Random case of a road trip.

My son had decided the family was lacking what his high school friends’ families were enjoying this summer. His friends were traveling to distant states to preview colleges for the education dreams, and hopes, for the next several years of a student’s life just after high school. Our dreams include an opportunity to attend a California University (California State, University of California or California Community College) because of the Veterans Administration (VA) benefits offered to my family for my years of military service.

Although it helps that the VA will pay for a large chunk (tuition, basically), I still feel empty after already sending one of my kids through the system. Yes it still costs a lot of money for books, gas, parking permits, administrative fees and the ol’ room and board. Even if they live at home, they still find ways to drain the funds . . . and then some.

We head for the San Francisco Bay area, but along the eastern portion, beginning with a brief stop in Gustine, CA. Gustine is out in the middle of nowhere; the mechanic that was to hopefully help me, said . . . “yeah, we can fix it . . . but nothing happens fast out here in Gustine”. I can understand because parts for repairs have to come from afar . . . how ever far that might be. But the owner of Parrieira’s Auto Repair was an honest guy and even allowed us to stay in his driveway until “the right tow truck” showed up. If you look in the picture, the driver’s side rear wheel on the trailer is black.


My first attempt at an AAA reliable tow call produced a unit (truck) half the size I needed. They did follow us into Gustine to make sure we didn’t get stranded as I pulled the wheel-bearing-blown 31ft trailer down the road a couple of miles.

My whole time stranded without much movement lasted about 5 hours that day. Luckily our AAA “serious truck” tow-truck driver showed up (this guy had a very badd-ass truck) and got us dropped off on spot before too much daylight was lost ($40 cash tip . . . we begin the journey of lost money). We ended up sleeping in the trailer that night waiting for the word on damages for repairs the next morning. We had pre-arranged a drop off of our busted travel trailer while stranded in Gustine. The morning after we got dropped off in Tracy, CA so we could head off on our journey to begin seeing these Universities.

Now let’s talk a bit about Travln Toys in Tracy, CA. These guys had me back on the road, way cheaper than I had initially thought, as if nothing had happened. They spoke of potentials the day before (phone), but performed flawlessly the next day, while we had left the trailer behind, of our journey north to UC Davis. BTW, UC Davis was a bitchen (So Cal talk) school.

Anyways I got out pretty cheap for road repairs to 4 wheels (re-packed or replaced) that day . . . and they promised me the trailer would not interrupt any more of our travels. I felt the repairs in Tracy to be to my advantage because of the central location amongst our college tours and our road travels again south.

Luckily we picked up the RV as planned and headed back to Walnut Creek, CA for a night stay at the Elks . . .

. . . To be continued.


Cave review – Starlight Theater review – Alice In Chains “LIVE”

The first stop of Alice In Chains’ North American tour and a day to remember the USMC.

I got stopped by the rent-a-cops (actually Native American tribal police authority) for holding a cold one in the parking lot getting ready to take my second gulp and he say’s, “Ok, right there is a federal offense and citable”. Attempting to understand just who the f’ this guy is, he chimes in a second time. “Since you just opened it, you should not abuse alcohol; and make sure you get one last gulp before you throw it out”. As we chat a bit more about Federal law and California law and walk from this cops-on-bicycle infested parking structure, the cop lets out an ooo-rah to us as we head toward the show. Realizing now, that his grunt was in respect for his fallen brethren at a recruiting office that day. I departed the patern leaving this guy with something to think about . . .

This was just one of the moments of our night that included Foie Gras, flat-grilled Scallops, Langostino topped Crab Risotto, copious amounts of Vermouth and some duck. cheese plate

Just to resolve the Vermouth story right off the bat. Our bartender that night Juan, I think his name was, had a light elbow on two girlie-red martinis that both contained heavy amounts of  Vermouth. Both of those drinks were different martinis that interfered with my dinner. So I off-set the poor bitters cocktails with a giant Pala souvenir cup of water throughout the night. The cup actually started as a giant cheap beer (only thing available) that guided me through most of the Alice In Chains show. I’ll just end this paragraph with explaining that Alice In Chains was a very good show. They came on stage about 20 minutes later than my casino concert adventures normally tell me the show is to start (8pm); but they played until the 10:00pm witching-hour of the casino concerts. That is the casino’s desire to get those concert goers back into the casino and gamble their grungy asses away.

