Snuck into San Francisco at the very last moment over the weekend (don't holler if I didn't call you--most of the trip was spent driving). We arrived in the middle of rush-hour traffic so that from Richmond in the East Bay to the Richmond district in San Francisco, meant roughly one and a half hours of slogging through Bay Area traffic. It's worse than I remembered, extending the trip to a numbing thirteen hours. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that it takes only nine to make the journey between Portland and San Francisco, as everyone has told me. I'm sure you have speeding tickets to prove it.
Kyle, Beau and me, in Kyle's Ford pick-up hitting the road. I love travel by highways as long as you don't get snarled up in traffic. The good news is that the trip home took only eleven hours, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
From Portland to the Sacramento Valley, the trip along Interstate 5 is gorgeous, especially as you get closer to the California border. Past Medford, Oregon, I wish we had three or four more days. It would have been fun to explore Ashland, and maybe take in one of the famous Shakespeare plays that are staged there every summer. Mt. Shasta is an awesome sight--a big, snow-covered mountain impressive in its sheer size. And Lake Shasta is unspeakably beautiful. I could only get these photos from the window of my seat as we sped by at 75 miles per hour. It seemed disrespectful not to stop and admire these gifts of nature. Lassen National Park is on the way, and so many nice side trips need to be planned in the future. These western Cascades mountains are a sight to see.
You can have the Sacramento Valley--at least as viewed miserably from I-5. A vast flat area of corporate farms and orchards, dull to the eye. There are mountains way off, but for three hours, you are driving, driving, driving with one drab and dusty vista after another. The views are worse in Southern California along the same Interstate road, but not by much. And it is hot--in the low 90s for much of the drive. It didn't cool down until we reached the East Bay approach to San Francisco. In these time-pressed days, it's easy to opt for speed over a leisurely drive down the coast on the far more scenic Route One.
Kyle dropped me off at my old friend, Lonnie's flat in Richmond. He was off to find a hotel in the Fisherman's Wharf area where he was determined to enjoy a total tourist experience, while I did my social thing on the other side of town. Kyle finally found an affordable hotel along the strip of hotels and motels lining Lombard Street the route you take to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. The next morning he left his car parked and set off on foot for Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. He packed a lot of sights along the way including Union Square, the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building.
Meanwhile, Lonnie dragged me to one of his interminable estate sales. I had to shame him into leaving after an hour and a half. Beau and I were cooling our jets outside while he combed through the detritus of a recently deceased person's possessions. There's a group of collectors who all know each other, and spend weekends visiting houses around the area in search of other people's treasures. It's always seemed a little weird to me. People are made to wait while a few get into view a house at one time. They emerge with everything from appliances and kitchen utensils to household bric-a-brac and furniture, much of it appallingly out of date. Lonnie's modest haul included a new bottle of shower cleaner and those things you use to charge water into seltzer. We finally got home and decided on lunching at Mel's--a diner nearby.
Mel's is a San Francisco institution. It is remembered as the drive-in restaurant in George Lucas' film, American Graffiti. The original Mission Street location was familiar to me from my childhood. It was a diner in the round. You could sit inside, but many customers opted to park outside where curvy and nice waitresses roller-skated to your car and took your order. The food would arrive on a tray which was attached to the window of your car. Mel's made a great burger, or a hot dog or a Patty Melt sandwich (a flat beef patty, grilled, with onions, and served on buttered grilled rye bread) and a mess of fries. People drank cokes then (Tab was just being introduced and Diet-Coke wasn't even around), or milkshakes, oblivious to cholesterol and other food related health issues. It was a scene where party revelers would often gather after a long night of drinking to eat a late-night burger or drink a cup of coffee. Oddly enough, I didn't think of it as a place for teenagers. It definitely always had an adult vibe. I recall you could get a drink there as well.
We ate at the Mel's on Geary Street, not farm from Lonnie's house. It too was an original location that closed for time in the 70s, becoming a discount outlet for stereo equipment. It re-opened in the early 90s drawing a large contingent of baby boomers with families, locals, as well as the hip who loved the nostalgia factor of its 50s and 60s decor and the vintage 45 recordings of that era. When we arrived, the place was packed solid and we opted to sit at the counter rather than wait for a booth or table.
I had a grilled cheese sandwich containing a combination of Swiss, cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese. Lonnie had their famous corned beef hash and poached eggs. We walked leisurely back to Lonnie's flat and just relaxed. Beau needed a walk, and I wanted to visit with an old friend who lived in the neighborhood.
