Time for a Reading

You probably don’t go to Cassadaga, Florida unless you are interested in, or curious about, spiritualism. And if you are curious or interested, you are probably going to get some kind of psychic reading while you’re there. If you don’t, it seems like you’ve kind of missed the point.

I didn’t miss the point. I got a reading at the hotel, from a woman named Aylah. I’m not going to go into the content, because for most of you that would be boring (and self-centered on my part); and besides, the most interesting part of a reading is the process.

Brittany (l) the barista who was my salvation, and Aylah, psychic reader.

Brittany (l) the barista who was my salvation, and Aylah, psychic reader.

I should note that, by using a hotel psychic instead of signing up for a reading across the street at the camp office, I was not guaranteeing myself a certified medium. (Aylah didn’t consider herself a medium at all.) The Spiritualist Camp Association certifies everyone who gives readings for them. Mine was a non-certified reading, but as of this date I have suffered no ill effects so I think it’s okay.

I chose Aylah from a slate of readers who were available that day. I screened out a number of others for arbitrary reasons. I skipped the guy who channels. One reader specialized in relationships. That is a broad category, I’ll admit, but I don’t have any concern about the primary relationships in my life, and that seemed like a waste of money. I can’t remember now if Aylah said on her write-up that she used cards, but if she did I didn’t remember it.

For the most part, the mediums work out of dedicated rooms in the hotel. The exception is the Saturday “table readings,” ten-minute readings that are done next to the coffee bar. It’s a semi-public place and didn’t seem all that appealing, but lots of the day-trippers who come there on the weekends get them. For my longer and more expensive reading (remember this is a living for some of these folks,) Aylah used a room around the corner from mine. The window faced west but there were sheer curtains drawn over it. She had two floor lamps and never did turn on the lights in the ceiling fan. The north wall had shelves that were covered with statues and figures; angels, Buddha, QuanYin, Ganesh, St Francis, Jesus, Mary, a couple of green men, a couple of fairy statues. The shelf was twined with twinkle lights and several statues had electric tealights in front of them. The soft lights were very pleasant. The closet wall and the wall behind me were draped with painted silk hangings.

Aylah had about four decks of fortune telling cards on the round table in front of me, and another five or six carefully arranged on a small side table behind her. Watching her work was kind of like watching a carpenter or a watchmaker; every tool for every specific purpose in its place. She would share an insight with me and then say, “Let’s see what the [deck name] has to offer us about that,” and spread those cards out for me to choose either one or three. She would use those to amplify the first observation.

I consider myself an open-minded skeptic, but Aylah won me over as soon as I sat down and saw that she had the Steampunk Deck on the table. I love the Steampunk Deck, and it’s a source of writing inspiration for me. I had never seen it used for divination and I said that. Aylah said she loved the artist’s art. When she gave me the deck to cut, the cards were smooth and worn. She’s used that deck a lot.

She had me pick three cards to start us off. She used the angel deck and something like the New World deck for follow-up. Usually, she would spread the cards out in a big face-down puddle on the table and I would choose three, so I don’t see how she could be forcing a choice (which is a stage magic technique). Once or twice she had me only choose one card.

One of the Steampunk cards that came up was the Two of Pentacles. “Any legal problems?” she said.

“No.”

“Okay, well,” she glanced down at the card next to it, then looked up over my left shoulder. She tilted her head a little.  “I just got… is there something with a contract?”

“Well, yes, actually,” I said, because I had just signed that contract for the novella – a novella, by the way, whose alternate world was inspired by the Steampunk Deck. I’m just saying.

Two of Pentacles from the Steampunk Deck

Two of Pentacles from the Steampunk Deck

When she asked me if I had any questions, I said that I wanted to know about her process. She seemed surprised. I asked if she saw entities or heard them. She said, “I don’t see spirits. If I saw spirits, I’d be a medium, and I’m not a medium. I’ve asked if I will be a medium and the answer is no. I hear them.” She said she has a partial hearing loss in her left ear, and that is where she usually hears the spirit voices.

Aylah comes from a family of women who gave readings; both her mother and grandmother did this. She is of Italian descent and I don’t know how she ended up in Cassadaga. She speaks Italian. I can tell you from the amount of running around she was doing on Saturday to find her clients that she is a popular draw at the place.