Alice performed an endless list of favorites with only about 6 songs from their newly released LP atop the Cave wine cellar (previously written about) that still seems to be an awkward place during my recent visits. I still have a hard time with that sub-stage sanctuary. The stage atop is artfully set in the exact position it was before when the erector-set style stage had now been removed to build this new complex. The whole outside area of the hotel lawn/pool spa was changed to better utilize the grounds. Pala Casino did a very good job incorporating everything of the Starlight Theater that even includes a moat, behind stage bar, a path that encircles the facility and a converted special event room/rooms that hosts a second bar. For the experience, the Starlight Theater just reinforced my vote for “The Best Small Venue in San Diego’. Only to be confirmed by my visiting guest family and friends that watched the show for their first time in this venue. It truly is, one of the best places to see a show I have ever been to.

A couple of user-experience issues I found include the lack of a third bar in the venue that would alleviate the now very long lines for alcohol with a very limited play list of beers for this craft-beer engorged North San Diego brewing industry. The inside, security (event staff) bar area was ok once the show got started and the line subsided a bit; although it was lacking some small speakers to fill the room with the stage sound to compensate the mids and highs lost by the building structure of the converted hotel room/bar. Another were the transitions of the grass to the pavement/walks were riddled with ankle-twisting low spots in the lawn. I fell into several of those throughout the night as I just cruised around the stage area complex, never once finding or sitting in my seat. Again, every seat in this venue is a good seat, but you just have to walk around and enjoy the full venue. It’s a fun place to see a show.

Prior to the concert, we had made reservations with Cave. Cave is a nicely adorned fine-dining restaurant capable of providing a far finer dinner execution that our sit-down engagement than we experienced this night. While the service was good, it lacked an element of seasoning that seemed to continually set our dining experience as a detriment to our stellar musical evening. While everything was good, or ok; it just lacked elements that are noteworthy at places like Vintana or Stone’s World Bistro and Garden. Both in the North San Diego County area. Our party found nothing that really set Cave above others.

I tried Foie Gras for the first time. Very interesting and very good. It was accompanied by port-reduced caramelized cherries that, not only appeared on another of our duck dishes, but had a peculiar bitterness of an aftertaste that seemed to throw both the Foie Gras and the Duck dinners (yes it appeared twice at our table) off; however, each of the menu items described the plate’s accoutrements as different.

waterWe also ordered the Charcuterie of cured meats. As I ordered the cured meats and the Foie Gras, I asked the server about the origins and preparations of each and we began an in-depth conversation about the Prosciutto that the server had indicated was part of the charcuterie platter. Ours had Mortadella, Salami, Sopresetta and an Orange Marmalade that didn’t seem to help anything. The Crab Risotto may have only been cooked with a crab stock since we could not find any of the underwater crustacean, nor was it noticeable in the flavor. Now on to the good parts of the food. The sauce that the lobster was prepared in was delicious and the chef used local mustard flowers as a garnish for the Foie Gras plate. The chef also garnished with another local flower that I can not identify at this moment . . . probably later when I walk around my property. And, in my opinion, the scallops are pretty good, but nothing to really carry on about.

Again, as I entered Cave, I had asked one of the greeters about a particularly good cocktail they may be aware of, but got the same “never tried” response. Our table server also didn’t know the menu because he had to go back and ask the kitchen about the origin of the Foie Gras (France) and fumbled with other elements of the dinner. One being my second martini when our server failed to adhere to my request for a drink that was not pink. Yup, my second girlie-looking cocktail . . . strong on Vermouth, and in front of business associates and friends. It became a rough table to sit at . . . Yes, the server offered to replace the cocktail.

