Category Archives: Traveling
“On a scale of one to ten,” Alan asked, “what do you think this place is gonna like?”
After leaving San Francisco and checking out some bitchin’ redwoods, we were on our way to the California/Oregon border, the halfway point on our drive up to Portlandia. What? It’s just Portland? It doesn’t have—you know, nevermind. Tomato tomahto, let’s move on…
So we’re heading to the border where we had booked a beach house at this insanely low price. The drive out there was starting to remain me of the drive through Canada to the Long Beach/Dunnville area, and maybe this is pretty standard for the beach front vacation property type areas: rural. There are trailer parks, farmland boarded up motels and not much else. And as we start wondering if this place is legit, and much like my first drive up to Long Beach a lifetime ago, this ominous fog starts rolling in.
OK, most of the drive was shrouded in fog, but this particular stretch of highway seemed to really want to stick it to us. The fog is rolling in and we keep talking about how this reservation we have is really just an over-the-phone “handshake” deal. “Bring a check or a credit card,” the guy told Tony, when he booked the single night for us, “I’ll be there to let you in.”
So Tony brought a check. Not his checkbook, because who would do that? A single blank check. I know, because we almost left it in San Fran. Because it was a single check.
But how legit can this place be, we wondered. We’re all pretty into true crime shows and horror movies. We know how this kind of thing starts. We’re in the Pacific Northwest, the rural fog-covered northwest where none of us have had decent cell reception and no one has smiled at us. Thirty years ago, this corner of the country was teeming with serial killers. It was, just ask Ann Rule. Her entire career blossomed due to the plethora of serial killers that operated throughout this region back in the day, and probably still do.
Not only can we not call for help, but no one knows where we are. All anyone knows is that we’re renting a house in a part of the country with an astounding number of serial killers and pretty much still looks like the late eighties.
Bridgett always remarked that it was curious that there were a bunch of serial killers operating in the Pacific Northwest. Driving through it, we know why that was. There’s nothing there. There are a lot of places to hide a body so no one will ever find it. Like everywhere. Again, very rural country, no one knows where we’re going, or when we should arrive. No one’s going to miss us for a few days and by then some crazy backwoods guy posting ads for nonexistent beach houses will have us all chopped and scattered throughout the fog covered woods of the southern Oregon coast.
An honestly, the people out there aren’t that friendly. Maybe we’re spoiled being from Buffalo, maybe we really our that friendly in Western New York that we’ve come to take it for granted that when we smile and say hi to a complete stranger on the street or the bus or in an elevator that they’ll smile and say hi back. Or at least acknowledge us. Or even move to the side and share the elevator with us, the sidewalk, their air. We’re looking for any sign that we’re not dead already and on some kind of ghost road trip. Is that why its so foggy? Is this the netherworld? Did the plane crash over Omaha and this has all been some kind of Purgatory? Why won’t you people smile at us?
George is upfront navigating and is ticking off the miles and time to our destination:
“Six miles, should arrive in five minutes… five point two miles, five minutes… Four miles… Still five minutes….”
The fog is getting thicker. The wipers are on. We’re getting closer, the distance ticking down slowly, but each time he updates it we’re still five minutes away.
“This is either going to be a ten or a one,” Bridgett says, “There’s no middle ground. It’s either going to be the greatest place ever or we’re going to wake up dead tomorrow!”
“Well, we’re going to find out in 360 feet,” George says, “And in five minutes.”
I take out my phone and scroll through the too many apps until I find the one with movie theme songs. I waiting for a quiet moment in the fog to play the open credits of the Exorcist, the only horror movie in that app. It gets a nervous laugh.
We pull into the driveway of a blue two-story house with an attached two car garage. To the left is a freestanding three car garage with a door and window on the end that seems like an attached apartment, and for a moment I’m convinced we’re sleeping on cots in this guy’s garage before he pumps homemade chlorine gas through the vents and dismembers us naked in his homemade killing room while listening to the soundtrack to Beaches.
And there’s no one there. We go to the front door, we look around back. There’s a shadowy figure we can see through the side window who appears to be folding towels?
