Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I used to think that wine tasting was a sididdy, "fancy-smancy" kind of activity. As a teenager, I actually made fun of it, holding out my pinky finger as my friends and I drank our Boone's Farm, MD 20-20 or Thunderbird that we'd pitched in on to buy. (What can I say? We were quite young and ignorant.

I remember picking up a "Wine for Dummies" book at Barnes & Noble and learning a few steps beyond the "white wine goes with fish; red wine goes with meat" mantra that my "sophisticated" friends back in Gary, Ind., had told me.

Later, I graduated to the point to where I'd learned the difference between a glass for white wine and one for red. How cool I thought I was as I sipped my Chablis from the correct glass as I strolled around New York studio during the opening of a friend's photography exhibit. I had the correct glass, the perfect wine and I was wearing the New York-required black turtleneck, trousers and sports jacket.

And then I moved to Santa Barbara.

Not long afterward, I started going to several wine clubs. Initially, it was at the request of my friend. Then, I started to get into it. Sure, I’d seen the 2004 movie “Sideways,” which was set and filmed in the Santa Ynez Valley (beautiful country, by the way), but I didn’t have any idea about what wine was about until I started day tripping in the valley.

Now, not only do I know a little something about wine, I have my favorite wine club. Artiste. It’s in Santa Ynez and a really a fun place to visit. Billed as an "Impressionist winery and tasting studio," Artiste is a cool, informal mix of art and wine. You can sip and admire some of the artwork displayed. You can sit and play a game of chess, or backgammon, as you sip your “chard.” And you can even paint on one of the easels or sketch if you care to — between sips of Merlot.

Of course you can see the “wine snobs,” who want to let you know that they know about wines, but for the most part, people who visit just want to have a good time.

The staff is cheerful and friendly, especially to club members and other "regulars."

And even if I don't consider myself an expert, I think I've learned enough about wine to "navigate" comfortably.

It's a long way from Boone's Farm, though.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Saddle Up"

Sixty-five miles.

That's what the computer on my bicycle read after I got back home the other day. Actually it was 65.11 miles, the distance from my apartment in Santa Barbara to Ventura and back, but who's counting?

I am.

I used to be a person who rode a bicycle.

Now, I am a cyclist. Not the Tour-de-France kind of cyclist, but a cyclist just the same. The transition from rider to cyclist — and there is a difference — came gradually. I really didn't even notice it until I realized that I was riding along Highway 101 and I wasn't even afraid. A little nervous, though, but not afraid. (Highway 101 in California is like I-95 back East, FYI.)

First it was toe clips, then it was shoes, then before long I was all geared up and ready for the road: reflective jacket, Dri-fit clothing, gloves, goggles, whistle, tool kit, Camelbak hydration system, a change of clothes, iPhone, spare cell phone, iPod, camera, sunglasses, change of clothes, tooth brush, tooth paste, helmet. You never know.

Saddle up!

Cycling out here, in the West is a different ballgame than it was for me back East. I lived and worked in New York City during the days surrounding 9/11, and I commuted to my job at the Daily News in Manhattan from my apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. For several days immediately following that terrible day, with many of the city's streets barricaded and some public transportation disrupted, riding my hybrid Trek was the only way to go.

Seven miles.

Across the Brooklyn Bridge, up Park Avenue toward 34th Street and over toward the Hudson. Then, after my shift was over, back. Seven miles. Before 9/11, I'd head over to the West Side, through the World Trade Center district toward the Hudson, then up toward work on 33rd. Sometimes on my weekends, I'd ride from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Go figure. (For the naysayers and know-it-alls who might want to dispute the route: Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, across to the Hudson side of the island, up to the George Washington Bridge, across the Hudson and into New Jersey.)

Not long after I arrived in California, I pedaled from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. Took me 10 hours, but I felt great after I got there. I took Amtrak back, though.

Last weekend I woke up, packed my gear and hit the road. I was on a fixed-gear Raleigh road bike, a Rush Hour. And my gear said, "This guy is serious," I had no problem riding. And it was a good ride, too. The wind, the beach, even the traffic.

I even got to see a sunset. Beautiful. I just didn't want to be on the 101 at night.

