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 April 2, 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.
~ ~ ~
five, Wednesday, October 24, 2007
not very religious. Call me a skeptic if you want… I don’t know
how to categorize it myself… but we can try to sum it up, without
defined labels, as simply by saying that I have my doubts. And
yet, every so often I find a moment or an experience that makes
me scratch my head.
morning I wander out the door to pick up some ice, look up at
the still dark, early morning but definitely night sky, and see
a shooting star. The sight of it fills me with one of those satisfying
senses of a moment where everything is right. Explain the feeling…
I can’t. But there’s something so mind-smashingly perfect about
it. I know immediately that it’s going to be a good day.
pack up the van, check out of the hotel, and set off in the direction
of the entrance to the park. And as the sun rises… I have a second
moment… and for this one I’ll be kicking myself later.
front of me, I see Australia.
rock formation through the trees is reminding me of the Three
Sisters, which Terry and I had visited with the boys, my sister,
and her family during the summer of 2003. The formation is located
in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. I later learn that here
it was almost definitely the Three Brothers that I am speaking
about… and our guides had no clue about the Australian location.
Opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean… brothers and sisters… in
with so many winding roads to navigate, a breakfast to eat before
the day’s tour, and us eventually leaving the park by a different
path… do you think I got a picture? Of course not.
decided to start our day with a meal in the park at the Yosemite
Lodge Food Court. Numerous phone calls had been made to figure
out where to stay… what tours to consider… what “must dos” must
be done. We had debated considerations of possible snow fall.
We had decided not to sleep in a three-sided cabin or use a tent
with bear-boxes to store our food. (Bear boxes for food. Mike?
Are you paying attention to this? They rip open cars
for food! Stop offering them pizza.)
had settled on the Grand Tour for our day in the park… for which
check-in was at the Yosemite Lodge. A few people I spoke with
said the Food Court was a decent place to stop and grab breakfast
before our day began. And it was here that we would meet the current
crowned-queen of line cooks… named, using another Seinfeld
connection, in honor of this experience… The Pancake Nazi.
true name was Inna. (Inna? Was it? Who cares? The Pancake Nazi
is far more accurate. Heck, she woke Snappy Snapperson up before
8am… and that takes some serious talent.) I’ll never do the story
justice… and Terry and Richard, who experienced more of it, will
likely be offering corrections and additions. But hell… since
their comments will almost certainly come out in the “Best of…”
efforts, it’s worth a shot. (Understand, this version is edited
to make it shorter, but none of it is embellished. Everything
noted did happen as I know the story or experienced it.
The parts I’m not certain about are the parts I cut.)
Food Court is set up cafeteria-style. It is counter service and
divided into areas for things like cereals, hot food, drinks and
a cashier’s station. (You know the drill… we’ve all be in places
like it.) We all took off in different directions to get a feeling
of what they had and what we wanted.
of us picked pancakes.
know I did.
get up to the grill to place my order and fall in line behind
Richard and Terry. It’s obvious to me they’re both agitated for
some reason, but Terry won’t say exactly why. “Just watch… just
watch…” is her whispered comment for the moment.
amazing is going on at the grill. In fact, nothing is going on
at all. It’s not like it’s busy or anything, although there are
four of us waiting right now. About two minutes later, when I
find out that Richard and Terry haven’t even ordered -- numbers
two and three of the four of us in line -- I’m a bit surprised.
Pancake Nazi isn’t making eye contact with any of us.
Richard and Terry should have known that they needed to speak
up or something, because when she lifts her head and requests
their orders, there is a look of exasperation and frustration
in her eyes that defies all other explanations. For some incredible
reason, she seemed perturbed with us. (I can only guess that she
woke up earlier than she hoped. You know… a story like her boss
supplying her with an actual alarm clock in her room just in case,
because there might be people at the pancake station in the morning,
and it made her wake up early to be prepared to serve us. You
could read “like she didn’t want to deal with serving customers”
for “perturbed” and it would work.)
with that thought shared with you, enough time has passed since
Richard and Terry ordered that she finally has stared me down
with the good morning evil eye, and I add get to my request to
Pancake Nazi returns her stare to the grill where… well… where
seemingly our orders don’t exist because she is playing with the
utensils and scraping off the surface and doing everything except
putting down a little butter or whatever and some pancake batter.
