I have separated this account into two parts. This is Part 1. Here is Part 2.
Several weeks ago, Drew, Josh, and I were on our way to WaterCourse. I was riding in the back seat of Drew's bad
A few days before the trip, Drew and Josh were making tasteless jokes of some nature or other while I stood silently to the side. "Man, I think we're corrupting Ian," said Josh. "Just watch," Drew responded, "some day he's going to take all this s[tuff] we say and write it down." That night, I began writing this post.
During the week before the trip, Josh was distressed about getting the rental car. Our vehicles are not road-trip worthy (although we did consider Jake's minivan), and biking there was not an option. Renting a car sounded far too adult for us (having never done it), and all those rumors about being 25 nearly threw us into panic (could Drew, the only 25 year-old, afford it?). But it turns out renting a car is easy; in fact, it is too easy. None of the rumors are true. Insurance presented the only obstacle, but Jake cleared that.
We had originally intended to leave Monday morning, Feb 1. But Jake called me on Sunday afternoon and asked if I was ready to leave that night. I was. He and Drew were on their way to rent the car.
I drove up to Josh+Drew's place. I was not as excited as I should have been, and this worried me. On all counts, this is exactly what a recent college graduate with no known future or ambition should be doing, yet some voice in me whispered doubt and disappointment: Why am I traveling and spending money? Why am I not getting a job? What good will this trip be? = Doubts of a soul that has not been to SF.
Jake and Drew rented a car (a Chevy Malibu). We were about to put 3000 miles on it. As we prepared for this endeavor, Drew laid down for us five Rules:
1. Don't be a [heel].
2. If you (the driver) are tired, pull over/let some one else drive.
3. The front seat Passenger is not allowed to fall asleep.
4. If any one of us has the chance of getting [a girl], he gets priority over everybody else.
5. No talking about ex-girlfriends. (Subsequently, I learned every disgusting detail about their ex-girlfriends during the trip.) (This rule did not apply to me.)
(And finally, since neither Drew nor I drink, rule 6. Stay out of the way of the Js when they get drunk.)
We loaded the car and drove off, full of excitement. Two blocks later, we stopped at Qdoba so that Jake and Drew could eat. We turned back around after Josh remembered that he had forgotten to take out the trash. After that, we stopped at Whole Foods to buy some groceries. Then, then we were on our way. It was just before sunset.
We headed north. Jake drove. Night fell quickly. We do not like Red States but had to pass through Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada before we reached California, and our conversation through these states was a never-ending wisecrack at the expense of the people who live there. Truckers and Mormons were our favorite victims. We tiptoed through a Wyoming truck stop and were thankful to find that no burly beasts were waiting for us in the restroom (they were too busy enjoying their late-night meal). This was a lucky escape.
Further down the road we passed an ominous compound. We tried to guess what so cold and remote a building could be. We were confounded until Josh explained: "It's a concentration camp. That's where they keep the gays."
Because it was night, we could not see any of the beautiful Wyoming landscape. We did see two things we liked: the moon-rise; and a wind farm (apparently Wyoming is a hot spot for wind farms). We were in awe passing the wind farm and all had our own comments--
Jake: "It's kind of eerie. They look like monsters."
Drew: "They remind me of the robots in Terminator 3." [???]
Me: "It makes me excited for the future."
Josh: "It makes me want to [masturbate]. Sustainably."
One final note on Wyoming: Jake, who does concrete (when not earning his Poli. Sci. degree), helped work on the highway around Rock Springs a few years ago. He could not contain his excitement as he drove over the part that he worked on. He went on and on about American infrastructure and how it felt to help build it and is crafting this story as a talking point for his political career. It made me realize I have done nothing for my country. Nothing.
A snow storm hit us over the Wyoming-Utah border. We cautiously sped through it. Josh raised a complaint we heard often during the trip: "I can't get service on my phone. Why can't I get 3G coverage? I just want to update my Facebook status! What kind of
The closer we came to Salt Lake City, the more vicious Jake and Josh became in their attacks against Mormonism. Before this, I did not say much; I even contributed to the demonizing by telling the story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. But here I objected to their attacks (a timid voice in the back seat) and was promptly torn apart, limb from limb.
