A Long Journey to
the Far South
There are people who love
long car trips. I am not one of those people.
My wife Fumiyo drove from Vancouver to Montreal and back in 2007, Her east-west trip. Another year,
she drove from Vancouver to Northern
British Columbia to visit
friends, another long road trip. After
my parents’ deaths, I was thinking about a good place to spread their ashes.
Finally, I decided to take them to Carmel, a place dear to my parents’ hearts. Now, Carmel does not have an airport. The closest would probably
be San Jose. I’d have to drive to Carmel from their. Driving anywhere for more than half an
hour is very painful to my back. But driving even vast distances seems to not
bother Fumiyo at all. She wanted to do a long north-south road trip anyway, and
now we had an actual reason.
Fumiyo had been out late on
Wednesday night in Diwali celebrations with her Hindu friends. As a result, we
didn’t get out of the house until near noon.
Portland was not supposed to be a long drive. I had driven through there with my parents in
1972 on our trip to Vancouver, and had been a passenger in their car as they drove
up from LA to the Seattle World’s Fair and to visit their friends in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island in 1962. But Portland remained totally alien territory to me. I took
advantage of the month of free Netflix when Fumiyo was walking across Spain for 6 weeks earlier this year, and enjoyed the
program Portlandia. Now I actually knew people in Portland. I’d met Gretchen, her husband Ed and their dogs at a
weekend of Firesign shows at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in 2011. We shared a Facebook friend as
well. The Portland artist Michael Brophy had stayed at our house with
our mutual friend, the Sydney sculptor John Petrie a few years back. We now had
reasons to stop in Portland. Apparently, a beautiful city. We’ll see. Or, not.
It was dark and wet when we
inched into the city. I’d printed out Google Maps directions and Fumiyo’s smart
phone should make it impossible to get lost, right? Our new Impreza, like all
cars sold in Canada, calibrates distance and speed in kilometers. Not
miles. A distance of 4 miles seemed strangely long, as if we’d missed the
street we were looking for. I went into a Vietnamese beauty parlour, which was
closing, and asked if they knew where the street was. The woman was incredulous
that I’d even suggested the street was close. “Far away” she insisted, hoping
we would soon be equally distant.
We’d called Gretchen after we’d crossed the
border into Washington and were in a rest area near Bellingham. “That’s about 6 hours away,” she’d told us. It didn’t look that far on the map. Indeed we
were in Portland an hour earlier. Only, we were stuck in rush hour
traffic in sodden darkness before we finally saw the sign for Tigard. At a gas
station, I’d asked if the 1-5 we were on would take us to Tea Guard. The woman
had no idea what I was talking about. You need a guard for your tea? Is it
really tea? “It’s a suburb south of Portland,” I exclaimed. “Oh, TIGER’d. Yeah, this is the right
road.” Those dumb Canucks!
Eventually we arrived at
Gretchen and Ed’s. Their small dog May May came out to gleefully greet us.
Gretchen thought May May may remember me from the motel on Whidbey Island where we’d first met 4 years before. I suspect the
cause of her enthusiasm was due to Fumiyo’s presence, and presents. Our great
white dog Icy had died in August, 2014, and Fumiyo continues to give away bags
of Icy’s favourite treats to dog lovers she meets.
Then it was time for the
humans to eat. Delighted to no longer be driving dark mysterious streets, we
got into their vast vehicle and were driven to a favourite local restaurant, Seasons and Regions
The chef is a fan of the Firesign Theatre, Gretchen told us, regaling us with
tales of putting up Firesign posters in the restaurant and then bringing the
lads themselves to Seasons and Regions when they played Portland in 2012.
“Bergman ordered Gluten-free” she informed us. Sounds more like a Bergman joke
than a Bergman activity. I ordered the halibut cakes and was delighted at how
wonderful they tasted, and how small the meal was. “Just Cat’s size,” Fumiyo
said. Well, yes, if you mean for two days. The tinyness of my appetite has
astounded one and all for almost 2/3rds of a century. She ordered a warm
seafood salad, and couldn’t finish it either.
We lunched well the following day on the long drive to Berkeley.
Sangria is my beverage of
choice at home since our sojourn to Spain in November, 2002. Seasons had a very seasonal-sounding sangria:
Autumn Sangria: White
wine, schnapps, fruit, spices, Heirloom Ridge apple juice.
It tasted more like a mulled
cidre. Went superbly with the Halibut cake.
The House of Gretchen and Ed
is filled with fine art. Emphasis on the word “filled.” They are soon to move
to much larger place in Salem
where the art can get the perspective it deserves.
Ed gets up early to save
lives. We get up early to try not to get killed driving south. Over 600 miles
to Berkeley. A daunting distance.