I’m beginning to understand more of Terry’s cryptic message. It’s
not just the attitude. It’s the amount of nothing that is accompanying
the attitude. Apparently taking orders is part of prep work, and
prep work is still going on, so actually making pancakes
for the customers in line that have ordered already… well… the
world that is the Yosemite Lodge Food Court grill area this morning
is not ready for that just yet.
saw the waffle maker. He’s getting excited.
first he needs to order a set of plain pancakes for Louise. He’s
now behind me in line… and hasn’t been there long enough to experience
the drain of all hope or the vague feeling that if we turned around,
we’d see Jerry Seinfeld standing behind us with Rod Serling.
Richard, Terry and I… and now Mike… are watching across the grill
as the Pancake Nazi starts spreading batter on a dry grill. All
of us are thinking some form of the same thing, which quickly
exchanged glances confirmed: “Dry grill? Well that’s not going
to work. Or, is it us?”
looks up at Mike and takes his order for plain pancakes and a
waffle. She then turns back to the grill and adds blueberry pancakes
to the surface. All over. Blueberries and blueberries and more
blueberries and then still more blueberries -- as far as grill
looked like more blueberry pancakes being made than blueberry
fact, let’s trace the step-by-step.
there was a pouring of blueberry pancake batter, with more than
enough on the grill to serve up all four orders of blueberry pancakes.
Second, there was a pause, a putting aside of the blueberry pancake
materials container, and a shift to Mike’s order. A waffle was
started. And then third, there was the return to the grill, the
lifting of the container, and the pouring of more blueberry
pancakes on the grill.
Mike stops her.
mentions his order was for plain pancakes… and does this quite
Pancake Nazi has had enough of us… she looks up at Mike, sneers,
and informs him that she knows quite well what his order was,
and for his information she isn’t working on his order, and… in
words other than this but clearly and fully expressed… would appreciate
him shutting the hell up and minding his own business. There is…
of course… a line of people… and she’d like him to know that he’s
not at the front of that just yet, and the Yosemite Lodge Food
Court grill area world is not revolving around him.
you ever heard the ideas expressed of deafening silence and cutting
the air with a knife? Sure you have. Well… the quiet atmosphere
around the grill was getting thick.
few moments later, after another similar exchange, Snappy Snapperson
moves closer to the grill, and…
informs the Pancake Nazi that her attitude isn’t appreciated.
When an aghast and insulted Pancake Nazi tries to ask Snappy what
attitude she might be referring to, the answer is quickly offered…
“That attitude. Right there. Lose it.” She goes on to explain
a few of the finer points of customer service and how it appears
to be lacking here. Snappy is on a roll.
tension beyond evident… still waiting for pancakes.
Pancake Nazi returns her stare to the grill where the pancakes
aren’t flipping over. They’re sticking.
sticking to the grill? The dry grill? None of us saw
sticking to the grill and burning. She starts putting down more
batter. First guy in line slams his plate and walks away. Richard
gets the first batch of overcooked delights that weren’t chucked.
a small… a very small way… at this particular moment
I felt sorry for the Pancake Nazi. Oh… she got what she deserved,
and probably should have been blasted a bit more. Letters and
phone calls should have rained down upon her supervisor for this
experience of ours. But at this particular time, she was living
one of those hideously humiliating moments we’ve all experienced
in some form. (Though I know you and I were far less deserving
of them, and that karma itself has brought this one around.) All
she possibly could have been hoping for was to get the damn pancakes
off of the grill and get this particular group of people away
from her so her bad morning could move on.