I wondered if cards appealed to Aylah because she doesn’t see spirits, or if she chose them for me in that particular reading because I was walking around with my camera. In the talk about spiritualism I attended on Saturday (my reading was Friday), Dawn said that certified mediumistic readers from the church do not use cards or read palms because they get guidance directly from spirit. Then she cleared her throat and said, “That doesn’t mean you’ll never find a deck of Tarot cards in a spiritualist’s house.”

Palm Reading Sign. Certified mediums do not need to read palms

Palm Reading Sign. Certified mediums do not need to read palms.

On Sunday morning, I talked to a couple who had stayed over. Val, the man, had a table read that he felt missed completely. He’d been disappointed, but then had a strange experience in the woods later in the evening that freaked him out and totally “made up” for the reading.

The hotel (and the camp) both have fact sheets about readings, and both of them say, more or less, that if a reader isn’t hitting something with you pretty early on, let them know. “Spirit doesn’t always show up,” seemed to be the gist of it. If you felt nothing was hitting and you ended the reading they would find you another reader or refund your money. Both places said they were reluctant to do that if you went through an entire half hour and then said you weren’t satisfied.

Readings are expensive; sixty dollars for half an hour at the hotel. I budgeted for that. (I actually budgeted for two in case I wanted to compare, but the spirit photography tour on Saturday night gave me a good sample of spiritualist info and I didn’t feel like I needed a second reading.) If you go there, you should treat yourself to one. After all, if you went to a famous spa for the weekend you’d get a mani-pedi, right? It’s the same idea.

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The Haunted Museum

The full name of The Haunted Museum is C Green’s Haunted History House and Museum, and it is indeed part haunted house and part historical archive. The place has been open since February, 2018, and frankly I think it needs, or at least deserves, more space.

Madame Mordida

Madame Morbida

They’ve used dividers and bookshelves inside the converted house’s rectangular space to create smaller rooms and the feeling of a maze or labyrinth. That’s neat, but the blaring of the talking exhibits, like the charming Madame Morbida, come through the dividers. It’s distracting.

The Haunted Museum can be disorienting.

The Haunted Museum can be disorienting.

The exhibit has some good information on George P. Colby and the founding of Cassadaga. They have a few items from New York and a display about the Fox Sisters who are credited with popularizing spiritualism in the USA. Years after the girls gained fame as mediums, Margaret confessed that they created the rapping and tapping people heard at their seances by cracking their toes much the way some people crack the knuckles in their hands. Years after that revelation, Margaret recanted the confession and lived out her life as a spiritualist.

A portrait of the Fox Sisters.

A portrait of the Fox Sisters.

I assumed that the friendly and knowledgeable young man with the bushy chin-beard was Varney from the business card (“Ask for Varney”) but I didn’t confirm that. I’m going to call him that for the sake of convenience. He told me the museum has some haunted dolls that are kept away under lock and key until they can create an adequate space to display them. The place that gives him the shiver, he said, is the seance room, which includes George P Colby’s seance table and a hand-tatted doily made by one of the Alderman family daughters. Varney says some accounts from Cassadaga say that the daughter continued to commune with Colby after his death.

He told me the way to the cemetary between Cassadaga and Deland, where Colby is buried. I couldn’t find the headstone, but that’s on me, not him. “It’s fifteen feet from the Devil’s Chair,” he said, “Which is just a big red brick chair.”

The Devil's Chair is just a brick chair in a local cemetery, but anything for a beer, right?

The Devil’s Chair is just a brick chair in a local cemetery, but anything for a beer, right?

Actually, there are two red brick benches in the cemetery in question, but only one is on top of the hill and only one is the Devil’s Chair.

Palm Reading Sign

Palm Reading Sign

The museum doesn’t carry books on local history, and he referred me to the camp bookstore… a bit reluctantly, I thought. He said, “Well, all things considered, the camp bookstore is your best bet.” That was the first example of any east side- west side tension.

As I was getting ready to leave a couple came in. “Will you be open later, like around seven o’clock?” the man said.

“Just an FYI,” said Varney. “In this town, everything except the bar in the hotel is closed by seven. We roll up the sidewalks… where we actually have sidewalks.”

