Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Route 66 Day Four

Day four, which is Sunday, June 26, we finally began our Route 66 journey.  Today we were up early, fed at McDonald's (yeah--I know) and on the road to Santa Monica.

Santa Monica, California, is for most people the end of Route 66.  Denice and I decided that it would be much easier for us to bomb out to California and drive slowly back home. This should mean traffic moving in our direction (east) is going to be non-existent and we will be talking to people heading west.

The Santa Monica Pier was our first stop today.  When we arrived at the Pier, the oceanfront was foggy and cool.  It was also deserted, so parking was no issue.  We walked the pier on this Sunday morning prior to all the vendors being open but there were plenty of fishermen.  Denice is still regretting that we did not clamber down a staircase to pet an octopus before one fisherman tossed him back into the sea.

On the beach, a veteran's group had set up crosses to represent all the dead soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. 
For breakfast, it was family time.  We had a rendezvous at the Back to the Beach CafĂ© with our family members Chris, Chuck, Becky, Billy, Jennifer, Jake and Max.  We had a couple of hours of table talk and walking the beach before we left our California clan and turned east. 

We officially began our Route 66 trip at the Will Rogers Plaque in the Palisades Park which is the unofficial end of the Route.  There we shared the plaque with a large group of English and Australian tourists who had started their journey in Chicago. 

Historically Route 66 really ended at Olympic Blvd. and Lincoln Blvd. so we drove over there.  Signalling the official start of the weird, we also found at that location a penguin dentist.

Kumar, the desk clerk at the Wigwam, did warn us that no one believes how long it will take to drive from the beach to the teepees.  He was right.  We started out at noon and arrived in the teepees at nine that night.

Of course, we did stop along the way.  This is all city street driving and proved to have a ton of things to look at. 

Leaving Santa Monica and moving into Los Angeles, we had to make one side trip shopping stop for me.  We visited Necromance on Melrose Avenue.  This is a multi building affair that sells the weird and wonderful.  In the first store, where a Goth like clerk claimed they sold the overstock (although I saw nothing on sale--not a complaint just an observation) I bought some plastic hearts, fake eye balls, and skull beads.  Then we moved next door to the store that carries the more scientific items where I bought some muskrat skulls, fish bones and some colorful dead beetles. 

Down the road, we entered Pasadena where the previous night at the Rose Bowl Mexico defeated the USA in World Cup soccer.  Now we discovered why all the people were yelling in the Mexican restaurant last night in Rialto.

Continuing east on Colorado Blvd., famous for the Rose Bowl parade, we entered Arcadia and drove past the Santa Anita Racetrack.  Here is also a Dennys housed in the last of the Van de Kamp’s restaurant chains old Dutch windmills.

I will admit to making one mistake last night.  I insisted that we stay two nights in the Wigwam rather than risk our $35 a night room at the Aztec Hotel on West Foothill under the assumption that a room that costs that much is either renting by the hour or an opium den.  As we drove past it, it appears to be a great place to stay and both of us were disappointed we did not try it for one night. 

Then we were through Duarte, Azusa, and Glendora.  Our dinner stop was the upscale Golden Spur that dates back 80 years.  All I can say is that we spent a lot of money on an average meal and wish we would have eaten some place else because I was the old dude in the whole place in a T-shirt.  Plus mine had a giant badger on it making me a walking billboard for Wisconsin. 

After dinner, the sun was setting and the neon started to appear.  Our journey took us into San Dimas, La Verne and Pomona.

Next was Clarement, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga. The last two cities were Fontana and Rialto before we arrived back at the teepees at about 9:00 p.m.

Total miles today:  193
Total miles on trip:  2,276

See all the photos from this trip at

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Route 66 Day Three

Determined to get to California today, we got up bright and early and on the road from Grand Junction, Colorado.  However, distractions on any road come quickly for the Niebuhrs and we were no more than a few miles down the road when we began to realize that the beauty of this area was going to require us to pull over a few times. 

Utah surprised both of us as soon as we crossed into it from Colorado.  Breath taking scenery on Hwy. 70 in Utah seemed equal to the Grand Canyon to us.

At a wayside near Green River, we found the scenery spectacular, the geckos fun, and Denice showed surprising depths by reaching into a snake hole and pulling out the skin for her husband.  What a gal!

A pull off into the town of Green River, Utah, proved a great find for road side signage.  Take a look at these beauties as I warmed up for the Mother Road.

Basically we are north of Arches at this point and at another wayside we were treated with additional wonders to behold. 

But nothing prepared us for our journey down through Arizona near the Grand Canyon in the north west corner of the state.  I will say that this is the most beautiful highway drive I have ever had.  Unfortunately for you, I was too busy driving to take photos and there are no safe turnoffs in this area.  Wow!

Lunch was a sub from Cousins in Mesquite, Nevada, proving that even the most adventure seeking travelers occasionally just go for expediency. 

