Originally a Good Idea, Until the Abuses Started

I am writing this blog post at Martine’s behest. She frequently takes walks around the neighborhood and is disgusted by the large numbers of cars indicating a handicap driver, where neither the driver nor the passengers are in fact disabled. One of the problems of living in West Los Angeles or neighboring communities filled with people who feel themselves entitled to free parking. On some of her walks, up to 75% of the parked cars sport handicap placards. Only twice in the last few days has she actually seen disabled people emerge from those vehicles, one with a walker and the other with a cane.

There is something wrong with people who assume they are entitled to free parking because, well, they are special. It is easy to convince a physician to write a note giving them the right to purchase such a placard. From that point on, until the placard expires, they can park without paying for the privilege.

These same drivers frequently cut me off in traffic, whether I am driving or am a pedestrian. They frequently drive expensive cars such as Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, or—worst of all—Range Rovers.

If there is any single symbol of inequality in our society, it is a luxury car with a handicap placard when there is no disability involved. And yet there are whole parts of Southern California where many or most of the luxury cars sport the blue placard. Everlasting shame to them!

When I had severe osteoarthritis sixteen years or more ago, my orthopedist suggested that I get one. I refused, telling him that my habitual practice was to park far and walk, even though I was in excruciating pain. But then, even then, I walked several miles every weekend with Martine and my friends.

As actress Teri Garr once said: “When you hear the word ‘disabled,’ people immediately think about people who can’t walk or talk or do everything that people take for granted. Now, I take nothing for granted. But I find the real disability is people who can’t find joy in life and are bitter.” To which I add people who assume they are entitled to do whatever they want.

“The Pinnacle of 20th Century Art and Design”

A Museum Dedicated to the Art of the French Automobile 1900-1940

A Museum Dedicated to the Art of the French Automobile 1900-1939

Oxnard, California, is blessed with two world-class automobile museums less than a mile from each other. Martine and I had visited the Murphy Auto Museum twice so far this year. It was a little more difficult to visit the Mullin Automotive Museum, mainly because it is open for tours only twice a month by reservation only.

The Mullin Automotive Museum was founded by Peter W. Mullin, an American businessman and philanthropist, who, early on, fell in love with French autos, particularly the Bugatti (which was 100% French despite the Bugatti family’s Italian origins).

Bugatti Hood Ornament

Bugatti Hood Ornament and Grill

The cars at the museum were a revelation. According to the museum’s founder:

For me the French automobiles of the 1920s and 1930s represent the pinnacle of 20th century art and design—the artistic realization in steel, leather, and glass of a modern idea created at a moment when hand craftsmanship embraced the machine, and a spirit of optimism fueled an explosion in artistic and technical development. As an avid collector, the preservation of these rolling sculptures for the enjoyment of future generations is both a responsibility and a pleasure. I relish the stewardship and preservation of their exciting histories.

Surrounding the automobiles along the outer walls is a world class exhibit of art nouveau and art deco works, including paintings, sculptures, and furniture—to to mention some of the neatest hood ornaments I’ve ever seen.

Flying Hood Ornament

Flying Hood Ornament

I was so impressed not only with the cars and the artwork that I plan on doing one or more follow-up blogs. Martine and I showed up at opening time (10 AM) and had to be ushered out at closing time (3 PM). We plan on returning in a number of months, when they have changed their exhibits.

Below is view of the exhibit floor, which is designed to resemble the original Paris automobile salons of the early 20th century, complete with signs indicating the major “exhibitors.”

The Exhibit Floor

The Exhibit Floor

To avoid getting stuck in beach traffic, we returned home via California 126, stopping at Cornejo Produce in Fillmore for some fresh locally-gown produce.


A City Named After a Raven?

Martine Communing with Bob’s Big Boy

Martine Communing with Bob’s Big Boy

For those of us who grew up in Cleveland, Oxnard is the name of TV Host Ghoulardi’s pet raven. For residents of Southern California, it is also a nondescript agrarian city in nearby Ventura County famous for its strawberries, and home to the Murphy Auto Museum.

Now that tax season is over, Martine and I decided to take a road trip to Oxnard, driving along the coast through Malibu past Point Mugu until we reached distant Oxnard. There, we located the Murphy Auto Museum near the corner of Statham and Oxnard and spent three hours looking at the old cars, exhibits of nostalgic memorabilia, and a huge HO model railroad setup that made me green with envy. (Of course, if I had a model railroad setup in my apartment, I would have to construct tunnels consisting of books.)

1930s Packard Hood Ornament

1930s Packard Hood Ornament

Unlike the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar and the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A., the Murphy has cars that are more likely to have been driven: There is no “Mint in Box” feeling about the displays. There is no plethora of Rolls Royces, Talbot Lagos, Duesenbergs, Bugattis, and Bentleys—but there are lots of great American cars from the 1920s onward, plus specialty items such as early camping trailers and an intriguing collection of Volkswagens.

My guess is that we’ll probably be back later this year. I guess we were swayed by the charms of Oxnard.

The New Petersen

The Redesigned Petersen Automotive Museum

The Redesigned Petersen Automotive Museum

The new look takes some getting used to, but it seems to be an astonishing success. Martine and I have visited the Petersen Automotive Museum about once every year. Never did we see such a crowd as we saw today. We had to park on the second floor of the parking structure, for the first time ever.

I always liked the old Petersen, but it had grown a bit tatty over the years. Now both the inside and outside are all new. One starts with the historical exhibits on the third floor, comes down to see the industry exhibits on the second floor, and finally returns to the ground floor to see exhibits of the classic automobile as a fine art form, including cars painted by David Hockney and Alexander Calder.

