Decades ago I did my first book, on Otis Chandler’s muscle car collection. Three years later he provided his Harley-Davidson motorcycles for another of my books. During those years I took a couple of overnight driving trips with him.
Otis had retired as publisher of the Los Angeles Times but he remained a newspaperman. On our first trip, we headed to central California to retrieve a new acquisition. He drove his dually pick-up truck towing a trailer. I still was on staff at the Times and we typically discussed the news business more than cars or bikes. Mid-morning he announced “I like to stop for pie when I’m on the road.”
I knew Otis as one of the fittest individuals I ever had met. I’d had many meals with him while working on muscle cars and he seldom ordered dessert. I thought, okay, he’s out of town; he’s just being a little sneaky with his self-discipline.
We found a restaurant with a packed parking lot. We grabbed places at the counter pretty much in the middle of a group of fellows there for morning coffee.
We eavesdropped on the conversations and then Otis politely asked a question about what they had been discussing. He was 62 and he favored practical shoes, Levi jeans, and work shirts. He looked like everyone around us. They were polite and answered a stranger’s question. Sometimes several of them chimed in. Otis asked another question and then another, and he angled around to asking what each of them did for work? Live stock, cotton, implements, banking…
What did he do? “I work in Los Angeles,” he answered. He pronounced it “Los AngleEase” in the characteristic style of a native son. Oftentimes one or another voiced sympathy for anyone living near L.A. Otis slipped in one last question, then we finished up, paid our bill, and left.
Listening to him engage the locals, he only picked at his pie but finished his iced tea as he listened intently and gently probed the group to learn what was on their minds. He never dug so deeply to make them wonder who he really was and what all this was about. Those conversations concerned ranching or farming or water rights or local politics or sports; sometimes subjects were more regional or national in scope. As he drove on, we talked about what we’d learned. Mid afternoon, he turned to me again and said, “Let’s go for pie.”
It was his technique for taking the pulse of the state on one subject or another. Some of them read his paper – he always asked how they got their news – but mostly he was curious about what people thought outside of his southern California.
Road Scholars Magazine is going to do this as well. We want to take the pulse of car people, auto enthusiasts, engineers, and designers. When we go for pie with someone interesting, we’ll pass on what they think about the automobile world and the collecting hobby.
Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass