Friday, July 31, 2009

Tunnel Vision

Asheville, North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway

July 28
We are nearing the end of our journey, and this part of the drive is no less beautiful than all of the others. Asheville is a charming, artsy town, that reminds us a bit of San Francisco. On the tourist pamphlet stands, we see pamphlets touting hot air balloons and a surprise "Fabric, Fiber, and Bead Trail" (move over, New Mexico!). We definitely must add this to our list of weekend jaunts to take in the future.

At the Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center, we watch a breath-taking film about the Parkway, to prep us for our drive along the beautiful mountain road. We take a few moments to pop in to the Folk Art Center that displays the gorgeous arts and crafts of the renowned Southern Highlands Craft Guild.

The drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a bit disappointing, and a bit harrowing. Road construction projects seem to have followed us all across the USA (must be a result of the economic recovery act, we figure), but on these winding mountain roads it slows us down tremendously, and we think we ought to abort the mountain route so that we will not be driving all night long. But that decision is actually made for us, as a detour takes us off of the mountain road and through more populous areas. Good thing we have Maggie, our Magellan GPS, along with us -- she is getting quite a workout! (Lots of recalculating...)

Tennessee to North Carolina

July 27
The drive from Tennessee to North Carolina takes us past limestone cliffs that look like they were carefully laid, layer by layer, by skilled stonemasons. This landscape is all deep green, a nice change after hundreds of miles of desert browns and pale yellows.

The Hermitage

July 27
This is turning out to be a bit of a Presidential road trip -- as well as a fiber road trip. The two come together as we tour the Hermitage, on the outskirts of Nashville.

The Hermitage was the home of General Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the US. It was also a cotton plantation. Much more than the modern Presidential libraries we have toured, this mansion -- like those of other early Presidents -- displays a combination of history, archaeological evidence, and a great deal of speculation about the lives of the President and the others who lived on the estate.

It appears that those who lived here at the time of Jackson numbered around 200 -- most of whom were Black slaves. Jackson is noted to have been an early crafter of the tenets of democracy and founder of the Democratic party. But he was a man of many paradoxes, most notably in his ownership and treatment of his slaves, and in having been the architect of the "Trail of Tears." The Trail of Tears was the forceful eviction of native peoples from southeastern lands to central U.S. territory that had been identified to house the Indian peoples.

The income that sustained Jackson and his plantation, and the work of the 1,100 acre plantation, was primarily based on cotton. With the hard labor of slave field hands and slave skilled craftspersons, the cotton was grown, harvested, ginned, and carded; and some of it spun and woven to sew simple garments, likely for the slaves to wear.

Some similar processes, but a far cry from the textile craft work that I so enjoy!

The pretty green and tan yarn that I found at Hillcreek Fiber Workshop in Missouri is spun primarily from cotton. How this journey all interconnects...

Nashville, TN

"Music City, America" greets us with its bright city lights as we cross the great Mississippi River late on Sunday night. It is always a bit of a thrill to see, and especially to cross, America's grand river. But tonight it is especially awesome to rise over the bridge and see suddenly before us the bright glow of an exciting city.

We know that all those bright lights are associated with equally bright music in the many clubs an musical venues where music -- and stars -- are made. Alas, it is nearing midnight, and we need to check in to our hotel and ready for Monday's road trip. So the music, which the hotel pamphlets cite as Tennessee's best product, plays for us only in our minds tonight. We settle in at a magnificent sheraton, whose wall art reflects the town's musical heritage. G'nite.

Little Rock, Arkansas

July 26
On the way from Oklahoma through Arkansas, the road wiggles around, doing a funny little dance with the Arkansas River, as roads and railroads and rivers often do throughout the country.

In Little Rock, we stay downtown, by the shores of the Arkansas River. In fact, we are on President Clinton avenue. The focus of our very brief stop here -- other than sleep and refueling -- is to visit the Clinton Presidential Library.

This library is much more expansive and sophisticated than either the JFK or the Truman library.In fact, it's more of a complex -- encompassing the library/museum, a park, and the Clinton School of Public Service (University of Arkansas).

