So now that I have a little more time to dedicate to the blog, I've used the last week or so to upload a large portion of this summer's photos to Flickr. This has not been a modest endeavor. Before they're uploaded, I sort through them to eliminate the worthless ones, of which there are very, very many. But in taking such a ludicrous amount of photos all over the country, it's turned into a massive collection of marginally decent to quite impressive artwork.
I know a lot of you need something to help you kill time at work. So far I've uploaded my photos through day 53, and we've got nearly 10,000 pictures to sort through - most of which you've never seen before, like this gem from Wrigley Field on the right. Best of all, they're all licensed in a way that allows anyone to use them (with attribution) for non-commercial purposes. Sharing is caring.
Anyway, all you have to do is click on the "Flickr" logo on the right, and you'll be taken to our Photostream. From there you can peruse to your heart's delight, and drive your productivity at work into the ground.
It never quite occurred to us that our troupe of three could possibly be cut down to two for any foreseeable reason, as it was when Sarah had to fly home for her family emergency. As it were, Joey and I were on our own for the rest of the road trip, about to leave San Francisco and tour through California's wine country for the next few days. I think a few people back home had a few chuckles at our expense.
Regardless, we paused on the way out for a Hemcher shot with the Golden Gate Bridge, and continued into Sonoma for the day, leaving the fog in our wake.
The drive from San Fran to Sonoma was a walk in the park, only an hour drive north on nice quiet roads. I do't think we even had to drive that far - all we had to do was plug the words "winery" and "vineyard" into the GPS and see which one popped up closer. In this case, "vineyard" won.
First stop was the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
, which was set in a beautiful building and an even more beautiful location. The guy behind the bar was not exactly exploding with personality, as I believe I captured very well in this picture. I tried to get across the point that I prefer sweet wines to dry wines, and he kind of rolled his eyes at me in disdain for even my lack of understanding as to the terms "sweet" and "dry" in reference to wine. People like him are why I drink beer.
The other side of the building from the tasting room was the other half of the family's business, featuring assorted artisan foods with a heavy emphasis on olive oil. They had something like 12 or 13 different types of oil free for tasting, and Joey proceeded to throw back a taste of every one of them. We bought some cheese and hit the road.
Needless to say, finding the next winery in the Sonoma Valley is a lot like finding a casino in Vegas. A short drive brought us to Cline Cellars
, another gorgeous vista in these lovely parts. The building had a backwoods feel to it and was pretty busy with guffawing visitors. Here, our bartender (for lack of a better term for what these folks do) was a lovely woman named Suzy, who totally made up for the last guy's utter lack of personality. These wines were clearly more complex than I was used to sampling, and I felt somewhat insignificant in the face of all that I didn't know about the wine I was drinking.
Next up the road was a much larger winery called Sebastiani
. The facility was decadent and roomy, and our bartender was a little fellow who reminded me of Bilbo Baggins. One thing we couldn't help noticing was the higher price of tastings here, as opposed to other parts of the country like Texas and upstate New York. But you get what you pay for - and it's not like price was going to keep us from experiencing this part of the trip.
The next stop added some color to the day, at Buena Vista Carneros Winery
. We had to walk down a long driveway to get to the tasting room, and when we settled into our spots, someone mentioned the company "Whole Foods" between Joey and I, the bartender, and the husband and wife standing to Joey's right. Joey mentioned his disdain toward Whole Foods, for having a very vocal CEO whose views on health care reform were ridiculous and utterly unintelligent.
The woman standing to Joey's right chimed in, voicing her own disapproval for health care reform in America. She asked Joey, "What about personal responsibility?" as her argument against the need for a public health insurance option. Joey's face twisted into a dark spiral of hatred and scorn, but held his tongue. It's not like the Joey I know to hold his tongue, but after four wine tastings he was a little slower to formulate an appropriate retort. I heard about it from him for the rest of the day - he really wished he had been on his game.
With Joey still fuming, we stopped next at Nicholson Ranch Winery
, where the crowd was thin and the people were very friendly. By then it was getting on in the day and our still-open options were growing limited. One of them, Domaine Carneros
, specialized in sparkling wine, which we opted into for a change of pace. This place was the most expensive of the whole day, and I think technically falls into Napa more than Sonoma. But it was fancy, ornate, and the kind of experience that frankly would have been better shared with my girlfriend.
