Aug 01, 2012
Extra Miler: Road Tripper.
Sometimes the best way to stop the whirlwind that is life is by kicking up the desert dust and carving circles on a desolate road.
That is what Andy Griffith, my other half in business and marriage, had in mind when he proposed interrupting our lives for 48 hours away in blissfully baking Palm Springs. Running our modern design store, A+R, is already a 24-7 concern. Because we are former editors (Andy in documentary film, I in fashion and pop-culture news), it’s in our DNA to never stop ferreting out the new.
Now we were in the throes of opening a second shop in Los Angeles; of launching an extension brand on the online marketplace OpenSky; of designing new services in-house; and consulting on a couple of outside projects. I, too, am in layout on my third style book. Oh, and we have a lively toddler never out of ear’s reach, as A+R mission control is attached to home.
Two days outside the beautiful bedlam that is our daily lives seemed like an obtainable whim. I simply couldn’t wait to hit the road. Palm Springs has always been within an afternoon’s drive of anywhere I grew up in Southern California, and my road trip-loving father made sure we frequented the playground oasis regularly. Years later, I can still never get enough of the richness there, both natural and architectural. It’s a hub of modernist design, surrounded by exotically robust terrain and flora.
Herein lies one of the compelling reasons for living in California. Between sunrise and sunset, one can leave business near the beach and, within two hours, revel in a joyride in the high desert. Going from urban to rural involves an attitude adjustment as versatile as the MINI Cooper S Countryman with its ALL4 all-wheel drive, off-road capabilities. So on a balmy Friday morning, we set out to tie up some loose ends before hightailing out to our escape destination.
Silver Lake, where home and headquarters are, is sprawled over endless hills thick with trees, just east of Hollywood. Our living room faces the sparkling sapphire reservoir created a century ago that still supplies water to 600,000 homes in Los Angeles.
The area has had a rich creative legacy since the first residents — bohemian artists, progressive thinkers and political rebels — decamped here. While the 1952 post-and-beam home we live in was built by the original owner, there are many other modernist homes by icons of that architectural school, including Richard Neutra, whose family home stands across the reservoir.
The foundation they laid down is now being carried on by a new generation, the best known among them Barbara Bestor, whose 2006 book Bohemian Modern captured contemporary life here. Barbara collaborated with us when we opened A+R in late 2005, and we’re back to the drawing board, literally, in her offbeat offices. Our newest store, which opened in September on La Brea Avenue, is our roomiest to date, enabling us to showcase more furniture and rugs.
Meeting wrapped up, we hop back into the MINI Cooper S Countryman, stretch out our legs and head west 30 minutes to the seaside town of Venice. We moved into the white box of a space in late 2007 and encouraged friends to join us on the transforming street. Since then, Abbot Kinney Boulevard has become a must-stop among food and design-driven Angelenos and tourists alike.
We check in with our staff and brief them on what needs doing in the shop over the weekend, then head back to Silver Lake for last-minute errands. At Sunset Junction, we order an early afternoon jolt at Intelligentsia Coffee, nerve centre of caffeine connoisseurship (and yet another address realised by Barbara Bestor Architecture).
Having scored a parking spot across the street in front of Secret Headquarters, we enter fully revived. This comic-book store ranks among the best by the likes of sci-fi author Cory Doctorow, the UK’s The Guardian newspaper and, of course, Andy. While he picks up the latest Corto Maltese graphic novel for poolside reading, I pop into Vacation Records next door, which shares the book store’s owners and its predilection for work by the underappreciated and uncommon.
By 2:30p.m., on the way home to pick up our suitcase and to change clothes, we realize we’re starved. We head to Broome Street General Store for a couple of their delicious sandwiches and other snacks for the trip. Filled with beautifully selected things, the shop resembles a throwback to another era — down to owner Peter Graham’s lace-up brogues.
We hit Interstate 10 with ample time to reach Palm Springs by sunset, everything in its place, including a second set of Andy’s sunglasses tucked safely in the glossy centre rail box between our seats (why don’t more cars have a box like this?). About a half-hour from the Ace Hotel, I urge that we stop at the Cabazon Dinosaurs, one of the last quirky mid-century roadside attractions. I’ve grown up with this fibreglass Darwinian monument and can never get enough of it.
That aside, the bold ingenuity of maverick thinkers is on display throughout the Coachella Valley. Thousands of sky-high turbines spread across the San Gorgonio Pass, contributing to an already otherworldly landscape, made all the more dizzying by the triple-digit temperatures.
Nowhere is that more evident than Joshua Tree. The hour-long drive the next morning to this fiercely dramatic national parkland feels decadent: savouring the dry heat on our arms out the windows, putting the sports suspension to the test, taking in the madly thrilling vistas.
As glorious as the AC is, keeping us polar cool, we roll back all the windows, including the panoramic glass sunroof. Leaving the park, we keep cruising south to Indio. Is it worth driving an hour for 16 ounces of puréed dates and vanilla ice cream? If it comes from Shields Date Garden, the 88-year-old soda shop tied to the pioneering date farm at the end of Highway 111, then absolutely.
