|California, September 2004|
Travelogue: California 2004
By Roger W. Reini
WORK IN PROGRESS
Jump to the beginning of the trip
My first visit to California was in January 1994, when I attended a seminar in accelerated testing in Sunnyvale. I was out there during the big LA earthquake, but I was too far away to feel anything. My next visit, not counting short trips through the state to get from Las Vegas to Lake Havasu City, was in September 1997. Princess Diana had been killed shortly before I went out there, and Mother Teresa passed away while I was out there. Next came a short trip in June 1998 to LA and Orange County to tour a key manufacturing facility, and then a 2-week visit to San Diego and LA in March 2000.
And now, it is August 2004. I am overdue for a trip to the Golden State. I almost went in April 2003, but I changed my mind and decided to go to Texas instead. But this time, I really want to go. My last two trips have been to the Southland, so I'll go to San Francisco this time. And I will take Amtrak across the country again, this time going on the California Zephyr, which travels from Chicago to San Francisco (actually the East Bay suburb of Emeryville) by way of Iowa, Nebraska, Denver, Salt Lake City and Reno. I had considered taking a Canadian train to Vancouver, but I decided against it when I saw the price: over 3 times the cost from Dearborn to Emeryville. I'd also considered doing a loop of the Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle or Portland), the Coast Starlight (Seattle or Portland to Emeryville) and the Zephyr, but sleeping cars were not available on the Empire Builder during the times I wanted to travel.
Last weekend, I made most of the arrangements - the train tickets, the hotel reservation, tickets to two baseball games. I still need to arrange a car rental. I've bought some guidebooks in the last week for driving tours of northern California and walking tours of San Francisco and have been reading them avidly. This is a trip I really want to make!
For some of my previous trips, I had acquired new cameras that received their first substantial workouts on those trips. In the summer of 1996, I got my Minolta 35 mm SLR, which I used extensively on my first trip to London. In 1998, I got an improved Sony Hi8 video camera, which I used to great effect in Britain and Finland. In 2001, there was the JVC MiniDV camera, which accompanied me on the trip to my 20-year high school reunion in Texas. And this trip will see me with yet another new camera, a Canon digital camera. It's not as capable as the Minolta (less zoom potential, for one thing), but I've been impressed with the pictures I've taken so far with it. And with a 512 MB memory card, I can take 442 highest-resolution pictures before I run out of room. The fun I could have....
Tomorrow my trip will begin. I am packed or nearly packed; I am taking two bags, neither of which will be checked. They will be heavy and jam-packed! I hardly have room to include any reading material. But we'll find something, I'm sure. Now I should think about sleep, for I have an early start tomorrow. I'm also a bit tired out from today's outing at work, a team-building exercise in laser tag (although I confined myself mainly to air hockey due to a sore trigger finger).
I've taken the train to Chicago many times over the last 20 years, so the scenery was very familiar to me. I didn't take any video of this section, but I did take a couple of pictures in west Dearborn. Later, I decided to spend some time reading over a draft of a technical paper that I was co-authoring. It proposed a common automotive industrystandard for identifying wiring circuits. I made my notes and wrote up my comments. Later, I would visit the lounge car to type up my notes for eventual e-mailing to my co-authors. Earlier, I'd visited the lounge car for some breakfast; the man at the counter remembered me from previous journeys, though I didn't remember him. Later, I read the newspaper and a magazine called American Road, which celebrates the old two-lane cross-country highways like Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the Yellowstone Trail, etc.
The train was a little slow pulling into Chicago's Union Station, arriving at 12:45 PM. That was not a problem for me, as the train out West would not leave for another 90 minutes. What did prove to be a slight problem were my bags. I had to carry them around the station while I went looking for lunch and more reading material. I had Chinese food at 65 Restaurant; it was all right, but I had had better. At the newsstand, I picked up an early edition of the Chicago Tribune and a copy of The Economist. I checked into the Metropolitan Lounge, checked one of my bags (I should have come here first; then I wouldn't have had to lug the bags around the station), and attempted to search for a Wi-Fi hotspot. There was one from a nearby restaurant, but you needed to supply an ID and password to use it. The train station appeared to have one, but I could not join it [actually, I could establish a so-called “peer-to-peer” connection, but that was of no use in establishing a Net connection]. So I could not send the e-mail that I wanted to send. It would have to wait until I arrived in San Francisco. There was a man who also had a laptop, and I struck up a conversation with him. He'd used a dial-up connection, ultimately. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option for me, as I could not connect my cell phone to my Powerbook. Perhaps it's time for a new cell phone.
