After a brief breakfast and quick goodbye, I wended my way back down to U.S. 101 and headed north in search of another F. L. Wright masterpiece – the Marin County Civic Center. What I found was a structure of enormous length with portholes, an aqua-shaded roof, and a 200 ft. pyramidal pylon which implied a magnificent ship of state at a secure mooring for citizens amidst the smaller craft tacking back and forth along the freeway.
Once inside, I could sense the orchestration of a commercial arcade and a public rotunda. I felt as though I was strolling through a shopping center mall, but instead of window gazing for personal trappings, I would be looking for a particular governmental service. As I was returning to the subordinated parking area, I was able to visualize yet another architectural connotation—the four tiers of arches that leaped over the landscape impressed me as a strong and graceful Roman aqueduct. And to carry the synopsis one step further, the diminishing span of the. arches with each ascending level seemed to express the hierarchy of our democratic process. Incredible! Three different abstract ideas synthesized into one concrete resolution. Having now seen only four of Wright’s masterworks (the other two being the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the K. Humphries Theater Center in Dallas), I nevertheless was convinced that he was the true genius of all American architects. I left the Civic Center with a gift of inspiration.
I looped around San Pablo Bay and headed north through the richest wine-growing area in the country, the Napa Valley. I thought, a lot of grape stompin’ must be goin’ on. I hadn’t gone very far when I spotted a splendiferous two-storey house of incomparable wood construction. The roadside sign read: “The Beringer Wineries”. I was so captivated by the irresistible charm of the house that I impulsively drove into the property. I cordially took the tour through the vineyards and the mother-lode of wine vats stored in cool catacombs of the backyard hillside (for some reason a sulphuric aroma permeated the caves).
Back inside the house, we all indulged in the insipid wine-tasting ritual. Having completed all my necessary proprieties, I cornered the tour-guide and proceeded to extricate the history of the house from the obliging lady. Her story was that the Beringers, once they had decided that “this was the place, ace”, dismantled their winery in Germany in the late 1800’s and audaciously shipped their holdings lock, stock, and wine-barrel around Cape Horn to San Francisco and had the house reconstructed on the present site. How about that! Ah, the stick-to-itiveness of the Germans!
I left the Beringer Bountiful somewhat awestruck by their accomplishments and continued north in the direction of the Mallard Redwoods State Reserve. At Cloverdale on U.S. 101 I detoured on CA 128 into an unbelievable arboreal world. I had to stop and walk into, without any exaggeration, an enchanted forest — a cathedral of giants pointing infinitely skyward. I stood reverently still in the center of the “nave” and closed my eyes, hearing only The Almighty whoosh His breath through the pinnacles.
It was true Gothic. If those bosky behemoths could have talked: “Why yes, we witnessed the signing of the Magna Charta”. I pressed my hands firmly against the trunk and then pounded it with a fisted hand. It didn’t budge a millimeter. That was a major tower of strength. I felt so minuscule, just like I would feel when picturing myself on top of a distant mountain — a mere dot in the universe. It was an arduous journey back to the van, having to climb over and wedge through all those pine needles at ground level — a bugging experience! I found an overnight spot amongst my giant protective friends…oh, what a heavenly sight.
As I retreated from the redwood reserve, I wondered what could possibly top that act in God’s wondrous world. I made my up the coast to Eureka where I encountered the most bone-chilling climatic conditions that I had ever experienced. Sure, I had, at the summit of Vail Pass in the darkness of December of ’78 (on the way to put some roots down in Denver), succumbed to shivering in the sub-freezing stratosphere of the Rockies. But I was high and dry there. I had stopped for petrol at a self-service pump for which I paid dearly, not in dollars and cents of course, but for submitting myself to the raw, cold, 110% humidified wind whipping off the Pacific Ocean….it cut through me like sittin’ on a cast iron toilet seat in the Yukon. Or maybe I should say that was the way my hand stuck to the gas pump.
Never mind that the calendar said it was the last week of October….the clammy conditions were commensurate with the climate for 365 days out of the year. Eureka was an impromptu, yet propitious, turning point in my odyssey – I had decided that was as far west and north I wanted to venture. It was time to held east to Denver (that sounded funny), allowing myself enough time to get back by Thanksgiving.