Half of the third floor of the museum is host to changing exhibits. The exhibit shown while we are there is "from the Moon to Mars", a NASA exhibit that tells a bit of the story of the space program. Included are amazing photos from the Hubble telescope, illuminated specially to display the incredible pictures of galaxies. There is even a chunk of moon rock on display.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lotawatah Road

I sure love road-namers who have a sense of humor!

OK by Me

July 25
Oklahoma is considerably greener than the other states we've been driving through in this southern trek eastward. Lush forests give way to farmland and then return to complete the Oklahoma landscape. Farm acreage is embellished with neatly rolled hay bundles, by the hundreds. On the road, we drive through nation after nation of Native american lands: Comanche, Apache, Shawnee, Seminole, Choctaw, Muskogee (Creek).

We have been on this fabulous road trip for five weeks now. My transition to retirement has been quite a remarkable journey, in every sense of the word. "This Land is Your Land" has gained stupendous new depth of meaning.

But, we remind ourselves, and each other, we have got to get home again -- and soon. So we resolve to "make tracks" and cover 300-450 miles of American road each day for the rest of our return trip. Less spontaneity, fewer diversions. But we still have plenty of beautiful ground to cover, and more friendly people to meet along the way.

Texas Waterfowl

The Mane Event

So, Cheyenne has its painted boots and San Francisco its hearts. Wichita Falls, like a fewother Texas towns, has its painted ponies.

So of course I had to try to rope as many of these beautiful fiberglas horses (with my trusty camera) as I could. I captured oh, maybe 10 of them. But, alas, it seems that there are a total of 40 tucked away in various corners of Wichita Falls. Well, perhaps we'll be back someday to find the rest...

The Sixth Floor

July 23
Most of our touristy stops have ben fun and exciting or fun and educational. This particular stop is surely educational and enlightening... but it is somber. We are visiting the Texas School Book Depository. It is a spare old brick building, seven stories high, near an intersection of highways and across from a well-groomed green grassy knoll.

The sixth and seventh floors are now museums: the sixth floor, a display and analysis of the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the seventh a tribute to Robert Jackson, the photographer who captured a number of memorable American moments, including the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy's alleged assassin, by Jack Ruby.

It's a bit difficult to be here on the sixth floor, and to see the corner window where Oswald purportedly had brought a rifle, concealed by a long brown paper bag; positioned the rifle atop cardboard schoolbook boxes to steady it; pulled the trigger; and murdered the young President who was so full of promise -- a shot that was truly heard around the world.

Chronicling this event at the the time, and analyzing it for years to come, was the iconic news reporter Walter Cronkite. Tis week, we mourn his passing, at age 92. Watching replays of his news footage in 1963 (in the aftermath of the assassination) and in the late 1980s (after the investigative commissions had concluded their work), we are impressed once again with the depth and humanity of Cronkite's reporting, the avuncular help he gave his audience in making sense of the event, its antecedents, and the dramatic events that came in its aftermath.

Having been to the JFK library in Boston at the beginning of our summer travels, Garry and I found it fitting to view this Dallas-eye focus as we continue our great American odyssey.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wichita Falls, Texas

July 22-24

We arrived in Wichita Falls, Texas last evening. As always, it is wonderful to be with our good friend John once again. John was an Air Force buddy of Garry's in Cheyenne in the period 1967-1970. In fact, John was the first person whom Garry met when he arrived in Cheyenne as a young airman. Then, in 1975, I got to become friends with John myself when he came to Fort Belvoir for six months to attend Garry's Advanced Geodetic Survey Class in the Defense Mapping School DMS). From 1979 to 1983, John returned to DMS to be a teacher there himself. At that time, we were starting our family, and "Uncle John" became a member of the family. How sad we all were when he was transferred out of the area, to Barksdale, Louisiana.

So it is that we decide to extend our visit in Texas to three days, to capture the moment and recapture fond memories.

New Mexico Fiber Arts Trail

The Fiber Trail is a very large "trail", covering several sections of the state, running from outside of Albuquerque north to outside of Santa Fe, and east to Tucumcari. It was established in an attempt by New Mexico leadership to encourage entrepreneurship, while allowing rural artists to make their living by their own hands, without having to travel long distances or to deal with third-party intermediaries in order to market their wares. The philosophy is that "creativity flourishes on the back roads, for both artists and travelers." (NM Dept. of Cultural Affairs).