When I got back home, it was dark. I couldn't help but chuckle and think about how back when I was growing up, I often had to be home before the streetlights came on. Some of the other kids could stay out, but I had to pedal home, keeping an eye on my watch. And the sun.

Now, that I don't have to be "in" so early, I'm taking advantage. Happy trails!


Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Catch of the Day"

Fishing is not cute.

Leaving Santa Barbara Harbor at 7 a.m. on a weekend day, when you could be sleeping late might not be for everyone. The sun's coming up, you haven't had your morning cup of coffee, and you could have hit the snooze button a few more times.

If you choose, though, you'll find that fishing can be fun — especially if it's with the folks at Sea Landing. The local sportfishing business offers either half-day or three-quarter-day fishing trips.

After a stop into the office, where you pay for your ticket, license and any tackle you might need, you head to the boat. The deckhand gets a head count and after a few last-minute preparations by the crew, you're on your way.

The captain of the 65-foot Stardust announces our destination as he eases the boat out of the slip and into the harbor.

"We're going deep . . . the Channel Islands," the veteran anglers remark. Your heart starts to quicken. You're going for rockfish, redfish, lingcod and whatever else you can hook and reel into the boat. Hook it and cook it, I always say.

People are milling about, adjusting their equipment, checking out the equipment of their co-passengers, and getting ready for what they hope will be a productive day.

The cost is not too painful, but the charges can add up quickly. The half-day trip costs $50 ($42 for kids), which covers bait. The three-quarter-day trip is $72 ($60 for kids). Then there's the fishing license. The clear-plastic license holder that clips to your clothes. And, if you don't have your own, gear will be provided. Rods and reels, weights and hooks. Add another buck for the gunnysack to keep your fish in and you're all set for action.

And the optional pool you can enter to see who catches the biggest fish, and there is a small charge if you want your fish cleaned and/or filleted at the end of the run. A tip for the crew is appreciated. While it may sound like a lot, the memories will be priceless.

The boat can easily accommodate 40 anglers and their equipment.

Whether you are a seasoned angler or a complete novice, a good time is guaranteed. If you have a tendency for sea-sickness, motion-sickness pills or the patch are recommended before boarding. At least one passenger will spend a good while hanging over the side of the boat, according to a deckhand.

Jim Hardan, 56, and his fishing buddy Jim Dunkle, 57, are seasoned ocean anglers. They have been aboard the Stardust many times.

"We've been on this boat so much, they call us to tell us when the fishing's good," Hardan says with a grin. The two of them drive up from near Torrance.

"The crew is outstanding," Dunkle adds.

The two men have been fishing together for seven years.

"Sometimes we get on each other's nerves," Hardan chuckles as he ties a knot in the line of a less-experienced angler to help him out.

"If you want, you can use my setup," Hardan tells him.

"Or mine," Dunkle chimes in.

Each fisherman has his own recipe for success, and the setup is crucial to a good day's catch. Since the water depth of the intended fishing area, is about 120 to 180 feet and the fish targeted are on the bottom, it is important to have enough line on the reel. And the reel of choice is a conventional one.

A typical setup for bottom fishing off the islands includes 8-ounce sinkers, 4-ought hooks, 15- to 20-pound test monofilament line and a good stick, one that will hold the weight of a big boy once he's hooked.

Dewey "Duke" Faulkner, 30, of Santa Barbara, showed off his matching “sticks” and reels.

"I can catch just about anything out here with these," the Stardust regular said, pointing to his gear.

The first thing about the crew of the Stardust that makes you sit up and take notice is that they are all so young. The captain is not yet 25 and the deckhands are also in their early 20s. Even so, they operate as if they have been on the water for years together.

Even if you know absolutely nothing about fishing, or if you think you know all there is to know, you will fit in on the Stardust. Deckhand Dane Johnston, who has been around fishing for about half of his life, makes sure everyone is comfortable.

"It's part of the job," Johnston says. "Everybody should have a good time when they're out here, and I see to that."

Right now, rockfish are running, as are lingcod and red snapper. On our trek to Santa Rosa Island, the group of 20 aboard was treated to a view of California grey whales, which didn't seem to care whether the boat was near or not.

The trip to Santa Rosa Island, which took about three hours to make, was full of surprises. A group of about 20 or 30 sea lions frolicked off the starboard side along the way. Some days you can even see dolphins. Not on this trip, though.

