October 2011

Home Again

OK, i’m home again and trying with moderate success to recover my composure, reminding myself that it’s no sin to cut a trip short for whatever reason you want and that at least i’d got nearly to Canada before i realized that i’d left my passport at home.  And also, by cutting the trip short i put a tourniquet on the fiscal hemorrhage of spending every night in a motel.

And besides, when i wasn’t gorging on sausage, biscuits, and gravy i was wolfing down double hamburgers with chocolate milk shakes.  That was largely Dairy Queen’s fault.

See, i’d thought they were extinct west of the Rockies, and my joy knew no bounds when i saw one after i crossed into Oregon, where i came to discover that they were abundant.  The milkshakes were as creamy as ever, and although the burgers aren’t quite as good as those back in Texas and New Mexico, they were good enough that when i returned to the scale at the gym this morning, i discovered that i’d gained three pounds.  Late note:   A reliable source informs me that there is a Dairy Queen in Redwood City, which is less than an hour’s drive south.  Stay tuned.

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Return to the Sundial

About 10:30 last night i discovered that i no longer have the strength to drive all night, so i stopped at a sleazy motel in Medford.  Got up the next morning and resumed the drive home.  Hmmm, kinda nice to be able to see the lower quarter of inland Oregon as i drove through it.  Got into California and realized that i could salvage one shred from the return trip if i stopped in Redding and tried for some good pics of the Sundial Bridge.

I first visited this bridge in July, 2004, when it was three weeks old, and at that time i had my first digital camera, a little Nikon Coolpix that i’d bought the previous spring.  With it i got the luckiest shot i ever took and put it on the home page for this site.  I learned most of what i know about photography with that little camera until i had dropped it one too many times four years later and i discovered that enormous advances had been made in reasonably priced digital cameras.  This trip i have my Panasonic DMC FZ50 with me, and although i’d be stopping right in the middle of the day, there remains the possibility of getting another good shot.

So i pulled off the freeway at the first Redding exit and stopped at a gas station/market, bought a map, and confirmed with a local kid that yes, the road you could see over there was 237 and that all you had to do was follow it to the downtown area and then turn off to the right a mile or so to the bridge.  And for that matter, the damn thing can’t hide because we know it spans the Sacramento River, of which there is only one in the entire state.

Alas, my senility kicked in again and i forgot i was coming into town from the north and thus needed to turn the map upside down, or, as they taught us in the Army, to orient the fucker.  A complicating factor was that the kid (old enough to sport facial hair) either was as bad off as i am and didn’t know his right from his left or in fact had no idea where his world-famous bridge was, since otherwise he wouldn’t have agreed with my statement that i’d need to turn right when i got downtown.

So there i was following 237 toward downtown and looking at the map outta the corner of my eye and not seeing a single one of the major streets i was crossing.  Gave up and stopped at a park, which i couldn’t find on the map, nor could i figure out the street index codes.   Asked this codger and he confirmed that that street right there was, indeed, 237 and that i should just keep following it that way and turn onto 199, which leads to the park the bridge is in.

So i got to 199 and turned right and immediately noticed that i was going uphill.  Knowing that rivers are traditionally located downhill, i knew there was still a problem and seethed over the map until finally something clicked about the position of the sun and i understood what was wrong.  Sat there in a puddle of self pity until i finally pulled myself together and turned around and went downhill on 199 until i saw signs for the bridge.

It came as no surprise that i misread the signs and ended up at the sister park on the other side of the river, but it had a groomed trail through the park to the bridge.   Sun was near the meridian, but i took some shots anyhow before i drove home.






Sundial Bridge

Stopped for a late lunch at Bartels Giant Burger at the Corning exit.  Suspected it was gonna be good when i rolled up and noticed that all the vehicles outside were full size pickups.  I knew it was gonna be delicious when i walked in and saw i was the only tourist and that everybody else, patrons and staff alike, were obese.  I couldn’t stop myself:  giant burger and large chocolate milkshake.  They gave me a discount because i was so skinny and clearly needed some fat on my bones.

And then i drove home and am trying to figure out how i can better deal with my senility.

A comforting thought, though, is that in the first place i’d always said i had no definite schedule for this trip, that i would go north until i got tired of it.  So all i missed by driving straight home is the sights i would have stopped at enroute. the main things being the bridges of Portland and Tacoma and most of all a little side jaunt over to Mt. St. Helens.   Well, other than what i’d been thinking of as the highlight of the trip, seeing my friends in Vancouver.

