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20 August 2006 — What I Did On My Summer Vacation (11)

Kris and I are back from our trip to San Francisco. We had fun, but it's good to be home.

Day One
We left home at 7:15 on the morning of Thursday the 10th. Because I've always wanted to make a longish road trip, and because we thought it would be cheaper, and because we wanted greater freedom, we drove our own car. In a way, this was a challenge for me. I'm normally a speed-limit driver, but I surrendered this compulsion early on, and by the end of the trip I was a certified California driver. ("You don't need to use your horn," Kris told me this morning as we drove to meet Rhonda and Mike for breakfast. Oops.)

We stopped in Medford/Ashland for lunch (and to see the southern Oregon crime lab). After a way-too-long two-hour break, we hit the road again, crossing into California at 2:00. The amazing thing about crossing the border is that California immediately looks like California. It doesn't seem possible, but it's true. The afternoon drive was pleasant, though at one time I freaked out because I couldn't see any hills — the land around us was flat and open. That's unnatural. We also drove through a large swarm of moths just west of Sacramento. That was disconcerting. And messy.

We crossed the Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco at about 7:15, twelve hours after we'd started. We'd made the 635 mile journey in about nine hours of driving time.

My first culture shock was the traffic. San Francisco drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians seem to view traffic laws as mere guidelines. And the drivers enforce their view of the guidelines with ample usage of their horns. San Francisco streets are filled with a cacophony of tooting horns. There are also no left-turn lanes. ("Three rights to make a left," Andrew told me later in the trip.)

When we arrived at our hotel on Fisherman's Wharf, I was perplexed to find that it would cost us $32/night to park. Yikes! I worried further about how much to tip the parking attendant. (My fretting over tips was a recurring theme on this trip.)

After a far-too-expensive mediocre dinner, we hit the sack, exhausted.

Day Two
Tiffany arrived on an early flight. The entire family gathered for a two-hour paid sight-seeing tour on a pseudo-trolley car. This was actually rather useful. The narrated drive around the city gave us a rough feel for where things were located. We headed up Columbus, into Chinatown, downtown to Union Square, up to Nob Hill, through the Presidio, and then across the Golden Gate Bridge. By doing this tour first, I was able to get a rough feel for the city's geography, and we were able to plan our agenda as a group.


It was cold and VERY windy when I made this shot.

In the afternoon, the women shopped at Ghiradelli Square. I waited patiently. We also made our way to Lombard Street and walked down the "crookedest street in the world". This is not a must-see attraction, although it's easy enough to find and do.

Day Three
On Saturday we strolled up Columbus to Chinatown. We spent a couple hours looking at the shops, which were filled with all sorts of strange and wonderful things. Kris and I took a sort of perverse glee at the poultry shop: in the right-hand window were the fresh chickens, alive and clucking — down the hall was a boiling vat; in the left window we could watch the no-longer-alive chickens being butchered by an expert worker. It's lucky I think chickens are dumb, or I might have wanted to rescue them.

We ate lunch at a dim sum restaurant. Dim sum is a sort of light meal. (It's only for breakfast and lunch, not for dinner.) A waitress brings around various dishes — vegetable wontons, pork wontons, BBQ beef buns, hunks of chicken, balls of sticky rice, etc. — and the table selects those they'd like to share.


Adventurous sisters...

In the afternoon, we kids walked down to Union Square. Kris and Tiff shopped for shoes. I waited patiently.

We also found time to stop at City Lights, a notable San Francisco bookstore. It sucked. It's just a run-of-the-mill bookstore now with run-of-the-mill surly bookstore employees. (Is this a requirement for bookstore workers? Even Powell's has this problem.)

Day Four
On Sunday we drove to Golden Gate Park so that Kris' mother could see the carousel and the bison paddock. Then, on a whim, we stopped to explore the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood (map), once a center of Sixties counterculture. It's now a center of pretentious wannabe counterculture. Still, Haight is lined by dozens of vintage clothing shops. The women had fun shopping these. I waited patiently.