There are 71 destinations along the trails, including galleries, shops, and the homes of working artisans. Working these trails would have been more than a summer's road trip, in itself. Trying to be realistic, I selected two destinations: Good Fibrations in Edgewood, and Viorge Designs in Tucumcari.

Good Fibrations -- with a name like that, how could you go wrong?! This is one of the "cottage industries" among the fiber trail stopping points. There, I find "Yarn from my backyard," as the shopkeeper put it, "from Teesha and her family." Teesha, as it turns out, is a sheep, and she and her family are lovingly raised, ass have names, and are hand-clipped. The fiber is cleaned and carded and spun and died or died and then spun, depending on the desired color effect). The information about the source of the yarn is significant to the mama of vegans, who cannot abide the treatment of commercially-raised sheep that are bred for large-scale production.

Also at Good Fibrations are lovely handmade wooden tools that are crafted from exotic woods for fiber fanatics like myself. The shopkeeper and her assistant seem happy to answer my many "what's this?" and "what's that?" questions. One rather mystifying wooden gizmo with nuts and bolts and dowel-sized holes askes the question of itself, with an intriguing sign tacked to it, "What's this?" "Okay, I give up -- what is it?" I ask the ladies. They don't know either.

I resist the temptation to take it home to figure it out. But it sure looks like it could be useful. For something...

But time is short, and we must press ahead to Tucumcari, which is the end not only of this fiber trail, but also the end of the legendary Route 66 which we have been traveling from time to time.

With the help of Maggie, our faithful GPS, we find our way to the address for the Viorge design gallery. We figure that this is in their home. But when we arrive that the modest little white house at the eastern end of the state, we see no sign for an artisan gallery. Instead, in what otherwise looks like an abandoned old house, there are signs scrawled in Spanish about prayer services. Seems that this building may now be used sometimes as a little neighborhood church. Or not. No people are around, and the two large dogs in the adjoining yard are barking with increasing assertiveness. We move along.

More About Battle Mountain

You may recall an earlier posting, on our way into Nevada, when we noted with humor the giant "BM" on the side of a mountain (no scatological jokes, please). But while touring the Southwest, we have learned more about that mountain.

It is the site of the Dry Creek turquoise mine, which includes a rare form of turquoise which is white, with black, grey, or brown inclusions (aka matrix). The color of the matrix depends on the mineral content of the stone. This form of turquoise, known as White (sacred) Buffalo Turquoise, can be quite striking, and Garry has bought me a few pieces. Relatively rare, this stone is found only in that one mine. (However, it apparently has been often imitated in recent years, using the less precious Howlite stone). The animal namesake of White Buffalo, also quite rare, is considered to be sacred and a sign of good luck to native peoples

Garry and I have been on a quest to find pieces of white buffalo turquoise to add to my modest collection since we first discovered the stone in Cheyenne (in a shop) in 2003. It's nice to know that we have been to the mountain -- i.e., the mountain which is its source.


July 21

In Albuquerque, we visit the “old town” section, a colorful magnet for the tourist trade. In addition to its expensive jewelry shops and cheap souvenir shops, the old town has interesting architecture and the definite imprint of its Native American populations.

I am delighted to encounter an open courtyard performance of a Zuni elder with the unlikely name of Fabian, who sings and dances in his native tradition, in full (and no-doubt oppressively hot) ceremonial regalia. His costume includes enormous feathers which make him, at times, appear to be a giant bird, swooping and nearly flying in his energetic dance. His multi-layered garb features hand embroidery, mostly crafted by his wife (who sings with him) and extensive beadwork, most of which is his own work. He tell me that he had to earn the right to wear many of the elements of his ceremonial costume. Much of the embellishment, especially the beadwork, is particular to his family. When another tourist asks is she can photograph his beadwork, he agrees, but implores, “Please do not copy my beadwork.” It is replete with meaning that is sacred to his family.