"You'll see plenty of sights like that, especially on the three-quarter-day trip," Harlan says.

About three hours after the boat pulled out of Santa Barbara harbor, anglers started pulling in fish. Nice-sized ones: reds, rockfish, lingcod. By state regulations, lingcod have to be at least 24 inches, so several had to be released.

For skipper Luke Stamatis, who is the boat's second captain/deckand, the ocean opens a world of adventure. (The owner/operator is Jason Diamond).

And solace.

"Being on the ocean, not having to deal with the craziness ashore, that's one of the best things about being out here," Stamatis says from his wheelhouse.

For deckhand/cook Sal Silva it's all about keeping the customers happy. Silva, who can whip up a breakfast burrito or a burger that will make you salivate like Pavlov's dog, says just about everyone on the boat has a good time.

On this day, there are smiles all around as each passenger is handed their bag of freshly caught fish.

Everyone has caught their 10-fish limit, and a young San Marcos High student, walks away with the jackpot for catching the biggest fish, a huge red snapper and a nice lingcod.

Assistant manager Daniel "Sparky" Abraham says the Stardust outfit is so sure of their customers' angling success, they will guarantee that everyone aboard will catch fish.

The three-quarter day trip runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m.- 4 p.m., and the half-day trip is Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Abraham says reservations are recommended at least a day in advance. You can reach Sea Landing at (805) 963-3564.

"Everybody catches fish," he says. "If they don't, they can get a free trip to try it again."

Count me in.



Monday, March 2, 2009


My phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but I answered anyway. Reluctantly.

"May I speak to Cliff Redding?"

I thought it was a bill collector.

"You've got him," I answered.

"This is 'Patrick,' and I'm calling from LFP," he continued, "a little while ago you responded to an opening we posted for a features editor. You still interested?"

I was relieved at this point, because I really didn't want to be talking to any bill collectors. Not now. And I really wasn't in the mood to go through the whole "when will you be able to make a payment" back-and-forth.

"Patrick" and I spoke for a few minutes, him asking me what I was doing workwise. This pre-screening went well, since he said that I would be hearing from someone in HR within the next couple of days, when I would then firm up an appointment for an interview. I couldn't, however, recall applying to any outfit named "LFP." So I asked.

"Excuse me, Patrick, but I don't remember applying to any outfit named 'LFP.' Can you enlighten me?"

He chuckled.

"Larry Flynt Publications. Are you familiar with it?"

"Yes, of course," I answered, although a touch embarrassed.

"Would you have a problem working with adult content?"

"Of course not. I'll be looking forward to hearing from your HR department. Thanks for calling," I said. Then, I hung up. All I could think of was me working for Hustler magazine. Hustler. Even though Larry Flynt Publications produces about 23 different magazines, I could only think of Hustler. So I went online to learn a little more about LFP. I mean, I'd seen the movie "The People vs. Larry Flynt," but I didn't really know too much about the company as it stands today.

When I got to 8484 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills a week after speaking with "Patrick," the sun was shining and being just off the Miracle Mile, I felt like, well, like I was in Los Angeles. Like one of those big shots I'd seen on the big screen. Cliff in Beverly Hills, heading to the ninth floor of Larry Flynt Publications. My shoes were shined. I had a nice, blue suit on and I was wearing a white, 100-percent cotton shirt with a button-down collar. No tie. And my Ray-Bans topped it off. I was ready.

I met "Marty" on the ninth floor, a few minutes early for my 2:00 appointment, but not too much earlier. I didn't want to appear desperate.

To tell the truth, I really didn't know what to expect when I entered the lobby of the building. I'd spent about a half-hour or so looking at the outside of the place, thinking about what it might be like to work inside. The distinctive steel-and-glass structure was so modern, so cool looking. So California. Especially with the statue of John Wayne astride a horse that's outside the building.

The security guard in the lobby stopped me in my tracks, however. He was no rent-a-cop, I'll tell you that. I'd no sooner gotten into the place than the ominous-looking guard approached me. He had a radio in one hand and the other near his waist. I could have sworn the man was packing. But I tried to blend in, diffuse the tense situation with my pleasantness.

"May I help you?"

"I have a 2:00 appointment with 'Patrick,'" I tell him, smiling and taking off my shades at the same time.