After we crossed into California and the Mojave Desert, things got a bit warm and this picture below sort of sums up my mood:

However, I am not as worried about the 100 degree heat as some poor dog who is offered this landscape upon which to poop:

Crossing California's Mojave did afford the first sightings of Route 66 and I cannot wait to get to a place called Newberry Springs which appears to be filled with nothing but ruins. 

We made it to our abode for the next two nights, the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, California, firmly on Route 66.  There old motto used to be Do It In a Teepee but they have scaled that back a bit for families.  The highlight of this decision was dealing with Kumar, the desk clerk.  Denice warned me that she had some reservations about our reservation when talking to Kumar on the phone prior to leaving home.  Today we called the place and asked to add today to our reservation (more on that later).  Sure enough, upon arrival Kumar had some difficulty finding our reservation or anything about adding a day.  However, to his credit, he proved to be our first great character of the trip.

Kumar suggested the El Kiosco Mexican Restaurant for dinner and that was satisfactory.  The neighborhood right around the Wig Wam is a little temperamental but the restaurant was in a fine area of the city and night travel there and back was not a big deal. 

So that ends our long, three day, highball to California.

Today's mileage:  763
Total mileage so far:  2,083

All the photos for the trip can be seen at

Friday, June 24, 2011

Route 66 Day Two

Today found us up bright and early and irritating the monkeys at King Kong Burgers were unfortunately we arrived too early for the Breakfast Taco.  That meant a dreaded national chain breakfast at The Cracker Barrel where I spent most of the meal trying to figure out how to steal the things on the walls.  I did find two cool rusty bottle caps in the parking lot so I now feel like the trip has really begun.

Today is all about getting to the West Coast so we can actually get our kicks on Route 66.  With the plan being that we not only needed to do today's 700 miles but also make up for yesterday's 125 mile shortfall, it was basically a day of driving.

We did eat lunch in Sterling, Colorado at the River City Grill but who cares about that when just down the block was this cool building. 

Denice did not let me steal this cool rusty office sign even though it was just hanging there begging to be given a home with someone who cares. 

We made it over the Rocky Mountains past Vail with one big surprise.  On the longest day of the year they still have snow within reach.  Yikes!

Our evening meal was in Avon, Colorado at yet another sushi place, this one called Nozawa Sushi Bar and Kitchen.  Then on to Grand Junction, Colorado, for a night's rest at the Best Western. 

Total miles:  752

Enjoy all the photos from the trip at

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Route 66 Day One

Denice and I headed out on our Route 66 trip this morning at 9:00 a.m.  We headed down the Rock Freeway and I pushed the cruise control for the first time and--guess what? 

Facing a 4,000 mile odyssey in our Honda Odyssey totally dependent on my right foot was too daunting for me so we turned the van around and headed back to Milwaukee to the Honda dealer.  We had just been there Tuesday night because we could not get the van out of gear and that turned out to be a little plug under the brake pedal that cost us about $100.

Well, the guy who fixed our van did not connect the cruise back together that night.  The good news was that the dealer could take us this morning and the fix was free.  The bad news was that we lost 2 1/2 hours sitting in the dealer's waiting room.

Denice and I headed out on our Route 66 trip this morning at 11:30 a.m.  We have three days to drive all the 2,000 miles to Santa Monica, California, where we intend to have brunch with Denice's sister Chris and her husband Chuck.  Then, from the pier, we head back over the 2.000 miles to Chicago on Route 66.

At 1:00 p.m., we were finishing lunch at the Road Dawg in Beloit, Wisconsin, and beginning to think that this was going to be a very challenging trip indeed considering at this point we thought we would be somewhere in Iowa. 

Speaking of Iowa, I was amazed to discover that you can find the cure for many diseases by peeing in a wayside.  Unfortunately, I failed to actually grab a copy of either paper so I will never really know. 

Near Des Moines, Iowa, I got confused in a construction zone and missed our turn off.  In reversing our route we turned around in the parking lot of a shopping mall that had a restaurant called Sticks which sounded to us from a distance like Asian food.  When we got close enough, this place turned out to be a Native American store.  Ironically, right next to it was

which proved to have great rolls so we were really happy.

Maybe we should have waited to eat because when we got to Lincoln, Nebraska, we discovered they serve gorilla meat which neither of us have ever had. 

So now we have settled in at the Settle Inn in Lincoln, Nebraska, about 125 miles short of our goal for today.  Ah, but tomorrow is another day.

Total miles: 568

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day in Waupaca

Today was Father's Day and I spent the day in and around the Grand Old Army Home in King, Wisconsin.  King is the veteran's home where my father, Warren Leonard Niebuhr, was buried in March of 2006.  Today I visited his grave with my wife Denice, my Mommy and my sister Barbara. 

Normally at King on this day there is a picnic and a parade but that was all set aside by bad weather.  We ate inside today and had time to visit the museum. 

Then it was off junkin'. 

First stop was a place near Waupaca called The Red Mill.  This historic building, located on a river with a covered bridge built in 1970, has beautiful grounds to walk.  There is a glass shop whose stock was not of interest to me.

The main portion of The Red Mill is a combination shop and museum.  We spent quick a bit of time walking around and checking out the displays.  I had to go out to the van and get my camera because of all the really cool items that were on display. 

