A California diary… A group of six on tour in 2007
8 days in northern California… day four
Lombard Street to Yosemite, thanks to Mi Luv U


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Two: California.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on March 5, 2008. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have something to tell you, and since it becomes important today, I can’t avoid it any longer.

I like soft, warm bread.

I could easily drag this concept back twenty years, to early-morning ambulance drives (and I mean 3am for early morning) to retrieve freshly baked bread, literally directly from the oven of a Syracuse bakery. (But I won’t.)

I could talk about the smell of baking bread being about as intoxicating an aroma as anything on the planet. (But you probably would agree without my needing to.)

Instead… picture it… summer of 2007… occasional evenings spent playing cards… e-mail exchanges discussing a highly anticipated journey…

One topic of debate was the wine. We were trying to sort out a diverse set of places and styles to try. Napa and Sonoma, if not Mendocino… reds and whites… small places and large distributors… a wide assortment with a bit of everything. Now I like wine… no need to explain or defend that here… but I don’t drink it that often. One of the things I was trying to do was make sure we saw at least one or two places that made dessert wines.

A second topic of debate was our lunches. I had mentioned to everyone how much use Terry and I can get out of a cheap cooler while on vacations. And I have mentioned those inexpensive coolers on previous travel stories. It’s a way to bring water and such along for the day, or store leftovers after a great meal when not heading directly home. We had even packed lunches in them. And the concept exploded within this group with elaborate ideas of different picnics we might have… barbecues… on the coast… in a field of grapevines… Yosemite… and so on. So Ellen and Mike began going back and forth about olives and cheeses and crusty breads and… wait… crusty bread?

I can take it or leave it. Love bread… do enjoy crusty bread… but…

  • I don’t understand the fuzzy glazed look some people get in their eyes when they mention “crusty bread.” Sorry. I don’t.
  • And you know those cooking shows where they make a soup or whatever and tell you to serve it with a “crusty bread” on the side? Yeah… in general terms, I don’t get that either.

Mike immediately turned these two thoughts -- dessert wines and warm, soft bread -- into me drinking grape juice to wash down Twinkies. (I didn’t think that was fair… since I really don’t like Twinkies at all… but whatever. He’s old and they’re preparing to take the remote control away from him at his house, so I don’t pay that much attention to his jokes. In that grand “even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn” theory though… Mike eventually rode the joke long enough that he came up with a nickname for me…)

Bobbin’ Fresh.

(And I have to admit… that was pretty darn good.)

Ok… day four… off we go…

Day four, Tuesday, October 23, 2007

For the third day in a row, we eat breakfast at the hotel. In all honesty… it’s been pretty good. But eggs, a few slices of pastry, and a glass of juice is beginning to wear thin for me. Not being a huge breakfast person at home (I’ll regularly skip the most important meal of the day), and even though I do eat it normally on vacation, the idea of some pancakes for a change… or thirty more minutes of sleep and an early lunch… other ideas are beginning to sound pretty good to me.

(In fact, the night before this, I had sort of excused myself (and Terry by association) from breakfast with a “let’s see when we get going” comment, only to be met with five “what are you talking about” looks. That’s five… with Terry staring at me too. Naturally, we ended up AIH and heading down to breakfast.)

We’ve got a strange day planned for today, which was set up focusing on two goals: (1) get to the Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building, and, (2) drive to Yosemite. Everything else is designed to work around a late morning start for the market, and trying to drive the approximately five hours out to El Portal (the location of our hotel) before nightfall.

The Farmer’s Market is up and running around 10am… we’re done with breakfast early… the decision is made quickly… off to the Ferry Building via the crookedest street in the world.

Lombard Street is a famous spot, although most of the people that have never been there seem to need to look up the name. Louise is a bit concerned. As near as I can tell, it stems not from driving down a twisting, one way street. Instead, she seems… at least from what I have scrawled in the notes… to be trying to figure out why a street would need to go back and forth to compensate for an incline. In all fairness… considering the roads we’ve driven in San Fran, I’m wondering something similar myself, but I’ve got both hands on the steering wheel and Mi Luv U is counting down to our turn for the passage between Hyde and Leavenworth streets.