Other than Vancouver, my greatest regret is over not seeing Mt. St. Helens.  I weep with joy every time i think of Robert Landsburg, who was just a few miles from Mt. St. Helens when it exploded.  Knowing he was going to die, he stood there and shot up the rest of the roll of film in his camera, rewound the film, put the camera into its case, put his wallet and the camera into his backpack, and lay down on top of the backpack.  They found him a couple of weeks later on top of his pack but under a blanket of ash, and the film although somewhat heat damaged could be developed.  Several of his shots were printed in the National Geographic story on the eruption.

I want to stand in that spot.

And i’ll have my camera ready in case my prayers are answered.

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Seattle and Bust

Hadn’t gone five miles when i passed this cranberry farm with the farmer sitting there working on something in his lap.  Probably checking his email.

cranberry farm

And shortly thereafter reached the Naselle River

Naselle River

Then on in to South Bend for breakfast at Hamp’s, where i got smart and ordered the smallest thing on the menu, a breakfast sandwich of ham and egg on an English muffin.   Full of full-size friendly locals, is that all you’re gonna eat? all touting the parts of their state a retired SF writer just had to see.


Before i even left town, though, there was this retired device that had been used to skid logs down to the river.

log skid engine

And i guess it was at this point that all the cholesterol i’ve been consuming finally settled onto the walls of my cranial arteries and things started going wrong.  Like i somehow missed the turnoff to Olympia and ended up in Aberdeen, where in partial compensation i spotted this truck.


Aberdeen is not a bad little city, actually, but one with a terribly confusing system of signage that caused me to somehow miss another turn and find myself on a one-way street heading out of town in the wrong direction.  Threaded my way back the other direction on a side street until i got to a point that felt correct and then turned the corner, where i spotted this good omen.  Same design as the Third Street bridge in San Francisco, so it’s gotta be a Strauss.

Aberdeen bascule bridge

That wasn’t my bridge, but i went into a store across the street and confessed that i’d got myself totally turned around but was trying to get to Olympia. The nice guy said, “Turn left onto the ugly new bridge at the end of this block.  That’s the highway.”  Sure enough, it was, and before too long i crossed another bridge, this one quite handsome.

bridge east of Aberdeen

And then made it to downtown Seattle and took the Seneca Street exit to Pike’s Place Market, but as i was rolling down Seneca i realized that even though “passport” was at the top of my list of things to bring as well as at the top of the list Jeff had made for me, i had not brought it.  So as the despair swept over me, i parked the car and rode the Segway down to the market and took this pic to prove i got that far.

Seattle.  Pike and Pike

The young men at the famous Pike Place Fish Market at the front of the food area were interested in the Segway, and i gave several of them trial rides as the others performed their famous flying fish tricks.

Then i returned to the car, totally bummed out and depressed over not being able to see my friends in Vancouver.  So i started driving home.  Couldn’t help noticing as i passed through Portland that it is just packed with fabulous old bridges and a stunning new one in what appeared at the glance i got to be the single pylon style, not to mention some marvelous new architecture.  Might want to visit here some day although i’m thinking now that that pylon bridge may have been in Tacoma.

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Washington in the Rain

I set out this morning from Bandon, OR and fairly soon crossed this bridge.  Turned around and went back over it and off on a side road so as to get this shot.  Oregon is just full of bridges built in this style with those elaborate columns.

Bridge north of Bandon

Then drove on up to Florence for brunch at the Kozy Korner since i’ve sworn not to eat at franchise places.  I knew i was in the right place when i sat down and then looked up to see the entry of a pack of stocky young men in tee shirts, accessorized with buzz cuts, tattoos, and large gold chains around their white Christian necks. The uniform of the day.

But that wasn’t the high point in the restaurant.  That came when i ordered the ladies’ breakfast special, biscuits with gravy, sausage, eggs, and hash browns and was rewarded with a large, deep platter heaped high with two biscuits that must have been at least four inches square each swimming in a lake of gravy that threatened to overflow…along with a thick slab of pork sausage, a couple of scrambled eggs, and lots of hash browns.  As i told the waiter, it was all i could do to eat all the way across it to the opposite shore, leaving two-thirds of it untouched.  He asked me if i wanted to box it up, but i passed.  Late in the afternoon the enormity of my error swept over me when i remembered that biscuits and gravy are real good cold.