It was time to board the train. The room attendant had us line up for the walk to the platform. The sleeping cars were at the head of the train, so we had a good hike. I was wearing my laptop bag as a backpack, allowing me to alternate arms in carrying the other bag. I arrived at my car, number 531, and boarded. I had room 3 on the upper level. It was on the west side of the train, meaning it would face generally north throughout the trip. It was a small room, but I knew this already, having taken three previous long-distance trips. We pulled out of Chicago right on time and started heading west.
My lunch left me feeling hungry, so I chose to have dinner at 5:30, the first seating. On the train, dinner is by reservation only, and you sit with strangers at your table. For dinner tonight, I would sit with two people from South Carolina and a woman from Denver. Now Eva, from Denver, was originally from Houston (the Spring Branch neighborhood, in fact). She recalled the local high school serving as an evacuation shelter during hurricane Carla in 1961. She also mentioned that a sideline of hers was writing guidebooks for travelers. She'd written two books about the sights along the California Zephyr, one covering Denver to Salt Lake City and one from Salt Lake City to San Francisco, and she was working on a third book for the Chicago-to-Denver portion of the route. This would require her to stay up all night; how else to know what would be visible during the night? The guidebooks would be available at Denver's Union Station, she said, and I made a note to visit the station tomorrow.
My dinner tonight was a New York strip steak, cooked well-done. It was pretty good, I thought. When it came time for dessert, I kept with the New York theme and ordered cheesecake. When that arrived, I thought it looked very good, and I took a couple of pictures of it. Robin, another dining companion, thought the picture was good enough for Bon Appetit. Later on, after I'd downloaded that picture, I found that it was out of focus. But it looked good on that little monitor on the camera!
The first day of fall was less than a week away. That meant it was getting dark earlier and earlier every day. Around 7 PM, it was getting fairly dark. But it was still light enough to take pictures in Ottumwa, Iowa. It was a smoke stop (no smoking was permitted on the train), so we hung around for a few minutes. Ottumwa's claim to fame is that it's the hometown of Radar O'Reilly from MASH. I saw an elderly gentleman waiting for someone to exit the train or seeing someone off; he was of the age that Radar would be.
As the train continued westward, it became too dark to see anything outside. I pulled out my iPod and listened to songs by Joyce Cooling, the Byrds, It's My Party (a girl group, not the Lesley Gore song), a song by Linda Ronstadt, and an episode of Gunsmoke. I was never a big fan of Gunsmoke when it was on TV – I might have been too young to appreciate it then – but ever since XM Radio started its Old Time Radio channel and playing the occasional episode of Gunsmoke (yes, it was originally a radio show), I've become a fan. Several weeks back, I had bought a 20-CD set containing 40 episodes of the radio series and had transferred half of them to the iPod.
After 9, I had JC, our car attendant, fold down and prepare my bed. When the lower berth was folded down, there was hardly any room to stand up except right in front of the door. But I knew this already. I'd been in this type of berth three times before. And so I settled in for the night. I did get some sleep, although it was interrupted a couple of times. During the times I was awake, I looked outside the window and could easily see the Big Dipper and other stars. During the time I was asleep, I could remember dreaming at least once, and it involved someone I knew.
We pulled into Fort Morgan, Colorado around 7:30, 1 1/2 hours later than we should have. The train continued on to Denver, paralleling I-76 most of the way there. As we neared Denver, I decided to take out my cell phone and call my aunt Marie and uncle Bill. We had a good chat for 16 minutes or so, and then the train arrived at the Denver station. We had passed by Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies, on the way to the station. You could easily walk from one to the other. After pulling in, I was able to go inside, find the gift store and buy the route guidebooks written by Eva Hoffman. They were not fancy, but they were quite readable and useful. I would refer to them frequently during the rest of the trip.
The train left Denver and headed for the mountains. This would be the most scenic portion of the journey. There were guides on board who were doing a narration of the sites we would be seeing. I was very busy with still and video cameras for the next few hours, although I did find time to read the Sunday Denver Post. Michigan State had lost to Notre Dame yesterday, while Michigan survived a scare from San Diego State. Today, the NFL would play, but we on board would be out of touch with the action. There should have been a satellite radio on board. As the train continued onward, it passed through the Moffat Tunnel and under the Continental Divide. While the weather on the eastern slopes had been clear, it tended to be cloudy on the western slopes. In fact, it rained a few times.
