Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Two years ago, we were here on vacation in Newport Beach. We wanted to rent bikes and cycle north along the boardwalk all the way to Long Beach. They said it would cost 25 dollars a day. But they were selling old rental bikes for 50 dollars each. So we bought a couple.

I've lost count of the number of days and hours we've spent on those bikes, cycling around Corona del Mar, pumping up and down the boardwalk, lunching at Huntingdon Beach, and fighting our way back against the tug of the wind.

This is the third year we've had use out of them. What kind of a bargain buy was that?!!

Enough of a bargain, I figured, to treat ourselves today to lunch at the Crab Cooker.

It takes about forty minutes to get there on the bikes. Down the hill, over the bridge to Balboa Island. Weave through all the back alleys to the ferry, then cross to the peninsula. And then along the boardwalk.

The Crab Cooker is a relic from a bygone era, when this was the beach retreat of Hollywood stars. And it probably hasn't changed much since then. The waitresses all look like they've been working there since Day One, and wear funny little short, black skirts and white socks. It's not particularly sophisticated, but it's just like stepping back in time. The food is served off paper plates, with plastic cups and cutlery, but it is wonderful.

On the way back we stopped off at Martha's - the bookstore on Balboa Island which will be selling my books at the private launch party this coming weekend. It's a quaint little store tucked away down an alley off Marine Avenue, packed with books piled up on every available space. The two charming ladies who run it, Stephanie and Kathy, weren't there, but the lady who was, recognised my accent, and I was offered a choice of peach tea, coffee, or chardonnay. But that wasn't just special treatment for me. It's a choice offered every customer who comes through the door.

Just along the road is what seems like the only concession to the twenty-first century - the Starbucks where I go every morning for my caramel macchiato.

This is a quaint and curious corner of California which, in spite of all the new build, probably hasn't changed much since its heyday. Strict building regulations have seen to that. Property prices are astronomical. There is a story doing the rounds about how Nicholas Cage fell in love with a house on one of the tiny islands that pepper the bay. He knocked on the door and persuaded the owners to pack up and go with an offer of 25 million in their hands.

The story might be apocryphal, but you could believe it. Just along the coast there was a house for sale last year for more than 70 million dollars. And Cage certainly does have a house in the bay.

The one thing of which I can be absolutely certain, is that I won't be buying a house here!

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