Albuquerque is an interesting town, and we have too little time to even do a good job of scratching its surface. We realize that our plan to make it to Santa Fe this afternoon was way too ambitious (aka unrealistic). But we are okay with the promise of a return visit. Next summer, we plan to return to this interesting city for Convergence, the national conference of the Handweavers’ Guild of America. I have yearned to attend this fiberworks’ feast since the first (and only) time I attended, about 20 or so years ago, when it was held in the D.C. area. This time, by golly, I think I will.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Life in the Desert

July 20

In the sparsely populated areas, so many modest little homesteads speak of difficult lives. In the middle of vast desert dotted by occasional scrubby little shrubs, there may be a lone mobile home, perhaps with a car alongside it – and, for the well-endowed, perhaps an additional little building, such as an outhouse or a dog house. In 2009! Not even a satellite dish, no flowers, no trees, no neighbors.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


July 20

Driving along the road from Flagstaff to Albuquerque, we come across a tiny notation on the map and a curious sign on the road: “Meteor Crater Road”. Curious, we veer off the highway, and up this long, narrow, mysterious road through the desert. Then another, larger, louder sign: “THE PROTOTYPE FOR THE STUDY OF ALL METEORS IN THE GALAXY”. Hmm, pretty big claim. Wonder what it is.

What it is – of course – is a hole in the plateau and a hole in the ground. A very, very big hole in the plateau. The crater is nearly a mile across and over 550 feet deep. It is the site of the largest meteor to hit planet Earth – an event that occurred 50,000 years ago. The giant meteor is judged to have weighed millions of tons, although all that remains of the meteor today is a small iron-nickel specimen and a collection of smaller fragments.

Today, on this 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, it is fitting that we two vagabonds should be visiting this inanimate invader from outer space.

Into Every Life Some Rain Must Fall

July 20

Most of this trip has been top-down weather, except for the brutal heat of Death Valley and some rain in the Rockies. But today in Flagstaff, Arizona – one of the driest towns in the U.S. – the skies have opened up, pouring torrents on the town as we sit in our car outside the Flagstaff Post Office.

No matter. We can sit this one out. We have checks to write, letters to complete, while we sit in the car. We figure that the storm is likely to blow over quickly; we can see the sun already fighting its way through the clouds.

But as we sit engrossed in discussing our checks and letters, Garry and I are rudely interrupted by the jarring sound and jolt of metal upon metal. Startled, we look up to see a large white city utility van that has just missed its mark while attempting to navigate its way into the parking space in front of us. The driver knows tat he has “touched” us, and tries to right a wrong by backing up. Bad move. Garry honks the horn, but maybe the driver can’t hear it through the pouring rain. He hits us again. Again a honk, louder. Again he backs up. Bam!

Three strikes, and the passenger in the truck gets out into the torrential downpour, and asks us to back up. He knows he’s hit us now.

I am as crushed as little Sebrina (my pet name for my pretty blue Chrysler Sebring). “Don’t be that way”, I try to tell myself. Nobody is hurt, the car is still operational – just dents and cracks and bruises to the front bumper, side panel, and headlight.

The young city worker who miscalculated so badly is duly apologetic, remorseful. Perhaps he can read in my face how this pains me. Sebrina has been our faithful companion from coast to coast and partway back again, the key player in this big road trip. And she’ll continue to carry us, with fine performance despite a bruised face. We’ll get her fixed when we get home. For the rest of the trip, we’ll have to remember to take photos only of her good side.

The Grand Canyon

July 19

We weren’t planning to visit Hoover Dam, since we’d been there before, in 1997. But the road from Henderson to Grand Canyon City takes us right through the dam area, so we can’t avoid stopping to gawk once again at this amazing feat of engineering in the middle of the beautiful Nevada desert.

The views on this trip are beautiful, as we wend our way to the National Geographic’s Grand Canyon visitor center. “This, “ says Garry, “is the jumping-off point for the activities in the canyon’s South Rim.” I grimace at his unfortunate word choice.

Once at the visitor center, we have a host of treats ahead of us. First, a preview of what we are to see – a movie on the big IMAX movie screen that has us marveling, holding our breath, and ducking, as the larger-than-life scene takes us on a glider plane’s-eye-view of this natural wonder, the Grand Canyon.