The high point of the day came when i spotted the Heceta Head Lighthouse and then an exit to the parking lot.  As is usual with lighthouses, there was a hike, but i asked a picnicking local and determined that this one involved no stairs, only a well maintained gravel trail.    So i popped the Segway out and rode up there, where a knowledgeable volunteer was waiting to escort on a guided tour into the lighthouse, those who made it up the trail.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Only three stories of spiral stairs to the top, where you can see the lens.

lighthouse lens

It’s now electrified and operates 24/7, but they’ve maintained the house where the lighthouse keepers and their wives and kids lived until the light was automated.

Heceta Head Lighthouse keeper's house

And then proceeded up the coast as a light rain started.  It was intermittent, but to make things right, it resumed as i crossed the enormous old bridge across the Columbia River into Washington.  The first town is Long Beach, where i’m staying in the best motel by far (at $79 plus tax) but it’s practically across the street from the Washington State Tourist Bureau, which had closed by 5:20 when i arrived but which will be open in the morning so i can pick up a free Washington road map and press on to Seattle.

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A Fifth the Way Up the Left Side

When i was in the limo business in the eighties i had some delightful British clients who, struck by the enormity of the distances in this country, observed of San Francisco, “it’s only halfway up the left side of California”.  Well, i’ve stopped for the day in Bandon, a fifth of the way up the left side of Oregon.    I’ve found a cheap motel again (both nights so far have been $45 plus tax) because the only amenity i need is a wifi connection since all i’m gonna do here is type until i can’t keep my eyes open and then sleep until i wake up.

This morning i got up and realized that i ought to be writing my account of this road trip under the pen name Tarmac McCarthy but Googled it this evening and found two references to the name, so it’d been used… although only slightly and not for such a high purpose as i intended.

Not far north of Ft. Bragg i crossed this splendid little bridge.  Dontcha just love that  sideways morning sun!

Bridge north of Ft. Bragg

I do some of my best thinking while driving but foolishly turned the radio on first thing this morning and got a series of foam-spewing right wing ranters who probably quite correctly count on the average American not being able to remember anything that happened more than eighteen months ago and who thus feel free to pretend that Saddam Hussein actually possessed weapons of mass destruction other than the chemical warfare agents we sold him to use against the Iranians.  Sigh.

So to take my mind off all that i took the serpentine scenic route through the Humboldt redwoods, one of the more gorgeous drives on the planet.  I should have waited until a truck came along to better show the scale, but that tiny little asphalt thing at the bottom is a full width US highway.

 Humboldt redwoods

I stopped for lunch in Arcata mainly because i have had a twenty-year love affair with the internationally acclaimed police log in the Arcata Eye .  And yep, when i went to the paper tonight i couldn’t help noticing their front page coverage of the local Occupy group, to which i gave a supportive toot-toot as i passed it just a couple of blocks away from this Hansel and Gretel confection.  Do go back and click on that police log link.

Hansel and Gretel in Arcata

For lunch i got lucky and blundered onto the Arcata Coop, which reminded me of the Berkeley Coop forty years ago.  While the deli was making my pastrami sandwich, i asked a stock clerk at the cheese department where the local artisan cheese section was.  Silly me, they don’t organize it that way in the first place, and in the second place she was apparently just passing through the cheese department and didn’t know nothing about cheese.  I settled on a Humboldt Fog, not knowing what the other local cheeses were, and knowing that there cannot be many cheeses on the planet better than Humboldt Fog.

And shortly before i crossed the Oregon border i caught this little red schoolhouse.

little red schoolhouse

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Ft. Bragg or Bust

I set out this morning at 10:00 and drove up 101 keeping my eyes peeled for that interesting bridge off to the right somewhere above Healdsburg that i’d never taken the trouble to get off the freeway and photograph.  Kept my eyes dangerously peeled, in fact, and still was forced to admit as i entered the outskirts of Ukiah that this mystery bridge is apparently yet another of my hallucinations.

Of course a possible reason i missed seeing it was that i was tuned to NPR and listening to one military/political expert after another rail at Obama for his failure in 2010 to negotiate a new deal with the Iraqis that would not require all our troops to leave by the end of this year.  I sat there listening in increasing outrage as they all excoriated Obama for this failure while not a single damn one of ’em would admit that it was their boy Bush who had originally agreed to withdraw all American troops by the end of this year.  So now they’re beating Obama up for his failure to undo Bush’s deal.

What just sends me ballistic, though, is that the main reason they all give for the necessity of keeping American troops in Iraq is to contain Iran since Iran is now so dangerous.  And of course not a fucking one of them is willing to admit that the reason Iran is now so dangerous is because America went in and destroyed Iraq, which was Iran’s greatest enemy.