I really wanted to write about a great experience with the whole Cave/Starlight venue, but I can only admire the musical performance, the beautifully adorned restaurant and the stage grounds of the Starlight Theater. Chef Luciano Cibelli needs to change things up a bit between the cuisine, training of staff, and the incorporation of the bar into his cuisine with tastings. I also I have to question their sommelier as my wife didn’t care for her first recommended $15 glass of Chardonnay; and with the staff unknowledgeable of the menu, I can’t hardly believe they would know wine pairing to match the menu. Kinda shameless thinking Cave hails itself as a wine destination. I’m not sure I will eat there again unless I notice there are changes made to the menu . . . then perhaps. We’ll see how it goes over the years.


Blame this on the kids? Budweiser . . .

A walk through the new gardens of my home is a regular thing . . . barefoot! I’m one of those guys that, as my father would, break just about every toe over a lifespan; and our lifestyles would pretty-much be lined up as well. You see he would walk barefoot around the house, both inside and out as well. And when he stubbed his toe, he would curse just as I do. Friggin’ hurts sometimes.

Walking around my property, I would dodge obstacles as I would see them. Sometimes I wouldn’t see the hidden object and would end up realizing I had injured myself, perhaps days later. A cut, a scrape or a bruise. Just walking around the kitchen could possibly create hardships. The damn corner of the counter would sometimes seemingly jump out and slam you in the hip. And with my age, comes medications to thin blood; and that would translate into huge bruises that somehow appear out of nowhere. Yeah, a lot of things lined up . . . pull-tab

Anyway, walking around the property the other day I find a torn aluminum can sticking out of the dirt. “Damn kids”, I thought to myself. Drinking beer (kids) and shooting up the can with a pellet gun; they would just leave it there. It gets covered somehow and reappears another day in the future.

I pick up the can to throw it in the recyclables and realize it has the old-school pull tab top. I think to myself, “I haven’t seen one of these in a long time”. Looking closer at the can I see it is stamped with Anheuser Bush near the now gone pull tab. After clearing away much of the packed-on dirt and wiping the top with my finger, I realize the words “Pitch In” is also stamped near that missing pull tab. I quickly realized this is an old can . . . and my kids weren’t drinking beer that long ago . . . hell, I don’t think I was drinking beer that long ago.Can

I did a little research on the “Pitch In” marketing promotion. I quickly found this: http://www.aluminum.org/product-markets/aluminum-cans

The History of Aluminum Beverage Cans

The modern aluminum beverage can traces its origins to 1959, when Coors introduced the first all-aluminum, seamless, two-piece beverage container. Recycling was instituted at the same time (Coors paid 1 cent for each can returned to the brewery). Aluminum cans made inroads into the soft drink market in 1964, when Royal Crown Cola released both its RC Cola and Diet Rite beverages in two-piece, 12-ounce aluminum containers. In their first year on the market, 1 million cases of soda were packaged using aluminum cans. In addition to being lighter in weight than their steel predecessors, aluminum cans provide a superior surface on which to print text and graphics. This capability increased the opportunity to establish and promote shelf presence and brand awareness.

Over-the-Top Fact

The first aluminum cans required what was known as a “church key” for opening the end of the can prior to consumption. As legend has it, the inventor of the pull tab, Ermal Cleon Fraze, found himself without a church key while on a family picnic. He resorted to piercing his beer can on the fender of his car, and in the process lost much of the can’s contents. Fraze, who owned the Dayton Reliable Tool Company, set about devising what would become the pull tab—an aluminum tab attached at the rivet that, when pulled, would come completely off the can. In 1975, Daniel Cudzik of Reynolds Metals invented the “stay-on tab.”

pull tab 1Since I have a very strong background in environmental programs, I realized the “Pitch In” campaign was at the beginning of the now recycling programs that almost all Americans are familiar with. This was the beginning of a revolution to clean up America. I also have found that the years of my youth (‘60’s and 70’s) were the beginning of using aluminum as a regular packaging for beverages, since the so-called “tin can” was found to be less in favor of the market for carbonated beverages.

I have found that many evolutions of recycling have emerged throughout the years; but I find it very interesting that I found this old can that can be dated . . . and let my kids off the hook.