Then, we head on a small tour bus with our able young guide, Angie, who gives us a fact-filled tour of the south Rim. This high plateau, over 7,000 feet high, is the third highest plateau in the world. She introduces us to the trees that live there: the Ponderosa pine, which smells like butterscotch; the Pinon pine, whose tiny nuts are harvested carefully by native workers (who are the only people who are allowed to gather the pine nuts which are used by industry and the public as-is or in making pesto); and the juniper, with its large blue berries.

Angie fills us in on some of the fascinating lore of the native peoples of the canyon, early pioneering explorers, and recent follies such as the fellow who only two weeks ago drove his car off the ledge in a Thelma-&-Louise gesture to end it all. (He accomplished his mission. The car is yet to be retrieved from the bottom of the canyon.) She also gives us little geology lessons, as we peer in amazement at the breathtaking, multi-layered, multi-colored scene before us.

Although our tour is four full hours long, it is only a little taste of the overwhelming marvels of the canyon. So much more to see and do: hike the trails, raft the rapids, fly into the center. Too much for one afternoon, for sure. Perhaps we’ll get back some day.

No Condiment Canyon, Either (inside joke)

July 19

What a surprise for us to happen upon a kabob forest! We thought that Brad might enjoy this in a future vacation. But we could not locate Hummus Gulch – we were sure that there must be one nearby...

Lost Vegas

July 17-18

Well, we spent two days on the outskirts of Las Vegas, but never quite made it up to The Strip.

Somehow, we can’t seem to motivate ourselves this week to get elbow-to-elbow with big crowds of fortune hunters; or to get bumper-to-bumper with recipients of free casino drinks; or to feed our hard-earned coins into a slot machine. The Fiesta casino-hotel in Henderson is Las Vegas enough for us. We chose this hotel because AAA told us that it was a decent place – and with a price tag of $21 for the night, we felt that we’d hit a jackpot of sorts.

So, we are using our time in Henderson instead to take care of little details: get the car an oil change, pay bills, etc. We try to find Sharman, the artisan who created the beautiful beaded capelets that you may have seen me wear from time to time through the years. I purchased my first Sharman capelet in Utah six years ago, but never got to meet its maker. But now, alas, we are disappointed: when we arrive at her shop address, we find only an empty storefront, with the sign taken down. We fear that this is more evidence of these tough economic times.

But as it turns out, Sharman has closed her store but remains in business at So at least I get to meet her online, in a brief and friendly exchange.

The highlight of our Henderson stay is a rare opportunity for us to visit with the Troys (parents of our daughter-in-law, Sharon). They greet us warmly, and we enjoy a delightful evening together. As an added bonus, we arrive in time to celebrate Buster’s second birthday, a very big deal in the Troy house (Buster being the energetic family pup).

Friday, July 17, 2009

As Low as You Can Go

I must admit, I was not entirely wildly enthusiastic when Garry expressed interest in touring Death Valley. But I know that this side trip is on Garry's (very long) bucket list, so I go along for the ride. Somehow, despite the romantic imagery of Death Valley Days on t.v. in the 1950s, I didn't expect this to be a highlight of our trip.

For those who are too young to have grown up with the western television shows of the 50s & 60s, a little background: this was the show that featured the young actor Ronald Reagan. The intro to the show was memorable --

"As the early morning bugle call of the covered wagon trains fades away among the echoes, another true Death Valley Days is presented by the famous Borax family of products- 20 Mule Team Borax and Boraxo. "

Now we begin to understand this legendary sponsorship, as we pass white powder landscape that has to be borax, a highway exit that points to Twenty Mule Team Road, and an industrial processing plant that certainly must be Boraxo.

The very light traffic of the highway dwindles to nothing as we head into Death Valley National Forest. There, we begin an ascent that goes to more than 5,000 feet, over parched ground with little growing besides scrubby shrubs. The name of the valley is no mystery. Today is a good day to experience the true DV: the thermometer climbs to 120 degrees (!) during our 100+ mile trek. It is also a good day to keep the car roof up, and the a/c humming -- which we do. We also make great use of our amply-filled water bottles.

