by Eric Peterson
Speck Press, 2009
Soft cover, 280-pages $19.
Subtitled “A Wanderer's Guide to the Offbeat, Overlooked, and Outrageous,” Eric Peterson's Ramble California includes enough sex, drugs, rock and roll and profanity to displease many. For those folks, there are plenty of traditional guidebooks.
Peterson offers a Read, Listen, Watch and To-Do Checklist sidebar to his opening coverage of the Los Angeles and Southern California scene. Among his suggestions are to read Red Wind by Raymond Chandler, listen to Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and watch the movie Chinatown. His To-Do list includes: “Impersonate the paparazzi, Puke at Disneyland, Party all night, Sleep all day” and “Surf in between.” Since it's been many years since the reviewer might have engaged in one—let alone all those behaviors—dismissing Ramble California out of hand was an option. That would have been unfortunate. Peterson is a good writer with a taste for the quirky. Where else might you find out about Lantrip's House of Ashtrays in Oroville (call after 11 am for an appointment to visit) or learn the address and phone number of Good Vibrations Vibrator Museum in San Francisco (1210 Valencia Street, 415 974-8980)?
Connoisseur of the bizarre that Eric Peterson might be, he shows straight-forward respect for early California naturalist John Muir in a later chapter, “The High Sierra and Vicinity.” And recollections of time spent with his father in southern California's deserts reveal more conventional aspects of his personality.
Ramble California isn't the essential book to carry with you on your trip to California. However, reading it ahead of time may help tilt your mood to the unconventional. Even if you don't get to California to see the National Yo Yo Museum in Chico or Reiff's Gas Station House in Woodland, it's fun to hear Peterson tell you about them.
--reviewed by Dan Clarke