For lunch, I found myself seated with a retired couple from Indianapolis (she used to be a restaurant manager) and a man from Maine who has taught school but is now playing Thomas Jefferson in the year 2040, using that vantage point to comment on our times.
Later in the afternoon, our progress was halted by a boulder on the track east of Glenwood Springs. The train crew could not move it, so outside help had to be summoned. That help did arrive, and the train was able to continue westward. Glenwood Springs was a nice town, one worthy of a visit sometime. I could see the hotels built around the hot springs on the other side of the freeway.
And so we rolled onward, at least until we stopped again. This time, I was in the dining car for the 7:15 seating. Why did we stop? Federal regulations on maximum time on duty. The crew had reached the legal limit, and until the new crew came from wherever, we could go no further. It was looking like this train would be pulling into Emeryville very late tomorrow.
After dinner, I went back to my compartment and listened to more songs and programs on my iPod – some Beatles and Byrds, a few songs from the Mamas and Papas, another episode of Gunsmoke, and some hit songs from the 70's. It was unfortunate that the train didn't have satellite radio; that would sure have helped to pass the time. If it had been Sirius, we would have been able to listen to NFL games. Going through the caverns like we did, I wondered if Sirius would be a better bet for reception than XM. Sirius satellites might be more visible to the trains in canyons than XM's geostationary birds.
We were 4 or 5 hours late pulling into Grand Junction, Colorado. That did not bode well for tomorrow night at all. Around 9:30, I had my bed folded down, and I settled in for the night. Once again, I did get a decent amount of sleep, though it was hardly uninterrupted. There was one point when I woke up – east of Salt Lake City, I believe – where I could see the stars in a very dark sky. I could see Gemini rising in the eastern sky, and I could make out the Milky Way. Now there was a fuzzy area to the southeast that I could not see well when I looked directly at it, but I could see it whenever I averted my eyes. I wonder what it was?
When I woke up, it was a little after 6, Pacific time. I saw a sign for the Wendover, Utah potash plant. The guidebook had told me that Wendover was a dual town right on the border with Nevada. The Nevada side had many casinos, and sure enough, it did. We spent most of the day crossing Nevada. Here, the mountains were in the distance rather than up close. Some of the peaks even had snow on them, and the nearby ground showed signs of recent rain. Lunchtime took place while we were in Winnemuca; a nearby mountain had a big W on its side to remind you where you were.
Onward we rolled. We pulled into Reno around 3:50; several people got off for a cigarette break. I got off too, but not to smoke, only to stretch and to look for a paper. I did find a paper inside the station. Then I looked up the sports scores (Lions beat the Texans) and the Emmy results (Tracey Ullman did not win an Emmy Sunday night). After we got under way, I read the rest of the paper; not much was happening in the world that wasn't already happening. I didn't get to see the famous sign for Reno, for that was on the opposite side of the train. But I did get to see a big trench being dug for the railroad tracks. In the future, the trains will travel below grade, which will keep traffic from being tied up but will worsen the view for travelers.
At last, we crossed into California and rolled through the High Sierra. We got to see wonderful views of Donner Lake as we traveled westward. Because the train was so late, we all got a free dinner: beef stew made from leftovers. It was actually pretty decent, and my meal companions (all from previous meals) thought so, too. Well, there was a bit of grumbling about the limited amount of beef in the beef stew. Who knows what I would have eaten in Emeryville had the train arrived on time? It would not have been beef stew, I can tell you that!
On toward San Francisco we rolled. We passed through Sacramento (didn't see the capitol, though) and continued southwest. At last we arrived in the Bay Area outskirts. From my compartment, I got a good view of the three Carquinez Strait bridges (the oldest will be demolished soon) and San Francisco Bay. Eventually, I could see the Bay Bridge, downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. What a sight! We were nearly there. And at 10:45 PM, nearly 6 hours late, the train pulled into Emeryville.