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Welcome to Cassadaga

Basically, this is how you find the camp.

Basically, this is how you find the camp.

It’s not that Cassadaga, Florida, is hard to find. The directions from the Hotel Cassadaga website, plus Google, were clear. It’s just that it’s small and it doesn’t show on any maps. I think, but I’m not sure, that it is technically part of Lake Helen. Cassadaga is an Historic District, and before that is was a camp, never technically a town.

I felt welcomed as soon as I realized that the approach was named Marion Drive, although of course throughout the south when you see things named Marion, they’re for Francis Marion, the revolutionary war hero called the Swamp Fox.

As I got out of my car I heard a kite screaming in nearby trees. And then there it was, a Georgia kite, greeting me.

As I got out of my car I heard a kite screaming in nearby trees. And then there it was, a Georgia kite, greeting me.

As you drive into Cassadaga two buildings dominate. The hotel is a two-story, late 1920s stucco building with deep porch and some stained-glass features in the windows. Across the street to the north, the Southern Cassadaga Camp Association Office and Bookstore has the look of an earlier era, white clapboard, a wide wrap-around veranda and a hipped roof of corrugated tin. It reminded me of some of the old sugar plantation buildings I’ve seen on Hawai’i. East of the camp gates the buildings continue a vaguely island theme, especially in color choices; yellow, purple, blue, pale green, white and pink. Houses on the north side of the street look like homes from the early 1900s, with one or two mansions.

Hotel Cassadaga

Hotel Cassadaga

The Camp Association Office, Information Center and Bookstore

The Camp Association Office, Information Center and Bookstore

The most “imposing” building is not visible from the street and it’s the George Colby Memorial Temple. It’s not as graceful as the hotel or other camp buildings, but it is the center of the spiritualist activities and weekly services are held there on Sundays.

The camp gateposts. The camp area is open to the public from dawn to dusk.

The camp gateposts. The camp area is open to the public from dawn to dusk.

Cassadaga Road is the north-south divider between the camp and the rest of the village. West of the road, marked by the gateposts, is the camp, which got its charter in 1894 and is still mostly owned by the Association. The camp was founded by George P. Colby, who was born in Minnesota. He became a medium, much to the chagrin of his Baptist parents, and a spirit guide told him to go to Wisconsin and meet a man named Giddings. The two of them were to go to the south and found a camp in a place “of interlocking lakes and seven hills.” Off they went, and several years later Cassadaga was born.

Oddly, this building is on the east side of town.

Oddly, this building is on the east side of town.

Colby had tuberculosis, so the climate was better for him, and the church says that he cured himself by drinking water from a spring he discovered, and inhaling pine smoke. Soon Cassadaga became a winter gathering-place for spiritualists, especially those from Lily Dale, situated in upstate New York.

Summerland House contains the administrative offices of the Association.

Summerland House contains the administrative offices of the Association.

The hotel adds another slight complication to the split between the camp and non-camp psychics. The hotel was built by a spiritualist family on camp land, but the original building burned in 1926. The Association raised bonds to rebuild and created the building that stands there today. Started in 1927, the new hotel was ready to open in 1928. In 1929 a stock market crash signaled the start of the Great Depression. Many of the spiritualists were wealthy northerners and speculators, and soon the Association was unable to meet their bond obligations and were forced to sell the hotel. The hotel is not owned by spiritualists, but it is on camp property, and it offers its own slate of psychic readers. Life can get complicated.

Spirit Pond

Spirit Pond

Black panther stained glass detail in a camp house.

Stained glass detail in a camp house.

My favorite place in Cassadaga was Seneca Park, especially Spirit Pond, where I felt a sense of peace and groundedness as soon as I stepped foot on it. The pond seemed especially beautiful. My second favorite place, other than the hotel itself, was the Haunted Museum, run by a pleasant Florida man named Varney, who is its founder. The museum is small, half serious historical information about the area and paranormal doings throughout the world and half Halloween-night joke-spookiness, but he has only been open since February, 2018. More on the museum later.

Colby-Alderman Lake

Colby-Alderman Lake

Sandhill cranes, who pay little attention to tourists with cameras.

Sandhill cranes, who pay little attention to tourists with cameras.

