Monday, August 15, 2005

On the Road - Part Two

Way back in the day there was a series on PBS called the Ascent of Man, with Jacob Bronowski traveling all over the globe to present the history of the development of human intelligence. In the episode on the Greeks, Bronowski stood out on a sunny promontory overlooking the crystalline blue Mediterranean and theorized that one of the reasons that human thought evolved so brilliantly in that region was because of the wonderfully crisp clear skies and bright unfiltered light. Everything just seems clearer there, said Bronowski.

I often thought about that observation when I was hanging around Berkeley back in the late seventies. The air was crisp the sky was blue and the sun was bright. Everything just seemed clearer there. John and I awoke to just such a day the morning after our long ordeal. Beautiful, sunny and clear -- a perfect day to tour the Berkeley campus. In all the time I had spent there, I had never really seen most of the campus, so it was cool to actually take a guided tour. John loved it right from the start. Even though they didn't have a journalism major or a very big film department, the two subjects he is interested in, he still wanted to go there. We saw the major attractions, Library, Student Center, oldest building on campus, Nobel Laureate parking places and my favorite, the Campanille. I had always wanted to go up to the top but never did. We decided that after the tour we would go back and check out the Campanille.

At the end of the tour was a presentation on admissions. Boy was that a shocker. The out-of-state requirements are pretty tough. John would have to get all A's this year just to make the minimum GPA. And the tuition! Holy crap. He just wants to go here for a few years, he doesn't want to buy the place. Still, despite the seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, John still wanted to go to Berkeley. How can you blame him? It really is the best.

We grabbed some lunch at the Free Speech cafe and made a quick run down to a Goodwill store in town. John is a big Goodwill fan and has acquired many cool t-shirts there for under $2 each. We didn't see anything worth buying at the Berkeley store, however.

Next stop was the Campanille. We took the elevator to the top and looked across the bay. As sunny and bright as it was in Berkeley, San Francisco was cloaked in fog. We made plans to head across the bay for some quick sightseeing and to grab some dinner. But first a pit stop at the hotel for a much needed shower. In honor of Mitch Hedberg, I announced "I'm gonna go shave, too." Since I assumed that there must be someone else on the planet shaving as well.

Our first stop in San Francisco was the City Lights Bookstore founded by beat-poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and spiritual home to the beat generation and their metaphysical offspring. Since John basically grew up in a bookstore that is a bona-fide cultural desecndant of City Lights, I thought it would be good for him to see the original. I got him a copy of On the Road from the beat section on the second floor and treated myself to a collection of short stories by goofball genius T. Coraghessan Boyle. I snapped a photo of John standing under the sign that says "Jack Kerouac Alley" and we set out for out next landmark.

Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill stood out like a lighthouse in a sea of fog. We grabbed some pictures as the mist rolled past and we caught patches of city views between the clouds. John wanted to find a particular skateboard store called Huf SF, so we were asking people if they'd heard of it. We met a young woman from Canada, she didn't know Huf SF, but she told us about a place back in Berkeley called 510 that sold skateboard gear. She took our picture with the Bay Bridge behind us, standing in the exact same place I'd stood with my friend Ray Sharp when we first came out here 27 years ago.

We stopped off at Lombard Street for a photo op on the way down to the Marina. I wanted to take John to a place I'd found on the internet that seemed like it would be really cool -- it's called the Wave Organ and it's basically an Aeolian Harp for waves. It consists of a series of pipes that run from the water's edge up to this funky all-stone listening theater built on the end of a jetty in the SF Bay. When the water washes up against the pipes, its supposed to make these cool subtle musical sounds that echo off the pipes and the stone. Plus, given its location, it has some of the coolest views of the city imaginable. It seemed like the type of thing you could only find in San Francisco. As it turns out, the musical sounds are a lot more subtle than I expected and all we really heard was some gurgling like a broken toilet and a bunch of fog horns from ships somewhere out in the bay. I could tell John was less than thrilled. Besides, it was so fogged in we couldn't see the Golden Gate Bridge or Alcatraz or pretty much anything. And it was cold, too. And windy. And wet.