Am i the only person in America who remembers the good old days when Saddam Hussein was our buddy and we were supplying him with munitions of mass destruction to use on the Iranians and there were all  those photographs of him and Rumsfeld hugging each other while Iran and Iraq fought a war that cost them collectively something like a million casualties?

We should have just sold arms to both sides and let them keep each other at bay while the rest of the world relaxed.

So anyhow, i finally got out of range of that station and ended up in Ukiah without a damn thing to show for my trip so far when i had one of my brilliant ideas.  I had noticed on my map that a thin blue line wriggled west from Ukiah to Mendocino, so thin in fact that it wasn’t even numbered and wasn’t even solid blue, suggesting that it had not been paved when the map was made.   Too much potential fun to pass up, i decided, and ignoring all the franchise fast food places, i stopped at a momandpop Mexican place in northern Ukiah and had a totally delicious couple of carnitas-stuffed flautas.   Asked a young diner if he knew about a little dirt road over the mountain to Mendocino and drew a blank, but an older guy overheard me and confirmed that it was close by.  Turn right half a mile down there on “Low Gap Road”.

Low Gap Road

And i did.  And after about ten miles, the pavement stopped and i got to pretend i was one of these guys who drive around the city in big pickups with knobby tires and mudflaps, saying they like to take ’em “off road” when they really mean “off pavement”.  Got me some mud on my off-road Prius when i hit what i thought was a little spot of water but was in fact a mud hole.  Luckily i had enough momentum plus enough traction on the right wheel to pull us out of it, as it might have been a little lonely waiting for someone to come along since the only vehicle i encountered (going either direction) during my entire three hours on the road was a pickup sitting there mostly off the road with one wheel canted at a highly discouraging angle.  I stopped but there was nobody around.  I figured the passengers had probably just crawled off into the brush beside the road and died of thirst or something.

When i finally got to the end of the road back onto a real highway, i looked back at what i had got off of and saw this sign:

Road Closed

That sign was clearly there just to scare off the tourists, since i had just ridden all the way from Ukiah on that road, over 30 miles.  There was a similar sign at the other end, but it didn’t bother me none since i know a hoax when i see one.

And then glided up Highway 1 through Mendocino on up to Ft. Bragg, where i stopped for the night at a cheap motel.  Was sent by the clerk to a little grill down the street, and i Segwayed down there and had a very tasty petrale washed down with an Old Rasputin, a local 9% stout brewed by the North Coast Brewing Co.

Also got a look at some of the Skunk Train rolling stock tucked away behind the terminal and suffering from deferred maintenance.

Skunk Train


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Iraq Withdrawal

We’re daily seeing newspaper articles about how Obama is winding down the American occupation of Iraq.  The political slant of the medium determines whether this is presented as Obama finally honoring his campaign promise or whether he’s squandering the glorious victory for which we paid so highly in blood and treasure.

What at best gets briefly alluded to by both left and right but is usually totally ignored is the fact that Obama is simply honoring the commitment made by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in the Iraq Status of Forces agreement signed and ratified in 2008, before Obama took office.  So now that we are reminded of that, shouldn’t the right be damning Bush for this precipitous withdrawal and the left praising him for coming to his senses after five years of senseless bloodshed?

Well not exactly.  It’s pretty clear that W. got himself backed into a corner and had to sign the damn agreement but that his master plan was for the American public to unify itself behind him and by acclamation extend the duration of his Presidency until the War on Terror had been satisfactorily concluded or Hell Froze Over, whichever occurred first.  And during this extended Presidency, he could use executive privilege to nullify any disagreeable portions of the SOFA, most especially the part saying all troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2011.  Certainly many others with inside knowledge have written that the Pentagon had every expectation that Something would be done to permit American troops to remain indefinitely in Iraq, as God and General Petraeus intended.

But Something Happened and Obama ended up President … and is being pilloried by the right for honoring Bush’s agreement.  Do we live in interesting times, or what?  To give credit where it is due, i must mention that this issue was brought to my attention in an article last week that was picked up in Some Assembly Required.

Noe below 20thNoe Street below 2oth



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A Coastal Adventure

Will he ever learn? they ask.  Not bloody likely.  After only two months of recovery from the exhaustion of my Amsterdam adventure, i’m ready for another one.

Well, see, i’ve been living in San Francisco continually since June of 1975, but i have never been farther north than a line from Mendocino to Ukiah, to Redding, to Sacramento, to Reno, to Salt Lake City, to Denver to St. Louis to Chicago to Indianapolis to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, to Albany to Boston to Nantucket.  Most of that i feel no need to see, but i don’t like having missed the rest of northern California, western Oregon and Washington, and Vancouver.

