Saturday, May 30, 2015

James Dean Memorial on Highway 46

Just outside of Paso Robles, on a lonely stretch of Highway 46, is the James Dean Memorial. The memorial, a strange affair of aluminum, stainless steel and iron, perhaps emulating the Porsche James was driving, was commissioned by an obsessed fan, was made in Japan in 1977. Someone said it represented a broken infinity sign. Whatever it is, it girdles a tree.

Perhaps the late James Dean's biggest fan is Seita Ohnishi, a self-made real estate millionaire, who periodically makes an anniversary pilgrimage to the memorial site every few years.

The prefab memorial was commissioned and shipped across the Pacific Ocean from Japan by Ohnishi. The memorial is a concrete and steel sculpture that envelops a tree in a dusty parking lot outside the Cholame "post office" (a ramshackle collection of metal mailboxes stuck on poles in the parking lot), and the Jack Ranch Cafe. 

Someone said the memorial surrounded the tree of heaven. I looked it up, it's a Chinese sumac, or stinking sumac. It's a prodigious cloner, another nickname is the tree of hell. There is a thick grove of sucker trees on the other side of the road threatening to take over the entire valley.

Two iron slabs below the cenograph, covered in writing, are hard to read, and people have scattered coins on top of them. it's become a dry wishing well of sorts in a place of little rain. It's too hard to read and I have little patience to read around the coins. Concentric rings of copper and nickel and silver. A frozen pond. Chrormium and iron are invoked. Between the two metal slabs, a bronze sparrow rests.
"On Sept. 30, 1981, Onishi dedicated a gleaming $15,000 chromium cenotaph. In the years since, he has added two tablets and a tiny bronze fallen sparrow. He explained his devotion to Dean on a card handed out at the 1981 cenotaph dedication. "James Dean was the brief, living manifestation of a new era," it read. "There are some things, like the hatred that accompanies war, that are best forgotten. There are others, like the love inspired by this young actor, that should be preserved for all time." People 1989

The monument celebrates the life of Dean in three ways: “his agony, his glory and his tragic ending — all existing for eternity,” Ohnishi told The Tribune. “The monument itself forms a circle around the Tree of Heaven … and when viewed from a certain angle it takes the shape of the symbol for infinity. At the back, there is an angled cut for a life tragically incomplete.” From the Vault SLO Tribune

Across from the memorial, the walls of the old '50s Jack Ranch diner are covered with photos of James Dean and '50s memorabilia, The generous slabs of homemade pie are pretty good too. It's all about the crust. I passed on my compliments to the cook.

The land surrounding Cholame is still owned by Hearst Ranch, but the old Cholame general store is gone. Now the store is the Hearst Ranch Winery's newest tasting room at $10 a glass. Sign of the times. But, hey, if you want a thimbleful of wine....


The ad hoc James Dean memorial crash site (different than the memorial itself), is roughly a mile down the road from the diner towards Lost Hills, at the Y junction where Highway 41 joins Highway 46.

Cholame was once known as "Blood Alley" for the sheer number head-on collisions. James Byron Dean, enroute to a race in Salinas, was killed just before sunset at the junction of Highway 41 on September 30, 1955. Dean was 24, he was only a year older than my mother.

Dean, a member of the Acting Studio, only starred in three films during his five-year acting career: East of Eden, the unreleased Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant, for which he received a posthumous Academy Award. His portrayal of the misunderstood and troubled James Stark, in the iconic Rebel Without a Cause, (played close to home), released a month after Dean's death, became a lodestone for teenagers coming of age during post-war America.


A 23-year-old Cal-Poly student headed home from San Luis Obispo in his 1950 Ford coupe, failed to signal while making a left turn onto Highway 41 and turned in front of Dean's Porsche Spyder 550, dubbed "Little Bastard," headed towards Paso Robles. (There may have been another car involved, read about it here).

Donald Turnupseed was unharmed, a scraped nose and bruises, but James was killed instantly. James' mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, was catapulted from the car, but James was pinned between the steering wheel and tartan seats, his neck broken. Said Turnupseed, "I didn't see him, by God, I really didn't see him." Turnupseed was hounded the rest of his life by the press for interviews.
Many at the time thought the Porsche Spyder was too high-powered for him and, indeed, days before he died Alec Guinness, the actor, had a premonition that he would die behind its wheel.  —The Telegraph


Fifty years later, in 2005, "Blood Alley" was revamped and renamed the James Dean Memorial Junction.

During the first 20 years after James Dean's death, before the official memorial was erected, makeshift roadside memorials sprung up at the Y. The tradition of the people's impromptu memorial continues to this day. To some it may look like trash, but it's ongoing folklore in the making.

Making my own memorial offering, I wrote James a postcard, a photo of dean and his Spyder, and left it at the site for the wind to read. The barbed-wire fence becomes an aeolian harp of sorts, translating the wind's thoughts.

So many crazy memorial tributes left for the fallen rebel: packs of Chesterfield's, and beer bottles but the labels were worn off. Votive candles, coins in a jar, a nude push-up bra, a mysterious blue binder, a book—his bio, lots of lighters (modern), broken aviator sunglasses, etc. Significance and randomness and holiness. Things found by the side of the road. Hubcaps. Rims. Tail lights. No Eden, this is where he exited the door to his life.

