Notes from the Southwest Corner: Paradise Valley and memories

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, November 18, 2014.

SAN DIEGO – You are probably tired of reading about my golf outings as they seem to have dominated many of these columns recently.

So I will not write of my latest one in Palm Springs. This is a good thing as our foursome was awful. But we had a lot of fun. And getting there brought back memories of Lebanon. On Thursday, we drove out to the desert for two days of the sport.

The trip is between 120 miles to 150 miles depending on where you are headed and what route you take. There are several ways to get to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, La Quinta, etc. from the Southwest corner. The most traveled route is Interstate 15 to Interstate 10. The shortest route is over the mountain, but it also can be tortuous if one gets behind a slow and inconsiderate driver, and is somewhat hair raising…if you have hair.

The route I’ve chosen since the late 1980s, is the shorter one, which sometimes resembles Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. After about 75 miles of I-15 eight-lane insanity, there is five miles of traffic in Temecula, once a village surrounded by horse ranches and sod farms. In the early 1990s, developers added water and shopping malls, turning it into a bedroom suburb and boutique wineries.

After that, the route goes through land harboring a few hardy farmers and susceptible to monster flash floods, wildfires, and over six months of unacceptably hot weather. Then, we turn for a grinding climb into Anza, a farming town of 8,000 souls on a mesa 4,000 feet up the hill.

At the intersection of  state roads 371 and 74, there is a quaint restaurant. I’m not usually inclined to stop. But Thursday, we reached the Paradise Valley Cafe about lunchtime and decided to try it.

I felt like I had walked into an oater (Grade B western movie for you young readers). The old piano player had been replaced by an old guitar player on the patio singing the blues. A few locals were enjoying the fare, which was surprisingly good. I had the ortega chile tuna melt.  Most surprising was the beer selection. In this isolated area, the cafe had a beer list rivaling the most beer snobbish restaurants anywhere. They even had two “breakfast beers.”

It was definitely not like being back home. The lone waitress was curt, but tolerable. The denizens kept to themselves. There was no “How you doing?” “Where you from?” conversation. The Paradise Valley Cafe was established in 1939 by “Pistol Annie,” who earned her name by carrying six shooters on each hip. The establishment has changed owners and its name several times but returned to the original name in the latest ownership change this century. Apparently, Pistol Annie’s attitude has also returned. But the food and music were good.

I left thinking about eateries in Lebanon when I grew up. I recall Maple Hill Court on what was then the Nashville Pike, east of Maple Hill Road. On the “If you grew up in Lebanon” Facebook page, Faye Woodall recalls it was owned by Robert and Ruby Hobbs.

I loved the hamburgers and fries, but the malted milk was my big attraction. I’m pretty sure they didn’t serve anything with ortega chiles involved. Another vivid memory of Maple Hill Court involves pinball machines. On a family outing when I was about ten, my father refused to give me a dime to play the one in the diner. He told me it was a waste of money. He was right. I have a similar idea about video games.

While working at WCOR and attending MTSU, Winfree’s became my favorite. The brick restaurant also was located on the Nashville Pike, now West Main, at the corner of Winwood Drive (I believe). It was originally a hot spot for after church dinners. However, my time at Winfree’s was when it was owned by Clayton and Cathy Birdwell. Several us fondly called them Cat and Birdie. I would go there after closing down the FM station around 10:30. The food was simple. I remember Stuart sandwiches and pizza.

But the beer was cold and there was a shuffle board game against the west wall. I played incessantly., not remembering the warnings of my father.


Posted in Notes from the Southwest Corner | Leave a comment

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Rarified Air in Del Mar

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, November 11, 2014.

   SAN DIEGO – Last week, I got a glimpse of how rarified the air really is in an extravagant part of the Southwest corner.

On Monday, the USO held a fundraising golf tournament at the Del Mar Country Club. Dan Palmer, a business development manager for the Bank of America’s investment arm, asked my pal Pete Toennies to select two other retired veterans to play in his foursome. Dan previously met Pete at the Navy Special Warfare (NSW) Family Foundation tournament at Del Mar. The foundation was raising money to take care of SEAL families while the SEAL was on a mission or, in the worst case, had been seriously injured or killed in an operation.

Pete asked our Friday morning golf partner, Marty Linville, and me to join the foursome. We, of course, readily agreed.

The drive from my home in the southern reaches of San Diego County to Del Mar is about 40 miles. The Del Mar Country Club is actually located in the community known as Rancho Santa Fe, the land of the seriously rich and mostly famous, the area Maureen has accurately nicknamed “Rancho Fantasy.”

The golf was a wonderful experience. The foursome’s golf playing in the scramble format was decent but well out of the money. Joseph Lee outdid himself when he designed the course. As would be expected, the conditions were absolutely perfect. Our foursome had a great time, which was most important.

The Del Mar Country Club is owned by Madeleine Pickens, the ex-wife of T. Boone Pickens, and before that the ex-wife of Allen Paulson, the Gulfstream Aerospace founder. T. Boone’s wealth is estimated at $1 Billion. Paulson’s estate when he died in 2000 was estimated by “Forbes” as a paltry sum exceeding $100 Million. Madeleine herself amassed a respectable sum as the founder of a cabin service company for corporate jets and private charter airline flights.

To say she has some money is like saying the Pope is Catholic. Madeleine’s home is perched above a green, I think the fourteenth, and I would guess is about 6,000 square feet. Unfortunately, she did not invite me inside, and therefore I cannot comment on the interior.