The snow subsided and, though the city was a bit damp, Salt Lake City was pleasantly cool. We entered SLC so that we might gape at the Temple. It was 2AM following a Sunday. The city was deserted. So much silence. It is impossible to describe this desperate silence. A city without people is a disconcerting thing. I have seen a city deserted like this only once before -- it was Santiago on New Year's morning, and everyone was home with a hangover. Driving through SLC's quiet, wide, clean streets, we wished we had our bicycles. We found our way to the Temple, parked, and wandered around the Square, cameras out. We did this nervously and jumped whenever we heard a car pass, wondering if we were about to be captured, afraid of what cruel devices they had waiting for heathen sinners. Before we sped away from SLC, we stopped by the State Capitol and admired its hill. A final cruise through deserted downtown ended our odd SLC experience, and we were back on the road.
Although we could not see it, we knew it was there: the Great Salt Lake. We squinted out the windows and still saw nothing. Finally, we decided to pull over and get out of the car so that we might see this lake. We could see it; we could also smell it. We jumped back into the car. The internet tells me this is called Lake Stink. I feel privileged to have experienced it.
Further down the road we drove through the Bonneville Salt Flats. The dark masses of mountain in the distance reflected off the damp flats illuminated by the just-past-full moon. A haunting and beautiful image.
Jake switched places with Drew (who drove us all the way in to SF). A long, long stretch of Nevada desert remained between us and Reno, and our only respite from boredom was the sunrise. Sunrise is always magical, even in Nevada.
Reno is a sleazy city. We arrived mid-morning and rode through downtown; dirty casinos sit on dirty streets populated by dirty (homeless?) people. The glitter of the lights/signs appeared all the more fake and sinister. We were looking for a vegetarian restaurant which Josh had heard about. We parked and walked to the address he gave us; we found an apartment building. We loitered, confused. Josh called the number for the restaurant and the apartment building answered. Finally, we went inside and asked where the restaurant was -- 2nd floor, they said. I quietly proclaimed that this was not a good idea. The others, however, decided this was an experience we ought to have. On the 2nd floor, no restaurant was in sight. We split up to look for it, pacing down the crumbling, caving halls. The situation had all the hallmarks of a horror film. Maybe this restaurant was not a vegetarian restaurant but a restaurant which cooked/served vegetarians? A dark and serious possibility. We found the restaurant in a back corner. It was closed. We raced out of the building and decided on a less risky breakfast option: Whole Foods.
Nevada (so I'm told) is in grave financial trouble. We were reminded of its economic woes when we turned into the Whole Foods parking lot -- a stretch of storefront held half a dozen empty spaces. What were we in for with this Whole Foods? What kind of Whole Foods would rise in the midst of dilapidation? We rounded an empty store and discovered an oasis, the Whole Foods of our dreams. Spacious, clean, friendly; water sparkled, berries burst; shepherds piped cheerful melodies. We ate at a patio with fireplace, sofas, chairs. Forget casinos; Whole Foods is Reno's finest attraction.
I slept the distance between Reno and the California border. I woke at the border where an attractive girl asked if we were carrying any fruits or vegetables. The stretch of road just past the CA border is the most beautiful stretch of road we had yet traveled, though I could not help but compare the Sierras to the Rockies (and the Rockies always win). I fell asleep again and woke up somewhere between Sacramento and Oakland. I could not help but notice the color green.
San Francisco appeared in the distance. We approached the Oakland Bay Bridge and prepared our cameras like good tourists. On cue, Jake played Coconut Records' West Coast; I thought it was cheesy (though not in bad taste); everyone else described it as 'epic.' I promise my next entrance into SF will be more to my style.
We were in the heart of the city and were overwhelmed. So much was going on! So many buildings, so many people. It was the first time I had ever been in awe of a city, and whatever doubts I had about the trip before it began disappeared in those first minutes of SF. We turned a corner and faced our first steep SF hill. Drew, imagining no doubt that we were in his Land Rover,
Originally our plan had been to stay the first few nights with either of Josh's friends (both girls) who live in San Jose. But we were a day early. So we put ourselves up in a cheap-ish hotel in South San Francisco (en route to San Jose). Our plan was to wash up and get settled before diving back into the city; Drew suggested we double up in the shower to save time, but we rejected that idea. Once clean, we found our way to Herbivore (on Divisadero), a vegan restaurant.
