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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Cars & Restaurants

Cars & Restaurants

What a combination this title is! The impetus for this one was the result of a conversation I had with my two lunch dates today. Today’s lunch was once again at Joe’s of Westlake, and it was the first time for one of my friends, which is always a treat. I’ve taken so many people here for their “first Joe’s fix” over the years, and it never ceases to amaze me that some people have never eaten at this Daly City gem where I’ve enjoyed at least 1000 meals.


Today’s little venture was to (A) show my friend Angela what Joe’s was all about, and (B) to introduce Nicole to all the fun gadgets and toys that she’ll use as she embarks on the Professional Baking course at the San Francisco branch of Le Cordon Bleu. The rows and rows of baking and cooking gadgets can make any chef drool. And of course, you can spend ALL the money you care to spend here.


As we sat in a booth looking out at the familiar surroundings that comprises the intersections of John Daly and Lake Merced Boulevard, I began a mental history exercise of what I’ve seen here over the years. The apartments on the southwest corner are part of the Park Plaza Apartments, where I lived from 4 years old through 3rd grade. Across the street is the Westlake Shopping Center, which bears very little resemblance to its original state. What began as the Town and Country Market, expanded to include dozens of stores that are so familiar to all of us who grew up there; Penney’s, Arthur’s (where we bought our Levi’s for $3.99 a pair), Thom McCann shoes, H. Liebes, the newer and larger Westlake Market (where I had my first slice of pizza for nineteen cents), Walgreen’s, See’s Candies, Johnson’s Tamales (best enchiladas ever), Westlake Liquors, King Norman’s Toys, The Westlake Music Shop, Georgette’s Beauty Salon, and W.T. Grant’s (where I once broke a window with a rock and never ran so fast in my life). Of all of these, Walgreen’s, See’s, and Georgette’s are still there.


The shopping center went through a major revamp over the past couple years and now looks like 90% of the malls in the country, with big, generic, anonymous stores that you see everywhere. Not likely that I could walk into the “deli” of the new market, and they’d know my name or how I wanted my salami and cheese sandwich made, like they did at the old Westlake Deli, next door to Vern’s Ice Cream, two doors down from Compton’s (best custard anywhere, to this day).


So, walking into Joe’s of Westlake for the millionth time is always like going to the most familiar place I know. John the head waiter, who’s been working there for over 40 years greets me with a handshake, of course knows me by name, and sits us in a great booth with a view of the intersection.


The northeast corner is currently a Burger King, but it wasn’t always. This corner began life as a little hamburger drive-in called “Tip’s.” Tip’s was apparently sued for copying the name of a Southern California restaurant and it became “Pip’s.” Hamburgers were eighteen cents, and you could get a great lunch for fifty cents. I used to ride my bike down there from Westlake School when I was about 6 years old, which prompted a call to my parents. They apparently thought I was too young to be riding alone off campus at 6, but I was in fact riding all over town at 6. I was only 10 when the youngest of my five sisters was born, and I’d spent the day riding from Daly City to and around Golden Gate Park, the Beach, the Zoo, etc., only to arrive home to a “note” that my parents were at the hospital, mom was having the baby, make myself some dinner and they’d call a little later. Once again, I was 10. Times have changed.


Anyway, Pip’s became A&W Root Beer, which was our hangout all through high school. Servers would bring you your Papa Burgers and A&W Root Beer Floats, with an order of fries, and you could hang for hours, checking out cars, friends, and of course the opposite sex.


Having “skipped” a grade at Westlake School, my car driving days began a year after most of my classmates. But in April of my Junior Year, I left school at 10 o’clock, took the written and driving tests, and got my license. On my 16th birthday. Couldn’t wait. And I was able to drive four of us to the USF Gym that night to see Buffalo Springfield open for the Jefferson Airplane. I believe the show cost all of $2.50 a ticket.


Two months later, I had my first car, which was a red 1960 Plymouth Valiant. Total piece of junk in retrospect, but it got me to Santa Cruz (surfing) and Burlingame (work) and all points in-between, for the summer. Next came a Rambler Ambassador, which had lots of fancy goodies for its day, but was also not much of a car. Then came my ’51 Chevy Woodie, which had a deteriorating rear main seal (whatever that was), and meant it ate 8 quarts of oil per tank of gas. This one didn’t last long either. Next up was a ’57 Chevy wagon, which lasted a couple of years, and got me to Junior College, as well as hundreds of trips to the beach, concerts, dates, etc. The Chevy died, and I got my first “real” car, a used ’67 VW Bug, which I drove for 3 years. The immaculate little VeeDub began life in white but was stolen and vandalized a couple of years later and ended up being the first “Competition Orange” model that I’d seen. Looked pretty hot in its day. I racked up over 100,000 miles on this car, including dozens of trips to San Diego State and back to the Bay Area. Quite often, just for the weekend.


A conversation came up today about the pros and cons and the inevitable obstacles that a long-distance romance can bring forth. I have a couple of friends who could conceivably be much more compatible, if it weren’t for a “measly” 100 miles between their abodes. My “counter” to this was the fact that I had no problem driving 500 miles (each way) every couple of weeks to see my girlfriend, when I went to San Diego State. And that was in the ’67 VW bug, which had a top speed of about 65 mph, downhill with a tailwind!