Terry films some of our journey down and snaps a couple of pictures. We cross over Leavenworth and park… and while getting out of the car, we learn a bit about the incline. Ever stood on a hill or at an angle where your ankles felt like they were either going to snap or throw you to the ground? Yeah… well… that’s kind of close. It wasn’t bad once you got used to it, but climbing in and out of a van was a nifty trick.

There really isn’t much traffic considering the time of day and what I would normally expect to be a line of cars waiting for the experience. Driving down we were virtually the only car swinging back and forth through the eight turns of the road. Standing on the corner, there are only about three or four cars challenging the slalom. I’ve seen pictures featuring bumper-to-bumper traffic from bottom to top.

In the margin of my notes I have “gardens,” “sidewalks,” and “driveways” written. There is a lot of little stuff… special aspects… about visiting the place. Suffice to say… the area is very well groomed for an amusement park ride and worth the visit.

It’s still early, so I suggest to Mike that we might want to drive past ’wichcraft, the sandwich shop we have planned to grab lunch at. As we’re talking, we decide that in reality, it might not be a bad idea to get there the long and looping way. The Embarcadero is the home of the Ferry Building. One way to get there is Mission Street. (Yes… Mission Street… and I know I’m at Lombard and Leavenworth. Put away your maps or your snide comments and stay with the story.) It just so happens that ’wichcraft is on Mission Street (around the intersection with 5th Street). And a couple of quick turns away from the southwest-ish corner of Mission Street is…

Haight – Ashbury

Turns out ’wichcraft will have to wait.

It is here that we will learn an interesting lesson. Funny thing about lessons though… every so often when you’re learning one, it doesn’t sink in. The lesson here was that people sleep late. The lesson would be fully learned on day six… when everything was again closed.

For now though we’ve walked up and down Haight Street and found that most of the shops don’t open until… well… we’re told that “around 11” they’ll open. (I guess we should have expected that. I mean… come on… Haight – Ashbury. Early store hours? Heck… actual, real, set store hours? Who the hell were we kidding thinking they’d open at 9? Still…)

A few pictures are taken, and a decision is made to swing through later in the week. We’re off to the Farmer’s Market.

The Ferry Building reminded me of the Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island. When you hear about it, you get the impression that it’s this huge place… the cultural center of everything. I mean… we did the research… and in addition to the Farmers Market (ahem… the world famous “Ferry Plaza Farmers Market”), there was a harvest festival being held during our visit. There’s a Taylor’s Automatic Refresher location inside. (We didn’t visit it… or any of the Taylor’s locations, though we had them marked as a possible place to stop thanks to the Food Network.) The building is right there… next to the Bay Bridge… on the Embarcadero… great profile. Important stuff.

The Arcade in Providence is this multi-level, Greek-themed, fancy marble-ish building. I think there are three floors… so kick me if it’s actually four. The thing is… you walk in… and there are a couple of places to eat. And the food looks ok. Actually… it looks pretty darn good. And the place seems interesting. So you get something to eat… and the food is ok (though not knock you on your behind good, but it’s fine)… and you wander upstairs to see some of the other stores. Not everything catches your eye, but every two or three shops you see something in a window and meander in. And you see enough that you reach the next set of stairs and without hesitation you head up again.

When you’re done with your visit to the Arcade, you don’t have any bags in your hands. Cross one street on the way to the car, and already you can’t really recall any of the stores you saw. And while heading home, you think to yourself that it was nice and clean and a fine way to spend an afternoon… but if you don’t make it back, well, that would be ok.

And… for quite some time, you don’t make plans to return. It doesn’t even cross your mind.

Three or four (or eight (or more)) years later, someone mentions that they’re heading in to Providence for a meeting or to do some shopping… and hey, would you like to go to the Arcade? And since you can’t recall anything bad about the place… heck, you can’t recall anything about the place… you figure that it sounds like a great idea, because it would be fantastic to check it out again, and you go.

It’s when you arrive and look around for just a moment that you suddenly remember exactly why you don’t think about going there for so long.