there’s this guy named “Murphy” that insists on taking part in
moments like this. And when things go bad… they can always get
worse. The clock stops. The world drags… and all you can do is
stand there with your pants around your ankles. (No Mike… expression…
the Pancake Nazi was not cooking with her pants around
her ankles.) She was wrong, very wrong… she was called on it,
justifiably… and now the damn pancakes on the grill were sticking
where I luck out.
had been way too many pancakes was turning into a dwindling supply
as she kept tossing scraps into the trash. By throwing away so
many pancakes, she had to reload the grill, and I wound up with
a fresh batch that were added after some oil (or whatever was
in that container that she didn’t use earlier).
I arrive, the talk at the table is centered on the Pancake Nazi.
pancakes are awful,” Richard explains. Of course, he’s also so
hungry that he’s saying it while scooping them into his mouth
and quickly devouring the entire serving. “Just awful.” Pause…
another bite. “Worst I’ve ever had.” Pause… another bite.
and Snappy are discussing giving her a lesson in manners.
the nerve to question me about thinking she has an attitude
with an attitude like that while telling Mike she knows what
a blueberry is and it isn’t his turn why I’ll take that spatula
and grease the pancakes right up her…”
is trying to catch up. Her pancakes are fine and she was never
introduced to the Pancake Nazi. Mike is enjoying his waffle. I’m
eating and keeping quiet.
I know what customer service is about and she could take a lesson
or two just to get up to being horrendous and that first guy
did you see him just walk away because he did and she didn’t
even notice just went right on scraping the grill…”
I finish my pancakes, I’ve got a problem. How do I explain that
to date, it’s been the best breakfast for me? Hot and fresh and
delicious. Great pancakes. If I hadn’t seen the troubles in the
kitchen -- so to speak -- the meal would have been considered
a sparkling success. Still… as Terry continues to vent and I sweep
the last bite across the remaining syrup, it has been a thoroughly
entertaining scene. Maybe I’ll write it off as a combination of
a meal and a show.
we turn our attention to the lunch menu for our tour. The Grand
Tour is a day-long assembly of three popular Yosemite tours that
will bring us out along the Valley Floor, up to Glacier Point,
and then to the Mariposa Grove. Part of the tour is a stop for
lunch at the Wawona Hotel dining room, and we need to make our
selections before the tour leaves this morning so it will all
be ready when we arrive.
made, we head over to meet our bus, and, ultimately, Karen (our
guide) and Roger (our driver). The foliage is simply gorgeous.
It was a great year for New England fall colors that were just
hitting a peak while we were flying out west. And seeing the area
out here seems like an unexpected treat.
first stop was at El Capitan (notes list a height of 3,598-feet),
where we saw some climbers near the Zodiac on the wall. We passed
some deer while seeing the Cathedral during the drive across the
Valley Floor, and had our first view of the Bridalveil Falls.
Karen explained a legend of the Ahwahneechee tribe about a demon
spirit called Pohono that protects the Valley Floor. This legend
goes into the blowing winds around the falls, and even turns into
one about getting married.
the area and beginning a climb, we were able to glimpse the Tunnel
View behind us as we crossed into the Wawona Tunnel… a location
we would return to later in the day. (Interesting note about the
tunnel… it was built from the lower end by digging up to allow
the use of gravity for clearing the material being removed.)
destination was the Glacier Point area. The stop brought us to
an elevation of 7,214-feet, where we were able to see the Half
Dome and the Valley Floor. (And… bonus… we played with a squirrel.