The camp/village is sparsely populated and quiet, exuding a sense of peace, a meditative vibe… at least on weekdays. The weekends, well, that’s another story.

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We Interrupt Florida to Bring You the Noyo River Review Launch

The Noyo River Review held its launch party on Sunday, May 13, at the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. The bookstore has a deep and abiding relationship with the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, and when the Mendocino Odd Fellows building was sold last year and the conference lost one of its reading sites, the bookstore stepped up.  The Review compiles work from the winners and finalists of the conference writing contests and includes excerpts of fiction, memoir, and poetry along with original (local) artwork. This year’s edition has a colorful abstract cover.

2018 Noyo River Review. Hey! I'm in the Table of Contents!

2018 Noyo River Review. Hey! I’m in the Table of Contents!

There were about 30 people in the audience (including the readers) and about ten people read, so the ratio was truly more audience members than performers. That’s always good.

Donna Banta gently and skillfully skewers Texas life in Still Life.

Donna Banta gently and skillfully skewers Texas life in Still Life.

A few things we heard:

  • A bit from Donna Banta’s darkly comic short story “Still Life.”
  • Cameron Lund’s bawdy and hilarious Young Adult selection Practice Makes Perfect.
  • A searing depiction of violent death, in Charane Sirrine’s memoir “Behind the Redwood Curtain.”

    Cameron's YA selection is laugh-out-loud funny.

    Cameron’s YA selection is laugh-out-loud funny.

  • Roy Dufrain’s novel excerpt (The Blues and Willie Armstrong) in which his main character recalls a formative moment in his childhood, filled with vivid detail.
  • Laugh-out-loud funny bit from “My Three Franken-Fems” by Aron Lee Bowe.
  • A short section from my story “Littoral Zone.”
  • Katie Pye read a playful, deep and sad poem written by Robyn T Murphy.

Several others, I didn’t get all the names. My apologies to those readers!

Roy Dufrain reads about one of those moments that shapes us.

Roy Dufrain reads about one of those moments that shapes us.

Susan Bono, who edited the anthology, started us off and introduced each reader. Everyone was courteous about staying to our 3-minute time frame.

Afterward, there was cake, with the cover of the journal iced onto it. Norma Watkins commented that the cake “needed extra editing.” When she arrived to pick it up, it had something else on the top. I heard a rumor it was a NaNoWRiMo themed thing. Anyway, she checked her proof-sheet, saw she had it right, and made them fix it. It also tasted yummy.

By the way, the  Gallery Bookshop has expanded. It had always been L-shaped, with a long section that ran back and formed the children’s section (which was where we set up). Now, the area directly behind the square room where the cash registers are is their space. It has a set of unusual stairs and hold journals, travel and craft books, reference and tchokes, technically called sidelines. It’s a big help and a good sign for the store.

Later I had drinks and dinner with Donna and Mark. Bartender stories will follow! All in all, a great event.

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On Seven Hills

Driving to Cassadaga, I’d occasionally see a highway sign that said, “Hill Obstructs View.”  I’d scan the horizon for the hill in question. I never saw one. Was I reading the sign wrong? Did it say, “View Obstructs Hill?” No, I had it right. When I’d see this sign, I’d feel a slight lift to the car, like a gentle swell when you’re in a rowboat, as the road rose a little and then dropped.

Sometime later I realized that gentle incline was the hill in question.

By Sonoma County standards, northeast Florida is flat.

The founder of the Spiritualist Camp of Cassadaga, George P. Colby,had a spirit guide named Seneca who directed him to the south, to “a land of interlocking lakes, and a place with seven hills.”  After taking a steamboat south up the St John’s River — the river flows north– then a packmule train through mud and swarms of mosquitoes, Colby found a place, and Seneca informed him that it was the spot.

I will agree, with only a tinge of Sonoma-hill superiority in my tone, that Cassadaga is hilly. They are gentle hills. I’d be temped to call them “rises,” but they are hills. I did a lot of walking, and my calves concur. The cemetery where Colby is buried occupies a pair of low rolls of earth that rise noticeably above road level.

"The Chapels." This is not the mansion where Al Capone once hid out.

“The Chapels.” This is not the mansion where Al Capone once hid out.

In town, the hotel and the camp office/store definitely are at a higher altitude than the fancy mansion called the Chapels or even the Cassadaga Historical District sign.