A theme of this trip, which you will observe as these notes progress, is vegetarian restaurants. Josh, a hardcore vegan, invests a great deal of energy into what he eats, much more than the rest of us; he had a lengthy list of restaurants we could eat at, and we happily (aside from the Reno incident) followed him around to his dining choices. He could not get over how many veg. restaurants there were in SF. He loved Herbivore, and we ended up eating there twice.
The waitress recommended we check out Mojo up the street. It is a bicycle cafe. A hip one. Drew and Josh grabbed coffee, and then we all walked to Alamo Square Park where we had a great view of the city. We also saw a great many dogs. Dogs are everywhere in SF. I imagine if you live in a dense city you sacrifice yard space and are forced to walk your dog in the streets/public parks. This is an unpleasant chore, but for whatever reason the people walking the dogs did not seem particularly upset. This mystified me.
We wandered around the neighborhood until sunset. Josh wanted to go to American Apparel to buy a hoody. This is a habit which he has to satisfy every couple of months, and we were happy to oblige. We went to American Apparel but Josh did not buy a hoody. He bought a long-sleeve shirt instead. It was still early but we had been awake for the better part of 30 hours and so decided we should sleep. We went back to the hotel. We slept two to a bed. I had the misfortune of being paired with Josh. In the morning, they discovered me on the floor and asked what happened. I explained: "Josh is the worst bed-hog ever. I had to punch him several times during the night to get him to move over so I had room. Eventually I woke up and found his face a few inches from mine, and that was that. I moved to the floor." They laughed and laughed and teased Josh for chasing me around the bed. Josh became the Bed Chaser. This would take on a new context in a night's time, as you shall see.
We were to meet up with Josh's friend Michelle. He had not seen her for five years (but they kept in touch). We were up early that morning and arrived in San Jose before Michelle had woken up, so we passed time with our favorite past-time: shopping for Joshua. Josh needed pants, and we searched through several stores before finding something Josh was happy with (though he wasn't really happy with them). I was confused why Josh was in such desperate need of pants; but then I got an explanation: Josh only kept one pair of jeans which he wore until they ripped, and the pair he was wearing was about to rip. Without the next pair, tragedy would strike. Jake found that it was wisest to have two pairs of jeans to switch between, while Drew, like Josh, kept only one pair. Surprised, I admitted my wealth: four pairs of jeans to cycle through. "Gee, Ian," said Drew, "Do you have a servant to take care of those for you?" I do not, but I am looking into it.
We met Michelle at her house, though we were still early (and she was still dressing). She took us to her favorite restaurant down in Santa Cruz, Saturn Cafe. It is a Vegetarian American Space Diner. Or something. The food was good, the waitress better. After lunch, we walked through town and cruised the various shops. We browsed Urban Outfitters for Josh. While in a record store, Drew and I watched as a homeless couple (?) screamed at each other across the street. Screaming. Profanity. It began to rain lightly. We split up -- Josh and Michelle went to a bar for beers while Jake and Drew went for coffee. As one who does not drink either, I hung around outside with the rain. Once he had coffee, Jake went back to the bar; Drew and I walked down the street and through a bookstore. We made it back to the bar eventually, too, but thankfully did not have to stay long.
From downtown, we walked to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Because it was February, the boardwalk was deserted. The shops and booths were empty, shuttered. The rides were still. A security guard patrolled the walk, her footsteps echoing through the silent park. The beach was gray and littered with seaweed. Seagulls hovered overhead. Shadows roamed the beach in the distance. The sun began its descent over the pier to our West. We were alone.
Jake, Josh, and Drew were thrilled by this opportunity to commune with the Pacific. They took off their shoes, rolled up their jeans, and cautiously approached the surf. The water looked cold. I did not follow. Michelle asked why, and I explained that I grew up in Hawaii and that the Pacific was no stranger to me. I tried to be real cool about it. But in fact, I just do not like the feel of cold, wet, sandy feet.
