The Voyage, Day Five

California! Land of gold and rushing and actors and sunshine and bears and liberals and…What? Pay my share of your damned budget deficit? No way.


Ah yes. We were in CA six miles after gassing up and leaving Reno in our dust. And–while I’ve said it before, it still held fairly true–the landscape changed when we got into California–back were the tree-covered mountains, twisting mountain roads, and out of work actors lining the freeway.


Within a few miles into the state, though, was an inspection station that was stopping everyone to see if we were bringing fruit or vegetables into the state. Now we had packed a cooler so we didn’t need to stop for lunch or a lot of food along the way, and yes, we had some apples and bananas, but apparently those didn’t qualify for the great California embargo. We were cleared to pass.


Ha! Pass! See what I did there? No? Okay, let me explain: this inspection station wasn’t far from the Donner Pass. Get it? In fact, it was called the Donner Pass Inspection Facility. Hang on…I think I’ve got some knuckle still on my chin here, let me wipe that off…


Actually, there is a whole slew of Donner-branded locations in that area: Donner Pass, Donner Lake, Donner Memorial State Park, the Donner Snack Shack…Oh, wait…Oddly, this is all in the Lake Tahoe area, and I just have to say that that part of California is beautiful.


But I digress. Our day followed the plan almost exactly: up early, get the hell out of Reno as quickly as possible–we didn’t even stop for breakfast–get into California, swing by Lathrop, CA, and then head back north and swing around through Sausalito and down into San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. Total drive time: about five-and-a-half hours.


We took our required left turn at Sacramento, having seen no sign of either the wacky Jerry Brown nor Arnold Schwarzenegger, headed south and found Lathrop, important for obvious reasons, but not for any relations there. And found it to be a complete pit. Or at least less than the garden spot we’d hoped for. Or at least to be even the slightest bit attractive. Exhibit A:


So we stopped there for lunch and ate at a Jack In The Box.


You see, one goal of the trip was to eat at fast food chains they don’t have around here. And Jack In The Box has as its spokes-head a strange looking clown-headed character:

So the burgers have to be good, right?


Overall review: Meh+. Not a full on Meh, but not great either. Just pretty run-of-the-mill as far as the fast food experience goes.


So then we headed west to go north. Took the 580 west and followed it as it headed north through Oakland, then Berkeley, and then it headed over the bay on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge–our first toll of the trip–then south on the 101 toward the Golden Gate Bridge. On the way, we found that the fog was rolling in:

Though the more I look at this picture, the more I think it looks like some rice paddy in China instead of the coast of California.


A few miles on, through the twisting, turning, climbing and dropping hills, we finally came to it: the first REAL sign we had arrived–half of the trip was basically done, and we’d reached our primary goal on time and safely:

If the excitement for the trip hadn’t already been reignited, this did it for sure.


We rolled down the windows and for the first time in years, I smelled ocean air again–salty, clean, moist, and slightly chilly.


Then the GPS directed us to climb over a terrifying hill and through the Tenderloin to get to the hotel instead of actually curving around along the bay to the Embarcadero and then to downtown…Damned Google Navigation…

And this picture doesn’t even fully begin to describe the kind of angle we faced.


But we got to the hotel with plenty of time to rest and relax for a bit before we walked over with Jenni to the convention space into the heart of the SoMa neighborhood (South of Market) for her rehearsal, then to dinner, then back to the hotel to rest in what easily was the best hotel any of us had ever been in.


Go ahead and look it up: The Hotel Intercontinental, San Francisco. The rooms had doorbells. Really. I had to tip the bellman. And I felt bad I could only scrounge up $10 cash when he brought up all of our luggage. The ice was individually wrapped by gnomes and nymphs imported from Finland. The refrigerator was also the minibar and had sensors under everything so if you even moved the can of Red Bull, they’d charge you for it. The televisions offered to tuck you in at night. You could buy the bathrobes in the closet for just $75 each. The place was so “green” that they turned off all the lights in the place at 9:30. And the cheapest item on the room service menu was $12.50. That was a danish and coffee and juice tray for breakfast. But we did bum a Band Aid off of the Concierge. Damned straight I’m going to suck every last dollar out of the hotel I’m not paying for.


Tomorrow: the adventure begins again as I show the kids what a real big city looks like and we ride a cable car.


See you tomorrow.