Insofar as I know, Southern California now has three world class auto museums:

  • The Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row
  • The Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley, a free museum that charges no admission and is easily as extensive as the Petersen
  • The Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard, which Martine and I have not visited yet (but hope to see next monh after tax season)

Since L.A. is a city made possible by the automobile, it makes sense to study the phenomenon here.

Where the old Petersen thematically separated their vehicles in mutually exclusive areas, the new layout intermixes such items as famous cars used in movies, old horseless carriages, motorcycles, and one-of-a-kind fantasy cars so that one doesn’t just skip around. It is possible to see the same technological and design ideas cross-fertilizing the different kinds of vehicles on the road.

It is quite evident that the Petersen got a large influx of money (some $90 million I understand). The new chairman, Peter Mullin, has run his own auto museum in Oxnard, which may have merged with the Petersen.


Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Automobile

Me and My Nissan

Me and My Nissan


I was very impressed by Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him. Because his origins were so far away (Lithuania and Poland) and so long ago (1920s and 1930s), there were relatively few entries that resonated personally with me. Except it was sad to see so many fascinating people who, unknown today, died during the war under unknown circumstances.

This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the next few months, you will see a number of postings under the rubric “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. This is a reprint from a Blog.Com posting from 2009, but I had to give it up at that time. This time, I will try to complete my alphabet.

For starters, here is Milosz’s take on a thing that has also assumed some importance in my life: the automobile:

Surely the automobile was invented in order to make a mockery of those pessimists who predicted that the number of horses would grow exponentially and that cities would choke to death from the stench of horse excrement. From Kiejdany county, in which there was a single automobile (Count Zabiello’s), I was catapulted into California [Milosz taught at Berkeley], where the automobile is just the same as electricity and bathrooms. I am not nostalgic for the good old days. I lived amidst filth and stench without being aware of it. And I belonged to the so-called upper social strata. The Wilno [today’s Vilnius] of my school years had cobblestone streets and only a couple of neighborhoods had sewers. One can imagine the mountains of garbage and excrement in Wilno during the Romantic era. It would be worthwhile to describe the female readers of La Nouvelle Héloïse [an influential work by Rousseau] not from above, but from below: f\rom the perspective of their chamber pots (where were they emptied?), their underpants (they didn’t wear any), and their gymnastic contortions while washing.

Now I rather doubt that most environmentalists would consider some of these factors when they rue the effect of the automobile on our civilization. No doubt, the internal combustion engine is both a boon and a bane to us, as the mercury in our thermometers creeps up from year to year. Here we are, thinking we have broken the Earth—at least until another Krakatoa-style volcanic explosion or major meteor or asteroid strike shows us the real face of catastrophe.

I, on the other hand, would like to talk about the automobile from another point of view. I came to it rather late in my life. As I have written earlier, I had a pituitary tumor in my youth that has had repercussions on my health extending to the present. Starting in the 1970s, I had to take a blood pressure medication called Catapres that resulted in a narcoleptic response every time I traveled in a car or bus. I had to postpone driving for many years, at least until a more efficacious medication was found.

Then, in 1985, at the age of forty, I finally got my drivers license and purchased a four-cylinder Mitsubishi Montero, which lasted for ten years. Then I bought the 1994 Nissan Pathfinder (see photo above) which I am still driving today. I am like Yeats’s Irish airman for whom “a lonely impulse of delight drove to this tumult in the clouds.”

No one loves heavy traffic. Southern California is, unfortunately, a cacopolis with regards to driving. Ah, but then there is nothing like setting off at 4:00 am, before the first hint of sunrise, and dashing through the empty freeways of Los Angeles to the deserts of the Southwest or along the coast to the beauties of the Central Coast and points north. When I can choose my time, driving is sheer pleasure.

That’s why I think that the next step for mankind is not the bus and the bicycle, but another type of vehicle powered by a different source of energy. When it does not become a nightmarish experience, as it so often does, driving could be one of the great pleasures of life.

A Jaw-Dropping Moment

The Grand Salon of the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar

The Grand Salon of the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar

One of the best places to visit in Southern California is the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar. a world-class museum of rare automobiles and mechanical musical instruments, including the private railroad car of Clara Baldwin Stocker, millionaire heiress of tycoon “Lucky” Baldwin. Martine and I met up there with my best friend and his sons. We took the tour in the larger of the two buildings, and then saw the additional cars and music machines in the museum building.

On one hand, the cars and other objects on display are easily worth an admission price of ten dollars or more. But both the tour and the museum are free of charge, thanks to a foundation set up by J. B. Nethercutt of Merle Norman Cosmetics. There is one jaw-dropping moment when, on the tour, one enters the Grand Salon (illustrated above), where the Collection’s rarest and most beautiful cars are located. Perhaps the single most distinguished rarity is a silver Duesenberg shown near the center of the photograph.

Among the music machines, I was most impressed by a superb player piano that played a recording of Rhapsody in Blue played by the composer himself, George Gershwin. Mr. Gershwin’s interpretation of his work was nothing less than superb, and was a great accompaniment to viewing the cars in the Grand Salon.

Some of the best places to see in Los Angeles were the result of bequests from millionaires, including Descanso Gardens (Manchester Boddy), the Huntington Gardens and Museum (Henry E. Huntington), and the Getty Museum and Villa (J. Paul Getty). It somehow smoothes the rough edges on these otherwise rapacious tycoons, to enjoy the bounty of their collections.

This is the third or fourth time that Martine and I have visited the Nethercutt, and hopefully far from the last.