Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Knights (of Burbank)

In which we enjoy a bit of the past in the present

A while back I was puttering around on my bike around Burbank, on the wrong side of the I-5. I was cruising lackadaisically down the sidewalk along North Victory BLVD, glancing into the shop windows as I pedaled along. (No one cares if you ride down the sidewalk here, because no one uses them: everyone drives.) I cruised by furniture stores, automobile dealerships, and an army surplus store. Then I passed by a shop with Joan of Arc in the window, in full Gothic armor. With a double take I hit my brakes. A second look revealed that next to Joan of Arc stood the Black Night, the Emperor Maximilian and what looked like Red Sonja. Quite a party of warriors, that.

The shop is called Sword and Stone and makes custom arms and armor. Burbank is not exactly what you'd call ground zero for re-enactors and weekend warriors (though there are a few here in and around the valley, as we shall see). Burbank is, rather, ground zero for all the heavy lifting that drive the movie business. It's here that faux rocks and fake trees and sculpted aliens and latex werewolves and all the myriad trappings of fantasmagoria are made. Hell, I once met one guy in a bar who spends every day, five days a week, installing decorative stonework in movie star's trailers. That's right, stonework. In trailers. For movie stars. When Formica just won't do.

Inside the shop are two rooms crammed with swords and armor, axes and shields, miniature catapults, daggers and flintlocks, pole arms and chain mail brassieres. I haven't seen so many swords since my last visit to the Tower of London.

I've had a nerdy thing for ancient, medieval, renaissance arms and armor -- especially armor -- since I was a kid, so this place is a lot of fun for me. Tony Swatton, the owner and a 15-year veteran of the industry, does amazing work. All the armor was very authentic-looking and detailed, although many of the pieces rented out for film shoots are made from aluminum, rather than steel or iron (you have to pick them up to notice, however.) Recent film credits include Pirates of the Carribean, Blade, The Legend of Zorro Highlander and Into the Blue.

While I was wandering about the shop taking snaps, a youngish looking fellow came in with a large brass eagle tha he wanted repaired. He was a re-enactor, a centurion the Roman Sixth Legion group. In fact he wore a red baseball cap with a large "VI" embroidered on the front in gold thread. (I can only assume that the legion has it's own baseball club.) He asked if I had an interest in things Roman and invited me to join the "Fightin' VIth," or at least come and watch them do their monthly maneuvers in Griffith Park. I declined his recruitment plea, but witnessing the maneuvers is a must-do.
Rating: ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
723 North Victory Boulevard
Monday thru Friday - By Appointment Only
Saturday - Noon to 6:00 PST or earlier by appointment
Sunday - Closed
Phone: (818) 562-6548

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bully and Not So Bully

In which we celebrate President's Day... while lamenting human folly

It's a rainy President's Day here in the San Fernando Valley, and I have just run up the colors, as is my wont on such occasions. We used to celebrate Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays on different three-day weekends a month or so apart. To make room for Martin Luther King's birthday -- which some people get to take off but others do not, in very spotty fashion -- the two were consolidated into one. So while I celebrate Washington and Lincoln, I figure that, since it's President's Day, I'm free to celebrate other s as well. I choose Theodore Roosevelt. He is my favorite.


  • Overcame crippling childhood illness through sheer dint of will

  • Published his first book, The Naval War of 1812, at age 24 (one among dozens he would author throughout his too-brief life)

  • Was elected to the New York State Assembly, also at age 24

  • Joined the National Guard the same year

  • Was promoted to captain one year later

  • Established two cattle ranches near Medora, Dakota Territory

  • Served as police commissioner for the city of New York

  • Was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President William McKinley at 41

  • Served with First US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, the "Rough Riders," during the Spanish-American War. He was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, but was later promoted to Colonel of the regiment before the Battle of San Juan Heights. Charge!

  • Was Elected Governor of New York State in 1898

  • Was elected Vice President in 1901

  • Became 26th President of the United States after President McKinsley was shot and killed by a crazed anarchist later that year. He remains the youngest man ever to become president.

  • Fought the trusts and monopolies during his presidency, encouraged fair business practices, and established many National Parks and National Monuments

  • Invented the idea of "progressivism"

  • Built the Panama Canal

  • Was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for ending the Russo-Japanese War

  • Survived an assassination attempt, and, with a bullet in his chest, went on to make a speech in Milwaukee

  • Went on a wild adventure into the Amazon jungle to explore and survey the River of Doubt after his presidency, at age 56. He and his compatriots barely made it out alive

But how would Teddy think about what's going down at his namesake high school here in Los Angeles, where a group of parents and teachers has conspired to throw out the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), I wonder? Not much, I would imagine.