Finally, after snacking on nothing but cheese and french bread all day, we brought our day of tastings to a close with a heavy meal at a spot in Napa called Downtown Joe's
. They brewed all their own beers, which was a nice change of pace from the day's grape consumption. I wolfed down the magnificent burger shown in the photo, and when I got up to use the restroom near the end of the meal, Joey knocked his beer over onto the booth and we hastily made our way for the exit.
The next day was our day in Napa, which Joey will be covering. Look forward to that coming very soon.
By our third day in San Francisco, we'd kept ourselves inside the festival in Golden Gate Park for nearly all of our time, and it was time to get out on the town. This town was, after all, the matriculating grounds for some of my musical heroes - most notably the Grateful Dead. Way back in the 1960s, the band lived at 710 Ashbury St., as well as a few other assorted friends and individuals. Nowadays it's just a house, with a silver sedan in the driveway and nothing distinguishing it from the rest of the neighborhood. Call me a tourist, but I think the place should be a museum.
Joey and I walked down Ashbury and strolled down Haight Street to soak up some of the vibe. Just about every third or fourth store was a head shop, brimming with artfully crafted glass bongs (oops, I mean water pipes) and other assorted paraphernalia. It was certainly an interesting theme for an area that sees so many visitors.
We came to a good place to stop for a bite to eat (and a beer) at the Magnolia Pub and Brewery
, where the only open spots were at the bar and the staff was really hustling. For some reason everyone besides Joey and me was ordering Mimosas (champagne and orange juice), but we were happy as usual with a couple of IPAs.
A short drive away, a trip to Fisherman's Wharf came next, where we had foggy views of the city and Alcatraz Island. This spot was the setting for one of the most beautiful Grateful Dead songs ever written, called Wharf Rat, about a poor blind man named August West who wasted his life drinking and rotting in prison, but who affirms that brighter days await him in the future. If you have 15 minutes to spare, check out this concert from Boston in 1977
, and scroll the player on the right down to Wharf Rat. You'll understand why this place made me feel the way I did.
And before trekking back off to the festival, Joey is always a sucker for seafood - as am I after tasting such delicious morsels as I have throughout the summer. We sat down at a place called Fishermen's Grotto
, where we drank Anchor Steam beer and ate halibut and Dungeness crab. This wasn't an inexpensive meal, but nothing in San Francisco was cheap. Our hotel room cost us about twice as much as anywhere else in the country. Regardless, our bellies were full and it was time to get back to the music.
Upon our arrival in Golden Gate Park, I noticed the security guards having a more difficult time with keeping the grounds secure than they'd had the first two days. There were numerous groups of people in a few different spots, all of whom were moving around the trees in intent fashion, slowly edging toward the fence only to be chased off by the guards or the cops.
I moved us closer to the fence to get some shots of the miscreants, a few of which were successful in getting in - to which I payed far more attention than I did to the band on stage.
We were quick to revisit the wine tent, as we were gearing up to spend the next two days frolicking around wine country and wanted to get into the spirit. Afterward we walked to the stage where M.I.A. was playing, which was probably the least entertaining moment of the entire three day stint. Thumbs down.
The last day of this festival was unusual, first and foremost for the fact that the headlining band was absent. The Beastie Boys were supposed to be the final act, but one of the three guys in the band was diagnosed with cancer in July and the band had to cancel. Instead, the last act would be Tenacious D, an awesome band led by Jack Black with some of the more hilarious songs I've ever heard. But while Tenacious D took the stage, nobody else was playing on any of the other five stages, which meant that the field in front of the stage was too crowded to get anywhere close.
Still, they put on an awesome show that stayed pretty true to their albums, even if I could only see it on the giant TV screens next to the stage. They played classics like "Wonderboy" and "Tribute," and added theatrics to the performance when Jack's bandmate Kyle "quit" the band onstage and Jack sang a song about it.
Joey had driven us to the show tonight, so the trip home was quick and thankfully uneventful. With a night's rest, we'd be ready for a trip to the Sonoma Valley tomorrow. Look for that post very soon.
“Tom, do you want in on this?” “Yeah.” With Tom’s agreement, we bought Sarah what we judged to be the best cheese and meat tray we could find on the “road trip fund.” After a brief discussion, Tom and I typed the following note to be included with the basket: Sarah and Family, Tom and I decided that we were going to save Washington state for you; we aren't going north of Portland until you get back. We send our condolences and hope everyone is in good spirits. Love you! Our best, Joey & Tom
We readied our cameras and showered. We headed across the street for a seven or eight dollar Indian lunch buffet, where every dish at the small buffet table was delicious, some in ways we had not experienced before. We head to a supermarket and bought a bottle of whiskey, the contents of which were emptied into a water bottle. This would be our six dollar beer killer. We boarded a bus and rode it to the stop that we judged to be the closest to one of the festival entrances; the festival was in the middle of a park so none were that close.
