The next morning, however, would bring us to a very unexpected turn of events. More on that from Sarah coming soon.
After driving down the coast from our teaser visit to San Francisco, we arose in San Jose with fierce appetites. While I'm on record with some harsh words to say about fast food, I will also swallow my pride in the name of regional or cultural specialties. This, our lunch at the In-N-Out Burger, fell into both categories: first, for its lack of availability anywhere besides the west coast, and second, for its subtle cameo in The Big Lebowski, which I personally believe to be the greatest comedy of the 1990s.
The menu at this place is strange. Four items appear on the board - a hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger and fries. But having been briefed before our arrival, we were not fooled by this ridiculous facade. The menu actually goes much deeper than advertised; as this Wikipedia article explains, a whole litany of items are available if ordered correctly from what appears to be a 'secret menu.'
We each ended up with a double cheeseburger, "animal style," which meant it included lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles and some kind of beige-colored secret sauce. The cheese-and-bacon fries were also smothered with this unusual substance. More notable than the mediocre food was their unusual penchant for biblical references on their paper products. This one reads, "Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God." How this relates to my lunch, I do not know.
Downtown in San Jose, we spent part of the afternoon inside the Tech Museum of Innovation, a fairly large science museum with a pretty small crowd on this particular day. There was plenty to keep us occupied, but I guess we didn't really feel like studying science with such beautiful weather outside. It wasn't long before we hit the road for the short drive up to Santa Cruz.
Oh, what a beautiful day it was. Our time gap between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was a long one, and the mood along the shore on either side of the country is just unspeakably pleasant. As soon as we pulled into town, we walked down to the beach to dip our feet into the water. It wasn't exactly swimming weather, but the temperature was perfect for a leisurely stroll up and down the boardwalk.
Especially as a kid, when the arcade was like heaven on earth, I loved visiting the boardwalk back on the Jersey Shore. This one here in Santa Cruz had the same feel as the boardwalk back in Point Pleasant, where my dad and my grandparents used to take me during the summers. At this point in my life, the video games took a backseat to the food stands and the generous alcohol policy that merely required us to keep our drinking to within the confines of the property. Nooooo problem.
The evening approached and we sauntered away from the boardwalk and down the wharf, accosted by a street musician or two along the way. The road was lined with seafood restaurants, almost all of which boasted nearly identical menus, with minor changes in price and drink selection. As we neared the end of the wharf, a chorus of distinct honking noises were coming from underneath the walk, belonging to a large group of sea lions who'd made their home in the wooden supports beneath our feet.
Dinner was a real treat. We ate at the Dolphin Restaurant at the end of the pier, where the menu wasn't cheap, but it was worth the money. Their clam chowder was almost as good as the bowl we shared back in Provincetown, and each of our seafood entrees were sensational in their own right. Believe me, fresh halibut tastes even better alongside a saucer of drawn butter.
A beautiful ocean scene accompanied us on the walk to the car. The next day marked the first day of the Outside Lands Festival back in San Francisco, and we'd secured a room on the southern side of town for the night before we began enjoying the festivities.
The next morning, however, would bring us to a very unexpected turn of events. More on that from Sarah coming soon.
Before we let go of Yosemite, I wanted to share a few photos from our excursion out that way. This was not a just-around-the-corner trip in any way - nearly all of our stops in California fell on or along the coastline, with the exception of this one, which constituted hours of driving in each direction. I can't let it go so easily.
My sister asked me which I enjoyed more, Yellowstone or Yosemite. I can't really say. Yellowstone was quite a bit larger and ate up a lot more time, but Yosemite was so unique in so many ways. It was worth every minute of the drive and much, much more.
I woke to the sounds of one of the very young girls in the family camped next to us yelling “Ma! Ma! Ma!” over and over and over. It was a bit squeaky, and Sarah said it made her briefly dream of birds before she woke. I am not the least bit grumpy in the morning and listened indifferently. A smile crept on to my face. Tom was going to be annoyed and express it in a funny way. I waited. Five minutes later, I was rewarded with a “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!!” from Tom’s tent.
Even then, the little girl continued. I think the parents thought that it was a bad idea to respond to the cries, lest they reinforce the annoying action. We built a fire, and retrieved some food from a sort of metal chest that you are supposed to keep the food inside when camping at Yosemite. The chest didn’t seem to be air tight, so the bears could conceivably smell the food, just not get to it. Apparently if you leave food in a car a bear might smash it up.