I found a potentially great bookstore called Forever After books, but it was marred by an awful user experience. "You can't bring that ice cream in here," the guy behind the counter told me. Fine. I can understand that. I stood outside and finished my ice cream, looking at the books in the window. But when I went inside and wanted to actually examine some of these books, the guy told me I couldn't. When I wanted to examine some plastic-wrapped pocket books just inside the door, he came from behind the counter and hovered over me while I looked. "Can I open this to see what it's like inside?" I asked regarding one book. I could not. What the hell? Fine. I won't buy it then. (I've never been in a shop that wouldn't let you open a plastic-wrapped book or comic. It's absurd.) Signs were hung all around the shop declaring that customers were not allowed to do this and were not allowed to do that. There were several books I wanted there, but ultimately I decided I would not give my business to a place that treated its customers with such contempt. Kris' father later pointed out that given the nature of its clientele — the riff-raff we saw along Haight — most of the store's policies were understandable. Maybe so. But I still think it's a poor idea to treat all of your customers as if they were crap.

Day Five
On Monday we said good-bye to Kris' family and drove north to Berkeley. Michael Rawdon had recommended a store called Comic Relief, and I wanted to check it out. I paid for half-an-hour of parking and entered the store. I knew right away that I was in trouble. There was little hope of me getting out of the store in thirty minutes. And while I'd done well on my budget until this point, I knew that the store was going to strip me of a lot of money. I was right on both counts.

Comic Relief is a shop devoted to the sort of comics I buy: bound volumes collecting several issues at once. The store contains thousands of these books, as well as a wide selection of graphic novels and, to my delight, comic strip compilations. (More than anything, I've come to love collecting comic strips.) I didn't score anything particularly rare, but I picked up some fun stuff. "I'm glad this shop isn't in Portland," I told Kris. "I'd be broke." Comic Relief was awesome.

We then drove to Novato (thirty minutes north of San Francisco). Andrew Parker, a good friend from grade school, had offered to put us up for a couple of days. His wife Joann prepared a fine meal for us, although I was heckled for my picky eating habits. (Which most of you are already familiar with.) We ate cheese and bread and crackers and lasagna and consumed a lot of wine. The conversation was great fun as we learned about Joann's life in Texas, and about what these two do for a living.

Day Six
Andrew and Joann indulged us on Tuesday, driving us back into the city so that we could catch a couple of attractions we'd missed before. In particular, I wanted to see the Cartoon Art Museum. I'm glad we went, as this was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We also indulged Kris by paying an exorbitant fee to walk through an exhibition of artifacts from Titanic. The display was neat, no question, but not worth the price. Also, I was offended by the many blatant grammar and punctuation problems in the signage.


We first met in second grade...

We wanted to take our hosts out for a nice dinner, but instead we returned home where Joann prepared a delicious cheese fondue. Yum. (Thanks, Joann and Andrew — we owe you a nice meal the next time you're in Portland.)

"It was less dumb than I thought." - Kris' review of the Cartoon Art Museum

Day Seven
We said goodbye to the Parkers and drove north on 101. We stopped in Santa Rosa to attend the Charles M. Schulz Museum. This was disappointing. The exhibits aren't awful, but they are rather dull. I was hoping for a more comprehensive history of Peanuts and an exploration of how it fits into the context of comic strip history. Instead we got an exhibit on Woodstock and an exhibit on the kite-eating tree. Lame. The museum is new, though, and there's room for future improvement.


A mural made up of thousands of individual comic strips.

In the afternoon, we departed the highway to drive through the redwoods on a scenic byway. We stopped at one point to take a short jaunt through the trees, marveling at the mass of one fallen specimen. It was ginormous.

We stopped for the evening in Arcata, which was a mistake. The town is home of Humboldt State University, and this was apparently the week that new students arrived in town. We managed to snag one of the last hotel rooms, then drove off to look for someplace to eat. Downtown Arcata might be considered quaint, with its old buildings and its central square, except for the loud and scraggly young adults who had gathered to tell stories about their summer. There was also a greater beggar density here then there had been in San Francisco (and the density in San Francisco was staggering).

We ate at Jambalaya, which had decent food but terrible service.

Day Eight
We got a slow start on Thursday, which made me cranky. After breakfast, we stopped north of Arcata for an hour-long hike through the forest. Unfortunately, there'd been a recent bear siting: a black bear and her two cubs were known to be in the area. Now, I may not have mentioned this before, but I'm terribly afraid of bears. I know it's irrational, but I'm certain that I'm going to die by mauling. The entire time we were hiking, I was petrified we'd be attacked. It didn't make for a nice jaunt in the woods.


Our hike through the Redwoods featured many ferns...

