Bringin’ in a coupla keys… Not really!
Mike and Char Izzo are the final piece in the triumvirate of Oldsmobile Friends we have visited in the last month or so. We first met Mike at the 2009 NAOC National Meet in Prescott, Arizona where we drove our Falcon convertible, pretending to be an Oldsmobile. We got Honorable Olds status and had a great time at the meet.
Mike is not only an Olds guy; he is a bus guy too. In fact, on one of the garage tours at the meet that year, he and Jim started looking hard at a bus in one of the collectors’ garages. Jim had been ruminating about the full time RV living idea and during the tour he got a chance to talk to Mike about buses vs. RVs. Mike had recently bought a bus of his own, a 1979 MCI 5C and he emphatically said “Get a bus, not an RV” and the advice stuck. After we visited the RV salvage yard later that year in Carthage, Missouri, Jim’s mind was pretty much made up. We needed a bus, not just an RV. So the seed was sown.
Since we got the bus in 2010, Mike has been very helpful with all kinds of bus issues. We met up at the 2011 meet in Oglebay, West Virginia and Mike got to see the progress we had made so far. We still had a long ways to go but the guys spent quite a bit of time going over things and as a bonus, Mike’s cousin Paul, a diesel mechanic., was with him. Jim put Paul’s number in his phone right away.
Fast forward to 2015. Before we even moved out of our house, Mike had mentioned in an email that if we made it to LA in the bus, he had a place for us to park right in front of his house and offered his services as a seasoned Los Angeles tour guide. Knowing about Los Angeles and the crazy traffic there, we tucked his offer into our heads and put them on our list of Places to Visit.
Before we left Rocket Ranch, Mike had some very specific helpful advice on entering and exiting the narrow gate at Jim Schultz’s since he had been there in his bus. His thoughtful take on the subject was much appreciated and we got out the gate with just inches to spare. The next step: he sent very explicit instructions how to get to and park at his place in LA and said he would park a few cars in the street to hold our spot. Car guys have plenty of cars.
As it turned out, we came into LA from Hesperia on a Friday afternoon. Good timing… I had started out driving and we figured we would switch so Jim could drive the final leg into the city to Mike and Char’s place. Once we got close, there was absolutely no place to pull off and switch drivers so I just kept going. Jim was more familiar with the directions anyway and what else could we do? The drive went smoothly and we pulled into Mike’s place in the mid afternoon, ready to get reacquainted in person.
Mike is a former Greyhound charter driver and his inner tour guide really kicked in while we were there for almost a week; another extended stay. The first night we all went out to the original Bob’s Big Boy Burger for a SoCal cruise night. We saw lots of very nice cars, including a couple of Oldsmobiles and some Falcons too. I met a couple of the Falcon folks, always nice to put a face with a name. A cruise night in Los Angeles, Burbank actually, is an exercise in close parking and skillful maneuvering! We got a table outside and it was nice and cool after the desert heat.
Just an aside about Char. She and Mike are two of the world’s nicest people, hands down. Mike is a gentle and kind soul, a saint, actually. And Char is the best example of absolute grace and positive energy under very challenging conditions. Without going into details, she deals daily with way more than we average folks can imagine. You think you got problems? You got nothing. She is tough, strong and resilient. She is always smiling her light-up-the-room smile and trying to turn attention away from herself while doing everything she can for others. She brought us a fragrant gardenia bouquet from their beautiful yard which made the bus smell divine.
She grows oranges, lemons, Bird of Paradise, Lily of the Nile and many other flowers in their personal paradise of a back yard. She baked us some delicious cookies. She is smart, strong, sweet and awesome. We love her. We love Mike too.
Mike had done his homework, for the past 40 years since he moved to LA from Pittsburgh. He had several lists; places to visit, to eat and to consider. We took off the first day to see an amazing mural designed and executed by Judith Francisca Baca, a local artist whose legacy is this fine work. It chronicles the history of California in many colorful panels along a tributary of the LA River. We spent quite a bit of time there and we got to meet her! She had been giving a tour and just appeared to see if we had any questions. What a treat!
