the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected
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.
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.
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.
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.
~ ~ ~
have something to tell you, and since it becomes important today,
I can’t avoid it any longer.
like soft, warm bread.
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.)
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.)
picture it… summer of 2007… occasional evenings spent playing
cards… e-mail exchanges discussing a highly anticipated journey…
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.
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?
can take it or leave it. Love bread… do enjoy crusty bread… but…
don’t understand the fuzzy glazed look some people get in their
eyes when they mention “crusty bread.” Sorry. I don’t.
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.
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…)
I have to admit… that was pretty darn good.)
day four… off we go…
four, Tuesday, October 23, 2007
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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…
out ’wichcraft will have to wait.
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.
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…)
few pictures are taken, and a decision is made to swing through
later in the week. We’re off to the Farmer’s Market.
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
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.
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.
for quite some time, you don’t make plans to return. It doesn’t
even cross your mind.
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.
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
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…)
Ferry Building… Farmers Market… big plans...
yeah… um… it’s ok.
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
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.)
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…
on tape or
p to b
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
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.
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…
“This water’s cold…”
and Richard (perfectly in synch): “…and deep.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
don’t get it.
wanted to be impressed.
whole dual-city thing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
now… ladies and gentlemen… allow me to introduce you to Snappy
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.
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.
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
first it was met with people picking on me. But I got the last
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.
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.
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…
a black bear crossing the road.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
lot of driving behind us… a lot of small things assembled together…
and another great day overall.