How was your weekend? Mine was interesting.
6 AM: Gah, I'm totally bored. Hey, I know - Los Angeles, California is supposed to have many activities. Let's go!
11 AM: Los Angeles at last - thanks to modern airplane technology!
12 PM: And now, for the many activities. First stop: drop-in visit with celebrated artist and blogger Coop. Hey, what do you know? Coop works in an abandoned Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery, where he paints gigantic pictures of car parts and naked ladies with big bosoms. Note to self: where do I get the job application for being a Coop?
1:30 PM: In pursuit of tacos, Coop and I cut through downtown Los Angeles where grazillion-degree temperatures have apparently melted the Art Museum. Left on Sunset Boulevard and on to secret taco location in Echo Park where we meet lovely Ruth Waytz. Coop and I order tacos. Ruth is disinterested in tacos. No sign of Norma Desmond.
3:00 PM: Taco-refreshed, we drop by Hooptyrides Central to retrieve Mister Jalopy and set out in search of the legendary Garage del Bobby. We are not disappointed. Bobby, a noted California saloon keeper, is building a period-perfect lakes racer fashioned from the belly tank of a WWII bomber, which will be running at Bonneville next week. Bobby's Model A hot rod roadster has served as a prop in "adult cinema." Best of all, Bobby has a 1948 Salsbury motor scooter. We take turns drag racing the Salsbury up and down the street at 40+ mph. Why do the neighbors titter so? Quoth Coop: "It's like a fat chick - fun to ride until somebody catches you."
6:00 PM: check into tidy motor court cabin. Drop a quarter in the TV and discover awesome Bollywood movie. Cool! Chance to practice my Bollywood dance moves.
8:30 PM: Drive to Burbank for the ancient cruise scene at Bob's Big Boy Toluca Lake. I am impressed by the many outstanding cars and delicious pie, but I fear I will be psychologically scarred by disturbing fiberglass Big Boy.
11:30 PM: Back to motor court. Lights out, for tomorrow is a big day.
4:17 AM I awake in a cold sweat. In my dreams I am menaced by giant hellish chubby lad astride enormous scooter, menacing me with tacos and his razor-sharp fiberglass pompadour.
8:30 AM Quick jaunt down the 210 to Hansen Dam recreation area. Destination: the Blessing of the Cars, an annual event where various devout greaser types bring their automobiles to receive a benediction from actual Catholic priests. I spot a few old acquaintances including Dan Collins, artist and stalwart of the Pedestrian Killers car club, and his righteous '38 Ford pickup. Bobby appears on the Salsbury to widespread cheers.
12:05 PM Double back on the 210 East, for the real reason I am in Southern California: the biennial Banks Gearhead Invitational, hosted at the lovely mountainside home of Gale and Vicki Banks. As the Talking Heads once sang, "how did I get here?" Luckily Gale Banks, besides being an automotive legend, has extremely poor taste in blogs.
12:25 PM I am at the guard gate, receiving careful scrutiny from security personnel. I slip 'em a fiver and wink. Ha ha! I'm in.
12:28 PM I hoof a path to Gale's back yard. First sight: Gale's Dakota Sidewinder pickup, the world's fastest at 222.139 mph. Over there, a 700 hp twin turbo T-bucket. An array of Four Ever Fours. The Mancillas Brothers dragsters. Gilmore Special Miller Indy car. There's the Banks 270 mph street legal Trans Am. An Ariel Atom. The Al Teague streamliner, the world's fastest wheel-driven vehicle at 436 mph. Look for paper bag, hyperventillation has set in.
1:00 PM Spot Coop, Ruth and Mister Jalopy.
Me: "Holy shit!"
Coop: "Holy crap!"
Jalopy: "Sacred excrement!"
1:25 PM There's a row of totally sick hot rods. Say hello to Pat Ganahl. Two more Bonneville streamliners, including Mickey Thompson's. Real Von Dutch pinstripes. An array of stationary engines, including an 1877 German outfit, the oldest internal combustion engine I have ever seen. Ferraris, GT40s, the Kirkland-Teverbaugh Bonneville Corvette, Steve Stanford's 300. Customizer legend and Iowa native Lee Pratt rolls in his '58 Impala. Next, Jay Leno in his ultra rare Tatra V8 commie rod. 1906 Pope-Toledo. OPEN BAR.
2:54 PM Luckily, Ruth has smelling salts and I am eventually revived from fainting spell. "Hey," says Ruth, "isn't that Ed Iskenderian?" Isky is flanked by Bob Pierson and Jack Lufkin. "Hummina hummina," I reply, jaw agape. This the hot rod equivalent of seeing Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Cy Young. They indulge me in 20 minutes of stupid questions. I am in total freakout mode. Quoth Bob Pierson: "There are three honest men in this business - this fella sitting next to me [Iskenderian], Vic Edelbrock, and Gale Banks." Now that's an endorsement.
3:26 PM More hot rod heros amble by. Art Chrisman, Al Teague, Ron Main. Bruce Meyer arrives in his '61 Ferrari GTO, the very car that won the '61 Le Mans. Ruth, Jalopy, Coop and I continue our sparkling Algonquin Roundtable banter:
Me: "Holy shit!"
Coop: "Holy crap!"
Jalopy: "Sacred excrement!"
