Cali – PCH to Napa (1 of 3)

So the pilot dips low right and says: “There you see it ladies and gentleman, Welcome to The City of Angels”. We are no sooner gathering our riding gear from overhead bins and from under seats and we deplane and we’re off to Hollywood to mooch a guest room from my homeboy George (GPK) and his wife Tracy. The short plan was for me and my girl Mandy, along with GPK and his girl to hit the town 1st night for real sashimi, a walking tour of coffee shops and nighttime hipster stuff, whatever that is, and rest before our California biker adventure begins. Once curbside I gathered our gear together. Frankly, after rolling rain gear and double-checking underwear and packing and weighing, each under 50#’s, I was a bit nervous all our shit wouldn’t fit ON and IN the bike. It did. Its just that 2 sets of heated gear and full leathers and weeks of clothes and shoes and makeup and night wear and a few tools and helmets, gloves, etc… etc… etc… just looks like a lot to fit into the 4.7 cubic feet in an Electraglide’s saddlebags and top case. We looked like hockey players with giant duffle bags loading padding and gear as we packed it into the back of GPK’s car. I hugged my old friend and we laughed at the adventure we were about to begin. In an instant, we were swallowed in the LA traffic. The City of Angels is a wild place. We feasted on raw fish and walked about in our leathers pretending to be cool and maybe even famous. It didn’t work, but we had fun. We hung out late night in the lobby of the cooler than cool “Culver Hotel”.  An old nightclub-ish Hotel famous because it was built down the street from MGM studios, a place, where in its heyday, held Bogey and Bacall and Tracy and Hepburn, and yes, even Elvis slept there. But most notably, it was whispered to us by our host, that it was the Hotel that housed the 128 ‘little people’ during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz” in 1938. She told us they “slept 4 to a bed and sideways and many an orgy ensued.” (an awesome rumor). Imagine that, shenanigans from the little people. I smiled myself to sleep.

Bright and early day 2 we picked up rental bikes from Eaglerider near LAX to spend 2 glorious weeks romping through California, Arizona and Nevada. It was just after Christmas but before the New Year. No reservations, in typical biker style, except for the New Years extravaganza at some snobby vineyard resort in Napa, subject of a separate story. My foodie pal in New York got us in (for a small fortune). The immediate plan was to spend a ‘two-up’ ride travelling the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) south to north along w/ GPK. My girl Mandy and I with GPK on his Low Rider tooling up the coast like some careless biker vagabonds. “On The Road”, Jack Kerouac style.  We hit the road with GPK yelling “LETS RIDE”, wild Hog style as is his custom. The initial 400-mile trip took us past Hollywood and Beverly Hills to the coast in mind numbing traffic and 6 lane highways like only LA can produce. By lunchtime we were finally on PCH past the Santa Monica Pier and Will Rogers State Park all on the beautiful Pacific Coast. The crowded nature of the far LA burbs waned the farther north we rode. By the time we passed Malibu and Ventura the sun was high, the crowd was thin and the curves were perfect. Each one a beautiful lineal arc with rocky mountains on my right and the deep blue ocean on my left, sometimes level with my course, sometimes a few thousand feet below, but ever reaching to the western hemisphere. Try as I might and squint through the glare of a vast blue ocean, I could not see Hawaii.  Folly as it were, it stretched 2,500 miles away, farther than my 5 hour flight from Atlanta. It was a hard thought to escape. GPK and I, Mandy aboard, roared up the coastal highway amid very light winter traffic. Giant elephant seals dotted the rocky beaches in some places. Smelly hippies dotted the beaches in others. We stopped and watched them all. We ate $50.00 hamburgers, took great roadside pictures, we let the sun bake our faces to get that peeling skin souvenir with raccoon eyes from our Ray Bans. I could feel the stress and mental grime of 2017 peeling away. It was December 27th, the end of the year upon us. We had 4 days to get to Napa. We rolled up the ‘1’ and past places with names like “Mugu Canyon” and “Carpinteria” and “Laguna Point”. Incredibly beautiful places where I watched more Ferraris and Bentleys than I think I’ve ever seen in one place. It makes sense when the shorefront homes start at $5 mill, and rentals of the “carriage house” (an attic apartment above the garage) went for 5 or 10 grand a month. The sun started to set not far from our goal but short nonetheless. We found lodging in San Lui Obispo, a quaint old California city with at least 1 good steakhouse, all I needed, I can tell you that. We found simple lodging and slept like bears in winter.  We awoke on the 28th, parted ways with GPK as he headed back to LA to a busy life, and we were really on our own. Nervous and excited at the same time. We checked equipment and bike and set the GPS to San Francisco and off we went. The two of us, a day’s ride to “Frisco”, where we’d arrive at dusk, God willing. Fisherman’s pier, we were told, was where good accommodations could be had. They were. Sushi again, after all, it’s never going to get more authentic, or more fresh absent riding to Japan. Kind of like the smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em saying. We wedged the bike 3 floors below our hotel in an underground parking deck. Between a Mormon Church van and a DB9 Aston Martin. I was carful not to scratch the van. Fuck the Aston Martin guy.