(I’m not kidding either… just typing this is reminding me that I haven’t been there in about nine or ten years… so it must have changed a bit… and I’m figuring it would be pretty cool to check it out. Damn it… I’m talking myself into going to the Arcade. Argh…)

Anyway… Ferry Building… Farmers Market… big plans...

And yeah… um… it’s ok.

The Farmers Market extends along the front of the building (or… whatever the street side of the building is). I’m guessing that there were about twenty canopies set up. It wasn’t incredibly busy. Some of the food looked great… some of it was fantastic (a salmon candy that cost about $70 a pound was found to be especially delicious by most of our group (we bought two batches… just under about $30 total)). But if you’ve ever been, for instance, to a farmers market on the streets of Boston… well… this wasn’t exactly a collection of hard to find items, unbelievably low prices, and a deeply planted example of a culture (or three) collecting in the same place. It was more of a cleaned up, touristy farmers market… if that makes sense.

(Let’s put it this way. This same group of people, plus my sister Kris, was in Boston one Friday and we happened to wander into a farmers market. It was packed. No… no… I mean good luck just casually walking around, because if you didn’t have a purpose then you needed to step to the side, with just the empty boxes stacked higher and deeper than the display area at the Ferry Building, packed. (1) Mike still talks about that market place. He wants to go back to Boston and do some shopping at that market. (2) Mike has called this San Francisco trip one of the best he has ever taken… and never mentions the Ferry Building Farmers Market as a reason. I’ve said enough. Good… probably not at a peak time during our visit… touristy overrated by our experience.)

We wander along from vendor to vendor, and then Mike spots something. Near the corner a man sits with… a typewriter. The man is offering “poems about anything” and Mike can’t resist. From this day forward, and we have evidence, let it be known that Mike is a patron of the arts. He commissioned a poem…

“Bobbin’ Fresh”

the white bred
americana and
bread books
on tape or
p to b
soft &
with a sense
a humor fresh
from the oven of
our stomachs and an
imagination that rivals
language for subtlety & food
bobbin’ fresh from the garden
of eden

Wandering around inside, we end up in a kitchen goods specialty store. And as if seeing one Margaritaville brand drink maker in a magazine wasn’t enough, the Margaritaville brand drink dispenser tub thingy is on display here.

One last quick side story… because Mike, Richard and I shared a moment. It was one of those three-second-moments where everyone is on the same wavelength… you smile and nod… and move on with a comforting feeling that the world isn’t so foreign after all. We were in the men’s room…

Bob: “This water’s cold…”

Mike and Richard (perfectly in synch): “…and deep.”

It was a nice hour or so… but all of us are ready to pick up some sandwiches and begin the drive out to Yosemite. Mr. Colicchio, we’re on our way.

’wichcraft is a sandwich-based restaurant in San Francisco that is associated with Colicchio’s “craft” line of restaurants that have a few locations across the country. Having become huge fans of Top Chef, we decide that a lunch stop wouldn’t be a bad idea.

We have to drive around a bit to find parking. The limits placed on San Francisco streets make it difficult for us… so I end up staying with the car. But soon we have our sandwiches and we are on our way.

We turn a few corners and get ready to put some miles behind us on our trip. And part of it is our first crossing of the Bay Bridge… which for me is a bit of a surprise.

I’ve driven over two-level bridges before. The George Washington Bridge… New York City… has been a particular favorite thorn in my side over the years. But I honestly can’t recall going over one before that was top level one direction and lower lever the other. Maybe I’m forgetting something… and I probably am… but I believe this was a first.

We are heading out to Yosemite with Mi Luv U programmed for our hotel at the Cedar Lodge in El Portal… roughly 10 miles outside of the borders of the park. And I’ve got to be honest here…


I don’t get it.

I wanted to be impressed.

The whole dual-city thing.

Yeah… didn’t happen.

