A California diary… A group of six on tour in 2007
8 days in northern California… day eight
Don’t forget Sonoma… tying up loose ends and heading home


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 April 8, 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.

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Day eight, Saturday, October 27, 2007

Have you ever heard of the stages of grieving? There are five of them, and I think they go something like denial… anger… bargaining… depression… acceptance. I’ve seen them in different orders, and at times with different category names, but for our conversation here -- this works.

I mention this because Terry goes through roughly five stages when she is getting ready to return home from a trip/vacation. Let’s call them Terry’s Five Stages of Packing. Here’s how we could define them, and a quick little examination of where we are this morning.

Denial – In part, Terry actually faces this one before we even leave on the trip. My belief (and it isn’t true… I just feel it seems this way) is that Terry operates with the misguided concept that she will come back with exactly as much as she left with. No extra weight. No additional bags. In other words, she “denies” the need to prepare extra packing room… she “denies” that she’ll buy anything. In fact, I’ve seen her say that she’s traveling with no extra money, won’t be buying a single thing, as if she plans on coming home with less than she left with.

That said, after one adventure (Las Vegas) where we really, really needed the extra bag she didn’t bring for that trip, normally these days she does bring an extra bag or plan for the possible need of more space. Last night, in bringing things out of the closets and drawers, and while selecting which food to toss and which to save, the impact of denial visibly hit when she was simply staring at all the stuff we had to pack piled on the bed.

Anger – The very best example I have for this is the wasted space created by… packing up the clothes we didn’t wear. That extra pair of sneakers… the bathing suits… a sweatshirt… whatever it is that we didn’t wear is taking up valuable room in the bags. And obviously, now far too late to be of value during the trip, she is explaining why we shouldn’t have brought these items. This usually extends into telling me why I never should have let her buy shirts and other items.

Also… she is considering stuff that needs special care. And she’s ticked off that not only does she need to create space for things she didn’t use, but she also doesn’t want any of the wine glasses to break. At this point, I am asked to move to another part of the hotel room while being informed that on our next trip I will be allowed one pair of socks for every two days of travel, only the sneakers I wore on the plane as footwear for the whole trip, must wear the same shirt to bed that I wore that day instead of bringing pajamas, and should be ready to comb my hair in the mornings with my fingers. (Is this where I mention that before leaving I wasn’t the one matching shoes against my pants? Ok… didn’t think so.)

Bargaining – Once the anger and denial wear off, she starts the actual process of packing. I’m not allowed to help much… only by request and with specific instructions. Usually it’s to be asked if something she has will fit in my backpack.

She starts removing items we won’t take with us… candy, gum, water… that we bought to snack on in the room or the car. (Or that we simply bought because you have to at least try the special moose-themed-caramel-chocolate-cashew-chew from Yosemite. (I made that up… but it sounds really good, doesn’t it? Maybe change it to a bear theme and add some popcorn. The idea is available for licensing to any bidders that want to contact me.)) She’s trading this for that… moving socks out of one bag and into another… using the extra clothes to wrap breakables… changing her plans about what to wear on the plane that might allow for another layer without creating something truly unbearable. (I’ve seen her wear a sweatshirt with a turtleneck on a plane while carrying a jacket not because she’s cold, but because it took a heavy and bulky item or two out of the suitcase.) On this trip, she packed our socks inside the wine glasses. Provided protection against them breaking, and created more space. She is good at this folks… and once she gets rolling, it’s best to stand way off to the side.

(The really funny part of this packing process comes from this stage. All of the food that is identified as “not for the plane” becomes snacks for the last day. So Terry will repeatedly and often be offering a bottle of water, chips, cookies, and moose-chew to the travel party throughout the day. It’s like a second season of the packing-to-leave show.)

Depression – The bags are packed, but she has no clue how they will fit into the car, how we’ll carry them, or what is going to happen at the airport. Oh sure… we are well within our limits on the number of suitcases and what we are carrying on. The backpack is not over the size limit. (But it is bursting at the seams and heavy.) So now the depression part isn’t just the end of the trip (though it would be depressing enough because vacation is over), but also looks like it will be uncomfortable moving around (more depression).

Acceptance – Hey… it’s packed. Everything has a place, and everything is safe, and for better or worse we are ready to go.

That’s a rough overview. The bigger point is that Terry goes through the stages on every trip we take. I have yet to see her happy while packing… and it isn’t just the idea that the trip is over.