But I have to admit that the views are spectacular, the ride thrilling, and my attitude suitably adjusted. Even as the daylight begins to dim, and the road begins to feel very, very lonely, I am fascinated by nature's artistry, by the thoughts of pluck and determination of early travelers who first crossed this valley in the mid-1800s, and by the quest for the low point of the trail, which is in fact the lowest point not only in the U.S. but in the entire Western Hemisphere. We see believably vivid mirages of lake water in the long-dry lake beds. (Sorry, sons, no ducks here!) At long last, we arrive at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the valley at 282 feet below sea level. The "badwater" that gives the place its name is the water that bubbles up from below the surface, so salty that even the pack animals that helped the early travelers would not drink the water. The small bit of water that we see now is surrounded by salt crisps and occasional small holes in the sand where water continues to boil and bubble. We learn with little surprise that the natural water here is even saltier than the ocean.

Another phenomenon of Badwater Basin: tourists! This is in fact the first time all day that we have encountered tourists in our off-the-beaten-path escapades.

We continue on in the waning light, through terrain created with a heavenly artist's pallette: red, pin, yellow, colored by the iron oxides within; green, purple, tinted by volcanic mineral contents. We stop by the side of the road to collect rocks for Jim's collection, and find some that look strikingly like volcanic rock. We drive through canyons cut into alluvial fans, and marvel at the geologic variety.

Driving out of Death Valley and on into the starry night, we feel a sense of peace in the world. Until, quite suddenly, the dark emptiness that had sparkled only with the starlight at this new moon becomes ablaze with bling. Arising from the distant desert there comes a giant display of lights and flash and color.

Las Vegas ahead!

Mojave Desert

July 15-16
After the wild and glorious ride along the California coast, we are soothed by the next set of quite different, but equally impressive, panoramas. The desert has its own quiet brand of beauty. The colors are less vivid, more soothing, like a gorgeous pastel painting on an enormous canvas. The varieties of rock and rock formations are an interesting counterpoint to the flora and fauna of the seaside views. The huge sweep of geometry, muted colors and enormous outcroppings dazzle anew as we round each bend of road. We see great expanses of uninhabited land, small abandoned old towns, and the occasional extravagantly lonesome ranch of homesteaders without neighbors.

We take a break from our journey to go visit Edwards Air Force Base, where Garry had done some work in the early 1970s, and get a personalized tour of the base from geodicist Bob Tisczka. Edwards was the site where much of the filming of the movie Top Gun was done, and Bob proudly points out the control tower, the aircraft, and even the rock pilings that were featured in the film. Somewhat of a history buff, Bob brings his command of interesting facts and tidbits, gleaned from 16 years of experience working at this desert outpost, to bear on his enthusiastic and informative presentation.

Monterey Ducks

California Coast

It is a thrill a minute on the California coastal highway, as we curve and sway through exciting winding roads along the edge of the cliffs overlooking incredible views of America's western coast. It's a death-defying, breath-taking, awe-inspiring journey! My feeble attempts at capturing the splendor by camera just cannot come close to reproducing the visual experience. And the visual is only a small part of this experience. The sounds of the pounding surf, the birds, and even the elephant seals' song are so much a part of the experience. And the fragrances of the journey: lovely pine; the wild fennel that grows in remarkable profusion; wild mint; flowering trees; and of course, the salty aroma of the sea, ever-present and ever-evocative.

We make a regrettably brief stop in the picture-postcard town of Monterey; breeze through little Carmel-by-the-Sea; spend a day in charming San Luis Obispo; and overnight in Santa Barbara. Too fast: this deserves a longer run! But we do, at least, take time in SLO to enjoy a fabulous gourmet dinner at the al fresco restaurant Novo, where we dine under the stars beneath a grand tree by a creek (serenaded throughout dinner by nearby frogs). And we poke into a hip little gallery where one of the featured artists is Mike Marcus.

And of course, we take a moment to say hi to the ducks of Monterey.

Shower in Walnut Creek

When it rains, it showers. OK, so maybe I still have Morton's Salt on my mind. The only rain we've seen on this trip was when we were starting out from the D.C. area, and then up in the Rockies.

But we have extended our stay in the Bay area one night to attend the fortuitously scheduled Couples Shower that Brad & Becky's friends, Whitney & Bryan, are throwing for them at their home in Walnut Creek. This is a lovely affair, casual and fun, and a great chance to spend a little more time with family and family-to-be. It is nice to see the kids being "showered" with gifts, each of which Becky opens with great glee. The wedding date is just a little over a month away, and this event adds to the ever-mounting feeling of anticipation.

