After a whirlwind tour of the country like the one Brian and I rode in my last Potato Soup Adventures of Indiana Joe – Grit, I still have flashbacks of so many memorable places that were too numerable for me to try and include in the story. And I’m sure that happens to each and every one of you whenever you get away for a short scoot or a long haul .. there’s just so much out there to see and experience that most of the time spent after your return revolves around “where can I go next?”. It’s a biker’s own “Call of the Wild”, so to speak, and I never stop hearing the “call” or yearn to discover a whole new world that could possibly be right under my nose.
Unfortunately, a complete fracture of my left fibula has currently put my exploration in a quandary .. and Bosco’s new shoe is still in the barn waiting to be slipped on. In due time, I’ll be back in the saddle and the sound of his heartbeat will soon be in sync with my own. If you’ve ever found that moment on a quiet road .. often gearing into the darkness as you turn loose the reins of your Iron Horse and feel “real world power” .. you both find that moment of nirvana .. and “life” is renewed within your very being. But until I find a way to get a leg cast into a stirrup I’m off the saddle. Guess I’m screwed again for awhile ..
In reality .. our “life” is actually in our mind .. and that little bubble that surrounds us in our own little world is where we live .. to be as content or depressed as we choose .. with only our memories to keep us company. Maybe that’s why I’ve shot so many thousands of pictures throughout my entire life .. as they add the “color” and clarity to the memories that do fade with time. Even when some memories have all but been forgotten .. one single picture opens the floodgates to the details that add the color once again and our mind experiences that moment exactly as it did eons ago.
As I’ve, literally, spent hours over the years combing through pictures of my “adventures” trying to find certain ones to include with my writings .. I realize that each and every one that I’ve taken has a story behind it .. but in no way could I ever live long enough share them. So the ones that I do finally collect my thoughts enough about, and to make an attempt at conveying the feelings that accompany them, must have had an impact on me .. and truly are dear to my heart. At the end of my last story I said, “the heart will always remember what the head forgets …”, because it is never what someone actually says or does that one remembers .. but how that person made you “feel” inside .. and pulled at the strings of your heart .. that’s what really matters in our short journey through this lifetime.
Through all the years I spent along the coast of California, there was rarely a day that passed that I didn’t get to take Bosco out for a run. In the early years .. I was on a mission to find every hole-in-the-wall biker bar that had a place to drop kickstand and rub elbows with the locals. I met so many great people and made many dear friends .. lifelong friends .. my “family” who will forever stay in touch. Several of them rode, had ridden, bought bikes and rode again .. or just loved those of us who were crazy enough to keep riding no matter what. Though we had a “home” base .. Czechers, coincidentally located on Lucie’s immortal Newport Boulevard (her music video of which I also shot the footage during her surprise Christmas visit), we would often do a “lap” from there and hit a few of the most notorious biker bars in that area of southern Cali.
As I scanned through oodles of pics to jog my memory for names of all the places .. I’ve already filled two complete pages of a legal pad .. double columned .. with just the names of places I’ve run across so far. That’s only a drop in the bucket.
The weather in Cali is perfect for anyone who owns a bike .. I mean perfect! The weekends are filled with riders who only get out on those days .. but every day is a good day for those who get out regularly. Anyone who ever rode a bike in southern Cali has probably visited Czechers, or Mother’s Tavern, Hell’s Kitchen, Cassidy’s, Class of ’47 (John Wayne’s favorite hangout), Swallow’s Inn in San Juan Capistrano, the Rock Store, Cold Springs Tavern, Angel’s Roadhouse, Pappy & Herriot’s, Rosa’s Cantina, the Lookout, Chad’s, Murphy’s, the Hot Spot, the Little Knight, Hurricanes, Perqs, and of course, probably the most famous of all .. Cook’s Corner. But the list is endless ..
Cook’s is a regular scene of nonconformity in Trabuco Canyon, right on the corner of Live Oak Canyon and Trabuco Canyon Roads. Ironically, for all the sacred memories that are born at that intersection .. Live Oak Canyon Road is also one of the most treacherous and life-claiming rides through the southern California canyons .. just a notch below the death-defying ride up Highway 74 to Hell’s Kitchen .. the Ortega Highway. I’ve actually witnessed the destruction that windy road course has bestowed on a few. Not pretty. It does keep you sharp, however, and it’s really knarley in the dark of night .. and the fog.
Cook’s was built in 1894 and named after Andrew Jason Cook, a merchant who purchased 190 acres of land in the south Orange County area. In 1926, Cook’s son, Earl Jack “E.J.” Cook, converted the building into a restaurant meant to supply food to miners and local ranchers. Seven years later came the end of Prohibition and the sale of alcohol converted Cook’s into a bar. In 1975 the Cook family sold the bar and 40 acres to Victor Villa and Volker Streicek, who also owned a motorcycle accessories company in Santa Ana, California, Cheat’ah Engineering. They bought the bar as an investment, but also as a place where motorcycle clubs could gather in peace. Volker and Victor were proud of the fact that Cook’s was a place to party with very few fights between motorcycle clubs and patrons. The owners established a policy where no motorcycle club colors were allowed at Cook’s, and the place soon became one of the more famous social places for bikers in Southern California.
It’s claimed that one of the first American Outlaw biker films, The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin, had shots filmed at the original Cook’s. After watching the film again, what I recognized was the incredible shaded ride along Live Oak Canyon Road leading away from Cook’s. An interesting note regarding that film: Brando and his gang, the Black Rebels, rode Triumphs in that film. Brando rode his own personal bike, a 650cc Triumph Thunderbird. Marvin and his crew all rode Harleys.