On the map, the Sheraton Four Points Inn was close to the station, so I thought I would walk there. I had not counted on having to climb up two flights of stairs at the Powell Street overpass with two heavy bags. I climbed up them, but I was somewhat winded at the top. If it hadn't been 11 o'clock at night, I might have felt comfortable stopping for a moment to catch my breath. Fortunately, I caught my breath going down the stairs , and I made it to the hotel with no problems. The hotel was a nice one; my room was on the second floor. One of the first things I did was to hook up my Powerbook and retrieve my e-mail (hundreds of messages, most of them junk), as well as send that e-mail I'd written on Saturday with suggestions on the technical paper. I also sent quick notes to my sister and aunt and uncle letting them know I'd arrived.
The rental car office was very close to the train station. I made my arrangements, and then clerk Kenny (from Chicago – for some reason, whenever he said his name, it sounded more like “Candy” than “Kenny”) drove me over to the Berkeley office for the car, a silver Chevy Cavalier. Interestingly enough, I'd had a Cavalier the last time I was out here. I got to see parts of Oakland and Berkeley I had not planned on seeing. At last we arrived at the office, which was across from the UC- Berkeley campus. The car was there, and I set it up as close to my liking as I could get it. It had a CD changer, but it had manual windows and a manual outside mirror. I could also invert the inside rearview mirror so that it rested above my eyeline, giving me top-notch visibility ahead. I eventually got everything set to a tolerable position and set off for the hotel. Before arriving, I got gas at a Chevron station -- $2.21! It was around $1.85 in Detroit. Back at the hotel, I packed up and checked out, and then I proceeded to do a few things around Emeryville for a while. My first visit was the Borders up the street from the hotel. I didn't get anything there, for they didn't have what I was looking for. Next came a stop at Trader Joe's for some nibble food (cookies, lite popcorn, wasabi-coated cashews) and a brief pop-in at the Tower Records (didn't see anything I wanted). Then I drove on Powell underneath I-80 – this led to a spit sticking out into San Francisco Bay, which gave me the opportunity to take some pictures of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco. Emeryville seemed like a decent place to stay on a future trip.
After getting back in my car, I took the ramp for the freeway. It turned out that this was strictly for I-80, meaning I was heading for the Bay Bridge. I didn't want to take the Bay Bridge because traffic was really backed up. Fortunately, there was one last exit for Oakland before I would have been stuck, and I took it. This enabled me to swing around and get onto I-880, which I would take down towards San Jose. I-880 is also called the Nimitz Freeway. You may recall that double-decked sections of I-880 pancaked onto each other during the 1989 earthquake; when the freeway was rebuilt, the double-decking was not used. This freeway reminded me of the Bayshore Freeway on the peninsula – fairly flat, lots of businesses, not very scenic. I was forced to listen to regular radio, for I had not yet unpacked my satellite radio. Actually, I had unpacked some of the components, but I couldn't find the all-important antenna. Had I left it at home? I wouldn't know until I unpacked everything at the hotel.
Why was I heading down to the South Bay? I wanted to go to Fry's, and I knew there was a Fry's down there. It might have been the first one ever, for this was the heart of Silicon Valley. I remembered where it was from my previous visits, and I got there with little difficulty. But the store wasn't where I remembered it. I took Arques Avenue for a ways, wondering what I should do next. Then I saw the sign for Fry's in the distance. It turned out that the store had moved into a bigger building, and the parking lot was pretty full. The techies were on their lunch break. It was also the day that the Star Wars Trilogy came out on DVD, and I knew Fry's would have a tremendous first-day deal on it. They did: $36. Now I had some time to pass before I could check into my hotel, but this was a good place to pass that time. And I found quite a few things there – a book on digital photography hacks, a sticky pad for keeping things in place on the instrument panel (like a satellite radio receiver), some blank CD-RW's, etc. Oh yes, I got my $36 Star Wars set, too. Afterwards, I backtracked a short distance and visited a nearby In-N-Out Burger (a Southern California institution now in the Bay Area) for lunch. Their fries had a flavor much different from the McDonald's standard. After a brief visit to the Micro Center, I got back on 101 for the drive up to South San Francisco, the Industrial City – so said the sign on Sign Hill (not to be confused with San Bruno Mountain).