The faux headstone mentioned in other blogs was stolen, but the push-up bra, and a biography on the actor were still there a year later. The bra was in good shape but the book had seen better days. Only the wind was reading it.

I collected some amber road reflectors, placed them in a half-circle, left a bouquet of flowers, and tidied up the site. I imagine a new carload of tchatchkes will appear after September 30, the anniversary of Dean's death.

Every time we drive down I-5, and stop at Love's in Lost Hills, James Dean comes to mind. I'm so very glad I finally got a chance to see the famous Y junction after all these years. An odd pilgrimage of sorts. A legend that has morphed into the fantastic, in a hayfield by the side of the road.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Eric Rigler (photos)

I had a few minutes time off from being an unpaid booth wench for Neil O'Neill & the CelticTyger at the Costa Mesa Scotfest Games, and I listened to an awesomely stellar uilleann piper, not knowing that he was the great Eric Rigler with his Celtic world fusion band, Bad Haggis.

Eric's playing style reminded me of Paddy Keenan. He's jammed with the stellar Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser (Skyedance is one of my fave CDs), Rod Stewart, Josh Groban, Phil Collins, Rubén Blades, and Babs Streisand. Eric played "Amazing Grace" at Ronald Reagan's memorial service, and for Sean Connery's AFI Lifetime Achievement award. 

You've heard him play uilleann pipes and hauntingly beautiful tin whistle tunes in many television shows and movies including The Titanic, Million Dollar Baby, Road to Perdition, Braveheart, Cinderella Man, Robots, The Spy Who Shagged Me, Prince of Egypt, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Jewel in the Palace, and Crossing Jordan.

For a moment I sat in the presence of greatness and was transported by music.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

In Memoriam ‪#‎SantaBarbaraOilSpill‬

Santa Barbara: Gunmetal gray waves. The handiwork of Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. The LAND-BASED tar oil spill went from 21,000 gallons to 105,000 gallons. The oil slick is now nine miles long.

The air in Santa Barbara is so toxic, that they're not even letting people volunteer for the cleanup process. People who inhale hydrocarbons get pneumonia. Needless to say, the coast is closed for Memorial Day Weekend. Guess we'll be going down I-5 to Costa Mesa. The coast is closed.

This is the single largest oil spill along the ecologically sensitive Santa Barbara shoreline n 46 years.

In Memoriam for all the dying shore birds and marine life.

Today, I made my first meme: Our weapon of mass reconstruction against Big Oil.

The original Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid is very mild but cuts oil. Manicurists use it to soak and soften cuticles. Dawn will also clear out a stopped-up toilets and sink drains. According to the International Bird Rescue Research Center, Dawn effectively removes grease but does not cause harm to the skin of the birds. It’s also biodegradable and contains no phosphates.

‪#‎angry‬ With corporate thanks to Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. Plains Pipeline, which owns and operates some 18,000 miles of oil pipeliness in several states, has garnered 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006, according to federal records. PP has spilled more than 688,000 gallons of hazardous oil products to the tune of more than $23 million in property damage.

Who remembers washing birds in dish soap during the 1969 oil spill? I washed grebes and pelicans. One grebe decided my eye looked edible. Luckily I turned away at the last second. He razored my cheek.

Shore birds affected by the oil spill include: the blue-eyed cormorants, the critically endangered snowy plover, brown pelicans, storm petrels, shearwaters, clapper and black rails, least terns, elegant terns, gull-billed terns, Heermann's gull, long-billed curlew, marbled godwit ,sanderlings, surfbirds, western sandpiper.

(From the Santa Barbara County endangered birds WatchList— 96 birds.
 Audubon is an advocate for the protection of wetlands and other areas important to birds' survival.)

All these birds are endangered, or are on the critical watchlist.

And I haven't even listed the land birds that too will be affected, nor the sea creatures.

PSA: If you see an oiled or injured bird or marine mammal on the Santa Barbara Coast, please call 877-823-6926 for animal rescue.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Costa Mesa Highland Games

We're heading down to the Costa Mesa Highland Games tomorrow, Neil plays several gigs Sat & Sun. MAY 23/-24 at the Orange County Fairgrounds, Irvine, CA.

We'll be in LaLaLand all week. Anyone wanna meet up MTW? We will be at Mad Men screening/panel Wed eve. SAG/AFTRA awards event, Director's Guild of America, Sunset/Melrose. Reception & discussion followed by Q & A with the season's 5 directors. We might be able to take two more people.

Wed AM: Cafe Primo for lunch Mark Adler? Virginia Rae-Kane? Marina Gennadievna Verenikina? Fatmir Doga? James Harper? (Or meet up any time Tues?) Also need a place to stay MTW.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day to my Grandmother

Happy Mother's Day to my grandmother Jennie Walsh Reilly who raised me up. She probably made her hat, as she made most of her clothes‚ and the coyote fur may be from the Walsh Home Ranch, in Austin, NV. She once told me how they made fur coats from the coyote skins and when they walked down Market Street in San Francisco in their elegant new coats, all the street curs followed Jennie and her Aunt May, hackles raised, howling, howling at their fur coats.

(At the Cliff House, SF, late 1920s.)