Saturday, September 17, 2016

California June 2016 Camping high in the East Hills of the Bay Area and San Francisco- a nostalgia tour

It has been "awhile" since I posted anything on the blog. We were this area of California the last week of June, 2016.

The first part of our drive north from Monterey was easy and short.  It was mostly highways after we left Rte 1 for 101 and then I-5 to I-580 and then we got off for the drive up to the campground.  Up and up and around and around.  The road is narrow and the bends require one to drive slowly and 1 hour after arriving in Castro Valley we arrived at the campground.  

As usual, after checking in we disconnected the car and went to fill the water tank.  I then proceeded to the site to park, with Don following in the car.  The campground road was very narrow and the turns sharp and as I made the last turn to the loop where our site was I could see a pole with the corner site number on it.  But, because I was turning sharply and facing uphill I could not see it as I completed the turn and Whammo! Bang! scratch...b-a-c-k up. Well, I'd managed to scrape a nice swath of the protective coating off the front of the MoHo, bend a part of the front end and bend the pole a bit. Not a good introduction!  And then it was time to get into the site.  This was once again a site that I would have preferred to go in head first and did. Then Don pointed out that our door opened up right into our neighbor’s sitting area so I backed out and turned around.  It took a nice while to finally get level but once we were we saw that no matter which way we parked the sunlight would barely ever hit our rooftop panels.  That meant that what sun we absorbed would have to be from the portable panels and THEY would have to be moved frequently because of the trees around us.  

Now, the trees were pine and eucalyptus and their beauty and smell were delightful, but they cast shadows which are a solar panel’s enemy. The fact that we would not be spending most of our time there worked both for and against us.  Dinner would be grilled, there were showers in the campground and we could limit our power usage to charging devices and the induction plate for boiling water in the morning. But, we’d still need to replenish the batteries each day and that meant moving the panels into the sunlight as the trees’ shadows came over them.  Not being there meant we would have to leave them where they would be most likely to get the most sun. The end result would be that despite this low usage we would still never completely bulk recharge and certainly did not ever reach full charge over the next 4 days and, since I tend to stress a lot more than Don about our batteries, by the time we left I was relieved that we’d be able to recharge them over the next week.
Both the scent and the bark of the eucalyptus are beautiful

A group of wild turkeys roamed through the park

In 1972 I had moved with Courtney’s family to San Francisco.  It was a fantastic time to be there and although I stayed only 2 years, I have some of the best memories of my life from there.  I wanted to visit all my old haunts and now, because BART, which had not existed while I was there, could rapidly take us into the city that’s what we were going to do.  The drive in the car down to the BART station was only ½ hour and then the ride through Oakland and under the bay to the city was another ½ hour so an hour after leaving the dry, warm and treed East Hills we were in the financial district of San Francisco, pulling our jackets closer.  Lucky for us it was a beautiful sunny day with the well known fog showing itself only in the Golden Gate where it all but obscured the famous bridge.  But the city was sparkling.  First stop was the pharmacy where I worked up until the sudden death of my father which precipitated my leaving in 1974.  Never before and never since have I had the honor to work for a better human being than Bing Mah.  His Embarcadero Center Pharmacy was both a workplace and second home for me.  Lucille, who worked the cosmetics counter, Lina who was assistant manager as well as Janet and Jimmy, Bing’s two siblings who were both in college and working for him, were my family.  When I got a call from my mother one April weeknight that my dad was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with cancer I was inconsolable the next day. Bing gave me the choice to stay at work or go home whichever I felt would be better.  That Sunday night when my mother called to say my father would not make it through the week, I called Bing to say that I needed to fly home and could I have some time off.  He said yes, of course.  He called me back half an hour later with a plane ticket, for the next day, to my parents in FL and a ride to the airport.  I had asked for none of it and he would not consider my reimbursing him for any of it.  He just felt I was not in a position to have to do it.  He was, incidentally, at this time also trying to get his in-laws out of South Vietnam.  The man’s goodness knew no bounds. I stayed in FL for a month and decided that after 4 years living a long distance from my family I needed to be nearer them.  I flew back to San Francisco to pack my stuff and go back to work for two weeks to repay Bing.  He gave me a check at the end of that time and refused again to consider being reimbursed.  We kept in touch for awhile after I left but then in the days before social media when that meant writing letters and all the changes my life was taking, we finally lost touch.  The last time I’d written was when I received my nursing degree in 1978. So, while planning to go to San Francisco I had looked to see if the pharmacy was still in operation found out it wasn’t.  But I my heart broke when I saw an obituary for Bing who had died, at age 64, in 2001.  I do not have a lot of regrets but one is that I don’t think I ever fully conveyed to him what his care for me at that time meant.  Of course, as is the case with people like him, nothing he did was for the reward but it was with a heavy heart that I searched for the site of the pharmacy and realized that not only was the area but the entire financial district so changed and built up since 1974 that I never would find it.  

