Cramped into an overcrowded airplane, my two sons – Nick and Timmy - and I flew across the continent bound for San Francisco.
I made minimal arrangements for this trip - I had a westbound flight Wednesday and a return ticket Sunday morning; my cousin Sharon and her husband Greg had generously agreed to allow us to stay at their Marin County home for a few days; and I had tickets to the Michigan State – Cal football game Saturday night. Other than these, I had made no plans for the week.
A rented car, a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, and a climb up the hills of San Rafael brought us to Sharon and Greg’s house in time for a dinner of grilled salmon and roasted garlic. I’ve promised myself that I will roast garlic at my home in the near future. He used a grill but I don’t think I can control the temperature of my charcoal grill well enough for this task, so I plan to try this recipe.
Sharon and Greg have two small children – Billy is the older and he does not seem to sleep and he is full of energy and chatter. It was his job to make sure we were awake each morning 60 minutes before we wanted to be. Elena is younger. She is shy and quiet and pretty and has eyes like a china doll. It was her job to cuddle her mother at every opportunity. Both children are very cute and provided entertainment when we were in their home.
After dinner, when any sane person would be overcome with jet lag and ready for bed, my teenagers insisted they were bored, so we drove to downtown San Rafael to eat ice cream, watch the hippies and shoot pool.
The week quickly began to take shape. Nick wanted to play golf so Greg called his golfing buddy who recommended the Lincoln Park course next to the Presidio Park, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Great call. I’m a pretty poor golfer but I enjoyed the spectacular views of the ocean from the cliffs on which the course sits.
We ate lunch at the Cliff House which boasts excellent Pacific views and fair entrees.
I relaxed at Sharon and Greg’s house while the boys – still full of energy – found the nearest YMCA and headed there to play basketball.
Before retiring Thursday night, I ordered tickets for a San Francisco Bay boat cruise that included stops at Angel Island (a former immigration station and military outpost) and Alcatraz (most famous as a maximum security prison in the 20th century)
The contrast between the two islands is stark. Angel is a lush place with a great diversity of wildlife and flora. Alcatraz is a near-barren rock with no large indigenous animals and a few bushes and trees clinging to its craggy surface. Both islands served as prisons at some point in their past. Japanese immigrants were detained on Angel Island during World War II and enjoyed far fewer privileges than the convicted felons incarcerated at the infamous Alcatraz Penitentiary.
Following the cruise, we searched downtown San Francisco for Lombard Street, famous for its hairpin turns and steep slopes. After a half hour searching among the various one-way streets and dead ends, we found it and wound our way down it.
When you fly across country to visit family, it’s a pretty sweet deal if you can then get family to drive to where you are staying. This happened Friday evening when we had dinner with an aunt, an uncle, two cousins and five second cousins. It was a great time visiting those whom I don’t see nearly enough.
Timmy and the two younglings wanted to go to the beach so to the beach we went early in the morning. It was overcast and a bit chilly and water was closed to swimmers due to a recent shark sighting. Still it was a nice drive and it was fun to watch the little ones chasing birds for an hour.
In the afternoon, we headed to Berkeley. My cousin John, his wife Becky and their daughter Jennifer live on the east side of San Francisco Bay and they agreed to drive to Berkeley to meet us for lunch. I haven’t seen John and his family for five years so this was a real treat. Had we arrived a week earlier, we might have caught the rest of John’s kids before they headed off to college, but it was fun to catch up.
The football game began at 5PM local time. I had a good feeling as I was able to secure a parking spot on the street within 3 blocks of the stadium for under $2. (The lots nearby were charging $40-50 for parking.) My Spartans fought a valiant game that night. They responded time and again and pulled to within 7 points, despite having two touchdowns erased from the scoreboard. But eventually the defense ran out of gas and could not stop Cal’s offense on three straight 3rd and long plays. In the end, Cal defeated MSU 38-31.
Following the game, we met up with my old roommate Pat and his wife Susan. Susan attended Berkeley years ago and they both had friends in the area. I drove them to a restaurant near their hotel and was surprised to learn they had walked from the hotel to the game, as we drove at least six miles to get there.
This football game was the beginning of their vacation. They planned to travel up the Pacific coast in the coming days. Rather than exchanging gifts on birthdays and holidays, Pat and Susan now exchange vacation plans.
It was nearly midnight when we returned to Sharon and Greg’s dark house. The rub is that our flight for home departed SFO at 6:30AM, which meant I woke up shortly after 3. A strong cup of coffee and some groggy hugs and goodbyes and we were on our way to the airport.
After a layover in Minneapolis, we finally headed home, tired and sated.
It was a whirlwind trip filled with unplanned activities and little sleep; It was a chance to catch up with family that I only get to see every couple years; It was another little stack of memories for my kids to have about their childhood; It was well worth the time and money spent.
Thanks Sharon. Thanks Greg. Thanks Nick and Timmy. Now back to the world.
Note: Click here to view photos of my California trip.