They took lots of pictures and the boardwalk was a relaxing, carefree time. We stopped in Neptune's Kingdom (which Josh compared to Casa Bonita ...) where Josh and Drew played a game of air hockey. Josh won. After this game, everybody but me packed into a photo booth and wasted $5 on an awful photo (they all seemed to be picking their noses). We strolled past a trash can full of dead sea gulls on our way to the pier. The sun set in the time it took to walk the length of the pier. Sea lions rested on planks beneath us, and the less mature ones of our group teased them. More pictures. Sea gulls rested on the rails. I saw a pelican. A fine experience. We walked back to the car. Jake and Drew found ice cream on the way.
Michelle's parents invited all of us over for dinner. This was unexpectedly nice. And they were nice. They cooked a satisfying vegetarian dinner for us and were careful to list all their ingredients, lest they put in something we did not approve of. (Josh stopped by Whole Foods on the way to buy his own stuff just in case he did not approve.) Since Michelle is a vegetarian, her parents were well-prepared to meet our demands.
There was one moment when we were uncomfortable in that house, but Drew handled it beautifully. Michelle's parents (her father, at least) are conservatives; Michelle's father's outfit announced this to us the moment we walked in (gold chain necklace and all). The after-dinner conversation came around to business, and he was giving us all very good advice. Before one point of advice, however, he prefaced himself thus: "Now I don't want to sound like I'm getting political, but if you guys voted for Obama ..." At this, Drew whispered, loud enough to be heard but so as not to be taken as an interruption, "We all voted for him." And then Michelle's father laughed. And we laughed. And it was all good and pleasant and merry. Good work, Drew.
We stopped at Michelle's house as we considered what to do that night. Josh and Jake and Michelle wanted to drink. Drew, though no longer a drinker, wanted to go along. I did not want to go along; so they swapped me with Michelle's roommate and hit a bar. No matter. I had my own wild night planned: an evening with Montaigne. I read half a dozen essays and went to bed.
They woke me up when they came home. I was too tired to think anything, but I did see one gossipy detail: when she was ready for bed, Michelle grabbed Josh's hand and led him into her room.
Out in the living room, Jake, Drew, and I woke up early the next morning. They wanted coffee, so I went with them to a Starbucks. Josh's story was all on our mind. Jake, however, had a story of his own. It is not the type of story one shares out of respect to those who lived the story, but the story did generate what might have been the joke of the week: "I wouldn't be offended if you asked me to take my shirt off." I will leave the story to your imagination.
We arrived back at Michelle's and were ready to go, but were not sure what to do. No one was daring enough to knock on that door. We did not want to lose much more time. Drew called Josh's cell phone, but I was the one who answered it (it was, after all, in the living room). What to do? Josh finally, finally, walked on out, and we all did what he hoped we would not do. We looked at him. To release the tension, he raised his hand as a pistol and fired a shot. Drew would later describe this moment as "epic".
Rule #4: CHECK.
As all good tourists, we went to the
We left the Spot after noon, and we were all hungry. We went to Capitola and, in Capitola, Dharma's. The ordering process was confusing, but eventually they gave me a Teriyaki Burger. It was amazing.
Drew, Jake, and I wanted to spend the day driving up Highway 1, but we did not want to obstruct Josh's romantic conquest. While we were waiting to hear back from Michelle and thus form plans for the day, we went to Capitola Beach and relaxed. Capitola follows the wealthy, suburban California model: Mansions cling to beach-side cliffs. Late-twenty-something wives walk the sandy streets with strollers and oversized dogs and gaily gossip with every other wife they meet (about their sex lives, no doubt). Men spend their lunch hours squeezing into wet suits and surfing February's chilly waves. Tourists stumble from shop to shop drinking bad gourmet coffee and slipping change into their parking meter. Teens roll around on skateboards and curse and hit each other and warily eye police officers and generally have a great time playing hooky. Mother and child sit on the beach and build castles and look for seashells. &c. We sat on a bench and watched them.
Wikipedia relates an amusing anecdote about Capitola:
In the summer of 1961 hundreds of birds attacked the town. Most of the birds were sooty shearwaters - a normally non aggressive species that rarely comes to shore. Alfred Hitchcock was a regular visitor to nearby Santa Cruz and read about this episode. He went on to direct a film - The Birds - based on the idea of hundreds of birds attacking humans.
