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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.

I am not without hope of delighting to find the essential Coast Road novel.  Expectations defined in a previous post on two Coast Road-titled books ended with a request that, at the very least, when a book is titled, “The Coast Road,” then the reader better find plenty of setting along the Coast Road.

Elizabeth C. Ward’s 1983, Coast Highway 1, has it all:  A pissy, Stanford alum, University of Irvine comparative literature professor who translates nineteenth-century Spanish novelists, and intentionally grades his best student’s extraordinary paper a B+.  Jake Martin finds the extraordinary student lying dead one foggy morning, under the bougainvillea of his Spanish stucco courtyard.

“It was too late to go home, even for a change of clothes.  I bought a map of the coast highway and headed south.”   Jake Martin exits his next locations (Balboa Bay Club, San Juan Capistrano, Encinitas, even Ensenada), always in the nick-of-time.  Bullets prod his every departure.

A twist in the plot turns Jake northward, and soon he is north of Santa Monica, above Malibu, “Point Magu [sic].  One last strange rock, alone and seaward, like some forgotten giant or a period at the end of a sentence.  Beyond that are the flats of the Ventura Valley, the firing range, the naval base, the Pacific missile range, pale fields with only the tips of the summer crop greening the land.  Highway 1 hurries across it as though to get to the other side quickly, before the sea sweeps in again and wipes it clean.”

The reader finds plenty of setting along the Coast Road.  In Pismo Beach, Jake races through Oceano Dunes to evade a dune-buggying pursuer.  To reach some inland locales, such as Jake’s side-trip to Stanford campus, Elizabeth Ward writes, “I left the sea at Pescadero and turned inland through the artichokes and up into the redwood canyons that wind up to Skyline Drive.”  At Fort Point, Jake exchanges words under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge with the sergeant assigned to the case.

Penciled edits in the copy that I read, made me laugh out loud.  The first edit is found when Jake Martin carries his investigation to Pacific Heights in San Francisco.  Elizabeth C. Ward describes the streets of his location as, “…on California, between Jackson and Clay.”  A savvy reader before me penciled in three parallel lines next to this paragraph, and named each: California, Clay, Jackson.  To the right of the paragraph, this editor/reader wrote, “BETWEEN?” and then, for good measure on the page, a deeply-leaded “!”

Later, the same scribe slashed an “r” in “Monterrey,” with an admonishment, “One “ARE” in our Monterey!”

Elizabeth C. Ward includes the environmental movement and Robinson Jeffers in her Coast Highway 1.  In the victim’s photography book on estuaries of the California coast, “Jennifer had used Jeffer’s words as the only text in her book and the photographs were worthy of a poet.  The eye that had looked through the lens had lingered on the detail of wing and seed and ripple of water.  Had recorded the reflection of insect and reed and marsh grass.  It had gloried in the sweep of sky and the boundless still-spaces of the estuary.”

The gnarliest chase scene occurs, briefly, as a coast road run through the Big Sur coastscape.  “No backwoods roads lead to the safety of highway arteries further inland.  There is no escape except by foot into terrain where only the wildcat and the red-tailed hawk survive.  Once committed, there is no way out.  Set a roadblock, one at each end, and a man is trapped here forever.  Fugitive, he is defeated, finally, not by the men at either end, but by the mountains themselves and the sea swirling below.”

Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Highway 1, is fairly essential as a Coast Road Read.  It is certainly a bunch of fun to vicariously romp along its settings up and down the California coast.  Elizabeth wrote two other books, both published in the 1980s, A Nice Little Beach Town and The Lost Day.  Ms. Ward has lived in Newport Beach for most of her life.

Available Used.

A little article on Ms. Ward.

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.

Coast Road Twit

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Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
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