Once he'd verified my appointment, he motioned me toward the elevator. He wasn't smiling.

I went up.

"Marty" met me in the reception area. I'd just closed my mouth from having had my jaw drop after I got a look at how the place was decked out.

Gaudy. Gaudy. Gaudy.

The lobby was innocent enough, but once I stepped off the elevator and onto the ninth floor, I couldn't help but to think about a bordello in the Old West. Huge, ornately framed mirrors, throne-looking chairs. The place reminded me of "Deadwood." Or Miss Kitty's place on "Gunsmoke."

I wanted to see how far all this would go, so I fought off the urge to chuckle. I had to be serious. Professional. I mean, if you didn't know this was where Hustler magazine was produced, you wouldn't know it. Eight-thirty to 5:00, Monday through Friday, with every other Friday off. The hours alone made the possibility of working at the "adult entertainment" magazine worth looking into.

"Marty," who, with his graying long hair, sandals and denim jacket and jeans, reminded me of a Deadhead showed me to what he called the job candidate room. I was to fill out some forms, complete a job application, sign some releases and get ready for the next step in the interview ... on the 10th floor. After he got me settled in, he left the room, closing the door behind him.

It seemed like only 10 minutes had passed before he reappeared and asked me if I was OK. I told him that I was and he mentioned that "they" were waiting for me upstairs. I picked up the pace.

About 10 or 15 minutes later, I'm on the 10th floor, meeting with the man who would be my boss and a female member of his staff. The view from the office was gorgeous, looking out toward the Hollywood hills and the sun was just beginning to set.

Beautiful. For a little while, I was in another world.

I told "Mr. Davidson" that although I didn't read Hustler on a regular basis, I could see a difference between now and when I last picked up a copy ... six years ago. He took credit for the "improved look" of the magazine. (He said he took over about the time I'd last seen the magazine.) He asked me if I had a problem working with adult content.

"Of course not," I told him.

The woman had a smile her face. "Mr. Davidson" did not. He really wasn't that impressed with me, despite what he called my "impressive" resume. Then he started talking about what Hustler meant to him and what his vision was for the magazine. The woman looked a little bored at this point. Perhaps because she'd heard this spiel more than once. I was thinking, "Check ME out, sitting at Hustler interviewing for a job!"

The me from college might have been extremely excited. He might have even bragged to his friends a little. But the present-day me could only imagine the conversation between my mother and some of her friends from church.

"Lucille, your oldest son is in California, right? Now where was it you said he was working...?"

This job wasn't going to happen. Not that day, anyway. The vibe was there. "Mr. Davidson" wasn't feeling me. I wasn't really feeling him. He asked me if I'd done any writing and when I told him I had, his eyes lit up. He said he wanted to see some samples, so I pulled out my Scandisk flash drive. But he said, "Oh, you ... just, uh, just e-mail them to me when you get a chance." Then he suggested I should take a few recent copies of the magazine home with me to look over, and if I had any thoughts or if I wanted to pitch him any story ideas ... I should get in touch with him.

"Thanks for coming in," he then said.

I thanked him and his fellow staff member and I left. I stopped at the Starbucks across the street from the building, e-mailed a thank-you note, attached several samples of my writing, articles I'd published, then I headed for the Amtrak station and home.

On the train, I opened the large plain envelope containing the Hustler issues that I had been given almost an hour earlier. And I gasped. Then I felt grungy.

When I got home, I had to take a shower.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Momma Julie"

Between 1940 and 1970, during the Second Great Migration, more than 5 million black people moved from the Southern United States to theNorth. Julia Mae Gadsen, "Momma Julie," was one of them.

Momma Julie chewed tobacco. She dipped snuff. And she carried a pocketknife and a straight razor in her pocketbook. She took me to church and made me go to Sunday school. She enjoyed watching "Creature Features" and, if I behaved, let me stay up late some nights to watch them with her. She called them "monster movies," though. Momma Julie, my maternal grandmother, made me say "yes, ma’am," and "no, sir." And she taught me to have respect for my "elders." Momma Julie drank whiskey and Maxwell House coffee, but because she told me, "it’ll stunt your growth," I couldn’t have any. And whenever I was "mannish," Momma Julie would make me get a switch off one of the trees in the yard.