Karen used our description to identify it as a “ground squirrel”…
which I didn’t research much, but from what I have been able to
find puts it in the family of a prairie dog.)
about an hour of walking around, we are on the bus with the count
off by one.
it is… Mike.
on the bus, Karen mentions the Three Brothers… which immediately
triggers my thoughts from the morning about the formation in the
Blue Mountains of Australia. Considering all of the native and
tribal stories she has mentioned, I find myself making lots of
notes to investigate any possible connections between the two
that might be found. (So far… none. But I did find something about
a three sisters formation in Oregon.)
we traveled back down, Karen discussed prescribed burns… a process
of controlled fires used in the park. Once aware of this, we began
to see several smoking logs and slash piles. We also continue
to notice wildlife, with a red-tailed hawk flying past the bus
and landing nearby.
was held in the dining room of the Wawona Hotel. Wawona translates
as “big tree,” and we are preparing to head in to see some of
the largest trees in the world. We’re at an elevation of roughly
the area around the hotel? Consistent with the entire day… beautiful,
different, and interesting. Actually… fascinating would be a good
word to use as well.
eating we took a short walk to a nearby covered bridge, and used
it to cross over a stream and into a small village. (I use the
word “village” here a bit loosely. I can’t find any details in
my notes about the bridge’s name or the exact buildings we found.)
finding myself spellbound by a neon green moss on the trees --
Karen tells me it’s a stag horn moss, which apparently only grows
in places with exceptional air quality. (I apologize for saying
“moss”… that’s not what Karen said… but I haven’t been able to
find any true spelling that works for lycin… since that’s what
is spelled in my notes and not lichen. Though it does appear that
staghorn lichen may be a proper spelling and name.)
back on the bus and seeing more wildlife… ravens this time… with
the next stop the Big Trees Tram, which took us through the Mariposa
Grove of Giant Sequoias. It was explained that the coastal redwoods
are taller (think Muir Woods… day two of this adventure), but
the sequoias are larger… primarily wider. From the starting point
of this tour to the back portion, the elevation changes by almost
1,000-feet. (Beginning at roughly 6,000-feet and ending around
6,800-feet.) Some of the named trees that we passed…
Bachelor and Three Graces
Grizzly Giant (one branch on this tree is 6-feet thick)
California Tunnel Tree
Fallen Tunnel Tree
watched four deer in one clearing, saw a chipmunk, and when we
stopped at the Mariposa Grove Museum along the trail, we saw even
more deer and a raven. The tram made a few stops… in addition
to the museum, on the way back we spent some time near the Grizzly
Giant and the California Tunnel Tree. I have a note at the end
of the tram section that mentions the 290-foot Columbia Tree…
which is supposedly the tallest sequoia in the park.
back on the bus… and I’m about to get heckled. The roads are winding
all over, and at times odd things happen just off the actual road.
Incredible drops just sort of appear… as do hills and, for lack
of a better word, cliffs. We’re coming around a bend, with about
a twenty-foot wall on my side… the passenger side… of the bus.
There is no shoulder on either side of the road. On the top of
the cliff I see a bear cub. I swear it… a bear cub… but for all
of three to five seconds. I mean literally, as soon as it connects
in my mind what I’m looking at, I say “bear” and point but the
bus has already moved along the bend to the right and the visible
section of the top of the cliff is gone.
can’t go back… there’s no place to turn around or pull over. But
that doesn’t stop Karen, who decides to pick on me for not speaking
up more quickly. Before long, we reach our final stop of the tour,
to look at the Tunnel View. A terrific end for the tour portion
of our visit.
spend some time in the gift shop, and I try to get a couple of
quick pictures of Seemore. Mi Luv U was programmed to take us
home… and led us along a different route than we used to head
out on Tuesday. During the drive, we spot a deer about five feet
off of the road and at the edge of a clearing. Mike gets excited
about it, deciding that he must be at least an eight-point buck.
stop was made for dinner at In-N-Out Burger. Norm had helped us
out by explaining that there is a secret menu. We’re ordering
things “animal” style (grilled onions, cheese and sauce) and thinking
about 3x3s and 4x4s (we don’t go that far though). We also chicken
out on a request for the “burger dance”… but now wish we hadn’t.
San Mateo Bridge is used getting home. (We’re on it at night,
so Louise is fine.)
yeah… Mi Luv U is simply awesome.