For our last part of the California tour, we were going to drive out to Yosemite. The plan was to get up early on our last day in San Francisco, check out of the little mom and pop (or mom and daughter?) hotel we’d stay in the last few days, and take the train over to the airport and pick up the rental car. We’d squeeze in just a few more hours downtown for the afternoon, and of course, we could cover more ground with the car. Driving in San Francisco is a panic, especially for first-timers. Phil, being a police officer, is confident with a heavy pedal, even if you can’t see what’s at the top of the flaming hills till you get there. I just imagined we were about to seriously pop some pedestrians in the hip. Going downhill isn’t as bad, at least if you drive a car with working breaks. It’s pretty amazing physics, really.
Our first stop was the Modern Museum of Art again, since Phil never had the chance to see it. Against Tom’s previous advice, the cheapest parking was in Crackhead County, otherwise known as the ironically named Tenderloin District.
The Avedon and the Robert Franks photography shows were still going on. (The photos of the museum posted below are actually from Tom’s collection of photos during our first night in town).
A Waldo sighting, just across the street from SOMA.
Janis Joplin, looking on in amusement. (Photo by Tom)
Malcom X on the sidelines. (Photo by Tom)
Charline Chaplin, avin a laff. (Photo by Tom)
The Factory, making Americans feel uncomfortable about nudity and sexuality since the mid-60s. (Photo by Tom)
Avedon, another Master of Moment. (Photo by Tom)
Afterwards, we drove out to the beach with the intention of stopping off at the gardens and the zoo, until we checked the time and realized there wasn’t much room for a whole lot of sightseeing if we wanted to get to the hotel at a reasonable time and, much to Phil’s delight, the casino and buffet. We’d see a lot of casinos by the end of this trip, all but one of them being in Montana, where you’ll find them pretty much anywhere. Bars. Gas stations. Probably the public libraries, too, if they could do it quietly. Meanwhile… back at Rock Mile Beach, it was of course, quite cool that afternoon. The fog practically buried the skyline in the late morning, so the mild temps weren’t surprising. Still, the locals seem to enjoy their sunshine and there were a fair amount of people out, even two brave souls who camped overnight and were still lounging in their tent. I tried to imagine what the beach looked like in the 60s, like in the old surfing photographs where tanned, blond guys rolled up in their Woodys to surf while their blond, tanned bikini-clad girlfriends hung back by the shore to watch, whether or not they were interested. Of course… then there’s the trouble-making beatniks to contend with, too! And the next thing you know, you’ve got a knife fight set to calypso music to worry about.
Me, after spotting shiny blades, beatniks, and long-haired surfers in the distance. There’s gonna be a rumble!
This single lampost is powered by that there windmill.
We bid farewell to San Francisco by the late afternoon, though we’d return once more to check into yet another hotel, this one used in the legendary car-chase movie, Bullit (I later found out), before flying out to Montana the next morning. In the interim, we traded the big city for small town life and in the drive out to Hickman, which is somewhere between Modesto and Yosemite, the city skyline faded into the suburban one, till the elements of civilization (like phone reception and roadside street lamps) disappeared almost entirely.
The hotel was busy fairly bustling, and after so many surprises with busy hotels, this was probably the lesson of West Coast travel in the summer: there’s tourists everywhere. We hauled our bags up to the second floor, relaxed for a minute after a long car ride appropriately numbed our limbs, and drove a couple of miles down the dark roads to the Turlock State Recreation Area, which was, more succintly, and Indian-owned casino. Save it looking kind of empty, perhaps natural for Indian-owned territory in the middle of almost damn near nowhere, the casino patrons don’t look much different than they do here on the East Coast. Sort of old, bronzed, and wrinkled. Some, the spiffy dressers as comical as the wardrobe may be (full Cowboy gear, let’s say), others content with oversized t-shirts and maybe semi revealing clothing, if it means getting lucky after the casino, if not in it. And of course, always surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke and that transfixed look of either indifference or desperation, I can’t be too sure, as they reach to lazily pull the lever or push the button on the computerized slots. Casino patrons are a world unto themselves.
Phil likes to go once in a while, and usually we might make a day of heading out to Charlestown in West Virginian to blow a couple bucks on dinner and horse races. This place didn’t seem to have a track, though it did have a few gaming tables whereas most everywhere else we’d been, on that trip and otherwise, were dominated by slot machines. We had arrived too late for the buffet, much to Phil’s dismay who figures, if you’re going to pay for dinner at a casino, make it worth the while with unlimited choice. We ordered roast beef dinners and sat in the quiet dining area while the waitresses clung to each other, happily chatting. I don’t remember if we had much luck on the slots. If I’m lucky enough to be up ten or twenty bucks, I’m settled, feeling like, at the very least, my meal was paid for. When Phil’s up, he’s determined to keep playing the winnings until there’s nothing left. Or at least, that’s how it seems to go, whether that is his intention or not. We’d had more luck in Montana with the whole thing, really. Penny slot machines that seemed broken, the way they were paying out one day, though that kind of mistake usually only happens once.
