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This is the tale of two Fradkins:

1. Philip Fradkin 1974 and 2011
2. Philip Fradkin, father and Alex Fradkin, his son.

Philip and Alex have published The Left Coast – California On The Edge, written by Philip, with accompanying photos taken by Alex.  The two have spent the past five years writing about, and snapping images of, the choices that we’ve made the past one hundred years in utilizing our shoreline.

These choices entail lumber production, preservation of open space, farming communities suffering withdrawal from the reverberating booms of mass housing developments, exploited fisheries, beaches as recipients of sewage line detritus, a globally-influential harbor, and, armed Feds.

After reading the text and viewing the photos, one walks away with a throbbing question, How does such a mixed-use coast mediate conflicting interests?

The Left Coast is not the archetypal published fare of coffee table books waxing poetic on images of uninhabited coastline or long rural stretches of the coast road.  The Left Coast charges the reader to consider how our current imagery of California is no longer that of the plein air artists, who, at the turn of the nineteenth century, captured landscapes and coastscapes without power lines, asphalt, and buildings.

Two of my favorite photos taken by Alex are not typical “landscape-y” or “coastscape-y” photos.

In the chapter entitled, “The Military Coast,” a photo of a young servicewoman is dwarfed dockside before the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier, home-ported at NS North Island, San Diego.  Philip writes,”Beach replenishment – viewed as a God-given, or rather a navy-gifted, right in San Diego – is a bit of a misnomer.  To replenish is to make complete again.  The beaches had been historically narrow, the Silver Strand being a thin barrier spit when the Hotel Del was first built.  They bulked up only when wide beaches were seen as a profitable tourist attraction, chambers of commerce promoted their mythic existence, and the navy supplied the sand – a massive thirty-seven million cubic yards to the Silver Strand since 1940, making it the most modified beach in California.  There was a second purpose for the so-called replenishment.  The sand was meant not only to give pleasure but also to protect coastal developments, which in San Diego County had been “built too low, too close to the beach, or without sufficient setbacks from the cliff edges.””

“The navy began dredging, with the clean sand going to replenish the nine beaches stretching from Oceanside to Imperial Beach.  Problems developed.  An unexploded mortar shell was found on the Oceanside beach where some of the sand had been pumped ashore.”

My other favorite photo, found in the chapter, “The Recreational Coast,” is, “RVs camped on beach.  Oceano Dunes, 2007.”  Ocean Dunes SVRA is a hot land-use debate between those who believe beaches are for feet versus those recreationists who desire to drive motorized vehicles across the beach and along its sand dunes.

The Left Coast is not Philip’s first published effort.  In 1974, Philip published California, The Golden Coast, which included photographs by Dennis Stock to support Philip’s text.  Dennis’ photos evoke that blissful, dreamy California of which we vacation along the coast road to experience, the coast that enviros fight for; photos perfectly-suited for a glossy coffee-table book. California, The Golden Coast, makes a delightful companion piece to The Left Coast, that is, if you can find it.

Alex accompanied Philip on the field research trips for this book, thus these two books tie together: In 1974, father and son travel the coast, for father to write a book. Thirty years later, father and son embark upon a journey to produce a book together.

Purchase The Left Coast – California On The Edge.

Alex’s website.

Philip’s website.

Dude gave me his name, but I didn’t ask his permission to share, so I’ll tell you that dude’s name is “Noah.”  Noah’s hitched rides from Shasta County to the San Mateo County coast.  He has no specific destination.  New Mexico, ultimately, then back home.

“Lightning Fields, New Mexico,” I suggested.  Noah hadn’t heard about Lightning Fields.  I told him about Just John, riding a tricycle, heading south a couple of years ago, and that his plan was to reach the southern end of the Coast Road, then turn east to New Mexico, bound for the Lightning Fields.

“An electrical dude,” observed Noah.  “I’ve been reading about Tesla and his inventions.”

Noah’s traveling south, dependent on hitchhiking to reach the next destination.  “Riding a bike would be better,” says Noah after I tell him about Just John riding his tricycle.  “More independence, travel at one’s own pace, stop wherever and whenever, and, more room to pack more supplies.”

Noah’s belongings fit within a modest-sized backpack, larger than what we slung across our backs when in school, but smaller than an expedition backpack, which may be more suitable for Noah’s coastal trek.  A black canvas shoulder bag holds items requiring frequent use, such as Noah’s bullet-shaped, stainless steel thermos.

Noah’s tanned skin from the past couple weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures contrast to this week’s winter weather of snow at 1,000 foot elevations and hail storms at sea level.  After a long rainy hitch that brought him through Marin County and across the Golden Gate, and a complicated navigation through the drizzly city, Noah got a ride from San Francisco, through Pacifica, around Devil’s Slide, then down the coast and up to Apple Jacks in La Honda.  “I’ve enjoyed two good woodstove fires and really good music in the past 24 hours.”

