Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

The joy of driving in California


Some of my fondest memories are of driving in California, specifically in the Los Angeles area. And since I've lived in Phoenix for such a long time now I'll often get met with "the look" when I say that, which means "is he kidding?" No, I'm not. But it has to do with what I've always defined as driving versus what I've learned over the years driving means to most of the people I've met.

The car I owned in California was a Saab Sonett. It was fiberglass, had two seats, and was as light as a feather. It sat low to the ground, like a race car, and it was one of the most ridiculous things most people had never seen. When people looked at it, they asked me how I could carry stuff around in it, and I would just point to the driver's seat. Of course, there was no rear seat leg room, because there were no rear seats. The tiny hatchback was so low that not much could fit in there, maybe a gym bag, but not much more.

It spent a lot of time on Topanaga Canyon, and Dume Canyon, and in the twisty roads behind Santa Barbara. The tires never squealed, it never "drifted", and it always stayed on its side of the center stripe. The tires, which were the very best, never lost contact with the road, never smoked, and never spun. The horsepower was all delivered to the road, and the vehicle moved like silk. The car was pure control. I describe it as more of an "Iron Man" suit than a car, and I suppose if I had ever ridden a motorcycle it would have been very similar to that. Motorcyclists, and people who had driven race cars, knew what the feeling was like.

I sold it long before I moved back to Phoenix, and by that time I had a much bigger car, with four seats, and much more room to carry stuff, a Ford Mustang. And a more reliable car that could carry stuff really did make sense, and it helped me act more like a grownup.

I've never really driven all that much, not the way that most of the people I know have done. I've done precious little commuting, and even though I tried to do it, I really didn't like trying to load stuff in my car at Home Depot. I've certainly never been one of those people who would drive something gigantic and fill it up with stuff at Costco. But I understand that's what a vehicle is for for most people.

So I do have fond memories of driving in California, which was rarely on freeways, and rarely on city streets, if I could avoid it. I was fortunate to have jobs that were right close by, and when I left them, I headed for a twisty canyon, like Topanga.

Image at the top of this post: with my Saab Sonett in 1987 in Santa Barbara. That car was meant for fun, not work!

Become a PhD (Phoenix History Detective) with Brad today on Patreon!

Click here to become a Patron!
History Adventuring posts are shared there daily including "then and now" photos, billboards, aerials, videos, and super high-definition photos of historic Phoenix, Arizona. Discounts for seniors, students, teachers, and veterans.

Why Los Angeles is called the city of angels


You really don't need to know much Spanish to recognize that the phrase "Los Angeles" means "The Angels". And that's a good start if you're interested in the history of L.A. But if you'd like to time-travel with me, there's more.

When what is now called L.A. was first established in New Spain, California, it was given the impressive name of "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles", which translated into English means "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angeles", which of course is Mary, the mother of Jesus. New Spain was a Christian place, and specifically Catholic, and the first Europeans who settled there permanently were Catholic priests, from Spain. If you know your California history, you know that a Mission was built about every thirty miles, which was an average day's ride for a horse in those days, from San Diego to San Francisco. And of course towns grew up around these places, especially if they included a Presidio - which is fortified place. This was the King's Highway, and the King was the King of Spain. You can still see signs in various touristy places that mark "The Camino Real", the King's Road, although nowadays the exact route has been blurred. If you really want to know where the road was, just get on a horse and take the most direct route from Mission to Mission. Nowadays it's scenic, then it was just efficient.

By the time Richard Henry Dana, Jr. saw California, in the 1830s, it had long since belonged to Mexico, and anything of the "old glory" of New Spain had faded away. His description of the area was mostly of ruined Presidios, and Missions. He wrote the book "Two Years Before the Mast" about his experience there as a young man. By that time, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was simply referred to as "El Pueblo" - the town. Just a sleeply little Mexican town about thirty miles the Port of San Pedro.

After 1849, when the United States took possession of the area, the increasing use of the English language started to change the name from "El Pueblo" to "Los Angeles", probably because the full name was written on maps, and it was just too long to say. And naming a town "The Town" wasn't very helpful as new towns appeared in California. It just makes sense.

By the way, the correct mispronunciation of Los Angeles has varied over time. Spoken correctly in Spanish it would be LOs AnGeles, that is, with an "o" sound in the Los, and a hard "g". Nowadays I usually hear LAS AnjelAs, with an "a" sound for the "o" in Los, and of course the "j" sound for the "g" and an "a" sound for the last "e" In old movies I'll often hear it pronounced "LAS AnjelEs, with a distinctive long "e" towards the end. Knowing how to properly mispronounce place names is very important for locals, who can tell right away if you're from out of town by pronouncing the names differently than they do. It's true wherever you go, and her in Arizona, where I live now, being able to pronounce "Prescott" and "Mogollan" tends to be the stamp of a true local.

Speaking for myself, I get a big kick out of learning the names of things, but ultimately I know that a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. But if you ask me to say the full name of Los Angeles, be prepared to see a big grin on my face, because I love that kinda stuff!

Become a PhD (Phoenix History Detective) with Brad today on Patreon!

Click here to become a Patron!
History Adventuring posts are shared there daily including "then and now" photos, billboards, aerials, videos, and super high-definition photos of historic Phoenix, Arizona. Discounts for seniors, students, teachers, and veterans.