It's a sad state we have come to when serving in the military is looked on with such disdain. Regardless of how one may feel about the current mess-o-potamia in Iraq, I think it's flat out wrong to strip young people of the opportunity to follow a perfectly respectable career path. Listen, as long as there's war -- and there will be war for the foreseeable future, sadly -- we will need warriors. Yes, your son or daughter might get killed or wounded in a foreign land, or be compelled by his or her commitment to do things you may consider distasteful. But then again he or she may return with a lifetime of experience and a rack of medals across the chest. That is the world in which we live. We should be proud of our children who comport themselves with honor and aplomb, regardless of what career they choose. And we certainly should not deny them opportunities on shallow ideological grounds especially, ones in which they have the chance to learn about duty, responsibility and honor.

Image by Rick Kersten. You should visit his website and buy his work.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Chuck

In which we give best wishes to one of the greats on his 198th birthday

Charles Darwin, February 12, 1809 - April 19, 1882

Friday, February 09, 2007


In which we turn and face the strain

Travels West readers may have noticed the last two posts seem uncharacteristic. That's because they were lifted from my other blog, PurEnergy, in which I've blathered on about the vital importance of American energy independence for more than a year.

I republished a few of my PurEnergy posts here because I will be shutting that blog down at the end of the week. I'm shutting it down for two reasons: a) I don't have enough time to spend on this very demanding topic and b) it seems that word is getting around about energy independence to the point where my voice is no longer required -- I believe we are nearing the tipping point.

From time to time, however, I will be covering energy independence, alternative energy, peak oil and politics here on Travels West, when the mood takes me.

To learn more about energy independence and fossil fuel alternatives, use these resources:

Set America Free
Apollo Alliance
Cal Cars
Green Car Congress
The Oil Drum
Terror-free Oil Initiative

Remember: Reliance on Foreign Fossil Fuel Fuels Terror.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Who Wants a Hydrogen-powered Car? Me, that’s who

In which we dream of a hydrogen future... in a BIG way

And why would I want one? Because size and style matter. My earliest automotive memories are of my Grandmother England’s Olds. Grandmother England (yes, my mother’s family name is England) had this enormous Oldsmobile Ninety-eight. Sixteen feet long if it was an inch, it was a dull yellow-gold, with fender skirts, a gold vinyl landau roof with “running lights,” curb feelers, and gold brocade upholstery on the inside that brought to mind the curtains at Versailles.

I loved tearing down those back-country farm roads in the Sacramento Valley in grandma’s Grand Dame of car. Ninety miles per hour was nothing to her. I’d crawl around on that big, brocade bench seat—seat belts? Ha!—toying with the silver button that opened the spring-loaded ashtray, watching in wonder as the ash from her Benson & Hedges cigarette grew ever longer between her fingers, wondering when it might finally drop off.

Those were the days, but they were short lived. A few years later, in 1973, the oiligarchies of OPEC engineered the so-called “gas crunch” strangling distribution and raising fuel prices sky high. Soon there were gas lines down the street. Detroit went into a tail spin as American consumers turned to cheap, small, fuel efficient economy cars from Japan; ugly little cars that drove like wind-up toys.

Cars have been getting less romantic ever since. Sure, the SUV rage of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s brought size back, but not style. These big box behemoths lumber down the road with about as much finesse as a brick on wheels and as much style as punch-drunk heavyweight.

No. I want a real car. Something with running lamps and fins and a torpedo-bra front bumper. I want something that looks and feels needlessly excessive and sensual and comforting, something that makes you feel like you are Zsa Zsa Gabor’s most cherished young lover.

And that’s why I want hydrogen to come online—for purely selfish reasons.

I understand hydrogen’s got along way to go. As it is now fossil fuel has to be expended to make hydrogen and that the infrastructure is complex and will be expensive to build. But there’s nothing that can’t be done by people smarter than me. What’s required is commitment.

Who knows? Maybe some day my grandson will remember tearing down country roads with in his grandpa’s long, sleek, silent, hydrogen-powered luxury land-yacht. Imagine the sheer pleasure of indulging yourself and screwing the Middle Eastern tyrannies and their terrorist proxies at the same time.

That would be priceless.