As I headed east on CA 299 to Redding, I was singing to myself the one liner from “Things Are Lookin’ Up in Kansas City” (from “Oklahoma”), with the appropriate pronoun pinch-hitting: “I’ve gone about as far as I can go”. 113 miles later I was relishing the warm sunshine of the north central valley. My fingers had finally unshriveled from the cool dampness of the coastal region, and I could feel my hands aching for some knuckle-wrenching manual labor. The odometer read just over 6,100 miles. I decided it was time for Baleau’s first oil and filter change and I was just the one to do it.
Stocked with a half case of Pennsylvania crude and a FRAM filter, I found an abandoned gravel parking lot in which to do my “dirty work”. Oh, did that warm oil feel good as I hand-turned the old filter off its spinner bolt. The old oil from the crankcase was gushing into a pre-prepared sludge pit which I had dug out with my trusty little GI shovel. Afterwards, I simply scooped the loose gravel over the oil deposit and smoothed things out with some dirt and dead grass. I figured I had passed an easy ecological test, even though my method of disposal wasn’t the purest of procedures. All in all, it was a great afternoon, replenishing Baleau with her precious bodily fluids while, at the same time, giving my hands a much-needed workout.
I scooted south for a few miles on I-5 to Red Bluff, then took CA 36 east to Susanville and old U.S. 395 south to Reno. I checked in at the Sundance Motel on Virginia St. (Reno’s version of the Vegas strip), owned and operated by Harry and Betty Frisbee. I had to admit to myself (and the proprietors) that I was lured into the friendly confines of their “home away from home” by the fluorescence of neon and bizarre sheet-metal sign shapes of the street-side semaphore. Even the motel’s signature conjured up fantasies of the wild and wooly west – native Americans performing their ritual of whooping it up around a symbolic fire, or Butch and The Kid robbing one more bank.
As far as privately operated motels were concerned, there was no patent on what brand one could stamp on their respective inns. I knew I had seen that logo etched in metal and tube in other roadside locales. Nevertheless, the Reno Sundance had a character all its own, I was made sure of that by the friendliness of the Frisbees. There was no phone (a paybox was next to the office), but there was a pool (an enlarged kidney-shaped tub), and pets were allowed. And next door, a young lady was plying her trade in the world’s oldest profession. A curious collection of kids, canine corps, and concubines. My parking space in front of room 107 was becoming more precious as more tired travelers were sucked in by the sun-dancing sign and consequently were making the Frisbee’s asphalt backyard look like a used car lot.
With that in mind, I ambulated down Virginia to the nearest casino, the gawdy and crass Circus-Circus with its flashing facade of pink and white efflorescence. My mind was instantly boggled by the incalculable amount of kilowatts required to keep a gambling emporium operating full blast for 8,760 hours a year (that’s right, 365 times 24). If there was a state of sheer environmental contradictions, it was Nevada.
I was remembering the summer of ’63 when I was driving to San Francisco to meet the gang of four from Columbia U. I had driven halfway across the Silver State into a flaming sunset when I decided it was time to pull off the Lincoln Way, or U.S. 30 (most of I-80 had not even broken ground), and get some shut-eye in the back seat. During the long intervals between vehicular traffic, I was able to grasp the serenity of the landscape.
Even though every heavenly body was able to emit light to its fullest capability, an eerie darkness permeated the entire setting. Aside from the natural “blackout”, there was a quietness and stillness that made the term “noise as pollution” seem as far away as 42nd and Broadway. If consummate bliss was desolation and isolation, then that spot was a the beatitude of the continent. Even at first light the next morning, the sight of the barrenness vented an aura about the land that made it seem completely uninhabitable for neither man nor beast. I thought: “What was all the hew and cry over overcrowding and overpopulation all about?”
Then I had a second thought of a little more profundity: “The Great Architect on High had planned the planet earth with the purpose that every cubic inch of the spheroid had a specific reason for being there, no matter how insignificant that square inch, or all those square miles, appeared to be to the casual eye. I tried to hold onto that observation as I drove to Reno with the early morning sun’s reflection bouncing off the outside mirror. I pulled into “The Biggest Small Town in the Country”, as the banner stretched above and across Virginia St. proudly proclaimed, about 7 A.M. and was able to clearly see into several casinos with their wide-open fronts melding with the sidewalk and street.
That was when I was struck with the cultural shock of the state…self-indulgents rolling dice, playing cards, pulling levers, and even bellying up to the bar. I had just spent nine eye-opening months in New York City, an amalgamation renowned for its cultural diversities, but I had never experienced such a pattern of polarities as I had witnessed during the preceding 12 hours. Enough of ’63.