The weather was terrific, exactly the kind you hope for when live music is on hand. I called Sarah to say hello while Tom and I were deciding on our first performance of the day. She had gotten home to Massachusetts safely. I let her know that we should dedicate Tuesday evening as the new exclusive Tom Jones listening time and she laughed.
Tom and I decided to see an Asian rock/jam band singer with a pacific flair. We sat and listened on a somewhat distant hill for awhile. We liked the music and the question of her ethnicity came up. We got closer and closer, but the crowd thickened as we neared the stage. Tom used his camera to zoom in and shot some photos, but we never did figure out her ancestry with any confidence. When we consulted the schedule and realized the music was about done, we decided to beat the crowd and find our next performance.
While we were walking between stages, we happened across some guys in striped clown drag doing a comedy performance. We continued walking.
After studying our program a bit more, we decided that this would be a good time to go to Winehaven, a tent featuring a few dozen wineries from the areas surrounding San Francisco. This included wineries from Napa and Sonoma valleys, and Tom and I were anxious for a preview of these stops. We had to buy tickets to exchange for wine, and the people selling the tickets informed us that for a little more money we could speak with the winemakers and chat while sampling their wines. The opportunity was pretty cool but it added another cost to the already overpriced drinks, and we had to schedule a time, a notion that didn’t agree with us during a music festival. We said no thanks and we bought tickets, which we immediately started exchanging for samples of wine.
We tried some very good wines. I could already tell that the wines on the west coast were dryer than upstate New York. I liked this, and Tom finds it a recipe for heartburn. He stuck with the sweeter of the available wines, even though they were few and still somewhat dry, and I mostly asked for the driest reds available. The Black Eyed Peas started their performance on the main stage, and we immediately realized that they were taping and rebroadcasting the performance in Winehaven. No need to go anywhere for Fergie and Co. - we kept tabs on the performance and continued to work through the winemakers’ stands.
We finished and found some food. All of the food was like typical festival or fair food, only a little nicer and much more expensive. The burritos and pizza were good, the coffee was fresh ground and each cup was made from its own ground beans that were disposed of after use. I would have preferred one stand with two dollar hot dogs to save money but we worked with what was available.
To round out our musical experiences for the night, with the Mars Volta, a band that I hadn’t listened to often. I immediately knew why. Their music alternated between whiney and what seemed like threatening, two of my least favorite characteristics in music. Tom liked it.
We left most of the way through the music and walked outside. The bus rides we had taken thus far worked out fine, but took way too much time. We had no idea how to get to the bar that we were going to, Amnesia, so we took a cab. We hailed one and walked up just as another guy and girl our age were walking up as well.
After a short discussion we decided that since we were going in the same direction, we would share the fare. The unmarked “cab” was a very nice black luxury vehicle but had no meter. We negotiated the fare before we entered. We exited at Amnesia. We entered the club and immediately realized that everyone was silent.
A movie was playing opposite of the entrance of the club. The seats were taken. Tom and I ordered beers and found a spot on the ground to sit. The movies were artsy independent short productions. The first two were the type that you hardly understand the first time you see them, either very well thought out with deep meaning or just very confusing with no meaning at all, depending who is watching. At one point a person responsible for setting up the movies asked the crowd if anyone know what scene a cameo appearance took place in, and which person it was. I wasn’t really paying attention, but several people spoke up and said it was in a convenience mart scene, and it was the person behind the counter. They had the scene right but apparently had the wrong person. There were only two people in the scene, so I chuckled to myself and said “the guy in front of the counter.” I was congratulated and given a DVD compilation of short films from some film festival or other. I had to laugh inwardly, I had no idea what was going on in the movie, but my -ahem- superior observational skills and use of flawless logic had won the day.
They eventually put on a much less artsy documentary about materialism with high school students in Beverly Hills or some other affluent city in California. It was long, boring, and didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know to some degree, and a pretty weird centerpiece for a bar on a Friday night. We left.
The pizza we ordered when we got back to the hotel room had all the toppings you can think of and was delicious. Needless to say, we slept well.
Okay, okay. It's my fault. Our recent lack of any activity whatsoever on this once regular and reputable "blog" of ours has been the result of delays on my part, and I'm sorry to all our readers. The last few weeks have seen me go through a rigorous training program at a new job, and yet another laptop charger - but excuses aside, I'm sorry to have left you all hanging.