Atop Noah’s long, brown, sun-kissed curls, sits a green felt hat, with a stubby brim, adequate-enough to provide sun and rain protection.  Noah’s summer-weight, black pin-striped suit is layered underneath by a red tee, and a green wool v-neck sweater, topped by two thick scarves.  Birkenstocks on Noah’s sockless feet display signs of wear at the heels.

Next stop Santa Cruz, then maybe Monterey, unless Noah hitches straight into the Sur.

Keep an eye to the Coast Road for “Noah,” and, if you’re headed to the next town south, maybe offer him a lift.

Atop a table within the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur I found Cosmic Coastal Chronicles written by M.L. Fischer.  A man standing nearby, stepped closer to me, winked, and whispered, “I hear that if you buy one of this author’s books, he will sign it for you.”

I flipped open to page 1 and read, “My old Toyota pick-up droned steadily over undulating hills, past green waves of artichokes, toward Moss Landing and on to Santa Cruz with the promise of surf at Pleasure Point.  A kayak was strapped to the top, mountain bike hung on the back, and surf gear stashed under the camper shell.”

Two sentences that were convincing enough for me to buy this book.  At the register, the Library’s executive director, Magnus Torén, rang up my purchases and then I stepped outside to find that man, as I knew he was the M.L. Fischer who would sign his book for me.

The Library was celebrating the first issue of its literary journal, Ping•Pong, with a release party.  People circulated the Library’s bookstore selecting new reads, like I did, or sat chatting on the sunny deck of the Library, surrounded by a redwood grove.

I found the man reclined in a resin chair on the deck, enjoying redwood-dappled sunshine.  “Will the author sign his work?” I asked, handing over Cosmic Coastal Chronicles.  We introduced ourselves.  On the title page, across from the book flap stamped with Henry Miller Library’s “Libris Pistorum,” Meade wrote in black ball point ink, “Anneliese, Hope you enjoy.  M.L. Fischer.”

I thanked Meade.  We shared stories of our beloved California coast and then Magnus asked everyone who had been standing around drinking wine and conversing about books, art, music and the beautiful warm sunny afternoon in Big Sur, to take seats and enjoy readings by all the talented authors published in Ping•Pong.

Having returned to my Big Sur campsite, reclined in a beach chair with my newly-acquired pug-beagle puppy snuggled atop my lap, I read Meade’s chronicles of his adventures along the west coast.

Meade has lived in many California coast towns and has driven the coast from southern California to Vancouver, B.C.  Meade’s “ride” to roam the Coast Road is either an “old Toyota pick-up” or a Kawasaki 1100cc.

“Many times, during summers and weekends, this sturdy little truck, faded and rusty, has been my home.  The long bed accommodates my long frame.  A mat from a patio lounge fits between the wheel wells.  The built-in carpeted compartments give me storage and shelf space.  My pillow is stuffed against the back of the cab, and a long, thick sleeping bag is rolled and ready.  A battery powered lantern is stowed in a compartment along with a pup tent, mask and snorkel and assorted gear I’ve been too lazy to unload.  A good book is always stuffed under the sleeping bag in case I spend the night in some scenic turn-out along the road.  Naturally, a bottle opener and a cork screw are in the glove box at all times.”

“A road that may take many lifetimes to travel,” writes Meade.  “Sunset found me on the San Luis Obispo coast.  I think of this as the gentle coast, with its wide turn-outs beside rocky little beaches, slapped by perfectly starched little waves.”  (Question to Meade:  What’s a “starched” wave?)

Meade continues, “The view inland is of Hearst Castle and smooth rolling hills, like mounds of melting coffee ice cream.  There are big RVs with smiling retirees for neighbors.  Further north, past Ragged Point at Big Sur, the landscape erupts skyward.”  (Absolutely true!)

“This is a coast of narrow turn-outs, perched on cloud-high cliffs, with people stranger than myself parked in odd busses under the shadow of trees, plotting bizarre cures for mankind’s ills while chanting mantras and smoking copious amounts of pot.”

Meade meets some of these “strange” people at pull-outs when he parks to check out the surf conditions.  Ewing “lived up the road at a scenic turn-out in an old van.”  For income, Ewing “carved pot pipes for the surfers and hippie types.  He made enough from this to buy food and gas and that was pretty much all he wanted beyond just being able to live at Big Sur.”

A friend of Ewing’s who lived a bit further north, Robot, “lived in an old tent in a secret spot right off the highway.”  Robot also made money from carving little stone pipes and “watching cars” (like a parking lot security guard) parked alongside the road at surf spots.  Meade and Robot enjoyed “a friendship that lasted a couple of years, until he (Robot) moved down the beach to a place I’ve yet to locate.  He shared secrets of Big Sur and the delightful stories of his life and adventures, and I, more often than not, provided the beer, some epoxy from town and sometimes a “loan” of five or ten bucks.”