Now, I must put in a disclaimer here. We never stopped in Oakland. At all. Never slowed down… never tried to drive on even one city street… never got out of the car on the side of the road and tried to take a picture of some Oakland landmark. So I’m sure there’s a chance that in the future I’m going to travel out to California (maybe on a book tour)… and someone will mention the feelings about the city in this article… and we’ll just laugh and laugh. Heck… perhaps Dad and I will get out this way together before the A’s move. I’m sure there has to be something about Oakland.

But right now? Well… you know… twenty minutes off of the Bay Bridge and I’m convinced Barry Zito made a bigger move going from Oakland to San Francisco last off-season than I ever gave him credit for.

We eventually stop to get some gas, and we get directions to a local park. You know how in Cars they talk about freeways and highways and zipping by America at top speeds? If not for our stop to get gas and a need for a place to eat lunch, we would have zipped past the Woodward Community Park.

It was a couple of turns and a few miles off the road… but what a great looking and wonderfully open park. Clean… nice facilities… and an enjoyable picnic area. After finishing a good lunch, we used Mi Luv U to head further up the street (instead of backtracking toward where we got off the highway) and got back on our planned route… so easy off, easy on, with an efficient twist.

And now… ladies and gentlemen… allow me to introduce you to Snappy Snapperson.

I happen to be fond of maps. Mi Luv U may change that over time… and certainly will at least alter my use of them… but a laminated map is usually something I pick up in just about every city I visit. Norm had shown us one of wine country on Monday that I loved. It had lots of great details and phone numbers, included with a very organized, easy-to-read, and visually appealing map. So when I saw a similar one, I grabbed it.

We’ve decided to visit a couple of different places on Friday, and one of them is Castillo di Amorosa. Having discussed the possibility of heading over to it, you may recall that on day two, Norm recommended making tour reservations. So… believing cell phone signals may soon drop to nothing as we get out into the vast expanses and setting of Yosemite… Tigg has grabbed the map, looked up the number, and is making a call to get us booked in for Friday.

As this was happening, I made a joke about something or other that she was doing… and eventually dubbed Terry with the nickname Snappy Snapperson. It was all meant in fun… a take on her quick responses to things.

At first it was met with people picking on me. But I got the last laugh.

It stuck.

Mi Luv U is bringing us through some absolutely fantastic settings. We’re seeing orchards and fields of fruit. We move along into some indescribably gorgeous scenery and drive along a twisting valley. Amazing. Just brilliant.

Eventually we are closing in on the Cedar Lodge. But first… a detour. A rockslide has closed the road, so we need to go over a riverbed, follow the path past the washout, and then back over the riverbed. We later learned the rocks had fallen in May of 2006.

We check in and walk around a bit, then quickly decided to head down the road for dinner. We wind up ordering pizza at a place at the Yosemite View. I’m scrambling around to take pictures of a full moon over some of the mountains while we wait for our order. Eventually we pack up and get going… and I stop the car…

For a black bear crossing the road.

We didn’t get any pictures, but Mike managed to get yelled at. (Pay attention… because the voices from the back seats at this moment assisted in helping Snappy catch on.) As I slow down hoping that maybe… just maybe… a camera might be able to pick up even a shadow of the bear, Mike is rolling down his window.

To this day, we have yet to settle on an official version of the story. Some believe Mike was preparing to offer the bear a slice of pizza. Others think he wasn’t sure what to do -- he had been rolling the window down to make wiseass comments to locals for the entire trip -- and just instinctively rolled the window down when the car came to a stop. Some -- unnamed here for their protection -- believe we should have pushed Mike out the door and let him cope with the bear on his own.

What we do know is that Snappy thought the bear smelled the pizza… and the bear did stop and turn to look at us within seconds of Mike rolling down the window… and much yelling from the back of the van was directed at Mike to roll the window back up.

We get back to the room and eat. As we settled in for the night, I notice the room doesn’t have a clock. (None of our rooms did.) That felt weird… mainly because we were preparing for an early wake up call to get a start into the park for breakfast.

Nothing bad to say about the Cedar Lodge. Our rooms had large Jacuzzi-style tubs. The beds were high off the ground, but comfortable. And before lights out, I finished reading The I Chong.

A lot of driving behind us… a lot of small things assembled together… and another great day overall.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com