Basically, this is how you find the camp.

Basically, this is how you find the camp.

When I first read about the “seven hills,” I thought it was a reference to Rome, and that spirit guide Seneca was having a joke at Colby’s expense. It seems that was not the case.

To my credit, I never actually said out loud to a local, “Oh, you call that a hill?” or the even worse, “Oh, that’s adorable!”

Still, it’s sad to discover that I am a terrain-bigot.

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Northeast Florida; the Itinerary

Here was my plan for the Florida pleasure/research trip.

  • Thursday, May 3:  Drive, ride and fly, fly through the night to reach Florida the morning of:
  • Friday, May 4: Get my rental car and drive, drive, drive to Cassadaga, the Spiritualist Church camp. Get my room. Have breakfast. Get a psychic reading.
  • Saturday, May 5: Wander the haunted streets of Cassadaga. Go on a Spirit Tour. Avoid alligators.
  • Sunday, May 6: Drive, drive, drive to historic St Augustine. Get my room. Time permitting, check out the waterfront and eat dinner.
  • Monday, May 7: Do Fun, Educational and Historical things. In the evening, sip wine in the St Francis Inn’s courtyard with other guests. Avoid alligators.
  • Tuesday, May 8: Same as Monday except for the evening when I would meet up with Kat Hooper, our Editor in Chief and Dread Mistress of Fantasy Literature, and go on a sunset schooner cruise. Then go eat a slice of the Best Pizza in St. Augustine.
  • Wednesday, May 9: Catch up on any Fun, Educational and Historical things. Sip wine, etc.
  • Thursday, May 10: Get up at crack of dawn, drive, drive to Jacksonville airport; fly, fly, fly, ride and drive home to wake Spouse from a peaceful slumber sometime around midnight.

And that’s just about how it went except for the drive, drive, drive part. Florida, as you can see from a map, is a long state, but not quite as long as California, and I was only playing in the northeast corner. “Drive, drive, drive,” (even allowing for me to get lost which I did) was often only “drive, drive” or even just “drive.”

A pair of sandhill cranes.

A pair of sandhill cranes.

Live oak with Spanish moss.

Live oak with Spanish moss.

For instance, I got to the Hotel Cassagada an hour and a half too early to check in, which gave me a chance to wander around and take pictures.

 

The winter home of the Lily Dale Spiritualists.

The winter home of the Lily Dale Spiritualists.

These two gateposts mark the eastern boundary of the camp.

These two gateposts mark the eastern boundary of the camp.

I had time to visit the Oldest House Museum in St Augustine the first afternoon I was there, as well as wandering the waterfront and seeing the basilica.

And I sought out some alligators when I stopped at the Alligator Farm on Anastasia Island… and I may have nearly had an encounter in Cassadaga, although I’m not sure.

The Alligator Farm says it has specimens of all 21 crocodilian varieties.

The Alligator Farm says it has specimens of all 21 crocodilian varieties.

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Lunch in the Deep End of the Pool

Cafe Alcazar has fifteen tables and a piano, situated what used to be the deep end of the indoor swimming pool of the Alcazar Hotel, Henry Flagler’s lavish “entertainment” hotel in St. Augustine. St. Augustine claims that the pool was the largest indoor pool in the country.  I have no way to evaluate that statement except to note that St. Augustine has a lot of “biggests,” and “firsts.”

By the way, there is no water in the pool.

For a cafe in the once-biggest swimming pool, it has a small but varied menu. My server told me they use fresh, locally sourced ingredients to the extent they can, and to be sure things are fresh and inventory moves, the use certain ingredients in more that one dish. I had a hummus sandwich, for instance; I could have had a hummus and pita appetizer, or a hummus salad. The sandwich is basically a salad between two slices of nine grain bread. That does not begin to do their fresh-made hummus, the juicy tomatoes and the crisp cucumbers justice.

The pool may or may not have been the biggest but it was certainly opulent. The bathrooms are still set up like the old changing rooms, with penny-tiles on the floor. The coquina stairs out of the pool lead the second floor of what is now the Lightner Museum, and they have left part of the turkish baths intact for historical interest.

By local standards, lunch at the cafe is a bit pricey… by my tourist standards no big deal.