What we could observe of Portland through the rainy night on its clogged freeways
looked intriguing. I love big cities in general. All that glass. Outside of Portland, not so much. Hurtling through Oregon’s hills and valleys, its beauty eludes me. There are
folks who might find it appealing. I’ve read and been told by traveling friends
that the Oregon coast is beautiful.
Is it full of glassy buildings? We saw it not.
Eventually we were in California. Before they let us in, we had to testify we were not
bringing in any fruit. We were not. We picnic’d on the remains of our Portland feast. Mt. Shasta dazzled. I shot some vid. I had planned to shoot a
lot on the trip, but ended up with only a few minutes of footage the whole
trip. It just wasn’t that visually interest. When I say “Mt. Shasta dazzled,” I mean it leapt out at both my and Fumiyo’s
eyes, and demanded we look at it, photograph it, pay attention! I expect that
at the Musee D’Orsay or the 5th floor of MOMA but not so much in
“nature.” We live with mountains in our backyard in North Vancouver. Mt. Baker looms Shasta-like in nearby Washington State. But Shasta drilled shafts into our consciousness.
Another nearby Mt. looked like a dark pyramid, almost Mt.Doomish.
By the time we got to the Bay
Area Traffic Zone, the sun was in our eyes. Our car came with Sirius XM, which
although it no longer featured a Firesign show, brought the CBC into our car as
we snailed towards Berkeley. We were about to enjoy a show from home when the
news was hi-jacked by the dieing French. My favourite city, under attack. We
missed our darkened turnoff and were lost in Berkeley longer than Philip K Dick knew Ursula K Leguin at
Berkeley High. Thankfully Fumiyo’s old friend Minako and her daughter came to
find us and guide us to their relatively close by unfindable house, by our
absent technical non-skills and staggering ability to get lost.
Soft chicken tacos from a
favoured Mexican take-out more than filled us. Bob introduced me to a beer that
was not a beer. Magical complexity. Perfect pairing with the spices pervading
the tacos. Wish I could have finished them.
With the great maps Bob had
printed out, we were able to find John James in Santa Cruz. His weekly radio show The Surrealist premiered my
play Neal Amid. The radio play, about the muse of the Beat Generation, Neal
Cassady, actually reached San Jose
through this broadcast, the land of Neal and his son. I brought John some of my recent
collages, also involving Neal and the Firesign Theatre, and he played a
Firesign concert he’d attended in the 80s. His then infant daughter providing
sound effects. Although it appeared simple and we were well instructed, it took
us numerous wrong moves to finally get on the road to Carmel.
I hadn’t remembered Carmel and Monterey being that close. I hadn’t been there since, probably
late 60s. My parents first began going there in the late 50s a couple of times
a year or so. Why aren’t we in Carmel, my parents would ask after too many months back in
LA. From a Carmel hotel room, we could get radio from both LA and
Frisco, so we could listen to the same Dodgers-Giants game covered by Vin
Scully in LA and the Giants broadcaster. One of the many delights of our Carmelization.
Great pancakes I recall.
Sambo’s apple, raspberry, boysenberry etc pancakes, crepe-like and fruit-stuffed,
a highlight of my young tongue.
As we were hungry, we looked
for a place to have lunch. Most restaurants seemed packed. An Italian place
full of Mexicans call La Balena was open. Apparently we were its first
customers. I had a delightful warm salad with apples slices, squash, pancetta
and assorted greens. The whole trip would be one great salad after another.
Fumiyo had a feta and spinach omelet. The little shops around Carmel looked familiar. Would have liked to wander through
the many art galleries, perhaps have tea somewhere as I recall doing in the
60s, but we were short on time.
I remembered the beach as
having really white sand. Nope. Slightly lighter than average, but far from
white. Interesting trees, as I remembered. Fumiyo thought I’d spread my
parents’ ashes there on the beach, but it was full of other people busy having
fun. I remembered how much my parents enjoyed the trees and views along the 17
mile drive so we got on that, endlessly imperiled by impatient drivers behind
us and the small print identifying 17 Mile Drive as opposed to the wrong way into private lane land. Eventually
we found the right place. My father spent a life time nourishing flora and my
mother enjoying nature’s fecundity. They continue.