The Hilton Garden Inn was in an office park near 101, the Caltrain line and the airport. It had free high-speed Internet access (wired), a key point in my selecting it for my stay. I couldn't stay too long tonight, though, for I had an important engagement: a baseball game. After checking in and resting for a bit, I planned my trip into town. I would drive to the BART station for South San Francisco, take the BART train downtown, then transfer onto a MUNI trolley line that would drop me off right at SBC Park. The BART station was around 5 miles from the hotel, perhaps less. I had no problems taking BART into town; it reminded me of my first visit to San Francisco in 1994, when I took BART for the first time on a Sunday afternoon. At the Embarcadero Station, I got off and picked up a free MUNI transfer for the N line, which would take me to the ballpark. The line was a subway for a short time, then it came to the surface near the Bay Bridge. I hopped off the trolley at the park (2nd Street and King), then went over to the MUNI ticket booth to buy my return ticket. Then it was off to the Will Call window for my ticket. It turned out that I could use a machine to print out the ticket, and I did.
I had brought my camera with me, and I put it to good use, both inside and outside the park. The lens could not zoom in close enough for meaningful action shots, but it could give great overviews of the facility and the area. My seat was in the upper deck behind home plate, a good place from which to see the game. It started off well for the Astros, with two back-to-back home runs in the first inning. Unfortunately, the Giants took the lead in the bottom of the inning and never looked back. They ended up winning the game 9-2. I left my seat after the 6th inning for some park wandering. I'd left by the 8th, hoping to beat the rush to the trolley. By leaving early, I missed seeing Barry Bonds get hit with a pitch in the 8th inning. There were accusations that Houston pitchers were aiming at him, hoping to provoke him into charging the mound and getting suspended for several games. It came close to a brawl on Thursday night, when a ball went behind Bonds and the benches cleared.
The museum did not open until noon, so I needed to figure out what to do until then. Not leaving the hotel until after 9 was one thing that helped. That also let me avoid rush hour, although I was still in heavy traffic on Highway 1 going through San Francisco. I took Highway 1 up to and across the Golden Gate Bridge, immediately exiting at the northern vista point, as I had done twice before. On my two previous visits, I went up to the bridge immediately after leaving the airport upon arrival. This time, I waited until my second full day in town. This time, I had a new camera to try out, and it got a workout. I noticed a heavier police presence at the vista point and the exits nearest the bridge than in the past; terrorism fears, no doubt. After leaving the vista point, I crossed underneath the freeway and climed up into the Marin Headlands for different perspectives of the bridge.
The drive up to Santa Rosa was uneventful. However, I had no luck finding any auto parts stores en route, or at least any stores visible from the freeway. I needed to find a 20-amp minifuse, for the car's cigar lighter fuse had blown. This explained why the XM radio wouldn't work when I plugged it into the lighter socket. It didn't work when I plugged it into the powerpoint socket, either, but the owner's manual did not describe which fuse controlled that socket. I was forced to continue to listen to regular radio on my trip, and this irritated me to no end. No, I had not forgotten my satellite radio antenna; I'd merely packed it in one bag, while all the other radio parts were in the other bag. Everything was set up in the car, just waiting for power. As soon as I got a fuse, I would be back in business. I wouldn't find a fuse until after I left the Schulz Museum; I went to Radio Shack for a 3-pack. But I'm jumping ahead of myself.
When I arrived at Santa Rosa, I stopped at the official California Visitor Center for some literature, then went to the Santa Rosa Plaza shopping center to have lunch at Fresh Choice, the salad buffet restaurant. The food was excellent, as always. I've wished for a number of years for something similar to open in Detroit. Then it was up the freeway for a mile or so to the Steeles Avenue exit and the Schulz Museum. Actually, it was part of a complex of three buildings: the museum, an ice arena, and Snoopy's Gallery, a gift shop. My first visit was the museum, naturally. I left my cameras inside the car, suspecting that photography would not be permitted inside the museum. My suspicions were correct, saving me from having to return the cameras to the car. Once inside, I viewed the downstairs galleries. One of the current exhibits featured Mad Magazine parodies of Peanuts through the years; the exhibit would be closing in the next few days, so I was fortunate to see it when I did. I could remember seeing some of them when I was younger. There was a gallery filled with original comic strip panels – apparently, they are rotated on a regular basis, so repeat visitors won't see the same strips over and over. There were two works of art in the main hall. One was a collection of comic strips that, when seen from a distance, looked liked Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. The other showed the progression of Snoopy from the original dog Spike that inspired Snoopy, to the way Snoopy appeared in the early days of Peanuts, all the way down the years to how he appeared in the 1990's. Beneath that were woodcuttings of the major Peanuts characters, each with a typical saying of theirs. These were offered for sale as magnets in the gift shop.
