Mendocino, California: On the road again

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Mendocino, California: On the road again

Sal introduced himself in the lounge bar of the Hotel Mendocino in the mellow seaside town about four hours north of San Francisco. "I'm a Ferrari doctor," he said.

That figured.

The hotel dining room had been fully booked by those on the Mille Miglia, a 1000 mile tour for cars manufactured between 1927 and 1957. The street outside was gleaming with much-loved, classic cars, polished and shining in the light seeping through the stained glass from the noisy dining room.

When their dinner was over some of the drivers, co-pilots, support crew and camp followers moved through the bar where other hotel guests had been directed to have their meals. They were a well dressed bunch and were there for celebratory drinks and to catch up with stories of old friends and even older autos.

We stood out because we were the only non-Miglia people there and Sal -- diminutive, immaculately groomed and his pants pulled high above his waist -- came over and made us feel welcome.

He'd been driving classic cars for many years, a habit funded by repairing the Ferrari's of those with enough money to afford them. And there were plenty of them.

He was born in El Salvador -- Sal from El Salvador -- but had left there when he was a baby and had never been back.

People who've been there tell me I'd love it, but I don't know. I grew up in San Francisco and that's all I know, that's my home.

He was interrupted by Paolo from L'Italo Americano MotoMotori Magazine who was acting as official tour photographer. We all got our photo taken, me flashing two fingers. Sal's car was number 2, should you be wondering.

He told us about the Mille Miglia, the greatest travelling art show-cum-museum in the world. It was an Italian event -- Brescia to Rome and back -- and it started in 1927. This was the informal Californian version in its 15th year and they had left from San Francisco's Nob Hill district, been up the coast and were now on their way back down through Sonoma. Four days on the road, about 25 official competitors and they'd let the 59 Cadillac in because it was such a beautiful car.

It isn't so much a race as an opportunity to get together and drive the cars, and meet friends, said Sal who had also competed in the Italian race.

The following morning around 9am the cars started to assemble on Main St, the throb and roar of the finely tuned engines shaking the silence of sedate and sleepy Mendocino.

The drivers took off in their own time. There was no official start, no times kept, no stopwatches. Just a lot of people laughing and waving, and admiring each other's cars.

The only thing you can be late for is lunch and cocktail hour, said one driver.

Then Sal appeared, crunched up behind the wheel of his tiny, polished 1937 Fiat Balilla.

The Ferrari doctor, more used to cushion comfort driving and a surround-sound CD system, couldn't have looked more happy.

Like a proud father showing off his new baby.

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