MAMMOTH LAKES — Had the best burger in Mammoth the other night, this hyper-popular, hyper-expensive LA snow park. Some dread the 5-hour drive, but I actually like it, and this year there is frosting as far south as Lancaster.
If you like winter at all, you should spend a couple of days in Mammoth. I recommend mid-week. The hordes arrive on Fridays, led by the Germanic leader Odoacer, and all order and societal norms disappear till the crowds check out Sunday morning.
“Where do you get your cheese?” the So Cal visitors ask the server. “How do you fry your fries?”
Go on a Tuesday is what I’m saying.
The holidays were particular crushing for this snowy little village. The signs as you enter say the population is 7,000, but it’s really more like 4,000 if you count the sober ones. Everyone seems to work three jobs.
At Christmas, the world arrived, followed by a blizzard, which pinned in the weekend travelers. There was NO WAY OUT when they closed 395, and motorists waited and waited, then more visitors started arriving.
It was a snowy Armageddon, according to my buddy Searles, who pretty much oversees everything here. Searles is still this town’s alpha bear – it’s smartest and wisest dude. Tough too. They really ought to make him mayor.
Anyway, food ran low, and the local Von’s was still short of supplies two weeks later, particularly the mountain staples, like beer and bourbon.
There are three things that make this place go: Snow, beer and bourbon.
Bring your own, is what I’m saying. This Von’s is one of the busiest supermarkets in California. Bring your bread and popcorn too. And a nice bottle of Merlot for Searles. Say hi to Bonnie the checker. She’s hardly had a day off.
Be sure to go to that place “Burgers” for a burger; there’s a nice new bar upstairs now. No one asks where they got their cheese.
And rejoice in this sugar-frosted jewel. The Christmas lights are still up on the A-frames. Since they’re frozen to the eaves, amid icicles the size of swords, the lights won’t be coming down soon.
California mountain towns like Mammoth and Tahoe are busier than ever as everyone works remotely. As I write this, it’s 23 degrees, and I think the devil stole the sun. These mid-winter mountain days last about 15 seconds.
But, wow, are they a glorious 15 seconds. The sky is blue, the snow is blue, the notorious winds took the day off. In LA, you shake your head at the dozens of micro-aggressions you witness on the freeway. In Mammoth, you shake your head at the cardinal hopping across the branches of a snowy tree.
Yep, you probably should’ve bought that condo two years ago. Too late now, damn it. Basically, there’s nothing for sale up here anymore, says Sexy Stacey, the real estate tycoon who owns half the town.
The Eastern Sierra remains California’s Magic Castle. Bishop. Bristlecone. Lee Vining. June Lake.
Most of all? Mammoth Lakes — “the headwaters of Los Angeles,” as Searles puts it. You can still rent a cozy cabin midweek. Make a fire. Play a board game. Take a walk in the woods. Those kinds of activities can restore a soupy soul.
As you know, my soul is pretty stout – formed over time of igneous rock, then dipped in Godiva chocolate. I only melt down when the Chicago Bears lose, or I hear a new song that’s halfway decent. I’ll tell you, that Olivia Rodrigo sure can wail.
“You really must donate your brain to science,” my pal Schwartz suggested the other day. “You owe it to humanity to figure out how it works.”
You mean right now, Schwartzy? I mean, I’m not done with it. Or maybe I am.
I speculated the other day that all the great songs and movies have already been made, a controversial stance to be sure.
It certainly negates such huge talents as Olivia Rodrigo, who can really wail, or Bad Bunny, who reminds a lot of folks of Sinatra. Or Billie Eilish, a breathy Bessie Smith.
For the definitive answer on old vs. new and good vs. gunk, let us turn to the upcoming Super Bowl halftime show. That’s sort of why I’m here, in fact: to gird for the Super Bowl halftime, the most emotionally challenging moment of the year for many viewers.
Well, at least for me.
Because these mountains always fluff me up. I come out of the Eastern Sierra like a big load of cotton sheets, warm and smelling of French butter.
And Searles’ cigarettes and my dewy wool socks.
FYI, we’re working on a book, Searles and I.
I can’t tell you more than that, except that it’ll come with lots of annoying little truths – bar-stool wisdom and all the personal stuff you usually only tell your oldest friend.
Believe it or not, we even have a publisher for that.
Here’s our plan: It’ll be like Kerouac, except more sedentary. It’ll be like the Old Testament, minus all the racy parts.
It’ll remind you of Hemingway and Caitlin Flanagan and Garrison Keillor when he’s really, really on.
And Johnny Carson, when Rickles was a guest.
The book will be short, not too many words (like most books). When you drop it on a table, it’ll buzz a little.
It’ll have a touch of Twain and his trademark school-yard vernacular.
“We’re gonna $*$^(!^$$&^ crush it,” Searles predicts. “$*$^(!^$$&^” crush it!”
Honestly, I don’t know what it’ll be.
At this very moment, we’re mangling metaphors and cooking up some new verbs you never even heard before. It’ll likely be the first book requiring subtitles.
Most of all, it will smell of wood smoke and falling snow – all the great things you love about the north woods. It’ll make you wish you were in a misty Sierra meadow at first light, with a good camera, awaiting the pubescent elk to come by for breakfast.
That’s the kind of book Steve and I are writing.
Hey Sara Lessley, thanks for the condo!
Favorite Mammoth stops: The Breakfast Club, the Warming Hut, Burgers, Toomey’s (run by the chef who helped launch the famed deli at the Lee Vining gas station). Most of the rest is overpriced and underwhelming. Best to bring pasta and a bag of meatballs and cook in your cabin, with a side of Fireball as your veggie. Because adult lift tickets now cost $240 on the busy days. Even the scruffiest motels and cabins about the same. Info: https://www.mammothmountain.com/
Speaking of scruffy, copies of “Surviving Suburbia” are going out in the mail this week. Thank you for your patience. Other titles available at ChrisErskineLA.com/shop/. Have a great weekend. Cheers.