Sunday, May 27, 2018

On The Road Again, Chapter 7

The Golden Gate Bridge (Photos (c) Bonnie J. Schupp)

Reaching the Pacific,

it was easy to see why

people love San Francisco


Horace Greeley said it well: “Go west, young man….” I’m not exactly young, but along with Bonnie we reached the Pacific Ocean this week to complete the outbound portion of our coast-to-coast road trip.

The last leg took us some 275 miles from Fallon, Nevada (about 60 miles east of Reno) to Petaluma, Calif., home to a friend we visited for two days. We first met Elaine Harvey Ellsworth through our mutual membership in the international peace organization Servas, through which traveling members stay free for two nights or longer in the homes of host members – long enough to get to know each other and build understanding at a grassroots one-to-one level.

Elaine was traveling with a friend from Germany, Lena, and they stayed in our home southeast of Baltimore. Later, we visited Lena in Germany – and now we were visiting Elaine. Servas travel doesn’t always work out like an exchange, as we do not maintain contact with many of the people who have visited us over nearly four decades from various countries in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, as well as the United States.
Elaine, David and Bonnie

So we got a tour of Petaluma, whose countryside and vineyard attractions make it a tourist draw, and to Elaine (who grew up in the Baltimore area!) a nice place to live for the past eight years or so. Then she directed my driving on a tour of San Francisco – through funky neighborhoods and to the highest viewpoint, known as Twin Peaks.

First stop, though, was the viewing area on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, before we crossed it into the city. Bonnie and I had been there a couple of decades ago, but the sight is ever-changing with the fog sometimes obscuring the bridge, skyline or both. (A high school classmate who lives in the area and is a noted professional photographer has aimed his camera there countless times… it seems to never get old.)

We crossed the bridge – mystified at how to pay the boothless toll. Did our Marylander EZPass transponder cover us? Have to check on that eventually.

Bonnie's favorite painting in Casanova show.
We took the first exit in the city, heading through the Presidio national park (and former military base), heading for the nearby Legion of Honor fine arts museum in Lincoln Park where Elaine is a member and can take one guest inside. She took Bonnie first, for a quick look including its soon-to-end exhibition, “Casanova: The Seduction of Europe.” It included an array of 18th century art, much of it a tad risqué… at least by period standards. (Have to wonder what those folks would have thought about Cinemax After Dark.)

Then it was my turn, and I added a peek at the museum’s collection of impressionist art (not nearly as big or spectacular as the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Cone Collection).

In the museum’s outdoor courtyard sits Rodin’s “The Thinker” – and it seemed a lot more powerful and even larger than the BMA’s twin, which was moved indoors years ago because of damage attributed to acid rain.”
George Segal's Holocaust memorial sculpture

Also on the park property is a Holocaust memorial by artist George Segal in white-painted bronze, presenting a male figure standing at a barbed wire fence and, behind him, symbolic star-patterned bodies of victims spread in various poses.  (The powerful work has been vandalized several times since its installation there three decades ago.)

Another early stop in the city was the Cliff House area, where a restaurant and gift shop occupy the site of the mansions (two of them destroyed by fires) of the late millionaire Adolph Sutro, overlooking a stretch of ocean beach and the ruins of the elaborate Sutro Baths swimming facility.

The parking lots and curb areas have warning signs about frequent car break-ins, so everything we were not carrying got stuffed into the trunk. 
Policeman takes report from Cliff House car break-in victim.

Afterr walking around the paths overlooking the graffiti-decorated ruins, we headed for Cliff House and found several police officers talking to a family whose SUV was now missing a back window and whatever of seeming value had been left in the vehicle. Talk about blatant theft – in daylight, nearly in front of the building entrance and while a young woman was selling jewelry from the back of her vehicle several spaces away.

Bonnie had been researching the city’s entries in our travel bible,, and directed us to a neighborhood called Hayes Valley to see a comic book store with a collection of illustrated toilet bowl seats. (I know, it’s crazy to drive thousands of miles across the country to seek out a collection of toilet seats – but that’s the kind of thing we do!)

But first we sought a late lunch at a nearby French-style café.  Bonnie and Elaine got seated while I looked for a legal parking space… one that would cost less than $3.50 an hour at the meter, and was not in a 4 p.m. tow-away zone. It took nearly half an hour. During my search, I spotted a shabbily-dressed man looking into parked vehicles and pulling a red window-smashing tool from his pocket. I stared at him, and he stepped away from one vehicle, and I watched in my rear-view mirror as he cased a vehicle further down the street.

The space I found was about five blocks away, with its designated space number on the curb and a machine to pay the 75 cents-an-hour fee. It does not dispense an actual parking slip, so how it is enforced is as much a mystery as the bridge toll. I followed somewhat confusing instructions, then identified my spot as Space 5, and was informed that the space “expires at 5:15 p.m.” So I figured it was free. Walking to the restaurant, I began considering the possibility that it was 3:15 p.m., and maybe the machine was simply indicating my space was in a two-hour limit area. Hmmm. But I wasn’t walking back to cough up a buck fifty. I was hungry. And the café was terrific.

James Sime points out his own depiction in a comic illustration.

Artist-illustrated toilet seats
Isotope Comics was little more than a block away on Fell Street, and Bonnie took pictures as we talked with owner James Sime about the odd collection – having more decorated toilet seats than he had room to display. It started when a visiting comic book artist decorated the bathroom… pretty much trashed it, as Sime described it. And that was the first of the artistic comic-style seats and lids to go up on the wall. Other visiting artists got into the act over time. The rule is that the artist must physically visit the store to merit a toilet seat. Sime buys them from a plumbing supply source, but you’d think he could write to the manufacturer, with pictures, and get a bunch of freebies.

The proprietor, and especially his high-spiking hair, had a slight resemblance to my comic artist friend Steve Stiles back in the Baltimore area, and I mentioned it. (Hey, Steve – he knows who you are! All you have to do is visit the shop and you can get a toilet seat on the wall!)

Other delights were found along and near narrow, mural-bedecked Linden Street behind the comics store, including the Dark Garden shop specializing in women’s corsets and other undergarments (Elaine was hoping to see a corset it produced for Lada Gaga, but it was not in house), and Smitten Ice Cream – famous for making its product on demand, using liquid nitrogen. A counter worker demonstrated the technique and offered free tastes.

The view from Twin Peaks
Then it was a walk back to the car, where we found no parking ticket – and then drove to Twin Peaks for the highest and widest view of the city. Elaine and her former husband had previously lived in a house just behind the Peaks, so she readily pointed the way from the back seat of our Camry. And the view was spectacular, the damp fog and low clouds having given way to sunshine.

Rush hour was well under way as we tried to check out a new attraction outside the Moscone Center half an hour away (it was covered with a tarp behind construction barriers, alas), and rode through a few other neighbors including the bustling Haight-Ashberry of the turn-on, tune-in, drop-out era of the 1960s and 70s. It was the most colorful neighborhood of our visit, largely because of commercialization of the good old hippie days.

We left the city about 6:30 p.m., and were back at Elaine’s home an hour later at exactly the time we’d planned, when her new male friend – a Turkish-American who goes by the name Joe – was to arrive, having offered to cook us a gourmet dinner. (He tells of having owned several restaurants over the years, including one in Petaluma now operated by a family member.) And he delivered! The food and conversation were terrific.

The next morning we had to depart. It was time to head south and east across California, into Arizona and, a few days later, New Mexico for other planned stops on the long drive back home. In case anyone was wondering, we had already covered about 4,500 miles. My best guess when we left home was 8,000 miles total, so we were right on target so far.

Next chapter: Crossing Arizona

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