The guy finally comes out and doesn’t smile or seem to know he’s interacting with other human beings. Shocking. He shows us down to the “beach house”, which is actually just the finished basement of his house.
The fucking awesome finished basement! This place was amazing! There was a kitchen, two bedrooms, full bathroom, dining area, living room, friggin massive stone fireplace facing the living room (the back of which was the wall of the hallway leading to one of the bedrooms) and sliding glass doors off the kitchen, dining room and back bedroom.
There was a wall of DVDs amd VHS tapes (VHS! He had a VCR down there!) that had every movie ever and included all three Librarian movies, the greatest movies ever. Those sliding doors led out into the yard with a covered patio and nice meandering path to the beach.
Oh, and there was a hot tub.
We ran down to stick our feet in the ocean just because we could, even though it was freezing and the fog blocked a decent view of the horizon. Even grey and foggy the ocean was beautiful, and the waves crashing against the black rocky beach was enough to rock us to sleep right then and there.
Instead we crammed eight idiots in a hot tub and got drunk on West Coast craft beer while Katie and George built a roaring fire to warm us while we watched the Librarian.
As Tony put it, “Best baseball trip ever, turds!”
Well, at least until I woke up the next morning to this:
We turned onto the Avenue of the Giants and I fell asleep. I wasn’t impressed. There wasn’t much going on along the side of the road. These trees weren’t that great, just your average side of the road trees and brush.
I woke up to a car door slamming. We’d stopped along the side of the road and when I looked out the window, shaking the groggy backseat sleep out of my eyes, I realized we were there: this was the real Avenue of the Giants.
Now, I know there are bigger trees out there. What is it, the General Sherman, that’s the largest living sequoia? I’m sure that one dwarfs what we were looking up at as we climbed out of the cars, but we’d never seen anything like this before.
On our way to the Avenue we stopped at Drive-Thru Tree Park where, yes, you could drive through a redwood. Sadly, we were worried our Dodge Caravan wouldn’t make it through (even though later a guy totally squeezed his through, and then got his picture taken standing on top of his car as the front stuck out of the tree) so we didn’t get to drive through. We still walked into that tree and climbed all over the others that had been cut or fallen down. There were snapshots, low angle shots, selfies, sunglass selfies, double sun-sunglass selfies, sweep panoramic shots, and super low angle shots that involved laying down and getting sap all over my back.
As cool as watching a van drive through a redwood tree is, its got nothing on the Avenue of the Giants. We like nature, my friends and I, we go outside a fair amount. No one on this trip shies away from a hike, but we’re by no means hardcore outdoorsmen. Still, we all hugged some trees. Or at least tried to.
It isn’t just trees though, which is nice. A few of us took our chances climbing down a path when we spotted water through the trees. Well, path is an exaggeration. I say path, you might say it was for runoff to the riverbed below, while Katie might say, “Don’t break your neck, you’re in Chucks!”
Maybe not optimal climbing footwear, but I made it down there in one piece. I’m not so good eyeballing distance so let’s say we were about thirty feet below the road at that point in this little river valley. The water was moving through pretty well although the riverbed was pretty exposed. Mountains bookended the valley in the distance and this unending wind gusted through. Not quite yelling but still raising our voices to hear each other over the wind, the handful of us that made it down spread out to get different views of the forest reaching up around us.
Standing on the rocks down there I realized why people go fly fishing, why they would stand out in a river all day casting back and forth. There was something about walking on the rocks of the riverbed, being at the low point of that valley with the wind racing through it after emerging from this towering forest of redwoods.
I couldn’t help but stand there, turning slowly to take it all in, a small, goofy smile on my face. It’s natural, I suppose, to have a feeling of utter insignificance when standing on a spot like that; your presence there among trees whose lifespans are measured in millennia, being so brief and unnoticeable.
Or you marvel in it. You can turn slowly and smile and breathe deep as you realize that for this small amount of time you’re walking through these giants, you are a part of something greater, that you are experiencing something of the history of the world you live in.