Meade’s coastal adventures include colorful characters, such as Ewing and Robot, and scenic descriptions of the coastscape, “A flock of birds argued enthusiastically in the tree above me, while the world of man was reduced to a thin line of cars passing far below.”  One of my favorite lines, “The comfortable patch of tall grass under the sprawling Live Oak, upon the ridge, above the rugged, always dynamic coast of Big Sur provides more nature than a hundred nature shows, with their carefully selected images.”

When not riding in his old Toyota or atop his Kawasaki, Meade takes to the water in a kayak at Elkhorn Slough, “A sudden darkness under the bridge of Highway One and I was officially out of the harbor and in the slough.”  Here Meade enjoys a brief respite from light pollution, “Then the magic began.  Suddenly there was almost no artificial light, only the distant house lights of rural south Monterey County.  The moon, low in the east, cast a broad avenue of ghostly white that led me ever onward.”

Or Meade’s ride becomes a surfboard, “My favorite surfing spot in Pacifica, in fact, my favorite in the Bay Area, was Rockaway Beach.  The beach is less than a half-mile wide, between two rocky points.  A channel through the reef at the south end leads to a line-up that you can paddle around.  You can slip into position without getting in the way of someone taking off on a wave.  The place breaks from two to three foot waves, until it closes out, which can be double overhead at times.”

Meade contributes his philosophic insights, such as, “As humans, we seem to need to find a reason, a greater purpose for everything, a natural law that causes it all to make sense to us.  I’m beginning to suspect that there really isn’t anything like that out there, that the order we discover is a product of our own minds.  Even the wonderful concept of ecology may be rooted in our persistent need for order and reason.”

In one night at my Big Sur campsite, I read through Meade’s Cosmic Coastal Chronicles.  Foxes visited, sniffing outside my tent, scaring the puppy to settle within my sleeping bag.  Absolutely original as a local’s guide book to travel on Highways 1 and 101, M.L. Fischer’s Cosmic Coastal Chronicles may also be compared to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and John Steinbeck’s, Travels with Charley.  The next morning I hit the Coast Road south for a trot down to Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

Now, as a re-read, Meade’s chronicles snapped me out of my winter hibernation (a doldrums as it were), and I’m re-inspired to hit the Coast Road in search of my own cosmic coastal adventures.  As Meade describes, “Each of these trips adds to the growing collage, the ongoing coastal trip.”

May the road rise to meet you too.

Devil's Slide mapMr. Roadshow of the San Jose Mercury News writes about the construction status of Devil’s Slide Tunnel.

“Workers have drilled into and blown away mostly solid rock, which they prefer over soft, crumbling rock because it is easier to blast away neatly. They are tunneling about 15 feet a day, and they are almost two-thirds of the way through the mountain.”

Mr. Roadshow concludes, “When these tunnels are finished at last, we’ll have a lot less to be wary about.”

With regards to no longer driving the drop-down roadbed of the roller coaster ride that Highway 1 currently provides at Devil’s Slide, yes; however, I anticipate traffic to increase north and south along Highway 1 once the tunnels are complete and open.  The coast is somewhat protected from the mass-weekend tourist traffic by the precarious passage of Devil’s Slide.  Once the tunnels open and ease the drive, we will see many more visitors, property values will increase, and the isolation that the community once experienced will vanish, forever.

If you are interested in reading more about this project, visit CalTrans’ District 4 Devil’s Slide Project page.  An excellent chronicle is Eric Rice’s 3-part series on how the project came to be, or purchase Barbara VanderWerf’s book on the history of the route over Montara Mountain.

Foggy at the coast. Sunny and warm 2 miles inland.

In celebration of the return of our beloved fog to the California coast after two weeks of weather extremes: 30 mph wind gusts for a week, followed by wiltingly-hot temperatures, let’s resurrect two old books for their descriptions of California’s sea fog, also known as “Advection Fog.” Advection fog forms when warm, moist sea air blows onshore, and is brought up short from its travels where the upwelling colder water runs along the coast. When the interior warms, a wind develops and blows the fog back to sea. This is why fog brings breezes whether it’s coming or going. Some people call advection fog, “Tule Fog,” but that is a particular type of inland valley fog; completely different in both its location and how it arises. (I think people like saying the word “tule” more than they like saying “advection,” so that is why the error persists.)

natureandscience00amerrichThe first golden oldie resource is a little volume of essays published in 1915, Nature & Science on the Pacific Coast : a guide-book for scientific travelers in the West. In the essay, “Weather Conditions on the Pacific Coast” is a single entry describing, “one of the most climatic features of San Francisco is the prevalence of fog.”

The prevailing weather condition of the City could have seven different descriptions by the locals, as it is said the Eskimos have a variety of words for snow, and indeed, sometimes the fog crawls in like cat feet, but there is another fog that pushes first a wind, then blows dramatically into the City, swirling grey gusts around the hilltops and cable cars, making the town come alive.

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Coast Road Twit

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Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
Dot i's and cross t's.