So let's get back to it. On day 90, something that none of us had ever foreseen bore its head, as Sarah's family loss meant that she was going home for the remainder of the trip, and it was going to be just Joey and me frolicking up the west coast. Once Sarah had boarded her plane back east, Joey and I started moving toward the centerpiece of our visit to San Fran - the Outside Lands Festival
in Golden Gate Park.
We nestled the car into a spot at what appeared to be the only moderately affordable lodging in town at the Beck's Motor Lodge, which was more than $100 a night and featured a plug-in wall fan instead of air conditioning. Joey and I knew where we had to go but not exactly how to get there - but these people in the photo were also going to the park, getting directions from the bald fellow - so we followed them onto a bus and to the festival.
A long walk to the ticket booth transitioned into a long wait in line, for foolish reasons that would have been averted if Sarah had been with us. We had the tickets printed out, waiting patiently for us in the "important papers" folder in the car. So when we went to will-call and asked for our tickets, which had been purchased in Sarah's name and not ours, they couldn't do anything for us. So we had to cab it all the way back to the motel, grab our tickets and get back to Golden Gate Park.
Luckily for us, tickets were still on sale at $50 more for a three-day pass than we paid with our early bird special. It only took about ten minutes before we found a buyer for Sarah's ticket at face value, which was a good deal for both sides.
Once we were in, the smiling began. I didn't know what to expect in terms of the layout of Golden Gate Park, and had no idea as to the massive size of the place. I was aware of a concert by the Grateful Dead here in Lindley Meadow, back on August 13 in 1975, but had no idea that Lindley Meadow would host just one of six stages for the festival. The music was already in full swing when we walked in and got our wristbands for beer.
We wandered around the grounds and got somewhat accustomed to the area, spotting Incubus on the main stage from a great distance. I've heard that Incubus lets loose during shows in a way that they can't on commercial radio, but the delay with our tickets had caused us to miss the majority of their performance. No matter, I said, because a short walk away led us to one of the festival's biggest draws, in my own personal opinion.
Tom Jones was taking the stage on one side of Lindley Meadow, a man who should require no introductions. This guy is pushing 70 years old but he's still as suave and spectacular as anyone in the world. He had more energy than I would have ever expected, regularly wiping his brow with his hand and flicking the sweat onto people in front of the stage. He busted out every song I was aware of him performing, including "It's Not Unusual," "What's New, Pussycat," and of course, the one where he lets out a big scream while the saxophone riff plays behind him. He was so good and so lively that he gets his own photo montage.
The sun went down and one of the festival's headliners, Pearl Jam, was playing on the main stage in Polo Field. But Tom Jones's electrifying performance had made us late, and left us with terrible viewing spots. The music sounded basically like Pearl Jam sounds on the radio, and it was enough to send us walking to the other end of the park to watch Thievery Corporation, a raucous group with great beats and a crowd that shook the ground with their dancing.
This festival is like nothing I've seen before, for its extensive decoration, its massive size and more porta-potties than I've ever seen before. The first day was quite a time, thanks mostly to Mr. Tom Jones. But look for coverage on the next day coming soon from Joey - and when I say soon I really mean it.
Last night I spent awhile planning out an exciting morning for us. I have been to San Francisco before and wanted to show the boys around the town before we headed over to the Outside Lands festival. I plotted out a few famous stops around Ghirardelli Square like Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street and a quick jaunt across the Golden Gate Bridge and back. With all of this to do and a festival to get to in the early afternoon I figured out that waking up around 9:00 would allow us enough time to accomplish it all, so I set my alarm and went to bed.
I woke up abruptly to my phone sounding off. “Joey, wake up, that’s my alarm,” I said as I shook him awake. Joey hauled himself out of bed and headed off to the bathroom and then it hit me- the sound my phone had made was the ringer, not the alarm.
My grandmother has been very sick for a very long time and my dad had called a week or so ago to tell me she was coming to her last days. I checked the missed call on my phone this morning and “home” showed on the screen. I called back and my dad told me my grandmother had passed away in the night.
We were right across the highway from the airport so Joey helped me book a flight for 1:30 in the afternoon and my brother said he’d be there to pick me up in Hartford, CT about 12 hours later.
Joey took me down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast and waited with me for the shuttle over to the airport. I boarded the shuttle glad to be going home to be with my family though the reason was a sad one.
So, until Portland, America.
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.