The next day we rode the Golden Gate Bridge, a bucket list item. Frisco’s most iconic landmark. It did not disappoint, although I thought it more red than gold. We climbed the mountains above Horseshoe Cove and Rodeo Beach near the bridge’s abutments looking down on the mile long suspension structure, which spans the wide channel separating the Frisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean. We even parked the bike and took a boat tour of the bay cruising under the bridge and visiting Alcatraz, Angel Island, San Quentin and hearing about all the history of the bay area. A welcomed break from the road. Once back on the bike we did our own tour of San Francisco. The challenge of the hilly streets is not for the faint of heart. Two up with gear on a touring bike we had GVW of about 1,300 pounds or more. When stopped in traffic facing “UP” a hill our front tire would not hold. We would slide back towards the car behind us skidding with what little traction the front provided on such an incline. BOTH brakes need be applied to simply not slide into the car behind us, requiring only 1 foot on the ground. “Hold still Mandy” was hollered more than once “I got it”. My skills were tested more here than on any other place on our trip. Electric trolley tracks, insane incline and decline, darting Frisco traffic, early fog that wets the road and the ever-present sand, slipping under tires. We wondered why we saw NO other bikes while there. Maybe the balmy 50 degree weather. It’s more like a city for dirt bikes and adventure touring bikes, not big touring rigs. We traded it in by day 3 and headed to Oakland. Only across the bay over Treasure Island but an hour commune into a grittier metro for sure. We passed the Raider’s ‘Oakland Coliseum’. Factories, Warehouses, junk yards, and into a disheveled strip mall with about 100 bikers milling about on the 50 degree morning. We were parked behind a coffee shop and they all drank from paper cups. The bikers eyed me roll up, mostly older, ragged looking souls with leathery skin, some 2 up, some not, a few ominous stares.

It should be noted that in the weeks before the trip I reached out to the president of a local bike club in Oakland and introduced myself as a ‘moto-journalist’ looking for a story. He agreed. Here we were. Some discontent faces, some friendly, some not sure what to think, but the Bossman agreed. We spoke, drank coffee, about an hour. No pictures. 50 of them even asked to escort us to Napa Valley, our destination that day. Only a couple hours away and a super nice ride, “if you know the good way”. Mandy and I did not. They obliged. We roared disconcertingly fast first through traffic LANE SPLITTING, legal in Cali. Then through mountain passes, though tunnels cut of rock right beneath mountains, we carved up hilly landscapes and over creeks and canals and finally into a sunny valley of miles and miles of oddly twisted grape vines. As far as one could see, Grapes; Merlot, Cabernet, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, dozens more that I never heard of. All clearly marked for miles and miles symmetrically through the beautiful Napa valley. The winery resort where I made accommodations for my girl’s and I New Years weekend was called the “Meritage”. The kind of place where wine snobs test ‘flights’ of Cabs and get massages in thick white bathrobes with an “M” emblazoned in gold on the lapels. Where surely a bevy of Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys jockeyed for ‘up-front’ parking by the valet. In my mind at least to that point. I did not know.

I did know it was a risky move arriving on a bike in such a high brow joint. I figured I’d low rev her to the back parking lot and slide in a back door, past the valet with our road bags, ditch the leather and don our black tie in the room for the evening after unfolding it from our soft luggage. Seems my new friends had a different idea. We rolled up fast, 50 deep, straight up front, leather clad and loud, right through the army of valets attending arriving guests in limos and exotics. A few got off their bikes and actually told chauffer’s to “back it up – now” to make room for us. They did. It was a spectacle. The GM was summoned and appeared staring but dared not object. Haughty guests in furs harrumphed and whisked past the biker crowd that had carried us there, noses in air. None said shit. We had arrived. A man took our bags and our ‘escorts’ laughed and slapped backs enjoying the commotion. They hugged us and revved motors loudly rumbling from the polished marble overhang of our new accommodations whooping and yelling. Mandy and I sauntered into the vast lobby like we owned the place, while rich wine snobs whispered and covered their mouths staring at us and pointing behind out backs. It was fantastic. We didn’t remove our sunglasses and much fuss was had over our arrival and our true identity. A nervous man in bellman’s getup quickly took note of our suite number and escorted us right to our room, our bags already there, the wine already open. I made sure the “biker” pressed the biggest tip of the week into his sweaty palm of the now at ease bellman. He asked my name bending slightly, I told him “Boss”, he called me that all week, as did the rest of the staff. What a gas!

We rested and showered and enjoyed the bubbly left in our room, by whom I know not. We played bocce, we swam, we sipped 2012 something or other, toured the vineyards in those thick white robes, raising eyebrows. It was heaven. Gussied up and headed for the Grand Ballroom on New Years Eve where a big brass band and sea scallops and lamb chops awaited on us on silken linens. Of course paired with the best vino Napa had to offer. The Matre de escorted me and my voluptuous date to a table set for ten, without me giving my name. Our place cards said simply: “BOSS” and “Ms. MANDY. Eight guests stood up quickly upon or arrival, we being fashionably late. All knew why. Strangers. “Well, Hello” they all said. Are you “Boss”. Well, Hell yes I am son, please sit…. And the evening unfolded from there. A waiter stood behind me tending to my every need. I am not sure why. Either security in disguise or to keep my glass full and my empty plates bussed. He was likewise rewarded handsomely as was the bellman. Envious men stared at Ms. Mandy and her small black dress, stretching to keep her formidable figure within. Our table guests asked many curious biker life questions. Presumptive of them I thought, but I politely indulged. I answered most of them nonetheless with volume and color, others I abruptly stated: “can’t tell you that”. I do not remember their names. They remember ours: Boss and Ms. Mandy. Before the night’s end they all asked to take their picture with us. I politely refused, “anonymity” my made up excuse. They became even more intrigued. Sometimes in this life you need to sneak in the back door, sometimes you need to roar in the front like a fucking riotous mob. Do not mix this up. We almost did.

Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.  –Irish

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