But, other than the dopes feeding money into dollar, five dollar, and twenty dollar slot machines, I think wins and losses are pretty conservative all around. There’s no ringing alarms and big winners most of the night, probably not like a scene you’d see in Vegas, though I’m only guessing.
We dropped by the neighboring diner in the morning, as the hotel had a tie-in for breakfast to be served there and it was crowded with what looked to be huge families headed in our general direction for the day. We checked out of the hotel, dodged a pack of stray dogs running around the hotel lot, and made our way through the winding, narrow roads carved into the side of the mountain towards Sequoia. Talk about drives to make you nervous, and Phil joked about how he felt the same way when his dad made that drive when Phil and the family took roadtrips out that way, having lived for a few years in Bakersfield. I could just see that, an imaginative guy caught by plenty of things he’d pass by and turning his head to point. I laughed to myself noticing this even as we were riding in the back of the car in Montana, his father at the wheel, pointing out things along the way and us, half joking, to keep his eyes on the road and not attempt any Movie Driving (i.e. long conversations with others in the car and not watching the roadway for long intervals).
Yosemite Sam hangs out in the ranger booth at the entrance to Yosemite.
But what a gorgeous site the whole thing is, to be up in the mountains with basically no cars and no people around. Quite a site to see for someone who grew up in utterly flat Florida terrain, and never saw much of giant mountains. At least nothing tall enough to achieve a snowy peak. Though, it still isn’t any less disconcerting that there are very few barriers along the ends of the lane exposed to, well, certain death should the car ever cock too far in the wrong direction. Yosemite, too, like every place else we’d been now, was packed. The temperature had warmed up, or at least wasn’t as cool as San Francisco’s climate, and it was a gorgeous day. And, like other places I’d been to that week, it was a place that seemed trapped in times. Almost like it was captured in a Sienna-tinted photograph of a family of four or five driving in an old Buick wagon around the park. But then again, what really changes much about a National Park? Save any natural evolution and of course, forest fires. It’s the people that change. And man, there were a lot of people.
We pulled off and took a hike on one of the paths to get a look at the Sequoia’s, which were just a stunning as the mountains. All these big things! Pine cones, almost as tall as your upper body, and they definitely would have been painful to get hit in the head with — we narrowly missed being beamed by one after a dastardly squirrely crawling around on the branch above us dislodged one while we were distracted by photo opportunities with an unassuming deer. And these trees that seemed to be here for an eternity. That’s another thing about traveling around the States. When you’re overseas, you’re surrounded by ancient history. This was about as close to it was we got here. Natural, ancient history. It was a pretty far hike out, maybe an hour or so was all we took for it, and the hills were killer, which was odd because I should’ve been used to all of that by then, having been walking around San Francisco all week. There was a distinct point of exhaustion along the trail, and we knew this as we were walking back and, turning a corner at one point, everyone who passed us would ask… “are we close to the Sequoias yet?” I thought they were all Sequoias, really.
Most of the people who passed us were huge families that spoke with an accent. I imagined before their arrival here, they were a world away and formulating sightseeing plans upon visiting the states. Are national parks really that popular to foreign visitors?
Photographic evidence of Phil breaking the law… handling the nature is a faux pas in the National Parks.
Aiding and abetting. We’re like Bonnie & Clyde, but never as well dressed.
We drove down to a lodge for a lunch break before trying to eke out a rather private parking lot for the sake of indulging a quick nap in the car. Though the day was far too nice, really, to stay trapped under a windshield soaking up the ungodly heat which was bound to sap even more energy. We pulled up along an icy stream, pulled off our shoes and socks, and went in the water. There was no one around for the most part, until a family of waddling big children sprinting down to the bank, probably expecting privacy just as Phil and I did, till they looked up after climbing over the water on the stack of branches and fallen logs and seeing… well, us. Then there’s that awkward hushed conversation of both parties who just wanted some privacy to enjoy the surroundings.
We’d be doing a lot of this in Montana, standing around in the water, carefully attempt to balance on slippery stream beds when we went trout fishing with Phil’s dad. And Phil, who may be a stone skipping expert, was clamboring about just as much as I. It was a killer on the feet, though thankfully, was hardly as chilly and unbearably numbing as the stream waters in Montana. We had our fun, and pretty soon, we hit back in the car, and drove around a bit more, sort of just quietly staring out the window at the breath-taking scenery of these huge mountains, turning my head to look out of the other side of the car every once in a while when Phil would jab his finger in my arm so enthusiastically as the first to point out something that I’d never seen before. I got in the bad habit of trying to photograph and video tape everthing by the end, as though there was so much that my own memories alone couldn’t sustain the imagery, that I needed technological backup. Which, failed anyways, when iPhone got burned in the great Sync Up Fail.
Back to the SF of A!
By the late afternoon, we had dinner at Modesto and, before the sun finally set and closed the curtain on another day, we were not far from San Francisco once again, this time by the airport, where it was convenient enough to stay and return the car in the morning before getting on the Montana-bound plane. We wound up in the Bullit hotel, tired as hell. We could hear the crowds of screaming, jubilent children downstairs, having been put up near the pool. It was so cold that night back in San Francisco, I couldn’t figure out how those kids, happy as they were getting to play in the pool, weren’t freezing their asses off.
What would the Duke say?!