Momma Julie had a "special friend," Mr. Chuck, who loved to take me to the grocery store with him because I could recite all the popular TV commercials of the day. He would point to something on the shelf and say, "Cliffie, what's that?"

"Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. They’re grrrreat!"

"Get it!" he'd say. And I was only so happy to obey Mr. Chuck. Oreos. Lay's potato chips. Cracker Jack. 

I’d return to Momma Julie’s with a bag full of "junk," as she would call it, a very happy boy.

"Chuck, why’d you’d go and get Cliffie all that junk?" she’d say. "Now, I told you about that!"

"Aww, Julia Mae," he’d answer, "he’s a good boy. Let him have it." And he’d wink at me.

"What do you say? Before I put this junk up and give Mr. Chuck his whipping for being mannish."

"Thank you, Mr. Chuck." 

But I’d already thanked Mr. Chuck. And I’d already had my fill of Baby Ruth bars and pop and ice cream and potato chips and other junk by the time we’d made it back to Momma Julie’s, so I was good to go.

According to my beloved Aunt Becky, Momma Julie got it in her head that Durant, Miss., was not the place she wanted to raise her family in the 1940s. She had a girlfriend in South Bend, Ind., and she wanted to move there. Momma Julie's husband, Robert, had other plans. You see, Robert Gadsen was one of the few blacks in Durant who owned a piece of land back then. He grew cotton. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t read or write. He was one of the "smart" ones.

This wasn’t enough for Momma Julie. The last straw came when she watched as one of her small daughters slogged through mud on her way back from a second-rate, "colored" schoolhouse one day. She knew she had to make a move, but my grandfather wasn't budging. The marriage was doomed.

Momma Julie thought about her girlfriend who’d settled in Indiana, and that was where Momma Julie decided her girls would grow up. During a "vacation" in South Bend, Momma Julie stayed with her girlfriend and planned her "escape." She’d told my grandfather that when the time was right — after the harvest — that she’d take the train up North to visit her girlfriend for a little while. Their three girls would stay with him, help him keep up the place, until she got back. That was fine for Robert Gadsen. He was not going north. The white folks liked him, he owned land, so he had it going on in Mississippi. Why should he leave?

Momma Julie rode a train north to Indiana, where she started her plans for a new life. Her girls — my mother, Lucille, and my aunts Rebecca and Doris, were going to get good educations, finish high school and make something of themselves — away from Jim Crow. She got a job as a domestic and started saving money. According to my Aunt Becky, Momma Julie would write home each week and my grandfather, a proud man despite his illiteracy, would have his oldest daughter read the letters to him. What he didn’t know was that Momma Julie would write, in essence, two letters; in one part of each letter, she’d tell Aunt Becky what the real plans were — when she’d send for her and her sisters, and things like that. She was not to read my grandfather that part. Instead, Aunt Becky would only read the part that said things like "We’re having a good time" and "Yesterday we went shopping, after church."

Reading is, indeed, fundamental.

After it became apparent that Momma Julie had no intention of returning to Mississippi, she got my grandfather to send her girls north. She insisted. Momma Julie didn’t take any mess. And my grandfather had to comply. Besides, in a man’s world, he had daughters. No sons. He’d be better off, and he could start over. He got them each a one-way ticket to Chicago. With their clothes, some fried chicken, biscuits, fruit and a few dollars, the girls were Chicago-bound. Aunt Becky was 12, Mommy was 6 and Aunt Doris was 4. Folks those days tended to take the cheapest rail ticket possible. This resulted in many people from Mississippi moving to Chicago, 90-plus miles west of South Bend, Ind.

When they got to Chicago, however, the girls didn’t have enough train fare to ride the rest of the way. Aunt Becky got on the phone and made a collect call to South Bend. Somebody called somebody else and before long, an "uncle" who lived in Chicago showed up at the station and paid for the girls to get from Chicago to South Bend on the South Shore commuter train. Folks from down South looked out for one another in those days.

It was dark when Momma Julie was reunited with her girls. And they started their new life together. Up North.

Momma Julie was 51 years old, a year younger than I am now, when she died in 1965 after complications from a stroke.

Listening to the two women near Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf talk the other day about Tyler Perry’s "Madea Goes to Jail" made me think about my Momma Julie and how much I miss her.