We thank our partner-sponsors of OpenRoad with Doug McConnell, Kaiser Permanente , East Bay Regional Park District and Lake County, California for making the series possible.
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THE ISLAND OF ROMANCE
-- Doug McConnell
At the very turn of the last century, in 1900, my mother's father, then 17, found himself in the little port town of Santa Monica in southern California. It was reasonably quiet with many long and largely empty beaches. Ray Gregory wisely decided to stick around, and so that's where my mom grew up, where she met my dad (who had been raised on a homestead near Flathead Lake in Montana) and where my two older brothers and I were born.
As a little kid, I loved getting down to the beach and could often see some islands floating on the waves out to the southwest. But I never got to Catalina until I was in my early 20s. I spent a few months in late 1968 and early '69 visiting high schools on behalf of my alma mater, Pomona College, located east of Los Angeles about 30 miles in the village of Claremont. In those days, there was a boarding school between Avalon and Two Harbors, and I flew out there in a seaplane to meet the students. I'll never forget that short flight. I boarded the plane in Long Beach. The pilot was straight from central casting. Deep tan. Aviator shades. A fine head of dark hair swept back by ocean breezes or some powerful jell. He was draped in a dashing purple scarf flung recklessly over his shoulder. As the small seaplane lifted off and banked over the Pacific, I suspect he imagined himself to be a Pan American Clipper pilot, navigating by the sun and the stars and heading west with the night towards the Orient. Suddenly it was the 1930s, and very romantic. A little like Avalon on quiet days. When we touched the water and taxied to a stop (he was a good pilot it turned out in addition to being a believable actor,) I half expected to see Amelia Earhart waiting for me on the beach....rescued at last from her ditching at sea. All these years later I have no idea where that pilot and his plane have gone, and Amelia's fate remains a mystery, but Catalina lingers in its own time zone anchored off the busy 21st century coast of the Southland. That's comforting to know.
I lived in southern California until I was 8, and then we moved to Fresno and for a time lived about a mile from the Forestiere Underground Gardens. Back in those days, the Forestiere family had no control of the place and it was marketed by others as a cheesy roadside attraction...come see the work of the "Human Mole." It was even featured on a national TV show in the 50s as a strange roadside oddity. And so we never visited it. It wasn't until decades later when I learned that the family had taken control to honor the work of their uncle that I decided to go. And I was just blown away by the beauty and ingenuity of the Gardens....and by the amount of work it took to carve a castle by hand from the rock hard soil near Fresno. It was an amazing achievement. You'll especially appreciate its value on summer days when temperatures soar well above 100 degrees fahrenheit. Step down into the natural cool grasp of the earth....and you'll experience air conditioning that leaves no carbon footprint.
I hope you send us some ideas about your favorite "roadside attractions" and romantic getaways. The world...and of course the West...are full of them...and we'd love to hear your stories.