This morning though… acceptance… stages complete. We’re dressed. The room has been checked. Our bags are waiting near the door.

We go to breakfast and Mike is very disappointed. The girls are off for the weekend. He isn’t going to have a chance to say goodbye.

We pack up the van and go over the basics for our morning. The one shortcoming of the hotel… no computer or printer. We need to make a stop to organize and print our boarding passes for later tonight.

We get directions to Kinko’s and, since we’re there, I use the stop as an opportunity for tackling another job… making copies of receipts so we can drop off the damaged luggage with United right here in San Francisco instead of trying to bring it home and deal with it from there.

Of course, the first copiers I touch are broken. And while trying to get the clerk’s attention to tell her, the formerly empty copy area is filling up with people using the other copiers. Instead of just making three copies for a frustrated patron, she directs me to wait in line behind people that showed up after me… and none of them appear to have seen a copier before, because they… are… moving… slow.

Mike and Ellen are having similar fun with the computers at Kinko’s. (You know… when I first started using them in college, Kinko’s locations were awesome. Open all day and night… and things worked. Now, they’ve been bought out, reorganized, streamlined, and the technology has been updated. The past three or four times I’ve needed their help have involved headaches. On the other hand… several years ago they once saved me a ton of money by printing out pictures in the size I needed and I didn’t have to go to a photo place. Score one for technology there. (Maybe things do even out.))

We finally get out of there, and given our location decide to head over to the airport and drop off the damaged bag now.

Tasks completed… deep breaths taken… we’re off.

Ellen had mentioned heading back in to the city and an area called North Beach. Party time… Italian style.

We are walking along Columbus Avenue, and finally have a great shot of the Transamerica Building. We’ve seen it all week from various angles, but this time it’s right there.

Strolling around, our general conversation is about things we might do with our afternoon… and there seems to be talk (with building excitement) about whether or not we have enough time to head out to Sonoma.

We stop in a few places to check out the menus (and buy some pastries). I get a fantastic chocolate almond biscotti, but have no record of where I bought it. Ellen gets us all laughing when she finally caves in to the power of apple pie. (Actually… new paragraph… longer story…)

On Friday we drove along route 29 into Napa Valley. Along the way, we passed a Marie Callender’s restaurant with a huge sign out in front. Not only are these famous pies… and hey, this isn’t the frozen grocery store version, it’s direct from the source… but they have a sign saying “apple pies” are there for us to buy.

Richard loves apple pies. I mean it… no joke… he would marry one. Want to “April fool” Richard? Call him and say you wish he was there, because you have an apple pie that no one will eat and it looks like you’re going to throw it away. He will cry.

So we began to ask him if he wanted an apple pie. At first he said no. And then he went on a bit, still saying no, but explaining that it’s our last night and he wouldn’t want to waste it if he didn’t finish it. The light hadn’t turned green yet… we’re still right there… and we’re all asking him if he’s sure he didn’t want to pick up a pie… in fact, we’re all offering to help him eat a pie. (I should have turned in folks… no question. I’m mad at myself for not.) No… no… no… no, he’s fine.

You need to know that Richard is a notorious mumbler… actually, he’s a world class mumbler. In fact, we assigned him a new nickname in recent weeks… Mumbles. He likes talking to himself… and you should see him when he’s trying to find one of his tools. The other day we were on opposite sides of a wall in his basement. Mike and I were discussing something, while Richard was working on an electrical box and some wiring he wasn’t happy with. (Perhaps at a different, more appropriate time, you will hear the tale of the octopus.) Anyway, Mike and I exchanged some words indicating that whatever we were working on was going fine, and from behind the wall, in a light, soft tone intended for no one to really hear: “I wish things were going well back here.” I swear, Richard is probably the funniest guy in our group, but none of us ever hear all of his jokes because he says them in such a casual, matter of fact, amazingly quiet voice. Anyway…

Light turns green… we’re off… and within thirty seconds of passing the place we hear Mumbles going at it. Here’s a direct quote: “It was only five dollars though. I like apple pie. Even if I didn’t finish it…”

(I should have stopped. We were early for our tour. Mike could have recited his mise en place and Richard could have had his pie. I’m sorry guys.)

That was yesterday.

Today we are walking along Columbus Avenue and Ellen had told him about an apple pastry she spotted in one of the shops. Did she get it? No.