And here i am with our beautiful Indian Summer weather, at least locally, and plenty of time before i need to start making batches of feijoa chutney.  And feeling OK, so on Sunday i’m going to throw into the back of my Prius a suitcase with a few changes of clothes, both cameras, my laptop, a little cooler, and my Segway.

And i’m going to head north on 101 to Cloverdale, cut across to Mendocino on the coast, and follow the coast north, stopping for photogenic sights and spending the nights in cheap motels until i run out of energy, i encounter more than one day of rain in succession, or i reach Vancouver.  Whichever comes first.  And at that point i’ll turn around and come back home on I-5, ideally passing by the Sundial Bridge at a time when i can get more pics.

I want to go ahead and make this trip before the revolution gets underway, as they are best experienced from the comfort of one’s own home.

And since i know in advance that i’m seventy, i’ll be stopping early to get good nights’ rests and expect to be able to post some pics and a draft version of the adventure every night….or so.

garbageStay tuned.  Oh, and here’s a judgmental little apartment on Noe off 18th Street.

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Seasonal Foods

Chaucer wrote of his Franklin, ” After the sondry sesons of the yeer / So chaunged he his mete and his soper.”

Well yes, me too.  And after decades of shopping at our farmers’ markets, i now have a pretty good idea about who’s gonna be having what, when and can routinely ask a vendor when he’ll be bringing a certain item to market and have him grin and say ‘Next week.’

I’m plotting a little excursion north now during this window of weather opportunity, but another factor in the timing is that i can be gone in the slack period between the end of the fresh cranberry beans and the beginning of the feijoas.

But it’s not just produce.  Yesterday i was passing the Noe Valley Bakery and suddenly realized that i’d better make an inquiry about their pecan pie, which is according to everyone who’s ever tasted it, better than Mother’s and is, like many other excellent foods, seasonal.  So i ducked in and asked the clerk when they’d be opening their season.


So i ordered one and paid for it.  Picked it up while ago.

Meanwhile, i have to hurry up and post this because it’s lunchtime:

Noe Valley Bakery Pecan Pie

Here’s the pie at noon on the 23rd.  That pig Jeff ate a generous piece:


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Occupy More

I am fascinated by the Occupy movement, and in particular the reaction to it in the media.  It was virtually ignored when it first started five weeks ago, and then it was discovered and denounced by the right.  But it didn’t really take off until the video clip went viral of NYPD’s finest rounding up, fencing off, and then pepper spraying a group of attractive young women who appeared to be doing nothing worse than shouting.  It was this that really attracted the attention of the left.

So more and more folks started attending and marching, and what appears to be a real grass-roots movement seems to be coalescing, something like the Tea Party but on the left and tapping into increasing public dissatisfaction with our level of economic inequity and removal of restrictions on funding of political campaigns so that even local races are bought and sold by those with the deepest pockets.  The Tea Party is also dissatisfied, but in their case  it’s with too much regulation of business and excessive taxes on the rich, and pundits on the hard right are growing increasingly hysterical.  SF’s own Debra Saunders ranted out a column yesterday on the lawlessness of the local Occupy folks, demanding that they be brought to justice and charged with the only crime that could be pinned on them: first degree tent pitching.

Because when a tent is pitched, the camel’s nose is sure to enter.


And speaking of pitched tents, the Occupy crowd in SF has been playing an elaborate minuet with the SFPD, which keeps closing down encampments as they keep springing back up.  The most recent compromise appears to be that there is no longer more than a token presence in front of the Federal Reserve Bank, and as of the 22nd, a much larger encampment has spread from the bocce courts immediately southeast of Justin Herman to the Embarcadero.

I find it interesting that there are parallels with the Arab Spring movement, not that we suffer from the sort of repression under which the entire Arab world languishes, but that a large part of what sparked the Arab Spring was protest against economic inequity.  There are also obvious parallels with the demonstrations in Europe over the austerity measures that are being enacted since these measures are falling hardest on the masses, just as the impact of the current economic woes in this country has fallen overwhelmingly those with lower income.

I simply no longer have the strength or the energy to participate in protests, but i do visit the encampments to offer encouragement, hoping that some benefit to the nation can come out of this movement, most especially a more egalitarian society.

Eine on Octavia


The fringe benefit is that while i’m out i spot new efforts in our local art scene, like the above extension on Polk Street of the Brighter Faster mural on Octavia Street.  If this isn’t by Eine, somebody is ripping off his style.

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