West Coast Report One: Monday

We are driving up the West Coast from San Jose to Seattle, then back down the valleys between the Cascades and the coast ranges.

We discovered that, despite its foggy reputation, the land around San Francisco is dry. San Francisco itself is densely packed with houses, obvious from the very first approaches. We saw a large hillside with a couple of residential streets about halfway up; one street's roofs were at the level of the next street's sidewalks. The hill below was crowded with city, the hill above was devoid of human structures. But the housing on those two streets was typical San Francisco: one house adjoined the next, not as if a large apartment building had been divided into separate units, but as though the builder used the wall of the previous house to serve as anchor for the next. Different styles, different colors, ascending heights, but all joined at the walls. Just knowing that they only had these two streets to build on, they used all the space they could.

Then we arrived in San Francisco itself and hill after hill was covered with the beautiful pastel houses side-by-side-by-side.

North of San Francisco, the dry grass hills began to show coniferous trees. Are the junipers the ones that appear both stunted and spreading? At any rate, such trees appeared throughout the pastureland. Surprisingly, one field south of Petaluma had a hedgerow of such plants, with a palm tree trapped in the field itself.

Safe Arrival

We arrived in San Jose mid-afternoon. We discovered one possible reason for the low fares: the airport hasn't been enlarged sufficiently to host the rental car companies on-site. So all of us wanting any car company at all squeezed onto the blue bus. Unlike the similar Baltimore situation, we then stopped at another part of the terminal. Some of the folks on the bus before us then made us rearrange our luggage so they could get off; then the new folks getting on buried our luggage under theirs. Finally, after a hairpin turn in which I wondered if it would be better to have the luggage on the top shelf in front of me crash onto my head or to have the luggage taking the place of the "disabled preferential seating" behind me crash into my legs, we reached the first stop for the rental cars. Of course, that wasn't our stop, so all the luggage got rearranged again, but ours was still not accessible. When we got to our stop, we were pleased to discover that the owners of the eight suitcases over and in front of our cases were getting off the same place.

At least National then gave us a choice of cars. All I knew was that I didn't want a red convertible (gives entirely the wrong message to those who know I work for the church) or an Impala (Americans build entirely too many low curbs and dips into their roadways). My options: Pontiac Gran Prix, Chevrolet Malibu, or Buick Century. I know too little about the various makes, so it's possible I would then choose the Impala-by-another-name. Those of you who do know cars: Which SHOULD I have chosen? It's too late now, but at least I haven't scraped bottom yet.

One of the co-travelers on the blue rental car bus was complaining that all American cities look the same. While I agreed that one airport tends to look pretty much like any other airport (assuming one doesn't mind no rental cars on-site and that the airport at least has jetways), I noted that there were no mountains in sight from my starting destination of Kansas City. The lady, a San Antonian, hadn't even noticed them yet. She then agreed that South Texas was also mountainless.

Bay Area Rush Hour

Kathy and I drove the car through San Francisco at 5 o'clock. Oh, good, good planning! Kathy got some good shots of San Francisco's southern approaches, then ran out of batteries. Before we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, I wanted to find some batteries for her. Our route finally took us off the parking lot (the interstate leading to the Bay Bridge). I was watching for drug stores or grocery stores, but downtown San Francisco didn't seem to have any. We did hit a neighborhood where lots of people were walking around and where there were a variety of shops; but Kathy noted that many of the pedestrians had gang markings and most of the windows had bars, so she told me not to bother.

Kathy tells me I misunderstood her. It wasn't the people who had gang markings, but the buildings. And no, I believe she was referring to neither the "Moo gang" nor the "Boo gang" when she said that. (Those were the "gangs" Mark and Stephen tried to start when they discovered they weren't part of the major gangs in their respective schools.)

As we approached the GG Bridge, I was also pleased to note that there would be no toll going north. But when I saw the "last San Francisco exit" sign, I turned off, trying once again to find a battery source. We traveled a bit south, found a good-sized cross street, and turned down it. We found several Chinese restaurants, an Indian restaurant, and then an Italian restaurant. We continued, and then found a market. But since it looked a lot more like an open, pick-your-own-vegetables-and-your-own-chicken market, I opted not to stop. We eventually found an Albertson's (major chain everywhere I've been but Kansas City) and got our batteries.

San Francisco has built its homes side by side, no space between, for mile after mile. When we approached the downtown area from the south, the major buildings there looked like the same thing: squashed together buildings growing hundreds of feet in the air. It wasn't until we looked back from the north side of the bridge that we saw the "normal" skyline, and it was very impressive from the north.


We have stopped just a few miles (40?) north of San Francisco, at Petaluma. We've passed through pasture country, and this area, despite being a fairly simple commute to the Bay, has a small-town feel. We chose not to eat at the national chain (with good "neighborhood" food), and as we walked to Jerome's BBQ, the distinct odor of fresh cow pasture filled the air. But the menu did not strike me as typical Midwest barbecue: Lamb burger, snake cake, even some alligator served with chipotle. Fortunately, one of the specials was prime rib French dip, so I asked nothing else and assumed the rib was once in one of the cattle that had roamed the dried grassland between Petaluma and Golden Gate.

We look forward to tomorrow and what it holds. And we hope it holds more warmth than the Golden Gate overlook. True, some of the shaking was due to the instability of the bridge itself. Every car vibrated the sidewalk where we standing. But the temperature itself was lower than we'd planned for. It is August, you know, And this is California. But proximity to the coast seems to call for something warmer than a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and sandals. (Sounds like an outfit for performing a wedding, doesn't it, Karilyn?) But we'll adapt. Somehow.

Tomorrow, the coast itself.

Post Script

I forgot to mention the native rituals up here. San Francisco, the sophisticated city of the west, has some suburbs with slightly different traditions. No, I'm not speaking of dating habits! Other than a couple of guys at the BBQ joint who sat together (and it may have been very innocent; I thought of saying "platonic," but Greek allusions are probably not best), all the couples we saw were dual-gendered. Nope. Just a few miles north of the city, in the "Johnson County" of the Bay (or pick your own elite section of the metro, where property values are higher and schools are better) we saw the sign calling us to attend the accordion festival. Accordions are neat instruments, sort of the American answer to bagpipes, but not what I normally associate with Tony Bennett's heart.

Next report