The Rock Store

Rock Store

If you’re not a motorcycle rider, you’ve probably never heard of The Rock Store. Why would a former hot springs resort and bootlegger hideout attract crowds of Harley-Davidsons, Hondas, and sport bikes every weekend? Our HOG chapter spent a warm Sunday in January finding out.

Our group included twenty bikes when we left the inland desert town of Riverside early that morning, navigating the Los Angeles area freeways in one solid block of snarling engines. We successfully threaded through the beach-bound traffic jam to stop at the Huntington Beach Harley-Davidson dealership, earning a rest and shopping break.

After sliding off our Ultra Limited touring bike, I quickly unzipped and unsnapped my leather chaps, folded them up as small as I could and stuffed them into my saddlebag. The morning was warming up fast, and my phone promised temperatures in the 70s by the coast. My husband Frank, who’s never cold, was already wearing a light jacket, tee shirt, and jeans. We shared the last swigs of our first water bottle, and headed into the dealership. I’ve learned over the years riding with a group, that a restroom break should be taken whenever we turn off the engine because it could be a long time (up to 200 miles) until the next stop.

The dealership was set up in a large warehouse building with a high, unfinished ceiling and wide open interior. Rows and rows of Harleys waited for admiration. Half of the store was dedicated to motor clothes and accessories. Some of our group picked at the apparel sales racks while others drooled over the vast selection of bikes. Eventually we all ended up in the parking lot, munching on Jay’s freshly baked friendship cake. The moist cake filled with fruit chunks was delicious and not too sweet. I licked every crumb off my fingers before putting back on my gloves.

After glancing at his phone for the time, our ride leader, Tom, herded up the group to continue on our journey. We jumped back on our bikes and filed onto the freeway, two by two. So far traffic was moving at a normal pace, and I looked up to see a huge jet airliner roaring over our heads as we rode through Los Angeles toward Santa Monica. The freeway finally ended, and we turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway bound for Malibu. Surfers bobbed in the ocean and people lounged on the beach, the cool salt air calling us with its siren song. We resisted its pull and followed our road northward. It would still be a long time before we could rest.

Although our route was not the most direct one to our destination, Tom chose a southern approach to avoid some of the gusty Santa Ana winds that pop up during Southern California’s winter season. He led our long line of bikes around the coastline, jagged cliffs to our right and shimmering navy waves to our left. The multistory buildings of Santa Monica gave way to small single story beach homes huddled together on the beach side, and the large homes perched on the mountainside. I couldn’t help wondering if the dilapidated shack covered by mud we passed was still worth millions of dollars just because of its address.

Finally, our group turned right onto Kanan Road and entered the windy canyons above Malibu. We passed ranches and vineyards, some hidden under the oak groves while others boldly crested the rolling hills. Then one more turn— Mulholland Highway.

I’m sure you’ve heard of it, or have seen the twisty mountain road on car commercials. It’s an old road, pressed into the side of a canyon wall, switching back and forth in tight turns all the way down to the bottom. A technical ride, but that wasn’t the challenging part. At the top of the hill, we encountered a large group of sport bikes parked on the edge of the road and a few riders spinning around in circles in the middle of the road, leaving concentric circles of tire marks across it. A few guys stood with video cameras filming their antics. Fortunately, they moved to the side as we passed, watching them with tight eyes.

As we twisted our way slowly down the steep mountainside, sport bikes flew up the road toward us, hugging the center of the road. As we felt their wind buffet us, Frank kept to our side of the yellow line, although not too close to the rocks strewn near the outside edge of our lane. Unlike my husband, whose eyes focused on our path, I had the freedom to watch our descent into the vast wooded canyon, one turn after the other.

Finally, the road straightened out, and hundreds of bikes parked on both sides announced that we had reached The Rock Store. Eventually, and with considerable patience, everyone in our group found a place to park, as sports bikes zipped down the road in front of the tiny diner as if there weren’t riders trying to back their bikes into place or people crossing the road.

Why The Rock Store? It must have been the location. At the bottom of the canyon, it was the perfect place for bikers and sports car drivers to stop for a cool drink. The building itself wasn’t anything to look at. An old rock walled square building with wooden additions sticking out on the sides. A terraced patio filled with bikers. Roaring laughter and revving engines made the air tingle around us.

Inside, antique bikes and photos with movie stars covered the walls. Frank and I walked up to the counter and ordered lunch, and joined the rest of our group upstairs sitting in vintage yellow vinyl booths. History was another reason for this hangout’s popularity. Many celebrities had slid into these now cracking seats over the years. Whether they came by Ferrari, Harley-Davidson, or Ducati, these canyon riders ended up here for refreshment before continuing on their journeys.

The food was good enough, typical roadhouse fare. When we finished, we stood talking to the rest of our group, about the perfect deep blue ocean, the cool wind whipping our faces, and the tree covered vistas. Natural beauty intruded on by man’s constructions. The journey made us into poets.