Then it was on to the Weller Store in Rural, WI.  This is a funky shop in a funky town located on a beautiful little river.  But who cares about that with the shop full of goodies to cart home.  Today's haul included an old tool box, an old tin box, five hinges, some plastic pieces that will work as embellishments and a vintage drill.  However, the coolest stuff was some instant relatives made up of five vintage photographs and eight tin types. 

You can see all of the photos from the day, plus some of my cat Biakabutuka and a Scott Walker protest day at my Flickr site at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Amy X. Neuburg at Present Music

I just got home from a concert in Milwaukee by Present Music in which the ensemble played two pieces on its own.  In the first half, they performed Wynton Marsalis's Hellbound Highway--Movement #5 from At the Octoroon Balls (1995).  In the second half, they played Far Variations by Kamran Ince.  Both pieces were very approachable and highly entertaining to listen to.

However, not as entertaining as the featured artist, Amy X. Neuburg.  This is the second time that the Oakland, California, based musician has visited Milwaukee to play with Present Music.  My recollection of her last visit, in 2006, was that she mostly played a solo concert accompanied by her many machines. 

Tonight, Neuburg played nine pieces accompanied by Present Music musicians--and her machines.  There was not a weak moment in her entire performance.  While her music has a performance piece aspect to it, that in no way diminishes the quality of the music and the thematic content of each song.

While her messages are full of the angst of living in a world that does not always honor her sensibilities, her charisma from the stage and her dramatic presentation of the song, including her four octave range, all make her a sympathetic messenger for some rather sad and occasionally dark tomes.  Poetry abounds in each piece.  It was an amazing night and I picked up her CD, The Secret Language of Subways featuring the Cello Chixtet (2009). 

Here is a sample of Amy X. Neuburg for your enjoyment (doing a piece with a cellos while tonight we had one cello, three violins, a clarinet and percussion to back her up):

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

50 Modern Artists I Should Know

I just read 50 Modern Artists You Should Know by Christiane Weidemann and Christine Nippe (Prestel, 2010, 9783791344706) which is a fascinating book that, albeit briefly, covers fifty great artists whose lives prove as interesting as their creations. 

While I was familiar with many of the artists, even if just by name, there were some who proved especially interesting to me because of my relatively new interest in assemblage. 

The first who drew my interest was Jasper Johns.  Mostly know for his flags, he also has created a few cool pieces that appeal to me as inspirations.

The Fool's House was reminiscent of a photo I took when I was in Beijing in 2006.  Jasper's piece is called Fool's House and has great use of color.  I would like to replicate this piece using objects. 

I also really like the possibilities in building a structure based on Target with Plaster Casts. 

Another revelation was how the bizarre works of Francis Bacon now relate to the art I want to make.  The sensibilities he showed in his work reveals the torments of being human, a goal that I have for my work as well.  Here are some examples.

The last artist who blew me away in this book was Anselm Kiefer.  I was totally unfamiliar with his book creations and, although they are huge, they really are going to inspire some efforts in the book arts field by me.  If only I could make things this big--

This is as great book, fun to browse, and well worth spending the time to review the efforts of these artists. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nail crap together and call it art

I thought I would give you a tour of my basement where all the crap I own is stored.  Within the last year or two I moved 6,000 mystery novels out of my basement to make room for my new obsession, buying stuff making art!

I do have to admit that a huge part of the fun of being a found object artist is finding the stuff.  I now hunt relentlessly through estate sales, flea markets and auctions for stuff.  And then I buy more stuff.  Seriously, some day I will use all this stuff for something, I promise.

Here is the view to the west where I have my Wall of Weird, or most of the art that I have made.  I mounted this pegboard specifically for this and also use the stairway down to the basement as a self-aggrandizing gallery of my ego.

Here is the view to the south showing my work table, saw and the best thing I ever got at a rummage sale for $30--a working drill press!!!!

This is the view to the east which shows a portion of the crap that now fills my basement to the rafters.  Before you ask, the underwear is a gift from my mother's travels down south:  they are a hillbilly briefcase.

Here is a view to the north showing storage for more of my art and, well--more crap.  This is the end of the basement that is filled with every kind of container you can imagine in my (so far) failed attempt to do a Joseph Cornell inspired work. 

Excess is an occurrence and Denice has convinced me that at this time in my life I may have enough typewriters.  P. S.:  The reason there are so many here is that the act of taking one apart, which initially seemed so appealing, now strikes fear into my heart. 

While I tried to put things where they belong (after all, I am a librarian), occasionally things begin to look like a natural disaster has struck.  Today was cleaning day and after these photos all was set right (yeah, right). 

So, here is the punch line for today's post.  This weekend I went to an estate sale in Racine, WI, where I could not resist buying eight 2' tall pink letters for $1.00.  I mean, c'mon, they were a buck.  So when I got home and proudly showed them to Denice, she asked what they spelled.  I laid them out on the basement floor and discovered a name for my man cave:

Yes, I am the King of Junk and you have just been to my Crapitol.