The bricks in the walkways at Embarcadero Center, with their distinctive pattern are there and as I trod them they brought back memories of going to a job that I looked forward to each day and sometimes maybe memories are best kept as they are.  I only realized that later though, and I dragged Don along on the next part of the quest and that was to see the last apartment I’d lived in-also part of this time that I loved.  Right along California St where the cable car runs, my apartment was two stops from the turnaround between Polk and Van Ness, so every morning the conductor would ring the bell to let me know they were coming and I would be downstairs in time to hop on.  In those days “everyone” rode the cable car and it would be crowded with people going to work.  Now it seems to be only a tourist attraction and at $7 for a ticket it is no wonder.  But, it’s one of those “experiences” and we got on one to wait for its departure and trip up over Nob Hill and down to Polk St.  While waiting I asked the conductor about getting from there over to Fisherman’s Wharf and he suggested the #19 bus and reminded us that as “seniors” we could ride for $1.  

Embarcadero Center-much larger than when I worked there.  There are now 4 buildings where there was only 1.

Public art is scattered around the open areas

Starting our cable car ride through the financial district...

past Grant St in Chinatown

...then Stockton St which always fascinated me with the parking places overlooking the street below

and up over the hill..

 Riding up Nob Hill I was able to point out the hotel-the Mark Hopkins-where Don’s parents had met for drinks at the Top of the Mark while his dad was in the Navy and his mother, already a mother of two and 26 years old, was told she could not enter the bar because she was “underage.”  To see pictures of his mom at that age is to understand the maitre-d’s reluctance but it is a family story that we have always enjoyed.  

Heading up Nob Hill with the Mark Hopkins top left (with flag)

Remembering where my apartment was located was not difficult at all because in 1973/74 it was right across the street from Cala Foods-a 24 hour grocery store.  Cala Foods is now a Trader Joe’s but the area hasn’t changed much other than that.  I walked along and immediately saw the door that opened into the 6 unit building, saw the fire escapes that hung over the sidewalk that a group of us one night sat upon dribbling water on pedestrians who strolled along trying to figure out where the rain came from and then, amazingly  saw that the laundromat where we’d done all our laundry which was still there.  The dryers are still lined up across the back wall and the memory of coming down to get my last load of laundry (delicates, lingerie) before I moved back home to find it ALL gone came flooding back.  Things were a lot more relaxed then and the 4 other women in the building as well as my flat mate, who was my best friend’s brother, and I would take our laundry over and put it in the machines and wait at home.  We frequently did it in the evenings and thought nothing of going over in only our pajamas or bathrobe.

and the laundry still looked the same.

Don and I then continued to Sacramento Street and down to Polk to catch the #19 bus but it was then I remembered that we could get off at Union and take another bus over to Cow Hollow and the Presidio where the house I’d lived in with Courtney’s family was.  Problem was, I could not remember the number of the other bus, did not have a map and the driver of our bus was a woman of rather surly monosyllabic utterances and we could not find out.  Ironically, it was only after getting off at Union St and asking a couple at the bus stop which bus to take back to town and being told it was the #41, that I remembered that was the bus.  However, we’d left Phoenix in the MoHo and at this point I didn’t know how long it would take to get there and back and we were starving.  We needed to be back by 3pm and it was now 1pm.  We rode back to the financial district, passing through Chinatown, another area replete with memories and had a quick lunch at a Vietnamese sandwich shop before getting on BART from the Powell St station back out to Castro Valley.  The payment system there is excellent and although it had taken some time for us to find a parking spot in the morning we’d been able to pay for it when paying for the ticket simply by adding it t0 the fare and typing in the spot number.  This information is then electronically submitted to the “meter reader.” It meant that all we had to do was go back to the car and drive home.  No lining up to pay.

