Cowboy lore saturates this spiffed-up Old West town, found in every leather-scented saddlery and turquoise-laden gift shop, but especially among the chaps-to-spur-lined walls of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

HILLSBORO, Ore. – You come a-callin' on Bruce Campbell at his humble abode in this exurb west of Portland, and you don't know where to knock.

MOKELUMNE HILL – Some days, don't you just want to chuck it all – the road-rage traffic jams, the soul-sucking cubicle job – and leave the big city to head for the hills, maybe buy a historic Gold Rush hotel and become a kindly old innkeeper, à la Bob Newhart in a cardigan?

TAHOE CITY – The little dude, parents in tow, came clomping up the stairs to the second floor of the Gatekeeper's Museum to see the new exhibit "Ursus Among Us," all about bears in the Lake Tahoe region.

Two days after the fact, I still bear the faint bodily traces from the slowest 5K I've ever run. Or perhaps it should be called a 5C run. As in, five colors.

I am on a morbid mission and, frankly, I am a little spooked. I am driving east on Highway 46 from Paso Robles toward the junction with Highway 41 – all for the sole purpose of visiting the site of James Dean's fatal car accident.

SANTA BARBARA – He may not be too stoked by the comparison, but it's meant with fondness and more than a little envy:

ALAMEDA – The minute I walked through the door and caught sight of a row of pinball machines, all gleaming metal and burnished wood and flashing lights, I was transported to my awkward 'tween years – that less-than-halcyon time of acne and inferiority, raging hormones and daily disappointments.

We had done that particular dance that anonymous museumgoers do – step back, shuffle over, mumble vague apologies, trade embarrassed smiles – before I finally felt compelled to speak.

The occasion is Secession Day, traditionally the last Sunday in June, when residents in this no-stoplight burg puff out their community chest and fly the Great Republic of Rough and Ready flag proudly to relive the storied, three-month stretch of 1850 when they told the U.S. of A. where to stick it.

VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. – So much of this propped-up Old West town simply tries too hard to be realistic, as if creaking, warped wooden walkways and scruffy men moseying along in full period costume, right down to the clacking spurs, could truly plunge a visitor back in time.

The weather-beaten sign out front proclaims "The Henry Miller Memorial Library … Where Nothing Happens."

Wherever you have a road, it seems, you have roadside attractions. Here in the redwoods, they line Highway 101 like so many squashed squirrels.

You've got to be exceedingly lactose tolerant to do this job, but even I was starting to feel a little nauseated by the cheesiness of pulling off Highway 101 merely to drive my car through a redwood tree.

Hundreds of slimy, croaking bullfrogs, accompanied by their less slimy but equally exhortative human "jockeys," will pounce on Angels Camp next weekend and take a giant leap at local fame, a modicum of fortune and maybe even inspire some modern-day Mark Twain to wax prosaic.

Rest easy, this is not another rant about how there's a Starbucks, sometimes two, on every corner. That complaint itself has become as vexatious as the coffee company's ubiquitous signage (in Freight Sans Black, for you typeface freaks) on strip malls far and wide.

Something about the towering presence of redwoods, those hulking and massive trunks, along the Avenue of the Giants can make a guy hungry.

Round and round they go, bobbing and weaving and crashing into one another like bumper cars at an amusement park. The sound of skate wheels on polished wood is a sustained grind, muted only somewhat by the murmur of the crowd and the patter of the play-by-play announcers echoing off the walls.

Landlocked as it is, this verdant, wine-soaked town surrounded by lines of vines seems an odd location for a museum exhibit commemorating the sinking of the Titanic, which happened 100 years ago today.

In a moment, we will turn over control of today's column to Miss Odessa, the delightful dowager docent of Old Sacramento, the prim and proper queen of the underground tours, the self-styled Southern belle transplant with just a bit of a gossipy streak.

This city, so justifiably smitten with its historic landmarks and tourist haunts, likes to go for the grand gesture, the bold statement, the self-consciously arty design that trumpets, "Woo-hoo, look at us."

Self-identifying nerds, nearly three dozen strong, gathered in midtown Sacramento one recent night to do what it is nerds do best.

Up and down a sleepy, tree-lined residential street in Davis, all is quiet and dark on this Sunday evening, save occasional flickering blue TV light leaking from drawn living-room curtains.

A quick detour off Interstate 5 in Redding to see the Turtle Bay Exploration Park's current exhibit of Dr. Seuss' work – definitely worth the time

San Francisco's Mission District continues to evolve and there is always something interesting happening.

He is thin and so pallid as to be nearly translucent, befitting a sun- deprived Oregonian. Though pushing 30, his voice retains the escalating pitch and whine of adolescence. He dresses suburban casual, in jeans and T-shirt.

Silent? I think not. My cilia were doing the Charleston inside my eardrums all night, as the likes of Stan Laurel flickered across the big screen and pipe organist Dave Moreno punctuated each frame with just the right aural accompaniment.

Noam Chomsky is rubbing spines with Ann Coulter. The Amish and Mennonites share space, presumably peacefully, with the Salem witches. Henry James and Henry Kissinger stand sternly side by side looking off at some fixed point, their visages oozing importance.

Some time ago, when Alex Trebek's people telephoned the gregarious Bob Malowney, he might have considered saying he'd have his "people" call them back. Just to, you know, mess with those haughty TV types.

They would depart for China in two days. That had been the plan, anyway. The Collivers, Paul and Sharen, were all packed and prepped, eager for an adventure far removed from their lives as almond farmers south of Fresno.

Scores of hard-bodied types adorned either in clingy Lycra or bike-messenger-casual came to Hot Italian, the sopraffino Italian bistro in midtown Sacramento, not to consume calories but to burn them.

On the edge of the continent – and hoping not to be blown over the edge and out to sea – Tom and Michelle Rouse sling binoculars over their shoulders, unfold green canvas chairs and hunker down at the jutting promontory known as Bodega Head.

Beyond the teeming produce aisles and savory baked goods, past the hubcaps and cutlery and Persian rugs, out of earshot of the migraine-inducing bass bleating from the car stereo tents, way, way, way in the back of sprawling Denio's Farmer's Market and Swap Meet in Roseville comes the sound of a man doing his darndest to hawk a case of Depends Adult Undergarments.

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