4:47 PM LA County Sherriff's Department helicopter has just landed nonchalantly on Gale's lawn. Is it some sort of bust? I nervously check my pockets for contraband and bribe money. Phhhhew! They are greeting Gale with handshakes. Gale gestures me over. "Hey dude, let's go for a helicopter ride!"
4:49 PM Holy Ganesh, I am hovering with Banks above the world's greatest car show in a police copter, snapping pics. I suddenly wonder: can those computers run warrant checks?
5:00 PM Safe on the ground again. Stagger to Gale's garage wherein sits The World's Fastest Indian - the immortal bike of the legendary Kiwi speed demon Burt Munro. I have officially entered terrestrial nirvana.
6:00 PM Waiting in the buffet line are more hot rod legends than I can even begin to site. We sit down to sup with the FlatFire team (builders of the world's fastest Flathead Ford). This year at Bonneville they are running a GM EcoTec in pursuit of the world record for a 4-cylinder car. Owner/Driver Ron Main and Coop discuss possible secret project.
7:20 PM I bid farewell to Gale and Vicki, as they summon their security team to courteously but firmly escort me to the exit gate. Back to motor court, insert 50c into the vibro-bed for quick nap.
9:00 PM Cruise over to Hooptyrides Central for top secret weirdo poker game. Mister Jalopy, Coop and I are joined by Eric, Mike, Mark Frauenfelder of Make: Magazine and Boing Boing, and Cadillac Ranch designer Hudson Marquez. Delicious coldcuts are served. Mister Jalopy soon announces that the "poker game" is a wily ruse. Our real mission this evening will be to construct the enigmatic "Hirsch Vortex Tube," the plans for which are in a 1930's volume of Popular Mechanics. Although it sounds like an early design for the internet, it is actually a type of heat exchanger. According to the synopsis, when compressed air is fed into it, the Tube will magically blast hot air out one side and cold air through the opposite. If successful, we will have created the ultimate patio device - a one step weenie-roaster / beer cooler.
9:43 PM We assemble materials, power tools, beer. Science, ho!
1:45 AM After lengthy fabrication process and many beers, all systems are go. Mister Jalopy attaches air tube as we run for cover. Result: qualified success! Digital temperature probe shows 8 degree heat difference. Weenie roasting, however, remains theoretical. Head back to motor lodge.
9:00 AM Sneak out the back of motor lodge, enjoying a good chuckle at Mr. Singh, the innkeeper, shaking his fist in my rear view mirror. I head east on the 210 to Azuza, where I have somehow conned Gale Banks into a guided tour of his legendary Banks Power operation.
9:20 AM Gale greets me In the lobby, festooned with four FIA world speed record plaques. We enter the Mad Laboratory where the centerpiece is Jay Leno's Blastolene Special. No mere hot rod, this car is the ragged edge of automotive insanity. Its power plant: air-cooled V-12 overhead cam hemi Continental from a mid-1950s M47 Patton tank. 1,800 cubic inches (that's 29.5 Liters for you froufrou eurocar types) with a 17 GALLON oil pan. Stock, 810 horsepower and 1500 ft-lbs of torque. Enough twisty-power to boil its rear bus tires at will, but still insufficient for Leno's desired application. So Gale is helping out with a custom-designed electronic fuel injection sytem and twin turbo setup. When complete it should push 2000 horsepower and 3000 ft-lbs of torque, insuring that Leno will never run late for a Tonight Show taping.
11:13 AM My 48-hour freakout continues as Banks shows me the new NHRA pro mod under construction, the dyno room, the computer labs, the CNC machines, row after row of engines old and new. An impressive legacy for a Lynnwood kid who began building hot rod engines at 16. For the next few hours he graciously indulges all my stupid questions about racing at Bonneville, his world offshore racing titles, his hotrod boats for the Navy Seals. It's an amazing story which I'll save for later. Suffice it to say Gale Banks is a pioneer who has always remained ahead of the technological curve. Hybrids, shmybrids - this guy has already coaxed 222 miles per hour and 24 miles per gallon out of the same car.
2:19 PM Banks catches me stealing office supplies, and calls security.
2:25 PM Snake crosstown through LA freeways toward LAX to return rental car. Route includes late night comedy's legendary Slauson Cutoff, and Reginald Denny Memorial Intersection at Florence & Normandy. Jessica, Advantage Rent-a-Car's torquemada, begins pointedly grilling me about the various dents / customizing projects on my mid-size domestic. I give her several plausible no-fault explanations, but she remains skeptical.
3:15 PM I am rescued from my rent-a-car inquisition by noted screenwriter / pilot / blogger Bill Whittle, who has just returned to LA from the big annual experimental aircraft show in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin. We squeal out and head to Marina Del Rey for libations at Shanghai Red's, where we meet Bill's lovely ladyfriend Dana. Whittle gives a compelling analysis of the current global situation, giving me the chance to slam numerous drinks before my flight. I stiff him for the tab.
5:05 PM Whittle drops me off at the Air Ottumwa terminal at LAX. Exhausted, I upgrade to business class to avoid the typical squealing livestock in coach. As the Ford Tri-Motor wobbles eastward over the San Gabriels, I bid a melancholy farewell to Los Angeles. Thank you, Coop, Ruth, Mister Jalopy, Bobby, and especially Gale and Vicki for the coolest weekend I have ever had.
And mark my words, Los Angeles, California - I will be back, as sure as there is a statute of limitations!