Today, we left San Juan Capistrano and headed up toward Northern California to the right. I mean WAY to the Right. Since our motel was actually in San Clemente, and we had eaten dinner at Richard Nixon’s favorite restaurant, we thought we should swing by the Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace. But on the way we’d be passing the Crystal Cathedral of Dr. Robert Schuller of televangelist fame, so we thought we’d stop in. Why? Because if a preacher starts giving sermons in a drive-in, parlays it into a world-wide empire of ministries, universities and television broadcasts, then finally builds a giant cathedral made entirely out of glass, well, you’ve just got to swing by and see it.
Now, I’m not normally someone who makes fun of others’ religious beliefs. But I feel perfectly free to make fun of excruciatingly bad art. And Dr. Robert Schuller has commissioned and installed some of the WORST attempts at art ever to be foisted on a public space. Chief among them are some of the scariest Jesuses ever seen. Just look:
Then there are the restrooms in the Cathedral. Marble, chandeliers, gold fixtures, Thomas Kinkade paintings and piped in choir music. Gives “Religious Movement” a whole new meaning.
Clearly, I wasn’t going to be able to control my snark and I started to worry that the red jacketed guides would figure out that a possible Liberal was prowling the property. Then I went inside the cathedral to snap a few pics. The guides were running up to every visitor and cheerily asking where they were from and if they wanted a tour. When I mistakenly told the chirpy guides I was from San Francisco, there was a long pause. And no offer of a tour. That’s when I decided to grab Mom, who was still marveling over the bathrooms, and get out of there before Security was called.
Next stop: The Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace. I have to say, although I hadn’t expected much, it was worth the trip. As you may know, these Presidential Libraries are usually funded and organized by wealthy donors and friends of said President rather than scholars, so
they have an agenda. The Nixon Library is no exception. It’s light on the scandals — such as Checkers, his Red-baiting and Watergate — and heavy on relations with China, ending the Viet Nam war and the heyday of the NASA program. But that agenda seems to have worked. By the time I left, I actually had some respect for Richard Nixon. Although the unsung hero of that administration turns out to have been Pat Nixon who comes off as a consummate diplomat and incredible woman.
Here’s what I thought were the highlights:
The Hall of Leaders features life-sized statues of all the world leaders Nixon dealt with. So you can wander among them and marvel how tall Charles De Gaulle was, how much Mao looks like a giant toad and what a tiny little fireplug Khrushev was. Then you can go to this touch screen and find the details on Nixon’s dealings with each leader and some of his thoughts on them. Biggest surprise: Nixon was surprisingly impressed by Khrushev and even, in the end, fond of him.
Also on the don’t miss list: the vintage gun Elvis brought Nixon when he showed up at the White House, stoned out of his mind, to ask if he could be Ninja in the War on Drugs.
Surpisingly, Nixon’s tape recorder — YES, that tape recorder — is on display. Also a sign says that a special exhibit all about Watergate is underway and soon to open. They claim you’ll be able to hear audio from the actual tapes that brought about his downfall. I would suggest they include the ones with all the swearing.
Armed with a surprising new-found respect for Richard Nixon, we figured we’d better get out of there before we found ourselves voting Republican. So we lit out for Bakersfield to pay homage to the great Buck Owens. (My tribute to Buck in this post.)
Here’s where, I have to admit, I didn’t think Mom would get with the program. She’s not the Country music fan that I am and she had no idea what The Bakersfield Sound was. But by the time we hit the city limits I had her singing along with Merle Haggard:
I turned 21 in prison
Doing life without parole
No one could steer me right
But Mama tried.
Mama tried to teach me better
But her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame
‘Cause Mama tried.
(There’s a whole new twist to that song when a 76 year old mother sings it.)
We threw our bags in the Crystal Palace Best Western and headed for Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace. The Palace is great even though I didn’t see anything that was crystal. It’s equal parts honky-tonk, steak house and country music museum. Mom and I tucked into steaks, beers, biscuits, squaw bread, mashed potatoes and green beans while the live band played on stage and guys and gals in cowboy hats line danced. The band? It was Buck Owens’ son, who wisely stayed with Country’s greatest hits — heavy on the Buck Owens tunes. Even better, a large screen showed
old footage of Buck’s performances on stage and on the old Buck Owens Ranchhouse musical variety show. After a great meal and good music, we headed to the gift shop to stock up on Buck Owens CDs, DVDs, commemorative guitar picks and fridge magnets. All in all good night out!
And tomorrow? Other than driving home, it’s unscheduled. We’ll see what strikes our fancy as we roll up the I-5.