Upstairs was a hall devoted to Schulz's life, with important letters, awards, memorabilia, magazine covers, etc. Nearby was a recreation of his studio and library, or a portion of his library. I noticed that one of Senator John McCain's books was in the library. Elsewhere on the floor was a wall removed from a former house of Schulz's in Colorado Springs. He and his family lived there in the early '50s, and this wall had been in his daughter's room. It had been painted with appropriate artwork for children, including early Charlie Brown and Snoopy. There was a workshop area where patrons could try their hands at cartooning, and there was also a research center. The courtyard contained some more artworks of interest, such as the famous kite-eating tree (complete with eaten kite), a statue of Charlie Brown under construction, Woodstock's birdbath (with holograms of him and Snoopy on the ice), Lucy's baseball cap (which shaded the birdbath), and dual intertwined sculptures dedicated to Charles and Jean Schulz.
I spent some time in the museum gift store looking for Christmas gift ideas and found some. I also found some books of interest for myself: a collection called “Li'l Folks,” the predecessor cartoon to Peanuts, and a book of tributes to Schulz from many of today's cartoonists. It was hard not to look at some of those tributes without tears beginning to flow. Then it was time to leave the museum, but not the grounds, for I had to walk Snoopy's Labyrinth out front. I then noticed that I was somewhat thirsty, so I walked towards the Warm Puppy Cafe. My drink would wait until I visited Snoopy's Gallery gift shop, which naturally specializes in all things Peanuts. When I walked out of there, I was carrying the Christmas cards I would be sending this year. Finally, on to the Cafe for a root beer float in honor of Snoopy – although his flying ace would just quaff the root beer, not as a float. Whatever. I sat down to enjoy the float and look at the skaters practicing on the ice. There was a fireplace nearby with fire raging.
It was time to leave. I headed back the way I came, and then I encountered the Radio Shack where I got the spare fuses. I installed one, and the cigar lighter was back in business. At last, I could listen to XM! But not for very long, though, for I stopped at the nearby Coddington shopping mall for a couple of things – the latest Bay Area atlas at Waldenbooks, and some grape juice and V-8 at Ralph's (part of Kroger's; I saw some Kroger products in the frozen food section). I'd never noticed Ralph's stores in northern California; I'd associated the chain with southern California. Then it was back onto 101 for the drive to San Francisco. Traffic was heavy heading north, as you would expect for rush hour, but it was fairly heavy going south as well. To avoid some of the traffic, as well as to get more pictures, I decided to make a return visit to the Marin Headlands, but I'd drive farther west than I had this morning. This allowed me to be present when a cruise ship passed under the bridge. It was part of the Princess Cruise line, which meant that it was a “Love Boat”, though it wasn't the ship that appeared in the TV series. I also saw the Sanyo blimp flying around the area. I noticed that it was quite windy up there in the headlands; I was getting chilly. In some places, I could hear what I thought were approaching cars only to learn that they were bicycles headed downhill at great speed. I would not want to take a spill at those speeds.
At last, the sun set, and it was time to leave. Bridge traffic wasn't bad at all, though it did get heavy on Lombard and Van Ness streets as I followed 101 through the city. There were many hotels on Lombard Street catering to tourists. I passed the time in traffic listening to the baseball pre-game show on KNBR; this would be the second of three games the Astros and Giants would play. Eventually, I picked up the 101 freeway again and made it back to my hotel. I would have fish and chips for dinner in the hotel restaurant – the fish was OK, but there were way too many chips!
Now it was lunchtime. I had a mind to go to Chevy's Mexican Restaurant at Stonestown, but I feared it might be too busy then. I ended up eating at Fresh Choice again, and it was good again. I would not want to eat there three days in a row, though. As I left, I visited the nearby Washington Mutual bank's ATM for some cash. No surcharge there, which is why I went. Then I decided to drive up to Stonestown and hang out there for a bit. I noticed that a Borders had opened there since 1997. The Nordstrom's and Macy's (formerly Emporium) were still there, as were Tower Records and the Good Guys. After perusing what they had and leaving empty-handed, I drove up and down the Great Highway along the coast. There were waves crashing onto the shore, and the surfers were having fun. I could see fog hanging just offshore. Then it was time to return to the hotel via Skyline Boulevard. I was without camera; otherwise, I would have considered pulling off the road and taking some pictures of the peninsula laid out below. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at a Safeway and almost got a TV dinner for supper before I realized that I would have no utensils with which to eat the dinner. The room has a microwave to heat the dinner, but without utensils, there's little one can do. So I left the store without getting anything and returned to my room.
