As you can probably tell, it’s the things from my youth that had the greatest impact on me. From sartorial inspiration, my father was a Brooks Brothers Preppy, to 70’s surf style—David Nuuhiwa at Huntington, to the cars that the local heroes drove—why I have a soft spot for 70’s VW square backs—Aviation High School’s board transporter of choice. It’s what the crazed watch collectors call “grail” things. Those Holy Grail items that haunt them; the must haves, the quest.
I have a theory that passion for collecting moves in 25-45 year cycles, we love the things that inspired us, but were unattainable in our youth i.e., in 1972, Bahne skateboards were $29.85 when the Super Surfers were $12.95. And, Cadillac skateboard wheels were $4.95/each—and, hard to come by, while the standard composite wheels were a buck or less. Hermosa surf star, Mike Purpus, drove a 1978 Black Porsche Turbo, which seemed completely exotic to all of us. That’s Mike with the Puka shells in a Jeff Devine photo.
As this all pertains to cars, and me. I became obsessed with the last of the handmade Mercedes and BMW’s. As a kid, a friend’s mom drove a 1970’s Mercedes 280sel 3.5 sedan, and even then we were all moved by the beauty of the burl wood dash, and the physics of the Becker Europa radio—it wasn’t a stereo. The 2002 BMW’s were small, sharp, and cool. In college, the hipsters from Marin County kept the ski racks on year round, always ready for the trip to Tahoe. I was in a 1975 2002 last night, and the indescribable smell of the interior, brought me right back there.
But, I remember the moment in Santa Barbara when I fell in love with the low-grilled 1970 Mercedes 280se convertible. I was in junior high, but in Santa Barbara with the family. I became car obsessed as a 12 year old, and my dad’s passion for all things motorized, cars and Cushman scooters, had me thinking about driving every day from 11 until I turned 16. This particular 280se was parked in front of the Santa Barbara Biltmore, and embodied all that was old school and wonderful about Montecito. It was silver, with a navy top and interior, the owner was a rakish mid-30’s prepster with a hot GF. I was in love, not with the girl, but with the 280se.
Last month I had the opportunity to trade my 20-year project, a 1948 Mercury Woodie, (click for video) for one of the nicest 1970 280se’s that I have ever seen. Restored by Malibu/Calabasas legend, Scott Melnick–Auto Engineering/Classic Mercedes, it came to me through my dear friend Andy Cohen at Beverly Hills Classic Cars. I never thought I’d sell the Woodie, but the siren song of nostalgia, in the form of the 280, was too much for me to withstand. The car came from a great collection, with only a couple of thousand miles since the full restoration. In the last two weeks, I’ve driven it more than I drove the Woodie in the last 4 years.
This era of Mercedes is truly the last of the breed. Build quality that everyone wishes Mercedes still delivered, a super heavy and solid ride, and little touches like seat backs that won’t fold forward when the engines running—for safety, activated by a vacuum switch.
I took my daughters for their first ride in the car last week; I hadn’t realized that they had never been in a convertible before. As we jammed down Vista Del Mar, sun blazing, wind in our faces, my beaming daughter Daisy said she “felt like she was flying…” I know exactly what she meant.
As a kid, we had a “no boring cars” rule in the house. My first car was a 1938 Dodge sedan, light yellow, Earl Scheib 29.95, paint job—no kidding. It was from there to ‘65-’67 Mustangs, lots of Long Beach Junkyard time, and then on to various other projects, and the occasional beauties. Highlights from the long sold, departed, traded repertoire include a 1956 Thunderbird, 1995 Chevrolet Impala SS—weird, but I loved it, a grey market Mercedes G-Wagen—before they were the ride of choice for hipster soccer moms, and current rides; a 1997 Defender 90, 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and the 1947 Mercury Woodie.
A couple of months ago, I guest blogged at Outblush.com (see link here), and I was given the opportunity to muse on whatever I liked, as long as it was about women’s fashion.
I blogged about authentic women’s riding boots, because I have always loved the amazing construction and patina that comes from clothing as “tools,” taking on a used beauty that only comes from being depended on, loved and worn. But to own and wear a pair of these beauties is: 1. difficult for a man who isn’t an Argentine polo player and 2. an affectation at best and 3. uncomfortable at worst around town.
That summer-time smell, from surfmats to Mackintosh Coats
Growing up on the beach in the pre-boogie board era made for interesting wave riding tools. The L.A. County beaches’ black ball flags meant that surfing was forbidden after 11 am on most summer days, so we got creative.
For some years, Paipo bellyboards were the boards of choice, but these mini-surfboards, complete with fins and hard glassed rails, were as dangerous as the surfboards they were modeled after. Remember, this was also the pre-surf leash era—we lost our boards and had to know how to swim.
At a couple of Manhattan Beach spots—the pier, Rosecrans, and Marine Street— snack stands and rental shops rented inflatable surf mats in navy blue canvas with chrome yellow trim. Inflated to rock hardness, these mats got harder as the sun expanded the air within. We got pretty good at riding these mats and by the end of the summer, we were were standing up on them.
Smells of the summers of my youth included zinc oxide—striped across the nose and on the lower lip—, the dusty smell of beach sand sticking to a wet body—laying on towels were for non-locals—, and the smell of vulcanized canvas and rubber surfmats baking in the sun. I can’t remember which summer it was, but L.A. County lifeguards ultimately banned our surfing the inflatables, so the indestructible blue and yellow mats were lumped in with cheap plastic inflatable pool rings, and poof!—the inflatable mats were gone. By 1972, the first Morey Boogie Boards—sold as kits assembled in Manhattan Beach garages by dads and older brothers—were on the scene, immune to the black ball.