We had a reservation at the
Day’s Inn- Monterey Bay Aquarium and Fisherman’s Wharf, so we expected the
motel to be near those tourist attractions. Certainly it wouldn’t be far,
right? Well, they sounded easy to find. Didn’t see any parking near the wharf
and wound up parking in the parking lot of a large grocery store next to the
aquarium. It was $40.00 to get in. I greatly admire the Monterey Bay Aquarium
for its pioneering work raising global consciousness about imperiled fish
stocks, but not $40.00 greatly. If I’d gone it (it was now 4:00) I would have needed two hours to do it justice and
did not want to drive back to the motel in the dark. I asked for directions at
the supermarket. “You should go visit Carmel and the 17 mile drive,” I was told. Didn’t tell her
we’d just come from Carmel and barely survived the treacherous drive. But those
directions didn’t get me far. I went into the Tourist Information office where
a kindly informative woman showed me where to go on a map. It looked so easy.
Then I was mistakenly on the freeway again. Not so easy. Finally made it back
to the motel. In planning this trip, I’d looked at seafood restaurants on
Fisherman’s Wharf on line and found one serving Sand Dabs. The Firesign Theatre
named a Jr. High Soccer team The Sand Dabs in their audioplay Give Me
Immortality or Give me Death so I wanted to try this fish. I was not going to
try and find the wharf in the dark. As there was a large shopping center across
from the Day’s Inn, we assumed it would have food. The only place that
had seats was a sushi place whose name is not worth recalling. I wasn’t
particularly hungry, so I ordered the BBQ tuna. A tiny meal but it greatly
magnified my appetite, Fumiyo ordered some udon with chicken and vegetables. It
was terrible. Now hungry, I ordered the yaki tori. Fumiyo was dubious because
of her most unpleasant chicken experience but yaki tori is a small dish, a few
tiny pieces of chicken on a skewer in a sauce. That’s what I expected. That’s
what I’ve had thousands of times before. That’s not what I got. Perhaps a whole
chicken on a couple of overwhelmed wooden skewers, and Pineapple. I would never
have imagined pineapple with yaki tori, but it went wondrously well. Fumiyo found
the sauce too sweet but its sweetness was more than offset by the unexpected
The Day’s Inn
is not worth $134, even if it’s only Canadian money. Cramped, gloomy, and not
particularly clean. We were promised “Greek breakfast” for the following morning
but the only thing I could eat was a piece of
cinnamon toast. A hot cup of tea. Maybe the motel woman had really said
“Geek breakfast.” Lots of cereal options but I’m not a cereal person. Fruit
would have been appreciated. Pineapple maybe? No, only apples which are too
daunting for breakfast. It was raining heavily. We were elated to be out of Monterey and on our way to LA.
I remember Northern California as being quite scenic. Not particularly. Fumiyo has a
particular aversion to the ocean, which admittedly, smells vile. We drove
through Santa Maria, where I once had relatives. Also Stockton and Lodi, where I once had uncles. Pismo Beach is supposed to be famous for something. All the towns
I recall as being quite small when I was, now stretch on for many exits.
Following our Google directions, we came to what was supposed to be a traffic
circle and then found ourselves on the wrong highway. This one went through
Solvang, which I recall fondly. Now, it’s quite spread out, with none of its
remembered charm. Shortly after that Anderson’s Pea Soupery which was thankfully close to the
entrance to I-5 South. I recalled not liking Anderson’s pea soup at all, but for some reason my parents
would always stop there on our travels to Northern Cal. Fumiyo had the pea soup
in a bread bowl. I had maybe the best cup of tea on the whole trip, Bigelow’s
Apple Cidre tea, along with a pot roast sandwich with mashed potatoes and a
thick, satisfying gravy. I thought I’d recalled Andersons from 50 or more years ago having great bathrooms.
That was certainly not the case now. Later my cousin Geri would correct my
memory, informing me that place with the great bathrooms was the Madonna Inn, which we also drove by but remembered it not. We
tried to call Geri who was awaiting us in LA, but had the wrong area code
(Thanks, Google!) We hoped they’d be home when we got to Northridge. As we
drove down the coast, Santa
10 times bigger than I remember it. The whole of Southern California is far more populous than in my days there. We
finally arrived at the Garcia’s at 3:00.
Geri has been a sort of older
sister to me all my life. When her family moved to LA from Chicago, she was in high school while I was in elementary
school. She greatly expanded my intellectual horizons, first by turning me on
to the Peanuts comic strip (little kids with big vocabularies, just like me!)
and then what I’d mistaken for a children’s book, George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Much later, when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, Geri was my companion at
numerous concerts (We sat so close to Keith Jarrett that he was sweating on our rum
and cokes; I was so enthralled with Cannonball Adderley at my singular
attendance at the Troubadour, Geri thought I'd lost consciousness) and meals (she took me out for dinner on my
birthday in 1973 at a West Hollywood place called Lost on Larrabee, while George
Harrison dined at a booth behind us and worried about being old and poor). I
hadn’t seen Geri since my last trip to LA in 2006. Fumiyo hadn’t seen her in
several decades. Here she was. Along with husband Rick.