Between the road-tripping and the lolling about the pool, Sunday morning sneaks up on us. We decide on one more excursion before heading back home. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is yet another local marvel of modern engineering. Francis Crocker was a young electrical engineer when he decided to build the impossible in 1935. Nearly three decades later and without public funds, the first cabin left the base station, designed by Albert Frey and Robson C. Chambers, and scaled 6,000 feet up the mountain.
“Aren’t you glad I made us do this?” Andy asks, in regards not to the tram tour but to the last 48 hours we’ve spent basking in the sun and motoring around the valley. Before I can answer, he turns the steering wheel hard left on this dusty side road one final time — the ALL4 all-wheel drive handling as powerfully as it would have been by former Palm Springs denizen Steve McQueen — before rolling onto the freeway ramp, bound for home.
Artists, bohemians and revolutionaries have gravitated to this hilly enclave east of Hollywood since storied drag performer Julian Eltinge built a villa here in 1919. Progressive lifestyles gave rise to the country’s highest concentration of modernist architecture by now-fabled giants, among them John Lautner, R.M. Schindler, Gregory Ain and Richard Neutra. Today, Silver Lake’s list of influential artists in residence is long, and the community remains the most ethnically and socioeconomically diverse in Los Angeles. It’s also a hub for indie music, with labels and artists seeing another generation through their beats.
Building a Kite out of Newspaper
The Santa Ana Winds blow through the region, with typical speeds of 60 – 80 km/h. Now’s the time to adapt those old copies of the NY Times or LA Times that you fortuitously forgot to dump in the recycling (if the words HELP or AID were fairly prominent in their headlines it would be a boon).
San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm
Like sky-high soldiers lined up in formation, these 3,218 white turbines have served as a western gateway to Palm Springs for nearly three decades. They stand tall at 24 to 50 metres, and the group is one of a trio of significant wind farms in California, supplying electrical power to thousands of homes. But to countless photographersnwho visit seasonally, the turbines are pure poetry, a testament to what humans can achieve.
Critters in your fritters? Ants are hydrophobes, so sit the legs of your picnic table in tin cans or frisbees filled with water. There’s little chance of them forming a synchronised swim team in order to access your BLT.
Shields Date Garden
The provocatively titled film Romance and Sex Life of the Date is hardly the stuff of seduction. Unless a fleshy royal medjool, sold here, can be regarded as a passion fruit. The looping short in the tiny theatre is not the main attraction at this Highway 111 landmark. What the world goes for is the thickly creamy date shakes—tasty relief in the desert heat.
Run as Fast as a Roadrunner
No wonder Wile E. Coyote always looked so crestfallen – roadrunners can actually sprint at up to 30km/h. If you had that ability, you could theoretically run a mile in around 3.30 mins, and you could outpace even a four-legged pursuer, Usain Bolt-style.
The Aerial Tramway
Palm Springs’s modernist trinity – Albert Frey, Robson C. Chambers and E. Stewart Williams – designed stations that bookend one of the greatest feats of contemporary engineering: the tramway on the north end of Palm Springs. In less than 13 minutes, riders go from arid desert up to an alpine forest, 2,596 metres above sea level. Some four decades after opening, an update in 2000 replaced the vintage cars with the world’s largest rotating cabins, providing a panoramic view of craggy Chino Canyon and the valley floor.
Driving a MINI is always good fun, but with the MINI Countryman fun is taken to another level. With sporty engines and terrific driving dynamics, it’s a thrilling ride. But it also offers room for up to five people, making it perfect for families or for taking road trips with friends.
The MINI Countryman is king of the crossovers, the car that just keeps on giving. It’s fun, versatile and spacious, offering a wide range of applications. With its unique interior and exterior design, the MINI Countryman makes a big impression. Particularly striking are the hexagonal radiator grill, the distinctive MINI light units and the smooth, wide windows letting in masses of natural light.
A definite interior highlight is the ever-practical MINI Centre Rail, neatly dividing the space and providing additional storage for items such as iPhones, sunglasses and drinks. The interior of the 4.10-metre long MINI Countryman offers room for four or five people. The boot provides up to 350 litres of space, and this can be further extended to 1,170 litres by folding down the rear seats.
The Countryman is a real driving machine, as one would always expect from a MINI. Its low centre of gravity and the sporty chassis make it a true curve rider, yet it’s still suitable for families and everyday use. Equally impressive are its steering capabilities and six-speed manual transmission. The MINI Countryman is also available with the option of a six-speed automatic transmission or ALL4 all-wheel drive.
There’s a wide range of engines for the MINI Countryman, offering something for everyone. These include three very economical diesel versions with 90, 112 and 143 hp. The petrol engines range from 98 to 184 hp. For those looking for even more power, the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman comes with 218 hp, making it a great companion for a fun drive on twisty mountain roads. Be careful, though: Driving the MINI Countryman is addictive!