Sandow Birk is a real renaissance man. His exceptional, provocative and socially conscious work has garnered a small but passionate following from the Juxtapoz set, as well as the international art community. Formally trained, Fulbrighted and Guggenheimed, Sandow brings Old-Master talent and an amazing sensibility to all that he does. In my surf industry days, I was luck enough to meet Sandow, through local Sunset beach surfer, and art patron, Greg Escalante.
Working across all mediums, both public and private, Sandow is a painter, sculptor, muralist, puppeteer, and filmmaker. He is a respected muralist, creating pieces for L.A. County lifeguards, public transportation, and the City of Long Beach. His best known work is his most ironic: “Prisonation,” plein air-like landscapes of California’s state prisons, and “In Smog and Thunder,” oils depicting a contemporary civil war between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
A Little Known Luxury
Much has been written and blogged about shell cordovan leather—the ultra durable, beautifully hand-crafted, and mostly-tanned-in-America horse hide. A preppy/trad favorite since Brooks Brothers began stocking Alden shoe examples in the ’60s. Named for the shell-shaped hides that come from the rump of a horse, shell takes on a beautiful character through use — think of how dry denim, starting with the early Levi’s 501 shrink-to-fits of my youth and modern examples from R by 45rpm and Sugarcane take your personal imprint. Only shell does it through wear, not washing.
“Buy what you love”
My art-collecting friends have been consistent in the one thing they tell me: “Buy what you love.”
As a collector of many things, as detailed here, I’ve acquired art that has specific meaning to me: a Glen E. Friedman Dog Town-era Tony Alva photo from 1977, a 1960s Laguna Beach oil painting by George Michaud that hung in my house as a kid, and some amazing “found” surf photos and paintings I always discovered while looking for other stuff, mostly vintage furniture and car parts.
So buying what I love came naturally, because I only picked up and kept stuff along the way that I really like.
South Bay Beach Volleyball’s Willy Wonka Ticket
My beach life has been pretty blessed. I surf and body surf with many of the local guys I grew up with. I’ve been lucky enough to surf on multiple continents, and had a lot of fun. But, at it’s core Manhattan Beach is a volleyball town….The garbage cans say it’s “the home of beach volleyball,“ so it must be true. Volleyball is a big part of living in the South Bay and I enjoy it even now more than I did as a kid. I play with the same group of guys that I’ve been playing with for years, and we still play two’s on the old school larger court, with the new ball—don’t ask why or how we have concocted this Franken-version of the game, but it’s something we all look forward to from March through November, weather depending.
Other than at the venerable courts at 19th/20th, the rest of Manhattan and Hermosa have adopted four man as the game of choice. You certainly get to get more guys playing, with less down time. I played my first four man tourney, the Greg Ack Memorial, over Memorial Day at 17th in Hermosa and I was stoked to get great partners in what is always a blind draw. After that, I played 4th Street in Manhattan, and again got lucky with nice guys and a great team. Read more…
The latest stop on the journey for the perfect wallet
I’m somewhat of a creature of habit, generally meaning that if I find something I like, I stick with it, I’m loyal like that. This extends to the mundane, the same Jasmine Green Tea, from the same guy at Peet’s on my way to the same 6am yoga class—with most of the same people, the same T-shirts, the RRL washed tees—best found eBay, and the original white Jack Purcell sneakers—undistressed—the way badminton player Purcell unboxed them, that I’ve been wearing since high school. Sure transient products have found there way into my rotation, flirtations with Starbucks, Hanes Beefy-T’s, and sneaker nuttiness when the Air Jordan thing blew up.
All that to say, I’ve been around the block with wallets, from the traditional to the weird. Even slightly worn Trafalgar alligator wallets from Nordstroms would be happily and inexplicably exchanged by Nordstrom staff, so that was the chosen type for years. I’ve tried money clips—tough for receipts, and even a Gary Scott crazy titanium fold over wallet that still sees duty when on a surf trip and water/sand and wax are thrown into the mix. Read more…
Double Tube Cedar Shoe Trees from UK Based Cathcart Elliot
You may have deduced that I’m a collector….From esoteric cars, to vintage sport watches—more on that soon, to Buddy Lee Dolls.
But, without being a nut, I tend to make my clothing, suits/ties/shoes last a really long time. As a UCLA student in the 80’s, I was lucky enough to work at what was SoCal’s epicenter of preppy/trad, At Ease. With outposts in Westwood, Newport Beach, Pasadena and Tokyo, At Ease carried the best in American made Trad clothing—Norman Hilton, Southwick, Gittman shirts and Alden shoes. While this was 25 years ago, I still own and wear a surprising number of pieces that I acquired there as an employee—shoes in particular.
Good care of my beloved Alden shell cordovan shoes is key, and as I’ve written before, I’m lucky to have discovered great shoe shines—the current favorite is Pasquale’s in Los Angeles and the amazing Saleem at Junior’s deli in West Los Angeles. The other trick is that I’ve always been a dedicated user of shoe trees. My At Ease boss, and dear friend, Joe Vasco, who still sells Trad at Gary’s and Company in Newport Beach, always insisted that our venerable customers pick up cedar trees with their Aldens, and as dutiful employees we did the same…The investment paid off.