Richard is mumbling about it, but only Ellen can hear what he’s saying. However… we can all hear Ellen’s responses to him, which basically seem to involve repeating three things… “Jesus”… “Do you want to go back?”… “Christ”… until eventually she just turns around.

She’s now trying to find the bakery again. (There are a few of them around.)

Before we can locate it though, we spot Molinari’s Deli… a San Francisco tradition for over 100 years.

We have decided we can make a run into Sonoma. So, at Molinari’s we all pick out sandwiches and grab some other things for a final picnic. We put the sandwiches in the car and split up to make our final run through the city.

Ellen is closing in on her bakery. I’ve spotted City Lights and have my own plans to look around the bookstore for a little while. Everyone agrees to meet me there.

If you ever have a chance to visit City Lights, I recommend it. It’s at the center of beatnik history… Ginsberg for one, go ahead and look it up. I bought three books while inside… and I can virtually guarantee you I never would have found or selected these books in any other location. Great place… and very different, while being strangely relaxing and comfortable.

The group arrives to find me and we leave. Only… well… look, it’s just right over there… he has to have seen it… maybe not… actually, yeah, too late.

Mike has spotted the edges of Chinatown.

We walk a few blocks in, and Mike disappears into a store. This time, unlike yesterday’s bread run, he doesn’t reappear right away. But it isn’t long before Mike comes back out to the street. The expression on his face tells the story… if it wasn’t for the possibilities of Sonoma, we would have lost him.

Terry has called someone she works with. He had been telling her we had to see the Ferrari-Carano property. But we hadn’t written it down and needed to get the name right.

Everyone in the van… Mi Luv U ready… one last adventure awaits us.

We’re heading up to an area my notes refer to as Dry Creek Valley. Considering the locations of the two places we visited, the more accurate location might be to say Healdsburg.

As we’re driving, we spot a picnic table and swing in to a parking lot. We’ve arrived at Rued Vineyards. The gang begins a tasting of four wines… two whites and two reds. (My notes list them as a chardonnay for one of the whites, and a 2003 zinfandel and a 2004 zinfandel for the reds.) We purchased a bottle of the 2003 Zinfandel, asked if we could open it and use the picnic table, and went outside to enjoy our last picnic of the trip.

The setting was beautiful. Having spent a few days now with wines and grapevines, there was a tremendous sense of familiarity to it. And yet… we found it felt very new as well, and we all immediately began to feel that we had not seen enough of the Sonoma region. I’m convinced that if you asked anyone familiar with the area, you would get an agreement with the idea that Napa and Sonoma (and I’m sure, Mendocino as well) are very much alike, and also three or four stages beyond incredibly different.

I don’t tell anyone, but the light is on. We need gas. According to my estimates, Ferrari-Carano is as far ahead of us as the last gas station I saw is behind us. And if we were to backtrack, it would cost us about thirty minutes.

Screw it. We’re heading in.

Terry’s friend wasn’t lying… Ferrari-Carano is gorgeous… beautiful… breathtaking. The grounds are wonderfully landscaped, including an incredible main building and some fantastic garden areas. The sights behind the property… of vineyards and distant hills and mountains… just seem perfectly placed.

After going in and participating in a tasting (sorry… not me… so no notes on it) and buying some items in the gift shop, we leave with a walk through one of the gardens. Still impressive for the time of year, we are all wondering what the property must look like in full bloom.

We make it to the gas station and start to look at the clock. I have one last request… and it looks like there is time to make it happen. In 1997, I asked Terry to marry me in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Ever since giving her a ring that day, on any trip we take I make sure we stop and find some jewelry. With about an hour to ninety minutes free to use… depending on our return time to the city… it looks like we can sweep through Fisherman’s Wharf.

We park the car and head in to the Pier 39 area. Tigg and I sneak away from the main group and walk into Na Hoku. After looking around, she settles on a couple of pieces. After about an hour, we’re heading back to the car and preparing for the journey home.

I drop everyone off at the main airport area… United it is, and you can just feel the excitement as we wonder how they might screw up our return. After unloading five passengers and our luggage, I go to drop off the car.

I owe about $45.


It’s a surprise charge… I forget why… one of those city usage visitor tax type of things I believe. But it’s yet another reminder of how fees are cropping up all over the place when you travel, and they never seem to be clearly marked.

Back to the group and we head through the security check point. It seems strange to see a wine shop out in the terminal… since you aren’t allowed to bring liquids through security. (But then again, in this region I suppose wine at the airport is about the same as being in Las Vegas and finding slot areas at the airport.)