More Heart in San Francisco

I love this town! There is music at ever street corner, and in between, too. That was my very first impression when I came to town the first time, to visit my brother Gerry in 1971 -- and that impression has been renewed with every return visit through the decades.

Now the city is also embellished with performance artists, who entertain us at all the touristy hot-spots. They paint themselves silver or gold or wear outrageous costumes and make curious gyrations or simply stand absolutely still in poses that make my joints ache. This trip there seem to be more such performers than ever, holding tin cups or hats to collect your appreciation in the coin of the realm. I don't know the stats, but San Francisco has got to have the highest concentration of people who have developed the act of standing still and doing nothing to a fine art.

But there is also much art and science going on among those with higher energy and motion levels. Just as D.C. has its painted donkeys and elephants and Cheyenne has its giant boots, so San Francisco has its large painted hearts.

For me, of course, the heart and the art of SF are all about the family members who reside in the Bay area. We stay in the center of the city, at the Union Square Marriott (compliments of my dear ACE staff -- thank you, thank you for the gift cards that made our prolonged stay in the city affordable!). Spending time with our kids and their ladies, my brother Gerry and his family -- what a gift! We even get to share dinner with my brother Ken, who serendipitously shows up in SF for one night, the night of our arrival.

For me, it's tough to leave SF to continue on our journey. But we will be back, and soon, for Brad & Becky's wedding next month.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

We are spending four nights downtown in San Francisco, right in the midst of all the action (of which there is plenty!). We are down the street from Union Square, and just three Bart stops away from Tim & Sharon's place in the Mission District. There is music everywhere, at street corners, subway stations, cable car stops. Love it!

Our first big tourist stop is the San Francisco office of Atlassian -- the Australia-based tech company where Tim works. The office is in a spacious converted warehouse, which has minimal furniture but maximum technology -- and toys (for grownups). Friday afternoon is usually beer-and-games day -- very different from my former workplace at Fairfax County Public Schools! But by the time we arrive, weekend has begun for most of the staff. There are still a few employees glued to their computer monitors, as well as a couple of dogs which apparently are welcome and add to the ambiance of this friendly office atmosphere. We are amazed at the gigantic double-monitor on Tim's desk, a big departure from the small screen iPhone that we usually see him scanning.

Sea to Shining Sea

It is always a great thrill to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but more so this time, when it signifies that we have made it all the way across, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Garry says he has goosebumps, and fills up with the emotion of imagining how soldiers and sailors must have felt when, war-wary, they viewed this symbol of home and knew that they had made it. We have logged 3,700 miles on our marvelous journey.

G-d Bless America!

Wine, Dairy, and Horse Country -- Napa, Sonoma, & Marin

July 9 -- We are on our way from Benecia to San Francisco, driving the indirect scenic route through the North Bay. Our quest is to take an advance peek at the places where, a month from now, we will be enjoying Brad & Becky's Rehearsal Dinner and celebrating their wedding.

The lush geometrics of the vineyards, with their even rows of healthy grapevines, are as pleasant to view as the wine will be to drink. I am reminded of the makeshift arbors that my aging grandpa struggled to tack up on the back of his city tenement building in Dorchester, MA, as he grew his own precious grapes to make wine for his daily kiddush (blessing). The city Board of Health eventually made him take them down. But here in the North Bay, the grapevines rule, and the stern warning signs that "Fireworks are forbidden in Sonoma County" reinforce that message.

In Santa Rosa, we stop at Safari West, to check in on rehearsal dinner arrangements. We are greeted warmly by the enthusiastic staff, who no doubt remember being charmed already by Becky & Brad. They give us a brief tour, and I am able to snap quick photos of some of the giraffes and birds.

Then, following a tip from Micah (my significant-other-in-law), we stop by a cheese factory that's only slightly off-route, to taste some award-winning brie. It does not disappoint!

The journey down to San Francisco takes us along the Coastal Highway, through the Point Reyes National Seashore, to the Golden Gate Bridge. Breath-taking views, which my little camera can't begin to capture.