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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

To Hollister and Beyond

By Eric A. Carlson

"Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
the bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?"
--Robert Service

ON A GRAY AND DANK SATURDAY MORNING, I set course for the Corbin factory in Hollister to have my brutish Honda 919 fitted with a custom saddle. Countless riders before me have experienced this sacred ritual. This was my second pilgrimage to Corbin. I had a saddle fitted to a 1980 Suzuki some years back, when the factory was in Castroville. The Suzuki was cherry with the exception of the front fender, which had been partly chewed off by the Uptergrove family dog. I sold that bike to a guy in Salinas after succumbing to marriage.

From up-and-coming Sunnyvale take Highway 101 and journey to reeking-with-garlic Gilroy. Take a left on either Highway 152, 25 or 156--respectively. They all lead to Hollister, in one fashion or another. And each avenue is bucolic bliss. Highway 152, the tack to San Luis Reservoir, Highway 5 and other Central Valley delights, is especially poignant and includes countless fruit stands, vineyards and oddities. A sign reads, "Toy Rat Terrier Ranch--Just Ahead." What mystery!

Turn right onto San Felipe Road, which leads to the heart of Hollister. No finer escape from the angst of overdeveloped San Jose than ranch land, cows sleeping in vast green fields and miles of orchards. One will pass the Dunneville Restaurant, Market and Deli, which provides the best brunch for hundreds of miles around, according to Hollister denizen Pat Lopes. All this 30 minutes from San Jose--depending on traffic, of course.

I pulled into the Corbin factory floor and was provided a complementary breakfast pass to Wizard's Cafe, which is in the same building. A large poster close to my table read, "The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club." It was autographed by Ralph "Sonny" Barger and dedicated to Mike Corbin. After breakfast, I wandered out to the waiting area adjacent to the bikes.

A 2003 Yamaha FJR 1300 rode in, and 72-year-old Hal from Mariposa stepped off. He was in for his fifth Corbin saddle, and when I asked him how many bikes he has owned, replied, "Eleven, 12, something like that." Paul Randal was there with his friend Tia McCoy, waiting for their Yamaha Warrior to be fitted with a saddle. Paul's jacket was decorated with dozens of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally patches. He and Tia attend every year, riding thousands of miles. The Sturgis Rally is the rally of rallies, with hundreds of thousands of bikers attending. Tia described it as a peaceful event--overall, "You lose about six to eight people--killed--but at least 20 are conceived. So it balances out."

The next weekend, I returned to Hollister to photograph the Cinderella Motel sign at 110 San Felipe Road. Letty Radman is the manager, and she was kind enough to show me around. I asked her if there was a glass slipper in every room. "No prince waiting in every room, and no glass slipper," she said. There is a glass slipper in the office though--and myriad Cinderella dolls. I inquired as to how far in advance one must register for a room for the week of the Hollister Rally, and she told that me the Cinderella Motel was booked to the end of time--for that week--by longtime friends and customers, who return to the same room year after year. As I said my goodbyes, Letty suggested a good ride would be down Highway 25 south to the Pinnacles National Monument, past Tres Pinos and Paicines. And for that suggestion, I am indebted. The ride is through the same craggy landscapes in which bandito Tiburcio Vasquez practiced his craft of robbery, murder and mayhem. And the town of Tres Pinos is worth a visit any old time. Long stretches of straight, empty highway encourage "spirited" riding. Just keep in mind the area is patrolled, so choose your moments wisely.

On the way home, I stopped at the Hollister Airport to dine at the Ding-a-Ling Cafe. A pleasant-enough experience, but Pat Lopes chided me for not eating at the Cozy Cup Cafe on Fourth Street or Flap Jacks on Highway 25. I shall return.

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From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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