The following day, instead of a city visit we decided to hang out and hike one of the trails at the campground.  The state park is located above Lake Chabot, a reservoir built in 1874 and there were numerous trails to choose from. The dam that created the lake was built by laborers from Ireland, Portugal, England and China.  800 of them were Chinese laborers who moved the 600,000 cubic yards of earth used to create the dam.  As is the case with all settlements in the US this all happened on land previously occupied log term by native people.  In this case it was the Jalquin, an Ohlone-and Bay Miwok- speaking people.  Anthony Chabot, for whom the entire area is named, was of course, the man who designed and led the construction of the lake that bears his name and the blood, sweat and toil of hundreds of others.  We walked down a trail that would lead us along the shores of the lake.  Once again, it was distressing to see how dry the vegetation is, how low the level of the lake and how much the lack of water affects everything.  There were birds-pelicans, terns and another I could not identify wheeling overhead and diving and a few people out in water craft enjoying the day.  The hike was not long but since I had not done much cleaning over the past week (or so) I cleaned for a while when we got back and we made plans for the next day.

Our last day was also spent in San Francisco but this time we covered far more ground and felt better about the time we spent.  Once again, we took BART and had a quick ride into town.  From there a brief walk to the Muni Bus F line (one of the “vintage” lines which was THE muni bus in the 70s) and we were on our way to Fisherman’s Wharf, and Pier 39, San Francisco’s version of Cannery Row.  And once again I was struck by how much bigger and commercial the area has become in the 40+ years since I had seen it.  It was another nice day; bright, sunny, cool with fog out in the bay, but the views of Alcatraz clear.  We stopped and had a clam chowder served in a hollowed out boule (round loaf) of sourdough bread and then walked along the periphery of the wharf so we could look at the bay and the boats rather than the myriad of shops, once again selling everything from knick knacks to fine art, and swarms of people.  


We stopped to watch a group of seals and a very loud sea lion on the K-docks and then continued toward Ghirardelli Square where I had worked at my first job in San Francisco.  As we left the very commercial part I began to notice landmarks I recognized from when the area was smaller and began to feel better.  We walked along the water which meant that as we neared Ghirardelli Square we’d be at the steps that come down from there to the bay.  This was the area where I would frequently eat my lunch with friends who worked in other shops there and where I had the good fortune to, not once but twice, see Santana jamming with some other musicians because that’s the way it was in the 70s.

The entrance to the Square was completely familiar as was everything until I tried to locate the exact place that the Light Opera Glass Company had been.  I did finally but since the huge furnace that Michael used for melting the sand that he used to create his glass pitchers, bowls, urns and other works, is now gone and the walls reconfigured, I still felt as though it was wrong.  When I was able to see that the store across the way still bore some resemblance to the market that was there, even IF the huge barrel of dill pickles at the door was gone, I knew it was the right place.  It is and has been since it opened as a shopping area, commercial but in a less “tacky” way than Pier 39.  As we were leaving I started talking to a guy who worked at the upper level of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Store and thinking he looked “old enough” I started talking about how it was when I was there.  When he asked when that was I said 1973 and he replied, "Oh that’s the year I was born."  Oh.  Oops. And then he went on to ask about how it was and rhapsodize about the days when things were quieter and easier and with that I could not disagree.  

Our ride back to BART was on the #41 bus but we got off in Chinatown. Before getting to Grant St though, we walked the smaller back streets where the stores are all Chinese, the majority of people on the street are Chinese and where English, or any language other than Chinese, is not heard.  

Another Bing story came back to me as I remembered the day he sent me up to buy our lunch (he bought lunch for us most days.)  I had developed an insatiable fondness for cha shiu bao- steamed pork buns so he’d agreed that we’d have Chinese for lunch IF I went up to get it.  I could say all names of all the other items except I had a major problem with this cha shiu bao.  He wrote it down for me, smiling as he did and said if they don’t understand just give them this paper.  What I did not know, and would only find out later upon my return, was that this was all a ruse and a playful trick. When I arrived I gave the order but the man “could not understand” my pronunciation of cha shiu bao.  I finally gave him the paper and he said “Ah!  I did not understand!”  He never gave anything away.  When I got back Bing, barely able to control his laughter, asked how I had done.  So I told him.  It was then that he admitted that the shop owner was his good friend and had called to say that my pronunciation was remarkably GOOD for someone who had just learned it but he’d played along.  We all had a good laugh out of it and after that I often volunteered to go get our lunch if it was from Chinatown.

After Chinatown we strolled once again through the financial district with its mix of old and new buildings and the BEST public toilets ever. (Think hi-tech pissoirs)

We rode BART back, once again from Powell St and readied the MoHo to leave the next morning for the next stop which would be a 10 day visit in the Sacramento Delta at Don’s cousin’s farm.  

There were so many other places we didn’t go and I left feeling that San Francisco is one of the places that we need to return to-for at least 2 weeks- because even if it’s not reliving memories it is really a wonderful city with so many facets and so much beauty.

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