For supper, I decided that I would go to Chevy's after all. But I would use my GPS device to locate and guide me to the closest one, which was not at Stonestown. It wasn't very far away, in fact, and it guided me there with no problems. I had chicken fajitas and a soft chicken taco; they were OK, but I prefer the fajitas at my local restaurant back in Westland. I then asked the GPS device to locate the nearest Best Buy for me, but the address it gave, while very close, was not a Best Buy at all; it was an office building. So I drove around for a bit and found my way back to the hotel, where I turned on the baseball game. Now unlike the previous two days, today's game had a happy ending: the Astros won it in the ninth inning!
I woke up around 6 this morning and checked e-mail, like I usually do. I had KGO's news on, which led into the western edition of Good Morning America (yes, they actually called it “the western edition”). Around 9, I left the hotel for the BART station, where I left my car and took the BART to Powell station. Here, I visited the San Francisco Visitor's Center, where they sold transportation passes, among other things. I picked up a 7-day pass, even though I would not be here for 7 days to use it. The days needed to be used consecutively, so a 7-day pass was the only suitable one. After I got my pass, it was still too early for the movie, so I hung out for a while at the Virgin Megastore on Market Street. I didn't get anything there, although the thought did cross my mind a couple of times. I would have more opportunities to go there in the next few days, anyway.
When the movie time approached, I walked a couple of blocks south of Market Street to the Metreon, home to a Sony Style store, an IMAX theater and a multiscreen regular theater. Playing here was “What The Bleep Do We Know?!”, a film that talks about quantum mechanics, the nature of reality, and a whole new way of looking at religion and God. It was a semi-documentary, with lots of talking heads, but there was also a storyline that followed the life of a photographer, played by Marlee Matlin. It was a worthwhile film that made you think about a number of things, although I disagreed with the contention that we could ultimately become like God.
After the film ended, I left the theater – theater owners prefer that you leave when the film's over – and walked back to the MUNI line under Market Street. Here, I would catch an M line train out to Stonestown, where I would view “A Dirty Shame.” This was a movie I'd been waiting to see for some time, mainly because it starred Tracey Ullman. It would be the first John Waters film I had ever seen, and it would be a complete contrast from the first film I saw today. It would also be one of the few NC-17 movies I'd seen in a theater, perhaps the first. Because I was still full from my snack/lunch at the first movie, I only got a bag of peanut butter M&M's here. Now the film dealt with sex addiction and a battle between the addicts and the “neuters”, those who were opposed to all the sexin' going on. Tracey's character was a convenience store clerk who started out as a neuter but turned into a sex addict after a knock on the head. She fell in with a group of addicts led by Ray-Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville), who were looking for a sex practice/position that had never been attempted before (good luck!). And that's about all I can describe here. What did I think of it? Well, it's not for the easily offended. It was so outrageous and over the top, it didn't really deserve an NC-17. I'll say this, though: as I was walking back to the main shopping mall from the theater, I happened to look up and see a big cross on a mountain (Mount Davidson, I believe). Message, perhaps? “OK, you've had your fun, but don't forget what really counts.”
After the movie ended, I visited the Borders bookstore and got a book on Point Reyes, the national seashore that I wanted to visit on this trip. Then I got back on the M line trolley and took it to the end of the line at the Balboa Park BART station, where I would then take the BART back to South San Francisco. Back at the hotel, I checked e-mail, then wrote up some brief notes on “A Dirty Shame” for the Yahoo group I belong to. Later on, when it was suppertime, I felt like visiting Fuddrucker's. The closest one in the area was Daly City. As I drove there, I could see the fog coming in off the ocean, but I never encountered it. The restaurant was across the street from the Century Theaters, which were quite busy on a Friday night. I parked in the theater garage, then walked over to the restaurant. I decided to have an ostrich burger tonight; it's supposed to be a low-fat red meat. I had had it before and liked it, and tonight was no different. Because it was rather chilly out with the fog coming in, I decided to order a bowl of chili as an appetizer. It hit the spot. When I left, the fog had rolled in. I returned to the hotel via freeways: I-280 to US 101 through the city. The Dodger-Giant game on KNBR was on the radio, and I put it on in the car. I tried to listen to it back in the hotel room, but the interference was strong, and it made for tough listening.
©2004 R. W. Reini. All rights reserved.
Written by Roger