The mural is remarkable in that it doesn’t always show the pretty picture of California/American life. It chronicles the exploitation of the Chinese to build the railroad, the Japanese internment camps in WWII and many other sensitive times in history. Many more pictures on Flickr.
Next Mike took us to Forest Lawn Cemetery which is in a beautiful setting and very lush.
From there it was on to the Griffith Observatory, made extra famous by the chase scenes in Rebel Without a Cause. There is even a bust of James Dean on the site and you can see the famous HOLLYWOOD sign from there.
You can kinda see the Hollywood sign behind us.
Once back at the ranch, we set about some serious eating. Mike grilled lamb steaks, asparagus, zucchini and Char made a delicious salad. I contributed some garlic mashed potatoes.
That evening, Jim convinced Mike to dust off one of his several electric guitars. They plugged in and jammed a little. Pretty good for a guy who hasn’t played guitar in years (Mike) and one who is a beginner on ukulele (Jim). Char and I really enjoyed listening. Hear them here.
Mike took us to see his bus. It turns out he bought it about a year before we bought ours. His 1979 MCI 5C is very nice. Very light and airy. And beautifully maintained. Former bus driver, remember?
Mike said in the eighties, when he was a charter driver, normally his name appeared. After a few days getting to know the folks on the tour, he would replace it with this:
We also went to the Vasquez Rocks on the way back from seeing his bus. This otherwordly landscape has been used in countless science fiction and “alien planet” movies. Recognize it?
And on the way back, another famous site.
One day he loaned us his truck, a 1964 Chevy pickup and we braved LA traffic to drive the bikes to Santa Monica and ride along the beach. That was an adventure! The bike paths are extensive and the people watching is excellent. We rode to the end of Route 66 at the Santa Monica pier, around Marina Del Rey and through Vernice Beach. Our ride for the day to haul the bikes was perfect:
Jim did a great job driving on the 405 and we beat the worst traffic while being entertained by the surroundings. When we got back to Char and Mike’s, we had dinner at a Japanese restaurant they frequent. It was delicious. So nice to be with the locals. We also had excellent Italian at a local place. Mike is Italian, so you know this place was good. The best thing about each meal was the company. And all the food was really good.
The next day we biked on the extensive bike trails in their neighborhood, thanks again to Charter Mike for his maps and directions. We got lunch at a Greek Market and inhaled the fragrant plantings along about 16 miles of the bike path. Honeysuckle, magnolia and bouganvilla line the way. And some razor wire.
We visited the Japanese Garden on the way back, upon Mike’s recommendation, and it was well worth a stop. Perfectly manicured, quiet, with many water features. Ironic for California right now. It is a project of the LA Water Department and the state and EPA.
We shared a final evening outing with our hosts to Wood Ranch. So much eating! So delicious! We are so thankful to Char and Mike for their friendship and gracious extension of sincere hospitality. We truly are fortunate to have frinds like these guys. I don’t know how many times I heard Mike say, “But you’re our guests!”
The next morning we prepared to hit the road. While Jim was doing his outdoor check, he discovered the outside drive tire pressure was down to 23 pounds. Wut? Mike said we either picked up a nail or the valve stem was leaking. Great. They checked the valve stem and no problem there. We jacked up the bus with a little additional leverage and rotated the tires to look and feel for nails. None. Whew! Jim used our onboard compressor to bring the tire up to pressure and it held all day.
By this time we were even later hitting the road than we usually are. We aren’t in a hurry and we were happy to have Mike’s expertise at hand on the tire issue. As we got ready to leave, we started to say our goodbyes again. In her usual gracious style, Char’s first thought was to do something for us.
She said, “Lunch?”
That pretty much sums up their generous and thoughtful attitude. Once again, we are so thankful, so blessed to have folks like Char and Mike in our lives!
More pictures on Flickr.