After cooking and eating some bread, Tom’s leftover chicken fried steak, and potatoes; packing up the car; and putting out the fire, we continued to drive around Yosemite. We saw some more redwoods and eventually got to the Half Dome, a huge rock formation and/or mountain that looks exactly like it sounds. It was huge and amazing.
We walked around for some more incredible views and then got in the car. It was getting on time to drive toward San Jose. We had little clue of what we’d be doing once we got there, but we were running out of gas and we weren’t ready to commit to a long hike, so it was time to go. While driving out we saw another controlled burn, and the whole sky was red and hazy with smoke.
We continued on, and passed some people who had gotten out of their cars to take in the view and watch the controlled burn in the distance. A young couple was standing on the side of the road holding a sign that said “San Francisco.”
I immediately said “Let’s pick them up!”
Tom and Sarah immediately said “No!”
The horrors of picking up hitchhikers had long been engrained in all of our memories. Even if we weren’t tortured and murdered, and the car firebombed, something else would have to happen. Something bad. Sarah and Tom immediately objected. We were driving farther away and low on gas.
“Veto!” I said excitedly.
Let’s stop the story here and talk about America In 100 Days parliamentary procedure. Any disagreements are put to a vote, everyone must state an opinion and majority rules. There is a “no victimization” clause, so that no two can vote for the third to do anything, and each person gets one veto throughout the whole one-hundred day trip. No one had used theirs so far. It probably wouldn’t have worked if I wasn’t driving.
Sarah objected that there was no room in the car. It didn’t work. She tried to veto my veto. “You can’t veto a veto!” I replied, thinking of Dumb and Dumber and chuckling inward.
Tom immediately told me, “You are walking if we run out of gas.” I took this as an agreement with conditions rather then as the deterrent it was intended as. With a smile on my face I turned the car around.
A few minutes later we were there and I was out of the car. “We’ll be in San Francisco in three days,” I said to our soon-to-be riding buddies.
“Oh, that’s ok, we need to be there tonight for work in the morning,” they said in a British accent. I walked back to the car, my victory short-lived.
“Well, do they want to go as far as San Jose?” Tom asked. Either he momentarily forgot that he was opposed to the idea or was starting to like it.
“Oh yeah!” I turned from Tom and back to the male and female hitcher. “Want to go as far as San Jose?"
“Is there a bus that goes to San Francisco from there tonight?” They asked. I shrugged.
They briefly talked it over, followed by an “OK, thanks!” and walked to the car. We moved our soft cooler with ice, from the middle back seat and put it on Tom’s lap. Our guests had their backpacks on their lap. The car was very cramped.
We started talking. Our guests’ names were Zie (Zoh-Wee, rhymes with Bowie) and Dan. The conversation turned to how they had been getting around: hitchhiking with a couple foreign couples and one man they described as every negative American stereotype rolled into one. They weren’t sure if this guy was sincere or just trying to scare them. They didn’t elaborate too much (possibly for fear of insulting us) but I think we got the idea.
We stopped for gas on the way out of the park, but it was pricey and we only put a couple bucks in. Soon the conversation turned to middle European politics, advantages and disadvantages to the economy (especially tourism) of the Czech Republic adopting the Euro, and other relatively obscure topics that Sarah, Tom, and I could not have predicted talking about on this drive. I got the impression that Zie’s opinions regarding this topic were partially motivated by her desire to take cheap vacations to the middle of Europe and her belief that this would be less possible if the Euro was fully adopted and prices appreciated. This somehow struck me as funny; I guess all politics are really local. Zie had traveled quite a bit, from Japan to Mongolia to Siberia to the Czech Republic to Ireland and England and America and a few more that I am sure I forgot.
Tom shifted the soft cooler off of his lap and wedged it near his feet. His lap was a little wet; the melting ice had seeped through the corners. We used this cooler with ice seldom but it was a necessity at times because we couldn’t fit a large, solid cooler in the vehicle. Normally we left it on the large rubber foot pads on the floor of the car when we used it.
We stopped for gas again and rearranged the car. Everyone either went to the bathroom or went to the shop in the station. I leaned in the back to see if I could fit some of the clutter in the back, and realized that the center seat, where Zie was sitting, was soaked wet. I wondered if it was the cooler and immediately felt bad. Sarah came back out and we put down one of the covers that we had been using to camp, and was ready to be washed anyway.
Dan and Zie came back out and I apologized. I asked what the wetness was (I was’t totally sure at this point) and Dan, without missing a beat, said, “We like to leave something for the hosts.” I don’t know how to deliver this joke through written word as effectively as he did, but the humor was dry and the delivery quick, and it was absolutely hilarious.
