I awoke under several blankets with an inside temp of 64 degrees. The outside registered 55 degrees. Harrah’s had been built inches from California, so I projected the state line intersecting my bed, with my head in Nevada and my feet in California. Pretty amazing, huh? The summertime at Lake Tahoe was about as perfect as one could expect. I headed up into the Sierras on Hwy 50, and coming around a bend in the road, I came face-to-face with a sheer rocky precipice that looked all too familiar. Then it dawned on me – it was exactly the same scene that I had seen the night before at the end of the movieHigh Sierrawhen Bogie was being pursued by the police up the very same highway (it was a dirt road back then). That was quite a coincidence.
Shortly, I reached the summit at 6400 ft. elev. and started down a steep decline through a most picturesque canyon, many times having to shift down into second gear to save wear on the brakes shoes and hardly ever having to use the gas pedal. I passed through Placerville which derived its name from “placer”, meaning “a deposit of a valuable mineral and esp. of gold.” There was even a state highway appropriately numbered “49” that branched off to the south. I was definitely in what had been known some 137 years ago as the “mother lode” country. Another 40 miles down, I entered Sacramento, which had a posted elevation of 25 feet. Mentally, I calculated that I had descended 6375 feet in a distance of 90 miles. Now that was really coasting. I bet I got 40 mpg on that stretch. Riiiight.
I finally had to merge onto I-80, slipped by Oakland and crossed the Bay Bridge which offered inarguably the most dramatic view of any city in the country. I was actually feeling goose bumps as I panned the panorama of San Francisco’s unmistakable skyline. I made my over to the Marina on the south shore of the bay, overlooking Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a prime location for the berths of hundreds of sailboats, and had a sward of playing fields and picnic areas along with a plethora of parking spaces. To top it off, there was a super Safeway store just across the street. I had again found my Avalon.
Naturally, I went for a space under a tree, which happened to be next to an elderly man working on the engine of his 1964 VW bus. Right off the bat, I struck a chord with Mr. Al Williams, especially since I had owned the same model bus ten years earlier in Dallas. We talked away the afternoon, exchanging travel times we had experienced. He was a nomad after my heart, having driven from Ft. Worth, and now was planning a trip back east to Florida. I wished him all the luck.
I spent the next couple of days visiting old friends in the Bay Area. The lucky list included Allison Nowicki (niece of a lady friend in Denver), Jim Heath (John’s younger brother), and Don MacDonald (classmate at Columbia U.). Needless to say, they were all surprised to see me in the Bay Area. I had my own individual reunions of sorts. And each day after my visitations along with some sightseeing, I would come back to the Marina, and much to my pleasure, there was ol’ Al still hangin’ around.
Gosh, it was great having such a compatible friend with whom I could wile away the evening hours. We were both a little amazed at how bone-chilling the temperature was, even during the day in mid-July. I had to say, “Al, we’re sitting here on the Marina feeling the cold Pacific winds whipping off the bay. It’s a natural thing here in the summer.” Then I added, “Mark Twain once said that the coldest winter he had ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” We could both relate to that. With a temperature in the mid-50s, I was asleep in no time, thanking The Lord for a beautiful three days in San Fran.
The next morning, I bundled up even before getting out of the van. As I mentioned before, I had the foresight to pack a few warm garments knowing all too well I would encounter some chilly weather. The extent of the trip dictated that my wardrobe ran the gamut from swimming shorts to sweaters and long-sleeve shirts. Al and I sauntered over to the Safeway to check out the Deli. To say the least, we were definitely not in the mood for anything intimating cold food. Instead, we opted for large cups of hot soup, my choice being a delectable clam chowder. As we sat spooning our warm brunch, I said to Al, “You know, this has to be one of the premiere super markets in the country. It caters to a very cosmopolitan clientele. San Franciscans demand the very best because they live in the most civilized city in the country.” It made sense to him.
Before parting with a big hug, I said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some warm weather. I may look you up in Florida. You know the old saying with us travelers: ‘You never can tell’.” I took off back across the bay to take in an Oakland A’s ballgame in the mammoth Alameda County Stadium. I found myself basking in the sun in the bleachers wearing short sleeves. What an incredible difference in climate a short ten-mile trip across the bay could make. Only in California!
After the game (A’s 7, KC Royals 5), I took a quick tour of downtown Oakland, which was primarily a collection of nondescript office buildings with a streetscape devoid of any after dark amenities such as lounges, restaurants, and theaters. You could have shot a canon down Main Street and not hit a sole. What a stark and depressing contrast to that city across the bay!
I really had to keep my Rand McNally Atlas handy as I negotiated my way out of Oakland. First it was 24 miles south on I-880, then east for 30 miles on I-580 going through an interchange with I-680, and finally splitting off onto I-205 for 14 miles to I-5. From there I continued east on State Hwy 120 through bountiful vegetable and fruit fields that was so typical of California’s central valley. I stopped in Oakdale for gas (now a reasonable 80 cents a gallon) and asked the attendant if he knew of a legal and level spot where I could park overnight. He said, “Go about ten miles down the road and you’ll see a roadside park on the left. Can’t miss it.” Sure enough, his directions were right on, and I pulled off under a giant oak tree. My altimeter had practically gone off the lower end of the scale, which meant I was somewhere around 50 feet above sea level. But the air was cool and dry, so I had no problem falling asleep.
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