The scary thing is her home is not the largest in the development around the golf course. There are many on the perimeter of the course which make Madeleine’s home look less gargantuan.

Bill Gates has a house there. It is rumored that Bill wanted to drive his golf cart straight to the course, but another owner’s home was in his path. So Bill payed the man $5 Million for his personal golf course access through the man’s property.

The items for the silent auction for NSW families began at $10,000 when a dozen hands were raised. At the end of that auction, which T. Boone attended (T. Boone and Madeleine had an amicable divorce even though that sounds like an oxymoron), the emcee announced that the stock raider who made his initial money in oil investments would match the total of money donated that night. The affair raised over $5 Million (Gates should have added his golf cart access fee but he did not attend).

This old veteran was pleased with the amount of military memorabilia in the clubhouse, a massive 55,000 square feet and beautifully appointed structure. Madeleine acknowledged veterans when she oversaw the interior development. Her most noted philanthropic cause has been wild mustangs. When the government divulged plans to euthanize or sell 30,000 wild mustangs, Madeleine launched an effort to establish a 1 million acre mustang preserve.

The USO fund raising was not as grand as the NSW Family Foundation effort. I did not see Madeleine, T. Boone, or Bill Gates. Still the silent auction during the post-tournament meal was far beyond my financial comfort level.

I had an engaging dinner conversation with several of club members and other veterans who played. But after I finished my Kobe beef sliders and fish tacos, and participated in the wine tasting event at a side table, I loaded up my clubs for the long drive back home. It was the tail end of the evening commute. At 7:00 p.m., the drive back to the my slice of the Southwest corner took two hours, double what it required in the morning after the commute.

On the way home, I kept hoping I would be invited back. It may be in rarified air, but I could breathe just fine.

Posted in Notes from the Southwest Corner | Leave a comment

Notes from the Southwest Corner: CHMA: an excellent and fitting tribute

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, November 4, 2014. If you are interested in getting a copy, please email me ( and i will get you the necessary information

leftwich_book_coverSAN DIEGO – I missed Castle Heights homecoming again this year, but last week I received memories, something that will last a lot longer than a weekend.

Jim Leftwich sent me my copy of “A View from the Hill: Memories of Castle Heights Military Academy.”  For anyone who is interested in Lebanon of bygone years, this is a must read. It goes beyond the tribute to “Coach” JB Leftwich. It captures the essence of an institution which had significant impact on the culture of my home town.

Jim, the older son of Coach was the driver in collecting JB’s  columns from his father’s archives and any other source he could find. This was not an easy task. JB wrote for the Democrat, the Wilson Post, and the Nashville Tennessean for more than 70 years. Unlike this hoarder, JB did not keep an extensive file of everything he wrote. A significant amount of his writing occurred before the digital age. So all of his columns before 1990 had to be located and converted to a format necessary for publication.

Stan Hugenin, the editor of this wonderful piece of Lebanon history, performed a Herculean task of putting it all together, working with Jim to include writers who were schooled by JB, their contributions reflecting on the school and the Coach. Stan and Jim did an incredible job.

The book’s credits acknowledge Glyn Ed Newton, JB’s son-in-law, as a driver in this effort. Glyn Ed was one of the most wonderful people I have met. I’m sure he was proud of this production. I am also sure his wife Lynda, the elder daughter of JB, was a positive influence.

“A View from the Hill” captures what that military prep school was to its students and the community.

As I read the “View from the Hill,” I kept thinking about how it all fit together. Castle Heights was established in 1903, 111 years ago. The concept of a preparatory boarding school was a grand idea which kept changing with the times until the times (and perhaps some misguided management as JB points out) put it out of business.

As I read the columns, I thought of my view of Heights through the first 24 years of my life, extended primarily by JB through the final years of the institution.

My first 14 years was spent about three-quarters of a block from the campus. I could hear “Reveille” in the morning, “Taps” at night and “The Star Spangled Banner” twice a day. I could hear the roars of the crowd at the football games and the march music on Sunday afternoon and the band practices on weekday afternoons. I watched the cadets going to churches on Sunday morning, shouting out their cadence as they marched.

I never thought I would attend. I wanted to be a Blue Devil and play football like Clifton Tribble, and David Robinson. My parents didn’t exactly change my mind, but in 1958, I became a “goober.”

Being a town boy (day student) presented some problems. I wasn’t quite a full-fledged cadet, and I wasn’t quite accepted by my previous fellow students in junior high. It wasn’t until sometime in my sophomore year that I became proud of being a cadet.

Castle Heights gave me opportunities unavailable in public high school. It provided an excellent education and more importantly, discipline. My four years there opened my vista to places beyond Lebanon, Tennessee, and for better or worse, I sought out these new possibilities. I met cadets who would never have crossed my mind at LHS. Students from Cuba, other Latin American countries, even remote places like Arkansas.

Sports became the center of my world and JB Leftwich turned my focus into a writing career. The school gave me the opportunity to get a Navy scholarship to Vanderbilt, and both Vandy and the sea service have been part of my life ever since.

Coach Leftwich was the chief influence in my working for Fred Russell at the Nashville Banner. The rules and disciplines he provided me, not only put me ahead in sports reporting, but his counsel, support, and interest kept me on an even keel up until he passed away.

A “View from the Hill” is a big hit with former cadets. It is also a superb way for Lebanon folks to understand life on the campus as it once was.

It’s a good read.


Posted in Notes from the Southwest Corner | 1 Comment