Following the VW, I bought the first of what were to be two Fiat 128’s. The first one, in Italian red, was a great car. The second one, which followed a couple of years on a Honda 450 motorcycle, was not. Very troublesome car – not something you’d get into and expect to go cross-country.


It was interesting that the lunch discussion led to a discussion of the drive-in across the street, and our early car experiences, as I’d just bought a new car the day before and this was the first trip other than home from the dealer. Buying new cars was common before we moved to Bend. I’ve been justly accused of buying a ridiculous number of cars over the years, only to trade them in for something else a year or so later. I love to drive … love long trips (see some of the earlier entries), weekend romps through the wine country, up and down the coast.


To put the cars in perspective, the chronology went something like this. Keep in mind that my wife drove several of these, but here we go …


1986, returned from a poverty stricken 7 years in Chico California, and bought a new Chevy Beretta. Kept it for several years, put 65000 miles on it. This was followed by another Chevy in the form of an S-10 “small” pickup. Then the company I worked for went public, and of course I HAD to have a BMW – this one being a wonderful Arctic Silver 328i. A move to Gilroy begat a sale of the Bimmer (I hate that phrase, by the way) which both contributed to the down payment of the new house AND provided a car that my lovely wife could drive (she doesn’t like to shift). This would be a Pontiac Grand Prix. Beautiful car, but unfortunately very uncomfortable for the 2 hours in each direction that we were traveling to work and back.


The Pontiac became an Infiniti J30, which my wife had always liked, so we bought one. Then a Honda Accord coupe, a VW Passat, and then … somewhat inevitably, another BMW. This one was a black 530i, which was a wonderful car. Kept it three years and reluctantly gave it up at the end of the lease.


And then it got a little crazy (I hear). We had the incredibly good fortune of being offered a Porsche Boxster at a very low price, due to the generosity of some wonderful friends. Loved the Porsche, but at 6’1″, it’s a little tight on long trips. Sold it, bought an Audi S4, which was another great car. But alas, I was still searching for the perfect combination, and thought I found it in a Toyota Highlander. Great car, lots of storage, fun, beautiful, and I could cart the surfboard AND the drums around in it! Curiously, my better half loved the Highlander, and has driven it since 2002.


But … I wanted a Corvette so bad I could taste it. And through some combination of fate, pleading, posturing, and employee stock options from my employer … I bought the 2002 black rocket. What a fun toy. Fast, great mileage, comfortable, total head-turner. I drove this car to Seattle and back, taking ALL the back roads and “long ways” I could find. But after about 18 months and 25,000 miles, it was once again for something new and with a warranty, as the ‘Vette showed signs of being a little too delicate, and very expensive to fix.


Next up would be a specially ordered Acura TL, which was arguably the best all-around car I’ve ever owned. All the bells and whistles, fun, comfortable, beautiful, and totally reliable. The only “problem” with the Acura was our discovery that there was no Acura dealer in Bend, and this is not a car for ice and snow, which is the norm for about six months of the year in Central Oregon.


I sold the Acura to a good friend, who still drives it daily and loves it. He splits his time between that and a very fun little Honda S2000. Absolutely trouble-free cars, both of them.


Central Oregon requires all-wheel-drive vehicles. I had to have a car, didn’t have a ton of money having just become a real estate broker with NO business, so I bought a couple year old Chevy Blazer (the smaller one). This lasted a year, ran like a charm, but ultimately was replaced by a new Subaru Outback. About every third car in Bend says Subaru on it. They run forever, they’re great in the snow and ice, and they’re comfortable and economical. The Subaru made dozens of trips to the Bay Area and back, and provided a comfortable, trouble-free environment to its occupants.

But 3 years and 40,000 miles later, I’m once again back in the land of moderate weather, no ice or snow (actually, it’s snowed twice here since the 50’s), and I wanted a combination of fun, reliability, and economy. The new car coincidentally also says “VW” on it, but it’s not a bug. Nice car, great mileage, environmentally friendly, yet a total blast to drive. 30+ MPG, and it rides and drives like my Boxster used to. And I’m confident that this car will provide memories and experiences like they all have. It will see many trips to the wine countries, both Napa and Sonoma, and our latest haunt, the Paso Robles area. “Paso” wineries are putting out some of the best Zin’s and varietals around currently and is developing into a first-class destination for wine lovers.


The Vee Dub will make trips to Bend, but not until the snow melts, which is likely to be in April or May. It will take me to work every day, and home, via the grocery store, where I shop every day for what I want to make that night. This is a habit I began while working in grocery stores during college – shopping daily, for what strikes my fancy, or whatever group I was cooking for that night. Everything’s fresh, always.


First such trip was last night, and it produced a great dinner; Rack of lamb, which I marinated with a dry rub of salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, anise, cumin, and dry mustard. 20 minutes at 425, and it was incredible. Served it over a bed of basmati rice pilaf, and a side of steamed green beans.


Tonight, it will take us “out” and I’ll gladly let someone else do the cooking!


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