As I looked past our friends into the bustling crowd of smiling faces jammed into this tiny roadhouse, I realized that now we belonged to a select club, those who had ridden Mulholland and stopped here. Perhaps becoming part of its history was the lure of the Rock Store.

A different ride- the eventual end

san simeon sunset

The final night of a weekend Harley trip is smooth going down but leaves a bitter after taste.

Our HOG chapter president offered to have dinner delivered for the whole group of thirty riders, and we gladly accepted. After riding all day Friday and Saturday, we were ready to kick off our boots, slip on our flip-flops, and hang out at the motel. There was an indoor pool with a large patio area, perfect for us to congregate.

Frank and I drank wine out of the motel’s tiny plastic cups talking to riders from different rides that day. They laughed at our antics in the Pismo Beach toy store, and we sighed over their tales of hidden mountain roads. We shared stories around five circular tables pushed together near the pool. With nightfall, it was getting cool outside, but it was warm and muggy inside. The patio doors were open, and some of the conversation spilled out into the parking lot.

A young man carrying stacks of pizza boxes found us and it was suddenly quiet while everyone chowed down. Not the best pizza ever eaten, but the most appreciated since we didn’t have to walk or ride our bikes to get it. After we inhaled the first pieces, conversation was restored.

“What time are we leaving tomorrow?” I asked my husband.

“Not sure. Depends on whether we have breakfast first or wait until we get to Solvang,” Frank answered. “Let me ask Tom what they’re doing.” He got up to find our ride captain for the Pismo Beach portion of the trip.

I leaned back in my crisscrossed woven plastic chair, and listened to the threads of conversation around me. Some were talking about how beautiful the beach had been that day. Others raved about the remote twisty roads they rode through the Central Valley wine country. The voices around me mixed into a buzz and suddenly I was tired. The rush of excitement we had experienced over the weekend was slowing down into sore muscles and pizza comas. My heart beat with a dull ache when I realized that our coastal adventure was nearing its end. All the planning, packing, shared stories, frozen fingers, delicious food, and dramatic scenery were almost over. Tomorrow we would go home.

The prospect of a long return ride sent most of us back to our rooms early that night. Or maybe we couldn’t face the dissolution of our riding fellowship. It was hard saying good night, but we knew this would be the last time all of us would be together, at least for this trip.

The next morning, Frank and I joined the group that decided breakfast was a priority. We sipped coffee with sad faces, savoring the cool sea breeze for the last time. Everyone was uncharacteristically quiet. After covering our reluctance with pancakes, bacon, and eggs, it was time to leave.

Our group today was smaller than the previous days, only eight bikes. On the last day of an overnighter, our group splinters as everyone faces different responsibilities at home. The retired riders can take their time getting back to real life. The teachers and sales reps have Monday morning commutes ahead of them. Eventually we would all have to leave our beach haven.

Frank and I joined the end of our line of bikes, following them down the coast highway on the shortest route back to our desert town. No scenic roads or historic roadhouse cafes today. It was time to go home. Everyone seemed subdued, sobered by reality’s intrusion.

As I watched miles of farmland pass by, I marveled that the weekend passed so quickly. I knew that in less than twenty-four hours, I would be back in my classroom with twenty eyes following my every move. Frank would be sitting at his desk, taking orders and fielding problems. We would become normal people again. But my sinking heart clung to hope, as the calendar on my phone held future Harley trips. We would ride the backroads again. I only had to hold it together until then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sea Turtles

sea turtle

 

Ancient eyes watched me struggle to breathe through my snorkel. An immense shell blocked the sunlight filtering through the water and suddenly I was aware of the sea turtle floating close to me. I backed away from its penetrating gaze. Curiosity drew it closer, but I pushed away in obedience to the guide’s direction that we were not to touch the turtles. Hanging in the current, the creature was completely at ease, for it could stay under water for hours without going to the surface for air.

However this was my first snorkeling trip, and I still felt nervous trusting a narrow tube poking out a foot above the rocking waves to provide me with a consistent flow of oxygen. My breathing was rushed and desperate like a newly trained astronaut on their first mission. I remembered all the snorkelers we saw at the beach the day before, their faces in the water, barely moving their legs, arms at their sides. As my breathing slowed down, my body relaxed into the warm tropical water. I kicked farther away from the turtle and followed the other fins in front of me.

The underwater landscape was a peaceful change from the bumpy ride we endured on our Zodiac raft in route to the diving spot. Schools of black and yellow striped fish flowed around the coral reef with little effort. Turquoise and orange striped fish picked algae off the bottom. Tiny white fish streamed out of holes in the volcanic rock. In the distance I could see the massive shapes of other sea turtles, resting in the cradle of current. Pale grey fish, as large and as flat as dinner plates, swam right in front of my face. Streams of bubbles and chopping of swim fins provided the soundtrack to this alien world. My husband and the others in our group hung on the surface of the ocean, mesmerized by the abundance and variety of marine life.