Later Kyle picked me up. We were due to have dinner with Joan and Fritz Hottenstein, and their two children at their home in Mill Valley, just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. From where I sit, Joan and Fritz are a wonderful couple. Joan is a former publishing colleague and a very close friend. Fritz is in the ad sales business on the Internet. I attended their wedding and Joan often stayed with me in New York when visited her father or business took her there. They have a modestly beautiful home in a county famous for its showy and pricey homes. I love going to their house, which you reach off the main road through a series of twisting smaller roads and then through a grove of imposing red woods till you wind your way up a hill, where their house is perched near the top with beautiful views from the balcony decks. Their daughters are Lily, 5, a quiet, and luminously beautiful child, with big soulful brown eyes and a calm demeanor. Quinn, at about two and a half, is her polar opposite--a delightfully boisterous ball of energy. Quinn starts out a little shy, but her instinct for mischief quickly takes over. She's noisy, fearless, and totally capable of creative mayhem. Joan and Fritz are easy going, but attentive parents. They set limits to Quinn's schemes, knowing if they don't, their nerves might not survive. That kid will scale anything if you let her. I find Quinn irresistible. On the other hand, Lily is someone you can have a quite adult conversation with. She doesn't interrupt, and her attention span is held to whatever direction your conversation with her is going. Lily will often circle around later to make additional points about a chat you've had with her an hour or so ago. She could be a novelist or a reporter some day. Quinn will fly planes, climb mountains, or seek danger--if you tell me she's become an accomplished mercenary soldier for our side, I'll believe it. The family is completed with Ruby, a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, now 11 years old. Ruby is a dog every family should have--calm, easy going with the kids (never one to mind when a child is climbing all over her), affectionate, and so good natured. She came running down the front steps with a stuffed toy in her mouth, whining her welcome, tail wagging madly. She's a little stouter than when I last saw her four years ago, and she moves with a stiff dignity, her joints aching. Beau was respectful, but really, it would be impossible not to get along with Ruby.
Fritz charcoal-grilled a boneless lamb roast on the spit of his grill, while Joan made a salad of farro, red onion, grape tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar. She made a second salad, which she described as a kind of Greek salad. Indeed it was. Dinner was delicious, its pleasure increased not only by the conversation, but two fine Pinot Noirs from Fritz's carefully considered wine collection.
On Sunday, Lonnie took me to the weekly flea market along Alemany. Saturdays it is a farmer's market and on Sundays, the collectors, antique dealers and general junk hoarders, gather to sell their wares, trade gossip and stories, and complain about the customers. I found a lovely Fiesta Ware pitcher, which would be good for serving crisp white wine in the summer, and a beautiful green glass butter dish. In a flurry of excitement, I think I got stung. I picked up a rather attractive vase which was marked Deruta, the ceramic pottery of Umbria, Italy. The dealer asked $30 for the vase which featured the famous 'Rafaellesco' dragon hand-painted on its side. I suggested she sell it for $25 and we made a deal. Later as I looked at it, I noticed the 'U' in Deruta was "artfully" smudged out and it made wonder if the vase was authentic. No matter. It's a handsome thing. So the trek (including the 30-minute slog to find a parking space) was worthwhile.
I had enough time to pack up and have some lunch before Kyle picked me up for the drive back to Portland. We enjoyed ourselves, but it was much too short a journey. It's always a challenge to find something decent to eat on the road, but it is much worse with a dog. I wouldn't leave Beau in a warm car while we took off to eat. We found a promising diner with a patio that would allow Beau, but it turned out to be a less than stellar choice. The waitress told us her cook didn't show up that night. We were the only people there which made us wonder how good the food was. I ordered the least complicated sandwich on the menu--a club but with only two slices of toast. Kyle's Philly sandwich, made me fear for his arteries, and some hash browns with gravy, didn't help matters. He loves all that greasy spoon stuff. But even he stopped when he found a long blond hair in his potatoes. I chose to think of it as a blessing. That gravy looked ominous.
Kyle inspected his garden at home, where he has been especially vigilant about his strawberries. He was delighted to find a handful of stunningly red, jewel-like strawberries ready for picking.
Kyle Proudly Displays his Strawberries
Peaches and Tomatoes from a Small Sacramento Valley Farm Stand
The only other stops we made were for gas and a road farm stand where I bought these gorgeous peaches and tomatoes--always the highlight of summer. It was pretty much pedal to the metal all the way home. I tried to stay awake, but sometime around 11:30 I just nodded off. Kyle was the stealth driver, pushing on in the dark. I awoke around 2:00 AM as he was driving us into a gas station, before the final 30 minutes our our journey. I had left lights on when we left, so we felt welcomed as we entered the driveway. I managed to refresh a few wilted plants in the back garden before grabbing Beau and heading upstairs to bed. It was good to be home.
One final photo: The first of three varieties of cucumbers I've planted was begging to be picked this morning. It will be part of dinner tonight.