And like every one of us did at some point walking through the redwoods, you can stop and look up, lose yourself a little in the swaying of those tree tops hundreds of feet and thousands of years above you, and say, “Wow.”
Well, after three days in San Francisco we failed to ride a streetcar, visit Alcatraz, engage in a high speed chase with Steve McQueen or eat any Rice-A-Roni whatsoever. We did manage to visit the Full House house though, so props there, at least we did something right, and see an old man buck naked walking up Guerrero Street.
There’s no picture, I apologize, he was really trucking with his sweet, white wrinkly ass cheeks waving at us with each step and his old man manhood bouncing from thigh to thigh, and by the time the shock wore off and my camera was out, he’d turned to head uphill away from us.
Another thing we did right? Eased into baseball trip. This is the sixth official year we’ve taken a baseball road trip, a week-long marathon of touristy sightseeing, dangerous levels of alcohol consumption, even more dangerous levels of flatulence and even a few baseball games. You know, when we’re bored. This year we’re doing a West Coast North trip, hitting the Oakland As, San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners, which will put our ballpark total at 24 by the end of the trip.
What’s different about this trip is the start; not only did we not see a ballgame the very first day but we spent the first three days in one city. While we still try to pack as much into our limited time in each city and along the drive to each stop, over the course of six years, we’ve learned to slow down a little. We’ve learned some pacing, we’ve learned to slow it down where we can, we’ve learned to drink and enjoy our beer rather then inject the alcohol directly into our veins. We’ve grown up a little. Also, I think New Orleans may have broke us. Twice.
Sorry, baseball trip joke. Maybe I’ll share that story with you one day when you’re older.
See, there’s a a big difference when it comes to Baseball Trip Day One, between driving from Buffalo to Pittsburgh and catching a Pirates game at the comparatively small but immensely beautiful PNC Park, and flying from Buffalo to Kansas City for a Royals game. PNC Park blew me away. It’s on the water, it’s open, it’s a smaller place but not closed in at all. Kansas City? It was hot. I remember that. It was a nice enough park but I don’t remember much of the experience other then there were fountains (not as many as some Royals fans led us to believe, those packs of cheaters), there was enough swamp ass to go around, and at one point Tony announced to most of the outfield section that the fans there were a bunch of hicks.
Its important to ease into baseball trip, which is why this year, after flying from Buffalo to (Las Vegas and then) San Francisco, we settled into the house we rented at Page & Octavia and took our time getting our bearings and picking out someplace to go for dinner. That’s right, not hotel, a house. We rented a classic San Fran house for three days. We fancy. Well, we’re at least coming to terms with the fact that we’re adults. Most of the time.
The house was in a great location for what we needed; near the highway to get us out to Oakland for the first game, walking distance to a ton of great shops and restaurants along Valencia and its myriad of cross-streets, not to mention Haight & Ashbury, 1709 Broderick Street for the Full House house, Ashbury Park with the hundreds of different things we never had a chance to do, and near enough to the subway to get us out to AT&T Park for the Giants game our last night in town.
We’re all from Buffalo, where you’re always twenty minutes from wherever you’re going and two blocks from the ghetto, that is a fact. So we were in a great location in the city as it turned out we were always withing about a half hour walk from wherever we were going.
Haight & Ashbury was half an hour from the house, and the Full House house was half an hour from there. The Full House house was supposed to be half an hour from home, but then we got cocky and tried to find the house from Mrs. Doubtfire. It was a valiant but failed attempt, although we did get to ride the bus with a wonderful woman who told us the difference between Upper and Lower Haight, recommended a restaurant with “Porky the Piggy on sign” and said we should get out to Marin County if we could. At least she thought it was Marin County.
Then the bus dropped us off at our doorstep. Literally. There was a bus stop right outside our very tall front door that led into our crazy-high ceiling two story house in the classic San Fran style, with the super-hipster backyard in the heart of downtown San Francisco that cost us less then two hotel rooms for three days would have.
I told you it was a great location for us. I think easing into this trip was the right choice.
Now bring on the Redwoods, Portlandia and those sparkly vampire bastards in Washington…