I parked in my “reserved” spot behind Harrah’s where I could sleep straddling the state line, with my feet in California and my head in Nevada. I spent four pleasurable days in Paradise II (Donner Lake being Paradise I). The daylight hours were consumed with biking all over creation and relaxing in the plaza, listening to the synthesized sounds of the Embassy Suites trio while people-watching. Lake Tahoe has got to be the numero uno honeymoon venue in the Continental U.S., as witnessed by the plethora of hand-holding, starry-eyed couples strolling by. Everyday, I biked over to Raley’s SuperMarket to get some comestibles, and what they had there was too good to be true – a Hot Wok Deli. I was “taking-out” every conceivable combination of Chinese cuisine until, ah so, I could feel my eyes getting slanted.
Oh, by the way, I did venture into The House of Lazarus, and after three nights at the black jack tables and pulling-the-slots, I did indeed feel like the beggar in Luke 16. On the fourth and final night, I decided, “What the heck! Might as well shoot two more C-notes.” Well, the stars must have been lined up just right. I hit two pots of $640 each on the same machine in a thirty-minute span! It was unbelievable. I had escaped the Den of Inequity having broken even. Even if I had lost my last hurl, it wouldn’t have been any big deal. I had had a great time. The C-notes crossed my palm while people gathered around to congratulate me. For a few fleeting, hedonistic moments, it was simply the joy of winning, that’s all it was. After all, it’s only money.
The accumulated points on my Harrah’s Gold Card had earned me a complimentary breakfast on the top floor of Harrah’s. The view was grand except for a mild haze that had enveloped the area due to some forest fires off to the west. So, what’s new? I was more interested in observing how much food the obese ones could pile on their plates. I have this fetish about not just looking at people, but actually seeing them. When I was looking around the restaurant, I noticed how many people had their elbows on the table and forks in their mouths, never seeming to take a break to see who’s seated at the next table. It’s amazing – people just don’t look at (or see) other people. Everywhere I go, I’m “seeing” people, whether it’s a grocery store, gas station, or the plaza I spoke of before. It’s an inquisitive game with me, looking at faces, profiles, the way they dress and walk, and conjuring up visions of what they do for a living.
Back on U.S. 50, it was up and over the Sierras at Echo Summit (7330 ft.), and then down, down, down to Sacramento, a descent of more than 6,000 feet in a little less than 100 miles! Only in California! Yep, old Highway 50 had gotten me safely there all the way from Salina, Utah. The valley was hot, which made me look forward to the cool air of the Bay Area. Sure enough, as I rolled down into Oakland, the refreshing breezes off the bay came wafting through the van. I was midway across the Bay Bridge when the incomparable skyline of San Francisco came into full view. It had been ten years since my last visit, and I swear, I literally got goose bumps, and it sure wasn’t from the chilly air. I’ve been all over this great land, and there’s absolutely no other entry to a city in the U.S. of A. that can compare to the drama of what I had just experienced.
From the elevated I-80 I could see off to the left China Basin, the Giant’s new Bell ballpark (officially called Pac). Once down on ground level, I meandered through the area has got to be one of the all-time favorite gathering places for vans and campers. I talked to several guys, one a Floridian in a camper, the other a German in an Arkansas van. They both told me what I was afraid I would hear: “No over-night parking on The Marina.” No problem. I found my “reserved” space in front of the Safeway. Naturally, I biked around the area for more than a hour, but not before donning a sweater. I mean, that wind was whipping in through the Golden Gate making for a chill factor in the 50s. Yet, I noticed several stud muffins who were jogging around bare-chested – only in California! Yeah, it was a typical August afternoon in the City by the Bay. Mark Twain once said: “The coldest winter I spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
The next morning, I awoke seeing the Golden Gate’s towers enshrouded in fog. What a sight! Then I spotted a huge cargo ship slipping towards Oakland with stacks of those ubiquitous overseas containers that the Union Pacific carries across country. I made one last bike tour around the neighborhood, curiously noting how many dwellings had bay windows where they had no view of the bay. Only in San Fran!
Well, this was it, the last leg of the journey to Santa Cruz. I had two choices – either I-280 or CA Hwy 1. Fortunately, as it turned out, I chose the latter. For the most part, it was truly the Coastal Highway, a picturesque drive overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I stopped about midway at an “overview”. I got out and stood on the cliff, looking out towards Japan. I felt like I was literally on the edge of the continent… I could not go one step farther west. It was quite exhilarating. A little farther down the road I knew I would be coming upon a sign pointing to Bonny Doon. The climbing, twisting road led to the former Helbig house which had consumed me for three years, designing, revising, and finally supervising in 1991. Now, after a ten-year hiatus, I was returning to the city that I had grown so fond of. I did entertain thoughts of driving up to see the sprawling redwood casa, but I felt more comfortable getting to somewhere in town to call Franz.