The day before, Michelle skipped her friend's birthday so that she could hang out with us. So today she was making it up to him and could not hang out with love-struck Joshua. This meant Josh had to tag along with us as we traveled State Route 1 from Santa Cruz to San Francisco. I do not think he was happy about this at first, but the earliest coastal vistas rapidly changed his mood.
My words cannot accurately describe SR1's beauty. It was February and chilly and overcast most of the time and the colors were dull but still vibrant and everything was awesome. Cliffs jut powerfully from the ocean. Sometimes they are level enough to build on (and there, farms and lighthouses stand), other times they slope and climb dramatically, ending in peaks far above our heads or in gentle beaches that yawn below us. We stopped at most beaches and photographed everything we saw. Small, rocky islands sat beyond us just out in the surf, waves bursting at their edges, sea birds resting in the ocean spray. Jake had been waiting for this moment the entire trip; he donned his swim trunks and waddled a few feet into the water. A wave broke before him, and in a moment he was submerged in the Pacific. He jumped back out of the water and ran to shore, whooping in triumph. Drew had gone in the water with Jake but had not been so brave. These two, pasty Colorado boys celebrated their moment and would later think of it as the greatest moment of the entire trip. I will not disagree.
It was late afternoon. We stopped in Half Moon Bay to fuel up, and in the last, brief stretch between HFB and SF, the sun set. However pleasant the day had been, it was not what Josh had hoped for. His mood turned sour for a brief time ... but I will not dwell on the worst in us. Once in SF, we parked in a Chinatown lot and ate at Loving Hut, an international vegan restaurant chain. The restaurant's symbol is a big, golden L with hearts running through it. It's motto: "Be veg. Go green. Save the planet." A vegan neon sign lights its window. Inside, at the door, is a table filled with propaganda/pamphlets about veganism. A hi-def television loops the world's latest vegetarian news between clips of animalsbeingcuteandcuddly; the video is subtitled in a dozen languages. And this vegan message all revolves around the Supreme Master Ching Hai.
If this sounds like a cult, that's because it is. Ching Hai is the self-styled teacher of the "Quan Yin method" (summary: meditate for 2 1/2 hours a day and be Veeegan). This article tells us more about the Master:
When she's not fulfilling her role as the Almighty, Ching Hai paints, makes jewelry, publishes a magazine, produces music videos, and designs a flamboyant clothing line that debuted last year on runways in Paris, New York, and London. Ching Hai's heavenly creations are a far cry from the hair shirts and drab cassocks often associated with religious devotion. She's partial to flowing silks in bubble gum colors, elaborate hats, and custom-made umbrellas. It would take a miracle for most of her disciples to purchase this holy couture; ensembles from the "Celestial Clothing" collection can cost as much as $11,250.Also in the article, this description:
San Francisco's Mike Treacy was a devoted Ching Hai disciple for years, even traveling to Taiwan in 1990 to live at the Master's compound for six months. He broke away from the movement two years ago and now labels it a moneymaking sham.and this story:
"Ching Hai has basically got thousands of slaves and all the power and money she wants," says Treacy, who runs a service transporting the elderly and disabled. "The followers may be smiling and seem happy, but they're still getting ripped off."
Asked what it's like to interact with someone many place on par with Jesus Christ, Treacy is equally blunt: "She rules with an iron fist. She has tantrums; she screams; she yells. Basically, she's an asshole."
Just as pieces of the one true cross were a hot commodity among medieval Christians, Supreme Master's followers lust for a token of her. But unlike Jesus and the saints, whose ascetic lifestyles limited the number of possessions that could be marketed as relics, the Supreme Master has entered the religious keepsake business, auctioning everything from her Volvo sedan to her old hankies.The food was fine. I was happy to get out of there, though. Josh loaded up on propaganda before he left, his mood wholly lifted. The Supreme Master may have another disciple. [Update: Josh denies this.]
