35 floor looms all in one big room). We went to Alver's favorite thrift store, in Goleta, where Peg & I made some cool finds, on the cheap!

Peggy and I went for early morning bike rides, discovering little hole-in-the-wall joints with great breakfasts. We rode miles of bike paths along wide-open ocean front parks. We rode out on Stearns Wharf and did a little shopping. We had delicious omelettes at The Breakwater Restaurant, overlooking Janet's houseboat in The Marina (while we were keeping the boat under surveillance after our third unsuccessful attempt to visit her). We took a short boat excursion out to Stearns Wharf again, aboard The Little Toot, with one of Janet's friends who works on the boat. We rode our bikes to the Tri-County Wholesale Produce Market and bought bunches of goodies for dinner.

Judyl and Peg chatted away, getting to know each other while Alver and I reminisced with stories of old friends, and the good time was obviously shared by all.

Yep, this all happened in four very short and relaxing days.

But it was time to go home...

Click on photo to enlarge - © 2007 jim otterstrom

This is Alver & Judyl saying goodbye to us from their front porch back in 2007.

It is the photo I kept referring to in reminding myself that we needed to go back and spend some time with these two people.

And now we have scads of new pictures, and fond memories too, which will bring us back together, sooner, rather than later.

Thank You Judyl & Alver!

~But Alas, We Have A Train To Catch~

Santa Barbara Depot
6:22 A.M. Friday, June 26th
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

We left Alver & Judyl's place about 5:30 A.M., riding southward down Milpas Street until we found an open place to get coffee, then continued on to the beachfront bicycle path and headed north toward State Street and the train station. Another coffee stop on State and it was time to wait for our train. But we had an unexpected surprise in store.

Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

During our last visit, on Thursday, to Janet's unoccupied boat, I wrote her a note on a napkin and left it sitting on her bedside table. I said I was sorry that we had missed her and that we were leaving on the 6:30 A.M. train the next morning.

Well, I'll be damned if some character in her dream didn't keep telling her that she'd better wake up and get over to the train station, so she jumped out of bed, got herself a cup of coffee somewhere, and came running up the platform yelling, "I'm here, I'm here!".

What a wonderful surprise, and the perfect ending to our Santa Barbara visit. I hadn't seen Janet in over 20 years either, although we keep in touch by phone, letters, and e-mail.

We got to hang out for fifteen minutes or so until it was time to board and we were saying that we were looking forward to breakfast at Olvera Street again when she told us she was recently there and had absolutely great molé at La Golondrina Restaurant.

We all hugged, and Peggy & I climbed aboard our train, racked our bikes, and took our seats. We waved goodbye as our train rolled away, southward again, with Janet running alongside blowing kisses like some scene from a Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall film.

~La Golondrina Restaurant~
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

During our train ride south, Peg asked me if I remembered the name of the Mexican Restaurant Janet told us about, to which I replied, "Of course I remember the name, I used to live in a house on the corner of Canoga Avenue and Golondrina Street in Woodland Hills". With that question, I knew she really wanted to taste that molé and we got to Olvera Street just as La Golondrina was opening up, so we each ordered our particular style of Margarita before we studied the menu.

A Toast To Olvera Street, To Janet, And To Us...
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

When the waiter brought us our drinks, and some paper napkins, I remembered something else about the word Golondrina. La Golondrina was printed on the napkin in Janet's boat, on which I left her the note about the train station, obviously a napkin she saved from her recent trip here.

She awoke from her dream, rushed to the old Santa Barbara Depot, and now we are here at La Golondrina. What a strange and magical world it is...

~Molé With Music~
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Peggy got the molé, which she loved, and I ordered an unbelievably delicious crab-stuffed chile relleno that just melted in my mouth. The best chile relleno I've ever had and I consider myself a bit of a chile relleno connoiseur!

This was the only time on the trip that we really splurged. The meals were out of our budget range, but the food & service was excellent!

Besides, it was providence that brought us here and who's to complain about being guided to a divine meal, accompanied by mariachi music, before embarking on the last leg of a perfect mini-vacation.

Don't mess with the Gods of Muse!
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

Back At The San Bernardino Metrolink Station
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

By 1 P.M. we were back at the San Bernardino Metrolink Station where we met up with two Big bear friends while waiting for the shuttle up the mountain.

Eric (red-shirt), who works at a local firewood yard two-blocks from our house, was on his way home from visiting family and entering his pride & joy, a custom all-chrome low-rider bicycle, in a big low-rider bike competition, and Roger (hand-up behind the arch), an old friend from my Post Office days when I'd see him during my frequent lunches at the Teddy Bear Restaurant.

We're feeling close to home now...

Click on photo to enlarge - © 2009 jim otterstrom

An hour and a half later our shuttle was rounding the meadow by Juniper Point just a couple of miles from our house and we were happy to be home again after a wonderful trip.

Sometime soon I hope to be sharing some more photos of Alver & Judyl, of their home, their art, and their life together.


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Blogger Tabor said...

What a wonderful and 'alternative' trip. Your lifestyle, much healthier than mine, and your vacation looks like it suits you both well. As we get older seeing distant friends is very restorative, isn't it? My husband and I have been eyeing the rails to trails here and should be exploring more of those soon.

2:02 AM  
Blogger canyon naturalist said...

WOW!It looks like you two had an awesome trip!

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your trip! Look forward to more pictures.


6:49 PM  
Blogger gfid said...

not many holidays in my near future. this (vicarious trip) was most restful and refreshing. thank you!

11:11 PM  
Blogger desert mirage said...

I have followed your blog via Catboxx and enjoyed your writings from your trip. I was very pleasantly surprised to hear so much about Alver and Judyl. I am looking forward to the pictures of his art. Alver is my cousin and I have not seen him for about 10 years but he always sends his newest calendar each Christmas. Thank you so much for the great read.


10:02 PM  
Blogger clairesgarden said...

coming back later to finish reading, trip looks fabulous!

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey guys!

Got your Facebook message. I won't bother you with my Facebook posts anymore. I love your blog it is so beautiful! This bike trip story is great! You are an inspiration and my heros!!! Love, Ingrid

10:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hi Tabor-

I love the concept of Rails to Trails but I sure hope they don't take out the tracks we ride.

I'm thinking of a new idea, 'Freeways To Rails & Trails'.


We had a blast!!! What more can I say?


I'm glad you enjoyed the pics, always more coming...


you are most welcome!

desert mirage-

What a small world-wide-web it is!
Alver's cousin!
And I see from your blog that we have much in common too!
Please keep coming by and I will get those photos of Alver's art up eventually, I promise!


Hey girl, how are you?

Dear Ingrid-

We just don't have time for Facebook, but it is a great way to connect with long lost friends.

I'm really glad you like the blog and thanks for checking in here today. Peggy and I were just talking about you and Scott a little while ago.

We love you guys and it's been too long since we've seen you!!!

4:49 AM  
Blogger clairesgarden said...

Jim and Peggy, thankyou for sharing your trip, it made a good read! lovely to visit with friends and I love Janets boat! I am well and busy, not gardening or blogging quite so much now as my pony takes most of my spare time, and I love every minute spent with her.
many blessings to you both.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i live in moreno valley area. where and when exactly do you sell the produce? i will someday live simple as you. thank you for your blogs.

7:30 PM  
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7:24 PM  

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