Victor and Volker sold the bar in the 1980’s .. and I’m guessing it was quite a profitable “investment” for them. Just a few short years ago, I was told the bar itself was sold again for a mere $2.5 million!! Who says there’s no money in biker bars? Improvements were made; the patio was expanded and restrooms were remodeled and enlarged. (A very nice job on those, I might ad!) The bar interior itself remains pretty much original, which includes maintaining loose sawdust on the floor .. and there’s always a standing line leading to the kitchen window. The food is typical “bar food” .. however, with the majority of chefs there being Mexican .. there’s quite a flair for generous portion breakfasts and “south of the border” favorites. During the horrific fires that swept the area in 2007, Cook’s was used as a “base station” for the many firemen and volunteers who worked heroically for days on end saving most of the residences in Trabuco Canyon. Cook’s provided the meals for those heroes throughout that horrific experience.
There is always a calendar of events station just inside the front door where patrons can take a hardcopy of the month’s schedule. Taco Tuesdays, Wednesday Bike Night, Fish Fry Fridays, and always live bands that perform inside and out .. often simultaneously. It was not uncommon for me to see at least 3-400 bikes there on weekend days .. and on special occasions, many times more. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger even rode his Indian Chief in on a Saturday in October 2006, and was greeted by a crowd of hundreds, but I just missed him. On the first Sunday of May each year, about 2000 attend the annual “Blessing of the Bikes” given by a priest of nearby St. Michael’s Abby. That day is insane .. and finding a place to rest your ride is often challenging. But you never know when a “celebrity” will just show up.
I remember the only time I ever saw Cook’s closed was in May 2008, when mudslides caused havoc from Laguna Beach all the way up into the canyons. There’s a huge natural gully-wash that runs adjacent to the patio area separating a large parking lot along Live Oak Canyon Road. It’s quite deep .. and most of the time it’s quite dry. On that occasion, unfortunately, the mud flow and current was so strong that it completely flooded the patio area and entered the bar .. inches deep! ABC 7 and NBC 4 were among some of the news crews that broadcast the event from that location. Amazingly, the damages were minor and the repairs took just a few days, thanks to unbelievable hard work and dedication.
But the main gist of today’s story lies in what I found to be the heart, soul and enduring spirit of Cook’s Corner. And I found all of that in a time-weathered cowboy and his dog, Girl. No matter when anyone rides into Cook’s .. and generally throughout the night, there is always a sentinel with his eye on the place. His name is Ray French. I first notice Ray many years ago by the unique character he poses .. complete with cowboy hat and boots and usually puffing on a pipe. What caught my eye was a badge attached to his belt that sure looked like some sort of police officer, and truth be told, I tend to shy away from those individuals. Maybe it’s my stellar driving record, ya think? Regardless, he was always there, and most of the time with his German Sheppard by his side. She reminded me of Rin Tin Tin. He had a solo chair along the fence next to the gully-wash that was respectfully left available to him .. but I would always see him visiting with guests or just roaming around.
I always acknowledged his presence and cordially said “hello” to him every time I saw him. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask him about his badge. He had a very friendly demeanor and explained this role as Cook’s “security guard”. With several more visits and an equal number of sit-downs, I got to hear about Ray’s life and interests .. and let me tell you, the man’s rather amazing! He claims the titles of singer, songwriter, poet, actor, professional dancer and model. He’s written more than 80 songs, including ballads about his childhood sweetheart and tunes about American Indians and his life as a train-hopping hobo. One of the last times I saw Ray I bought his latest CD single, entitled “Hanging Out at Cook’s Corner”.
A professional photographer from London rolled in one day, and seeing Ray in the glimmer of a Southern California sunset, snapped his picture to grace the centerfold of a European fashion magazine. At that time, Ray was only 78. In 2006, Ray had a full-page spread featuring him and his “Girl” in The Orange County Register, and it was noted that all of the commands he had trained his dog were in Apache, his native language.
You could always catch Ray on the dance floor with a younger woman as he revealed the moves of a professional from the Hollywood ballroom scene, some 50 years ago. He especially loved dancing on Friday nights when the country bands played. When I joked with him about it, he told me “I only dance with women under 32”, and he was serious! I had to laugh out loud and tell him, “I think we must be some sort of blood-relatives!” I just hope I can kick up my heals as well as he does when I get “older” .. he’s now 86!
Ray was 25 years old when The Wild One was filmed, and not long after that he landed bit parts in a few Hollywood movies. He’s rubbed elbows with Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda and Cary Grant, to mention a few, but he’s soft-spoken and quite humble, and rarely name-drops. He can entertain a table with saucy stories resurrected from his colorful past, as he’s done many times when he’s joined my friends and I. On one occasion, I brought in a group of dear friends from Slovakia and Ray saddled right up next to Gabika at our table .. we shared a great afternoon and she relished in his attention to gorgeous blonds. I was convinced we were related!
In most recent years, casting folks have happened upon Ray and tried to put him into films, always as an “old man”, and every time he refuses. It’s understandable why. Ray serves as a reminder to us all that when we reach that ripe age when society assigns us “seniority”, we should muster up some true grit and plow right through. And bye the way, Ray and his “Girl” live in a camper attached to his Chevy pickup, and has for as long as I’ve known him.
It’s been a long fourteen months since I last saw Ray .. and as far as I know he’s still there watching over Cook’s and flirting with the ladies. Even if his “physical” presence has disappeared from the thousands of friends and “family” he’s made over the years at Cook’s, his “energy” will forever remain a part of the lives he has touched. As far as I’m concerned, he will always be the soul within the fabric of Cook’s.
But if he’s moved on … “keep on dancin’ Ray, you’ll forever remain alive in my treasure-trove of fond memories when I relive my times at Cook’s Corner”.
Until next time .. ride smart .. ride safe
and the Adventure continues …