South Bay resident Anna Long owns such a piece of the Supreme Master's past. She learned about Ching Hai when she was working at a San Jose beauty college and suffering through a troubled time with her in-laws. She now runs Oakland's Bode Vegetarian House, which, while not an official Supreme Master eatery, is filled with photos of Ching Hai and literature related to the pint-size deity. Last year, Long outbid a throng of other disciples for a pair of the Master's sweat socks at a retreat in Taiwan. The price? $800.
"The socks are a memory of the Master, so they are priceless," says Long, who admits that she's not sure if the socks were washed before the auction. "When the Master leaves the physical world, at least I will have her socks."
We walked over to the City Lights Bookstore of Beat Generation fame. It is the best-stocked independent bookstore I have ever been in. The shelves overflow with world literature and cultural topics. I wandered through the store, overstimulated. I had to buy something. Finding my way to the Classics section, I scanned for several books I wanted: they did not have Ovid's Heroides, nor did they have Humphries' translation of Lucretius, but they did have Mendelbaum's translation of The Aeneid, and although it cost me $10 more than it would have had I ordered it from the internet, I bought it. Drew also bought a book (for Beth), Jack Kerouac's Big Sur. Josh, as overstimulated as I was, decided to leave the store before he blew $100. Jake was the only one not stimulated by the City Lights Bookstore; he was far more interested in the adult bookstores across the street.
From City Lights, we walked SF's red light district; a dozen strip clubs lined both sides of the street. And of course it was here, of all the places we crossed on our journey (like that Wyoming truck stop), that our masculinity was questioned. Two guys sat outside a club; one smirked as we passed by and asked, "Who's playing in the Super Bowl?" "That's the one with the baskets, right?" Drew asked. We walked a few steps before they replied: "Do you guys like red meat?" Actually...
This was the heart of Barbary Coast. In ages past, sailors would stop here to blow their money on cards and prostitutes before they were shanghaied for their next voyage. I knew all this seedy history because I had seen it in the movies, with tough guys like Edward G. Robinson and Clark Gable. But real life history is interesting, too. Here is a story of the famous crimp (=the person who shanghaied sailors (=drugged them and put them on boats)), Shanghai Kelly:
One day – some sources say it was in 1854, others say the mid 1860s or ‘70s – Kelly found himself with an urgent order for nearly 100 crew members and a dearth of sailors at his usually full boardinghouse for him to shanghai. The ever-resourceful Kelly quickly came up with a plan. First he chartered an old paddlewheel steamer, the Goliah. Then he put the word out on the streets that it was his birthday and everyone was invited aboard to celebrate with free food and drink. Ninety men showed up and the Goliah put out to sea amid great merriment of drinking, eating, and song. As soon as all the guests had passed out from the drugged drinks. Kelly sailed to the three ships waiting outside the Golden Gate. The still unconscious “sailors” were handed over to their new captains, who sailed away.We hurried back to Michelle's that night to satisfy Josh. As it happens, Michelle was out late and we arrived before she did. Michelle's roommate let us in and we were all preparing to go to bed, Josh calling it a night, when Michelle finally made it home. To his surprise (but not ours), Josh did not have to spend the night in the living room with us.
Kelly now saw a slight problem: all of the Barbary Coast knew he had sailed off with a shipload of merrymakers. How would he explain returning with the Goliah empty? He sailed on down the California coast to mull it over.
As the story goes, it was off Point Concepcion that he met his incredible stroke of good fortunate. He came upon the ship Yankee Blade that had run aground and was taking on water. Kelly saved its entire crew and sailed them on up to San Francisco. Hailing him as a hero, no one seemed to notice that his full ship carried not one of his original party guests.
I tell you this next story merely to shock and appall you, and hope that as you continue through these notes you keep this revolting fact in your mind: After Josh's nights of romance, Drew pestered Josh about taking a shower/washing his face. We did not, after all, want to be in close quarters with a fellow who had vadge-beard*. Whenever Drew pestered him, Josh assured us that he had cleaned himself and that we should not worry. This happened Thursday morning. On Saturday night, Josh stepped out of the shower in Vegas and admitted, gleefully, that this was the first shower he had taken since going to bed with Michelle. This caused quite the uproar. It went against every rule of decency. How impolite a friend can be!
[*this is a technical term]