As we continued there was a conversation was going on in the back. Tom and I semi-privately started talking about how much longer it would take us to stop in San Francisco—we didn’t want to say get our guests’ hopes up until we decided if it was plausible. We checked the GPS and going to San Jose by way of San Francisco was only an extra hour in comparison to going strait to San Jose. Tom and I were immediately OK with the idea and asked Sarah if she minded. She did not and, despite Dan and Zie’s objections—they didn’t want to be a hassle—we decided that we were making a detour.
We passed some pretty cool mountains and windmills on the way. It wasn’t long before Dan and Zie offered to buy us a drink at a cool bar near their place in San Francisco, and we immediately agreed. We crossed into the city from the east and the low clouds/high fog over the mountains were spectacular, like no fog/clouds we had ever seen. It started and stopped abruptly like a cloud, but was low, just a couple dozen feet above the ground.
The bar we stopped at was called Zeitgeist, and had an excellent selection of beers on tap. We got a pitcher of an IPA, sat at a bench outside, talked, and took pictures. A man came over to Sarah and asked her to stop shooting photos, something we had never experienced in a bar. What happened at a bar called Zeitgeist (defined as “the spirit of the age”) with outdoor seating in San Francisco that they didn’t want photographed, we wondered.
We said our goodbyes and headed to San Jose, making a stop at a gas station and getting a quick meal from Wendy’s on the way. We Pricelined a room, and everyone agreed that we were glad to have picked up hitchhikers.
Disclaimer: Don’t pick up hitchhikers, you may be tortured and murdered, and your car firebombed. We just got lucky.
We made our exit from Paso Robles and pointed ourselves in the direction of Yosemite. On the way into town yesterday we saw fields that were glinting silver in the sun and soft breeze. We all wondered what the fields were full of and on our way by today we realized what we had been seeing - a winery whose fields of vines had silver tinsel tied to the ends of each vine to attract attention. Well, America, you can bet it attracted ours and we pulled in for a taste.
The winery, Chumeia, was smaller than others we had seen in Texas and way back in New York, and didn’t seem to entertain guests much as it lacked any frills on the inside, but the wine was delicious and that’s all that matters. The woman offering the tastings was standing with her little puppy, and soon another patron of the winery brought in her little puppy and all of a sudden my experience was amplified by all of the cute cuddly puppies at my feet.
We thanked our host and headed down the road where we found a fast food joint that Tom was willing to try because it is one of the three that is specific to the West Coast - a Carl’s Jr. We headed in and ordered some scrumptious burgers, one with jalapeños, one with bacon, one with avocado and all with cheese.
But it was time to get serious, we had a national park to get to and the daylight was burning. The drive to Yosemite National Park was mostly uneventful and we finally arrived at the park around 5 in the afternoon. We parked the car, filled up our water bottles and headed off on a quick hike before going to find a camping spot. The lot that we parked in was amazing in its own right - which I know sounds weird, but it was full of giant sequoias and it felt like we were in the woods instead of a parking lot.
We wandered up an easy path and marveled at an immense sequoia that had toppled over in the early 1900s and was etched full of interesting graffiti, some from as far back as 1920. The pine cones that were scattered across the ground were pretty amazing as well - they were as big as my whole hand! And finally the squirrels that scampered around the forest floor had funny little fur coats on that looked a little like pine cones up by their necks.
On our walk we passed several Europeans speaking different languages which seems to be a theme in these national parks. Forget Times Square or the Golden Gate Bridge, America’s natural wonders are far more impressive, and apparently, world renowned.
After checking out a particularly large sequoia, it was time to set up camp before it got too dark. We hopped back in the car and began driving around looking for a spot to set up our gear. We came across Yosemite’s fancy hotel back among the trees and eventually found a turn in with open spots. While Tom and I worked at setting up our tents, Joey headed off to find a camping store where he could pick us up some food for dinner.
There was a Mexican family next to us with four children - three little girls and one boy. The youngest girls were maybe two years old and were twins. They each had a tiny little Dora the Explorer camping chair that they were amusing themselves by moving to one spot, then picking them up and moving to another spot. They didn’t sit down, they just followed each other around setting up their chairs then picking them up and toddling around to another spot. Adorable!… until they got up super early the next morning as we would come to find out…
Joey came back loaded up with good food and we started a fire. We had some cans of chili in the car that we added to Joey’s feast of corn, canned new potatoes, bread and cheese in a can.
Darkness rolled in and we retired to our tents after staring up at the mass of twinkling stars above us in the sky.
Until next time, America.