I was even crankier when, by two o'clock, we'd only travelled one hundred miles. But then things turned around. I entered some sort of mystical driving "zone" and for four hours cruised up the Oregon Coast, grooving to techno tunes while Kris read a book. At six, we found ourselves in Florence on the Central Oregon coast. "Where are we going to stay tonight?" asked Kris. "I don't know," I said, and just then we noticed a sign that pointed toward Eugene. We were both starving, and decided Eugene offered the best hope of a good meal, so we cut east.

We made excellent time for fifteen minutes before our journey was brought to a halt. We found ourselves in a long line of semi-trucks and RVs and other big vehicles. A minivan had flipped ahead and was blocking both lanes of traffic. We turned around and found another highway that headed north, snaking through the hills to Junction City, which is just north of Eugene. We couldn't find a decent place to eat in Junction City, and I didn't want to go south to Eugene, so we drove north, desperate for food. Finally we stopped at a Wendy's in Albany. We were willing to eat anything at this point.

"It's nine o'clock," I told Kris. "We might as well drive all the way home." And so we did.

Conclusion
We had a fun trip, but it's good to be home. I regret not seeing more of San Francisco. We didn't do the Alcatraz tour. We didn't head south to see Michael or to meet Ramit. We didn't do a lot of things.

But I guess that means there's a reason to go back!


Comments
On 20 August 2006 (09:49 PM), Lane said:

Alcatraz: Noun/slang (created and defined by me)
Definition: A term for that one thing that everyone says you should do or expects you to have done in your life, but you haven't, even though you have had ample opportunities, and now utterly refuse to do because everyone pesters you about it.

My "alcatraz" is Alcatraz. I've been to SF each of the past six years (except this year so far) and have never done the Alcatraz tour. Anytime I tell someone I go to SF frequently, they ask how I liked the Alcatraz tour, and I say I've never been, at which they look dumbfounded and incredulous. This is why Alcatraz is my "alcatraz".

I have a cousin, whose "alcatraz" is having never eaten at a McDonalds.

What is your Alcatraz?


On 21 August 2006 (07:08 AM), Kris said:

Mine is never having seen the movie "Top Gun".


On 21 August 2006 (09:32 AM), Lynn said:

I think my Alcatraz is not owning a cell phone.


On 21 August 2006 (11:11 AM), Will said:

Kris, you should brave that ride into the danger zone.

Welcome home to both of you. Sounds like the trip was a good time!


On 21 August 2006 (01:04 PM), Matt said:

What a neat trip ... I love San Francisco, even with the traffic and noise and flaky people. The Forever After experience was painfully funny to read. With places like that, no wonder people go back to Borders and B&N.

I'd have to agree with your thoughts on the Schulz museum. It's a beautiful facility, but there's a certain ... something lacking in the exhibits. The presentations seemed kind of cold and emotionless. The highlight for us was watching a rare Schulz TV interview from the '60s in the museum theatre.

Arcata is a lovely little town, very laid back and not too hippie-ish. You know that me and Christopher want to move up to neighboring Eureka, right? Arcata would be nice to live in, too.

Anyway, cool entry - thanks!


On 21 August 2006 (02:03 PM), J.D. said:

My alcatraz is broccoli.


On 21 August 2006 (03:12 PM), Mom said:

I thought I was the only one left on the planet without a cell phone. :-) Obviously, my alcatraz, too.


On 21 August 2006 (05:44 PM), Blogeois said:

Alcatraz Cell phone avoider unite! Owned one for two years. Took a year before I learned how to use it. Took over paying the bills and couldn't justify the cost. Going on three years without one and loving it. I guess my Alcatraz would be something else. iPod maybe? Don't want one of those either.

Thanks, J.D.!


On 21 August 2006 (09:10 PM), Lee said:

My alcatraz is never having seen The Sound of Music.

I don't have a cell phone either.


On 22 August 2006 (08:43 AM), Lane said:

JD,

Sorry about the Thread-jacking :)


On 22 August 2006 (10:31 PM), Michael Rawdon said:

I'm glad you enjoyed Comic Relief. I suspected it might be the best one for your tastes, but I didn't know how far afield you were willing to go. Did you make it to Borderlands Books?

I've been into Forever After a few times. I haven't had as bad an experience as you have, but their selection and attitude has never impressed me. There are better used bookstores down the peninsula to which I tend to give me business.

I think Lombard Street is worth a look, although usually I show it to my visitors by driving down it on the way somewhere else (e.g., from the Golden Gate Bridge to Coit Tower).

I go back to the Cartoon Art Museum every 2 years or so. They have some fun stuff, and is easy to get to.

There sure is a lot of stuff to do in San Francisco!