A vast food court provides the basics for dinner and we are all over the place… from Chinese to sushi… soups to sandwiches. Everyone is quiet. Mike and I keep walking over to a sports bar where the television is showing the Red Sox and the Rockies playing in the World Series.

Once on the plane… well… United doesn’t disappoint. Mike has a perfect record going, as he finds for the fourth straight time his seat has a broken armrest. But the story gets better…

About fifteen minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart, an announcement is made. From the cockpit… a thank you. Everyone is already on board… doors are closed… and we are just waiting for clearance to depart ahead of schedule. In fact, he tells us not to pay attention to the “red wings” we see outside the plane, because that’s only happening as a result of how fast we’ll be moving off to Chicago. We’re going to be really, really early.

As we reach the scheduled departure time, another announcement is made. From the cockpit… it’s another thank you. And… yeah… they, umm… they appreciate our patience. It seems that another United flight is being cancelled for a mechanical problem. They are working on getting some of the passengers moved to other flights and may be directing some of them our way. We’ll be leaving a few minutes late according to the schedule, but it will only be a small amount of time and we’re going to easily make it up while in the air. We’re still heading for an early arrival.

About thirty-five minutes late, we start moving away from the gate. From the cockpit… an apology. They’re going to do everything they can, but we’ll be a couple of minutes late in our Chicago arrival.

Everyone on the plane was getting restless. You could almost cut the “what now” tension in the air every time the speakers crackled. It certainly wasn’t stated, but I definitely felt that every passenger on that plane was fed up with United. (Yup… friendly skies my butt.) And then… a tension breaker.

They started playing the in-flight movie. Heading out to California, we had been treated to the same episode of The Office a few times, along with the movie License to Wed (which featured… in several roles… the cast of The Office.) Those of you that fly often know that most airlines try to run different programming based on the direction of your flights. So, going east to west the movie is different than going west to east. (Supposedly.)

As the film started, you could just feel everyone… now wide awake… staring at the screen for a distraction. Robin Williams appeared. An audible groan rises from the captive audience. It was the opening scene of License to Wed… and quite obviously, everyone had seen it.

People started shuffling around… picking up books or magazines… trying anything to relax again… whatever. About thirty minutes passed, and Mike and I both became aware of something. Richard was staring at the movie screen, intently watching the film. The thing was, he had no headset on. He was just watching it… there was nothing to listen to. Later, he told us the film was much better the second time, without sound.

We land in Chicago and have about ninety minutes before the next flight. We figure that’s plenty of time to change terminals, grab some seats, and then assemble some breakfast items. Only one problem… the shuttle you have to use to get from one terminal to the other isn’t running until 6am.

We’ll end this travel diary with two great and appropriate stories.

We landed in Warwick and went to get our luggage. Mike and Louise left with their son… Dad arrived to pick us up. As we grabbed our bags, Ellen’s had a broken handle. The list of things to mention in a letter to United just doesn’t seem to end. Ellen and Richard take that bag and begin to walk over to the United baggage claim desk location. Within seconds, we see them heading back to us. The desk is supposed to be open… but it’s not… no one there… closed.

Two days later and I’d sent a group letter to United. I swear… I tried to be brief. There was just so much to cover. So in closing it, I apologized for going onto a second page by mentioning that I had left out a lot of the small inconveniences. As an example, I noted how every flight featured The Office.

Later that week, a letter arrived from United apologizing for the problems we encountered. They issued a $150 voucher for each of us. (Six vouchers total. And, if you’ve checked out United’s prices lately, you know that once you take $150 off the price of any United flight it brings their fare to a total that is only still about $30 more than the best price you’ll find for the same trip on a different airline. Considering the great customer service and convenience involved in flying United, you can understand how excited we are to only pay that little extra for the tremendous headache.)

I thought the letter from United was pretty good though… with a response for everything we mentioned… until I hit the last paragraph. It was there that he said he “was sorry we saw the same movie” during the flights. In other words, realization hit me that he simply took my letter, went down it point for point -- almost definitely without reading it -- and just said sorry for this… sorry for that… our goal is customer satisfaction… blah-blah-blah… please try us again. I’m guessing that the $150 total was based on doing a word count of my original letter. Two pages? 1,000 words? That’s 6 fares, multiplied by 2 for page length, multiplied by a word count of whatever, and we’ll send them $150 per person.

Welcome home.


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