Pictures will follow, I hope.

 

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Technical Difficulties

I’m on vacation as I write this. It seems weird to say “vacation” when I don’t work for a living anymore. “A pleasure trip,” then. I’m taking lots of pictures, hundreds, some from my phone and many, many more with DSLR Canon that I love so much.

My plan had been to blog along the way — not exactly live-blogging, which I don’t think is a real thing– but complete at least two posts while I was here, filled with pictures of this awesome Spiritualist hotel, of birds, landscapes, and quirky images, maybe some great ocean pictures when I get to St. Augustine. That won’t be happening.

Microsoft Office’s photo app has glitched on this PC. A reinstall… and then a tedious upgrade, didn’t fix that. Please don’t reply in Comments with some detailed step by step simple fix, because I won’t do it.

You will see some pictures on Twitter and Facebook, because I can post from my phone just fine.

I will post a couple of blogs, though, because some of what I’m doing is just interesting… well, I hope it’s interesting, anyway. And when I get home to the computer that, universe willing, does still upload photos, then I will simply bombard you.

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Space Corps!

It  surprises me to say this, but Donald Trump may have just won me over. Wait, let me explain.

First, let me give a bit of context. I’m currently on a pleasure trip in Florida. Florida, as you know, is a ruby-red state politically, and that may be coloring my reaction. (Yes, I meant to do that.)

I think Florida has dethroned California as the theme park capital of the USA, and it has a thriving space industry.

It’s that last one that matters.

Yesterday I went to a diner in a town near where I’m staying. They had a flatsceen on with regional news, and a happy newsperson was saying that Trump announced proposed plans  for a new branch of the armed forces; a kind of Space Force or Space Corps. Trump thinks this would be good because, “We’re big in space, both in the military and in… other things.” (That’s not an exact quote, but it is pretty close.)

The newsreader wasn’t exactly jumping up and down and squeeing, but it was close.

But I was kind of bouncing in my seat too.

Space Corps! That would be awesome!

I don’t like the name, though. We already have the Marine Corps and the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s enough corps, thank you. Similarly, we already have an Air Force, so Space Force sounds like we’re not trying.

We need a name that ties to our history, that reflects the desire to categorize our space-faring vehicles as ships. How about… fleet? Space Fleet!

And no offense, Florida, but I’m going to fight you for the location of the Space Fleet headquarters. I know the perfect place. San Francisco, CA. Doesn’t that seem like the perfect HQ for our newly minted Space Fleet?

From there, intrepid space farers can be deployed for military missions, since we’re big in space in the military (or something) but other reasons as well; exploratory missions to seek out new life, new worlds, even new civilizations. We could trek far beyond the bounds of our own star system. We could go where no human had ever gone before.

Doesn’t it sound awesome?

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Benicia’s 25th annual Classic Car Show

Silver pickup. I don't know the year.

Silver Pickup. I don’t know the year.

Sunday was the meeting of the Benicia Crew, and it was also the 25th annual Classic Car Show. We have convened there on the car show day in other years but this may have been the biggest and best yet. The three blocks of First Street closest to the water are blocked off and this year they were lined with dream machines, as well as the green behind the Visitor’s Center.

1931 Ford Roadster

1931 Ford Roadster

Even though we didn’t vote, it looked like anyone could (maybe you had to pay a fee). Each car had a tag that gave the year, make and model and stated whether the restoration was stock of custom. The colors ranged from 1950s’ kitchen yellow to oxblood, from burgundy to purple, pink to turquoise, teal to black,and of course silver and gold. The sunlight beamed off layers of  paint and hand-rubbed finishes.

The Roadster's Dashboard

The Roadster’s Dashboard

The oldest cars I saw were from 1931, although I do think there were one or two that were older. There were muscle cars from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and of those my favorites were two difference Mustangs (although Camaros made a good showing).

Another dashboard that was a thing of elegance.

Another dashboard that was a thing of elegance.

My camera battery was dead but I had my phone so I took a few snaps. I don’t do the cars justice, so if you live in the Bar Area you could check out the cars yourself next year.

Pickup and Bike

Pickup and Bike

Aston Martin

Aston Martin

This roadster oozes mystery and adventure.

This roadster oozes mystery and adventure.

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