Cave – Pala Casino Spa and Resort – Starlight Theater

Long been of my favorites as “the best small music venue in San Diego”. The Starlight Theater at Pala Casino Spa and Resort has been perhaps long overdue for a fresh take on their musical performance stage. CAVE_Web_15So what do they do? The Casino’s website offers this “The new entertainment and dining complex, CAVE, also features San Diego County’s only underground wine cave. Luciano plans to use CAVE to build upon Mama’s success as he creates a unique menu filled with food and wine pairings inspired by the taste of the Mediterranean while maintaining his distinct “Italian flair””. By the way, I think they used to call it The Starlight Amphitheater, but I cannot find any proof of that.

Set in the exact location and position as the previous “erector set” type of stage, the Starlight got its test performances out of the way and Cave has been opened as a fresh take on the previous Mama’s Cucina Italiana that Chef Luciano Cibelli has been part of since 2003. Chef Cibelli has even included a subterranean wine lounge that features live performances inside the Cave while bigger performances are on stage, outside and atop of the Cave. And the sound levels are acceptable inside while those private-like performances keep the music going and the wine pouring inside of San Diego’s only wine Cave. I think it’s a pretty neat idea, but let’s see what the future brings from inside.

I briefly met Chef Cibelli once a couple years while ago when I had a hunkering for food as the girls were trying to turn their dollars into millions on the casino floor. I noticed Chef being careful not to allow just any of his cooks to slice the Prosciutto; and he even brought me a slice or two that night. His food then was very delectable.

This last weekend I had a moment to swagger around the casino and check out all of the new digs, and Cave was one of them. The beautifully decorated and enlarged restaurant includes a cocktail bar area that somewhat gives a view of the outside performance stage. I also noticed that the kitchen allows the cooks to sneak a peak of the performers while preparing culinary enticements, like the newly added Foie Gras. You can’t hear the performances from outside as the sound is dampened by the large windows leading to the outside and the pleasant sound system the Chef has playing in the dining area of Cave.

CAVE_Web_Bar1While checking out Cave and the outdoor stage area, I had a moment to entertain myself by making a reservation at the host desk. I asked the staff member of any single item I just have to try before I leave during my first dining visit (reserved service for 8 just before our soon-to-be show watching Alice In Chains). Unfortunately, the greater’s reply didn’t give me a comforting feeling about the competency of the restaurant so far. Not to say they are not competent, but a contrasting scenario while I visited Chef Guy Fieri’s place in Laughlin, NV. I happened upon Guy Fieri’s place just two weeks after he opened and here we are about 5 weeks now for Cave.

Guy Fieri’s staff immediately knew every menu item and how it was put together . . . and what it tasted like. That tells me a lot about a restaurant. How well does the staff know what goes into the foods they serve? I even pointed to a menu item and asked her about it. The host did, however, pronounce it almost correctly; and she knew what Foie Gras was and the controversy it presented in the state of California. I was impressed, however the greeter’s comment was, “we don’t get to try the foods . . . only some, . . . and not the expensive items”.

As a marketing tool, Cave also had a very creepy looking grape-vine tree-lady slinking around in front of the new restaurant. The performer was neat to watch but very creepy none the less. Creepy movements on stilts. Just creepy, but it got our attention.

Although this trip I hadn’t tried any food from Cave, I did walk inside and outside, and checked out the beautiful furnishings and the scoped out the menu; and look forward to eating Chef Cibelli’s food in just a few weeks.  Then we’re gonna tear up the outside during a long awaited performance by one of my all-time favorite bands in one of my all time favorite venues. The Starlight now has a brand new stage with a Cave underneath. Cave (restaurant) also has a small pre-arranged seating area just in front of the stage. If you want to spend a bit more for your dinner, you can sit and watch Alice In Chains while you feast on your charcuterie, escargot, radicchio salad and glass of Tuscan Montalcino. I’ll probably have to do that one day. Yeah, as the wife has her hand out for more gaming funds.

CAVE_Web_3-620x350Just below that small outdoor stage seating/dining area is a stairway that leads to the wine Cave below. Hint: there’s also a small smoking area just outside of those big doors where you can feel the pounding of the stage sounds as you smoke your cigar, but you can’t see the performers . . . I tried.

Cave and The Starlight should have great success; although, I’m still having a hard time getting my grips on the whole Cave thing down below. Take a visit, you’ll possibly understand.

I’m hoping to tell the story about our dinner and show.

Stay tuned!





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