The Big Trip, Part 7

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

This is Election Day. Finally, the long and acrimonious campaign has ended.

The Mt Shasta KOA is only a short walk from the pretty town of the same name. After registering and hooking up the Beast in an almost empty kampground, we took the walk into town to see what we could see.

Walking along Mt Shasta’s Main Street, we passed the usual array of professional services, gift shops, bookstores, and cafes. A sidewalk kitchen, improbably named Pancho and Lefkowitz, caught our eye. Behind the counter a sign read, “We do not solicit the patronage of hippies.” It was ironic as the owner who served us was himself an aging hippie. Although we weren’t terribly hungry, Kay ordered a dish of beans and rice while I ate one of the best hot dogs west of Chicago.

As we sat at an outdoor table in the warm sunshine, we watched the parade of locals come and go. They were a mixed lot: a working man shopping for a used truck on his smartphone, a bearded and tattooed hipster with a guitar slung over his shoulder, and various, oddly-dressed oldsters stopping for lunch or a snack.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 

Northern California

We did almost nothing today except drive, first south on I-5 to Redding and then west along Route 299 to U.S. 101 South. All of this driving, a total of 330 miles, was through mountainous terrain. We had no sooner left the Cascades than we entered the enormous Trinity-Shasta National Forest. The scenery was often strikingly beautiful while the driving, especially on single-lane 299, was slower than usual.

As the light was fading, about 5 p.m., we began the last leg of the day’s journey, Highway 1, California’s shoreline route that begins not on the shore but in more mountains. For an hour in the dark we negotiated the tortuous curves of this road until we reached a spot the map calls Westport where we pulled into America’s only KOA kampground located on a beach. (Even as I write this the following morning, I can hear the sea nearby but haven’t seen it yet.)

Fiddling with the truck’s FM radio (we laughingly call it our entertainment center), instead of the usual religious broadcasts, I found an unusual program combining songs of river travel interspersed with readings from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. It was a surprising and a pleasant way to conclude the day.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mendocino Coast – Oakland, CA — San Francisco

Along Highway 1

It was a fine drive, though. We started down Highway 1 for about 40 miles, buying fuel at Fort Bragg and stopping to take pictures of the sea and land under a stormy sky. This stretch of northern California grandeur has to be one of the premier coastlines in America.


We descended Highway 1 slowly until a sign warned us of upcoming long delays for some unknown reason. Fortunately, we chose the alternative, a wonderful 50-mile drive through redwoods and the Mendocino wine country to the town of Cloverdale. There, we stopped for bar-be-que at a famous, local eatery.

We checked in Oakland’s Imperial Motel at 3:30 p.m. Don’t be fooled by its name. The Imperial is pretty low-end lodging in a dodgy part of the city. For us, it has two virtues: it’s inexpensive and it’s near to the MacArthur BART Station, the light-rail system that will quickly get us under the bay and into San Francisco quickly.

We took our first train ride this evening, getting off at the stop for Powell and market Streets.

John’s Grill

John’s is an immensely popular San Francisco landmark that has operated since 1908, shortly after the famous earthquake and fire destroyed the old city and its infamous quarter of crime and licentiousness known as The Barbary Coast.

Thematically, John’s Grill is dominated by The Maltese Falcon. Dashiell Hammett was a regular patron and photos of him, and the actors and director of the famous film made from his novel cover the walls. There is even a replica of the black bird in a glass case along with copies of the novel in various translations.

Friday, November 9, 2012

San Francisco

It was a lovely November day in San Francisco, cool but sunny. Although I’ve come here more times than I can remember, mostly on work assignments in the 1970s, I never tire of its unusual vistas, its particular residential architecture, and even its street names that are so evocative for me. The limpid light feels different here than in any other U.S. city.

San Francisco

The light and today’s deep, cloudless cerulean sky are San Francisco hallmarks.

The one huge drawback to our long walk north and east to the San Francisco Art Institute was the hills. With her knee and foot problems, Kay is not fond of climbing, and we did too much of it. The effort robbed her of her of some of the visual pleasure of being in this unique city

San Francisco’s Art Institute’ Diego Rivera Mural

I had also misunderstood the nature of our destination. I thought the was a museum when, in fact, it is an art school. It does, however, contain a wonderful mural by Diego Rivera that is a match for the splendid murals he did in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Oakland – Emeryville – St Helena – Oakland

At 9:30 a.m. Oakland friends, Patrick and Ellen collected us in their black BMW sedan to begin a day of sightseeing and conversation that would last until the evening.

Patrick’s Law Office in Emeryville

Our first stop was in nearby Emeryville. Located in a re-purposed factory building with an iconic water tower and designed by a man as much artist as architect.

Like several of my Wabash classmates, Patrick has come a long way from his small-town beginnings in southern Indiana. He has been a litigator for decades and has compiled an admirable record of courtroom victories representing auto companies and other large corporations in their product liability challenges. We found our conversations about the law and his methods to be very engaging.

Patrick and Ellen’s Terrace

From the law offices we traveled uphill to Patrick and Ellen’s home, an eerie atop one of Oakland’s high ridges. With its enclosing shrubbery and terraced gardens, their ranch-style house is a pure California setting. In the center of the terrace stands an ancient, nameless tree.

Hall Wines

It was a lovely, sunny, blue-sky day. We drove an hour up Route 29 to the Napa Valley town of St Helena to visit Hall Wines, a winery in which our friends have a partnership interest.

The rest of our day together was like a reprise of the first part. Our drive back to their Oakland home, another encounter with the dogs, and a light, early dinner at one of downtown Oakland’s popular eateries called Boot and Shoe, after the restaurant building’s previous occupant.

It was still early when our friends dropped us back at the Imperial where we said goodbye and fanaticized about our next meeting, in Istanbul, we hope.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Oakland — San Francisco

The good weather held on this last day of our San Francisco visit. 

San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor is one of the city’s two fine arts museums. It was a gift in the 1920s from a wealthy woman intending to memorialize the many Californians killed in World War I. It’s location, high at the eastern end of San Francisco’s peninsula, couldn’t be more beautiful.

Legion of Honor

In one direction we could see the Pacific Ocean while in another, the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a very special place. Those of you who have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo will remember the gallery scenes in the Legion of Honor where James Stewart spies on Kim Novak as she sits transfixed, staring at the portrait of the dead Carlotta Valdez.

The museum’s collections, ranging from sculpture and artifacts from ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt through European paintings and sculpture of the 18th and 19th centuries are extensive. We didn’t have the time or energy to view them all. 

After three months of travel, Kay and I are feeling tired. As we rested in the Legion of Honor’s comfortable café, we considered that we might well have stayed at the Imperial Motel and rested all day. Then again, it would have been a shame to have missed this opportunity to be here on such a pleasant day.