Suddenly I sniffed up some water that had leaked into my mask and I lifted my head, choking on salt water. The waves lifted and dropped me roughly as I found it harder to breathe without the snorkel than when I had my head underwater. My stomach heaved and I got sick, unfortunately still with the snorkel in my mouth.

The guide that remained on the boat called out to me, “Are you alright?”

Not wanting to sound wimpy, I replied, “I am now!”

After rinsing out my snorkel, I replaced my mask and put my face back in the water. The churning ceased as I was back in the calm underwater world once more. This time it was easier to breathe, and I watched the show around me through the window of my mask. Time was suspended. There was no sense of the bustle of the air-breathing world above us. Fish grazed on the algae covered coral like brightly colored sheep. A grey fish with yellow fins and tail regarded me with disdain before swishing past my face. Turtles paddled to the surface for air and dropped back down into the depths.

Gradually I became aware that I didn’t see any other fins around me. Reluctantly, I lifted my head to see the rest of our group back on the raft. The guide waved at me, and I paddled toward her. It was time to return to the world of man.

The Day I Became a Writer

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA
SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I became a writer one day in Ireland, standing on slime covered rocks squinting over at France. Actually I had written many stories during the course of my forty years, but that windy beach changed me.

My daughter, Kristin, and I were five days into an eleven day quest through Scotland and Ireland. I was collecting research on castles for a book, and I liked seeing them in person more than looking at pictures on the internet. Earlier that week, we had toured Edinburgh Castle, and were now driving through the back roads of Ireland on our way to Blarney Castle.

I had rented a car in Dublin with the encouragement of our travel agent who assured me I would quickly learn how to drive a left handed stick shift on the opposite side of the road. How lost could you really get on an island? The day I picked up the car, Kristin and I learned the answer for over two hours before accidently passing our hotel, thanks to the one way streets and tiny street signs that were tacked to the sixth floor of the brick buildings at every major intersection. After a moment’s embarrassment at the front desk when I learned they were about reading to send out the Gardai to find us, I consoled myself that driving in the country would be much easier.

With the July sun shining in our faces, we headed down the east coast toward Rosslare Harbor, where we had plans to stay at a dairy farm that was also a bed and breakfast inn.  Still feeling the sting of yesterday’s mistake, I made Kristin official navigator. She carefully studied the map, which was twice as interesting since the town names were both in Gaelic and in English. We managed well until we reached the roundabout outside of town. Turning right into the circle of cars, it was the merry-go-round on the playground all over again. I merged into the spinning swirl of cars until we jumped out onto the road I thought would lead us to the dairy farm.

The other difficulty about driving in Ireland is that once you are on a road there are no road signs to reassure you that you are indeed on the correct road. Only when you arrive, an hour later, at the next medieval town do you realize that you should have stayed on the roundabout one spoke farther to the right. Since this was before phone navigation, we stopped at the only place you could ask directions – the pub.

Forty five minutes later, after we had shared stories with the old men who seemed to live at the pub, we were headed in the right direction. When we finally passed the old oak tree, turned right at the corner where the white cows stand, and turned left at the golf course, we ended up at our destination. A two story brick and wood house with a tall chimney, surrounded by barns and other buildings popped up between the hills.

After sipping tea with our hostess, Kristin and I decided to stretch our legs by walking to the beach. We followed the low stone wall all the way to the end, as instructed, passing black and white cows and sheep with pink spray painted on their rear legs. A narrow dirt path led us through waving tall grass, between randomly tossed chunks of rock, until we came out to a deserted beach.

Waves crashed over slippery black rocks, creating fountains of spray. We climbed out on the rocks as far as we dared, braving the icy spray carried in the breeze. Looking out to sea, we could see the outlines of cruise ships and cargo ships on their way to Europe.

“Ireland!” Kristin yelled over the crashing surf. Here we were, around the world from California, standing on the beach of the land that birthed many writers. They were my ancestors, and I had come home.

At this point in my life, my identity had been shaken. I was no longer a wife. My husband’s relatives and friends had faded away in grief. My career in retail buying had been swept away, and replaced by a career in teaching. My children were growing up and independent, leaving me with empty time. Time to write.

Standing there on that slippery rock, in the land of my ancestors, I suddenly knew that I was a writer.

 

Friends

beach

Your friendship starts small. You dip your toe in and cringe. “Too cold!”

Disappointed, she pulls away, giving you time to adjust. After a while, she creeps up again, this time with lacy froth.

Your feet stay in. “It’s not that bad.”

You follow after your new friend as she leaves again. Roaring with laughter, she hugs you tight, almost knocking you off your feet.

“Too much!” you complain, and this time she wrestles you down to the sand. Gasping for breath, you’ve had enough, and you turn away. Gently she holds you, pulling you toward her as your feet sink in the soft sand. Wave after wave, she tries to convince you to come back and play with her.

But you’re finished. It’s time to get out of the ocean and relax in your beach chair. Time to read about other friends’ lives.