I

realized in hindsight that a healthy bowl of oatmeal and a strong cup of black coffee is all my body requires to start the day. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, my buddy Ryan and I were having breakfast with my brother Joel and his family at the Blue Bottle Coffee on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods. We were celebrating his birthday, so why not include a tasty liège waffle? At their core, they’re an extra-buttery brioche dough given a luxurious rise before being studded with coarse pearl sugar and scooped onto a waffle iron. It was delicious, it was Belgian, I’m a Belgian. But 45 minutes later, as Ryan and I were riding down Wilshire Boulevard toward the Petersen Automotive Museum, nature had other ideas.

The plan on our return trip to San Francisco included a drive-by viewing of the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall and the Petersen before heading north on I-405 and US Route 101. It was Easter Sunday, so the roads were somewhat sparse. The Petersen’s artsy and space-agey red and silver facade welcomed us several blocks away, and when we turned left onto South Orange Grove Avenue (free parking on Sundays!), I noticed the Alta Motors Sprinter van parked by the loading dock.

Our friends John McInnis and Vinnie Falzon were delivering their Alta Crapshoot electric dragster for the upcoming "Custom Revolution" exhibit, curated by Paul d'Orléans. We spent the previous two days hanging out with them at the Outlier's Guild Custom Motorcycle Show, and fate crossed our paths once again. We parked our Harleys, and that's when nature sprung an ugly surprise on me.

“I gotta find a bathroom now! ” I told Ryan, who was wondering if his stuff sack and saddlebags should come with us or remain on the Sportster.

Petersen Museum
Our trusty Harleys found free parking outside the Petersen Museum on Easter Sunday.Gaz Boulanger

The overhead door was open to the loading dock, so I bounded up the steps and checked two doors before a third opened, leading me into the security office.

“Hey, fellas,” I said with a casual mix of confidence and terror. “I’m here to meet John and Vinnie from Alta. Could you point me in the direction of your bathroom?”

With sweat beading on my brow, I politely rounded the corner and found the men’s room, taking sanctuary in the stall. Duty done, I texted John to tell him we were in the house. Then I texted Ryan to let him know where I ran off to.

“They closed the door on me,” he responded. “I’m outside.”

I returned to the security office just as John and Vinnie were returning from their private tour of the secret vault, where the Crapshoot and several other custom bikes were staged prior to prepping. Giving the tour was Adam Mashiach, Petersen’s 24-year-old shop manager, who earned his bachelor’s degree from McPherson College in Kansas last year, the only four-year Bachelor of Science degree offered in the US for Automotive Restoration of vintage, antique and classic cars.

“Sorry I didn’t see your message right away,” John said as I shook hands with him and Vinnie. “We were in the basement; dude, you should see what they have down there…”

“Want to get a tour?” Adam said as he reached out his hand. By this time Ryan had found his way into the security office, stuff sack, saddlebags, and helmet in tow.

“God, yes!” Ryan and I said in unison as we bid farewell to John and Vinnie. Adam led us through the Petersen main lobby to the elevator, where we descended into heaven.

Asymmetric Aero
Alp Sungurtekin’s Asymmetric Aero and other bikes.Gaz Boulanger
Custom Revolution exhibit
Bikes from Roland Sands and Alta await final prep for the “Custom Revolution" exhibit in the Petersen Museum secret vault.Gaz Boulanger

Passing historic vehicles and endless rows of priceless cars, we came to the small staging area for the motorcycles, spotting the blue Alta Crapshoot next to Alp Sungurtekin’s Asymmetric Aero and other bikes.

“That’s Elvis Presley’s De Tomaso Pantera,” Adam said. “Elvis picked up this 1971 model in 1974 for his girlfriend Linda Thompson. He just had a fight with her and was hoping to leave with a burnout to make his point but the car wouldn’t start. So Elvis pulled out his revolver and shot the car through the door, hitting the steering wheel and the floorpan. The bullet holes are still there."

historic racing cars
There was a gaggle of historic racing cars as far as the eye could see.Gaz Boulanger
Alligator motorcycle
Dan Gurney’s Alligator motorcycle.Gaz Boulanger
Vintage Harleys
Vintage Harleys next to a rare Rolls-Royce.Gaz Boulanger

On our way back to the elevator, Adam showed us Carroll Shelby’s 1959 Scaglietti Corvette, one of three built in Italy. General Motors killed the project, claiming that “no one in their right mind would spend $20,000 on a car like this” back in the late ’50s. And they were right; 9,670 Vettes were produced in 1959, with a base price of $3,875.

1968 Ford GT40
The 1968 Ford GT40 Le Mans-winning car.Gaz Boulanger

Before saying our goodbyes, we toured the “Harley vs. Indian” display, which finished its one year of residency that day. Plans were underway to morph the space in preparation for d’Orléans’ “Custom Revolution,” which opens to the public on April 14.

“What just happened?!” Ryan said to me as we walked outside to load up for home. For a Canadian’s first visit to Los Angeles, it was turning out to be a perfect, serendipitous day.

Ryan Racine
Ryan Racine outside the Petersen, still incredulous over what we’d just seen in the secret vault.Gaz Boulanger

Until we got back on the road after lunch in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara’s D’Angelo bakery
Santa Barbara’s D’Angelo bakery, 30 minutes before we pulled over for a slight “mechanical.”Gaz Boulanger

I was leading the way the entire trip, so when Ryan flew past me motioning to pull off 101 north, I knew something was up. I feared it might involve a tow truck.

“Lost my shifter peg a few miles back,” he said, crouching down to inspect his bike, then consulting his iPhone. “Looks like there’s a Home Depot a few miles back there in Goleta.”

replacement shifter peg
Ingenuity comes in all shapes and sizes, and can be found at Home Depot.Gaz Boulanger
Ryan Racine
“Of course it will get us home!”Gaz Boulanger
Ryan Racine
Two thumbs-up for a job well done!Gaz Boulanger

We rolled into the parking lot. Ryan came out with a threaded bolt and some black electrical tape, and once he was satisfied that everything was intact, he led the way back to 101. I motioned to turn left to get us back the way we came, but he went with his gut, which proved to be mistaken as he inadvertently headed south while I frantically waved from behind that home was the other direction.

Two hours later, after an embarrassment of riches and harmless miscommunication, we regrouped a few miles south of Santa Maria, where the sun decided to finally peek through the fog for good. A kind soul named Reuben had pulled his Harley over at the side of 101 at Palmer Road to see if I needed help. We struck up a conversation, and he told me he travels the country building amusement parks, and takes his bike whenever he can. Forty-five minutes later Ryan pulled up, and after checking out our bikes we sped north toward home, fighting the mighty headwind of the Central Coast. Reuben gave us the peace sign as he exited onto West Main Street.

Harley Fat Bob 114
The Harley Fat Bob 114 just south of Santa Maria on US Route 101.Gaz Boulanger

After stopping in Paso Robles for sushi and refueling in San Luis Obispo and King’s City, we said our goodbyes as darkness enveloped the Salinas Valley. Bay Area traffic started backing up as far south as Gilroy (almost 84 miles away), and with the beacon of a home-cooked meal, our wives, and dogs, we lane shared for nearly 30 miles to freedom, Ryan exiting off SR 85 north onto SR 87 toward San Jose, and me bearing north to Grant Road and Foothill, where I finally pulled into my driveway at 9:30 p.m., nearly 12 hours after leaving my brother and his family at Blue Bottle.

I love how a simple liège waffle opened doors to places I never thought I’d see.