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Take a walk, light a torch, and salute Vin Scully, L.A.'s most-beloved public figure

Take a walk, light a torch, and salute Vin Scully, L.A.'s most-beloved public figure
The flaming margarita at Echo Park watering hole burns Dodger blue. Of course. (Chris Erskine)

Watching fall roll in, on wheels, on the gasps of God.

Have to admit that it's nice to see a sky full of clouds. We always want what we can't have, so in SoCal a cloud is a special occasion after a summer of bleached skies and assorted other hardships.

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"Oh, look, clouds!" we say, as if spotting the Pope at the airport.

In honor of fall, I have adopted an all-pumpkin spice diet. Like America, I can't get enough of the stuff, though I have serious doubts there is much pumpkin in so-called pumpkin spice. I suspect that it is — like love — a marketing ploy and chemical illusion.

Still, we are hooked on it: pumpkin bread, pumpkin beer, pumpkin everything. Pardon me, while I apply my pumpkin-spice cologne, now available at Starbucks (it doubles as bug repellent). The build up of pumpkin spice in my immune system will be something to observe.

To also honor fall, next week we'll hold our first autumn outing of the Happy Hour Hiking Club, a rag-tag bunch of readers and breeders, wise guys and wags.

I had hoped to time the hike to coincide with one of those big, blasting harvest moons that seem to light the shadows and scare the cats. But it fell too early in the month.

Would've been magic though. Autumn moons are twice the size of normal moons. Like autumn itself, they seem over-inflated, the stuff of storybooks and Harold Arlen musicals. Might be nature's keenist trick.

The Happy Hour Hiking Club — a mirthful all-volunteer army — really appreciates such things. Not since my own kids have I adored such a collection of screwballs.

We have a blue-eyed rabbi from Orange County and a drummer from a famous rock band. We have Vietnam vets, rocket scientists, moms from Simi Valley and entertainment moguls from the glamorous Westside. How an Eastsider like me qualifies, no one is really sure.

Some come to hike; others come to drink. The vast majority see the psychic rewards of a short hike and a tall drink, of new and scattered friendships in a fractured city.

They are something to watch, these hikes. What they reveal, almost immediately, is my thin charisma and lack of leadership skills.

"OK, let's roll!" I'll shout to the 75 or so participants before each hike, and I'll spin like Willy Wonka and take off up the hill.

A minute in, a buzz starts to wiggle through the group, along the lines of: "This goof doesn't know what he's doing, does he?"

"No."

"Good, let's follow him."

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And off we go.

In our six months together, we've hiked dams and canals, piers and urban alleys.

Our last hike was a tribute to the Dodgers' pumpkin-spice announcer, Vin Scully. Only 88, he is retiring, which seems way too young. Tell me, has there ever been a more beloved public figure in this city?

"Know his favorite food?" I ask the group. "Applesauce. And chicken piccata."

These tidbits came from one of his sons. I don't know Scully well, but I am familiar with all his symphonies.

The tribute hike took place near Dodger Stadium, of course, with the esteemed Short Stop bar as our post-hike watering hole. The Short Stop has bullet holes in the door and a blinding darkness as you enter, which gives bookies, parolees and sportswriters time to flee.

Info box: The Happy Hour Hiking Club meets monthly, with its next event Tuesday. For info, email the columnist at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

The Happy Hour Hiking Club gathers outside Sunset gate to salute the career of Vin Scully.
The Happy Hour Hiking Club gathers outside Sunset gate to salute the career of Vin Scully. (Jenn Harris)

A dark bar is a good sign, indicating mystery and intrigue lies within. Promise me that if you ever enter an L.A. dive that isn't pitch black and unnavigable, that you'll pivot and find a proper place.

On this day, a TV pilot was shooting at the Short Stop, so showing my trademark leadership skills, we moved the whole operation next door, to El Compadre, another dark joint, and famous for its "flaming margarita" (patron saint of fire).

This novelty drink is now my favorite dessert. To fire up a flaming margarita, barkeeps spritz rum on a harvest moon of lime, spark it…showtime.

Like old surf boards and dogs that yawn a lot, flaming drinks comfort me. In this case, it's an autumnal comfort. Flaming margaritas burn Dodger blue, much like birch logs. Fellow hikers surrounded them like little campfires in the cool, dark bar.

Directions: Lift, sip and hold, as you would a torch at a medieval harvest dance.

"To Scully!" you say.

"To Scully!" the world shouts.

And to the cold quiet nights ahead.

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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