After a well-earned dinner, we headed over to the Embarcadero to visit one of John's hallowed shrines. Apparently some of the most important events in the history of skateboarding transpired on the metal railings and concrete steps and embankments of Pier 7. These days, however, the city has tried to curtail such exploits by affixing metal strips to any surfaces that might offer an opportunity for skateborders to "grind" or "ollie" or "split their skulls open" or any of the other activities they consider most holy. Nevertheless, the enterprising youths have chisled away several of these obstacles and continued to ply their art in this their sacred ritual space. I took some cool nighttime shots of John worshipping at his Mecca and we headed back to the hotel. It was nearly eleven and I was once again completely wiped out.

Before we hit the road the next day, we decided to stop and check out that skateboard place we'd heard about, which turned out to be just a few blocks from our hotel. John picked up a cool Tsunami relief t-shirt but couldn't find any shoes in his size. There are only certain shoes that will qualify, known as Nike SB Dunks. But, John wears a size 12 and they are hard to come by. Right next door was the Berkeley Hat Company where I picked up a cool straw pork-pie and a stingy-brim felt fedora. We had breakfast at Ann's Soup Kitchen where John had another excellent french toast meal -- even better than the Silver Spoon back in West Hollywood.

After breakfast we hit the road. John had called some friends to find out where the Huf SF store was located and with some clever mapwork we actually found it. John walked in wearing a Florida Gators T-shirt he'd picked up for 2 bucks at a Goodwill back in Connecticut. One of the guys who worked at Huf offered to trade him any shirt in the store for the Gators shirt. John agreed and picked out a cool T with the poster design from the movie Vertigo on it. While he was in back changing shirts, I asked the Huf dude if he'd ever heard fo the Wave Organ. He had and said it was one of the coolest places in the city, if you go there on the right day. I felt totally vindicated. John was extremely psyched to have scored such a cool shirt.

We left SF on a high note. We took the Great Highway to Route 1 south and drove along the coast to Santa Cruz. We took a quick detour to check out the UC campus there, but neither of us was much impressed. As John put it, "I'm not feeling this." A pit stop at Taco Bell revived our spirits and we drove on towards Big Sur. By this point the cumulative effect of many hours behind the wheel was beginning to burn me out. Winding roads, slow moving RV's and a couple of traffic jams began to get the better of me. But as we neared Big Sur the sheer drama of the landscape brought me back to life: Steep cliffs tumbling into rocky coves. Green hills haloed with ocean mist. Hazy shafts of sunlight slicing through towering redwood groves.

After we checked in at The Fernwood Resort we took a short hike through the redwoods along the banks of the Big Sur river. It was already getting dark and we had to cut short our adventure to order some pizza before the motel restaurant closed for the night. After dinner, John kicked my ass in a game of chess while several other guests watched. You know it wasn't that long ago that I had to let him win. Finally, physically and mentally exhuasted, I flopped into bed. John stayed up to write postcards.

The Fernwood Resort consists of a motel, campgrounds, cabins, general store, tavern, espresso bar and restaurant and is apparently the hotspot in Big Sur. Although if you blink going by it on route 1, you'll miss it. One thing I will say is they do a damn fine breakfast. I had the smoked salmon breakfast burrito, which was probably the best smoked salmon breakfast burrito I've ever had. John had yet another excellent order of french toast, making him three for three for the trip.

Before the long drive back to L.A., we stopped at a small park that features one of the most awesome views on the California Coastline. A short trail from the parking lot leads out to the cliffs overlooking the ocean, where you are treated to a spectacular view of an eighty-foot waterfall that spills from the top of the cliffs right down onto the beach. It's almost too cool to believe. The falls are set back in a small cove with jagged rock formations on either side of a crescent of sand. The water is a gorgeous blue-green and the fir tress seem like they are about to leap from the cliffs. On the morning we were there the whole scene was framed with a light fog that gave everything an air of unreality. The place is called McWay Falls and it really is a gem.

We got back on the road for another winding stretch along the coast. We made one quick stop near San Simeon to check out some elephant seals that had hauled their fat blubbery carcasses onto the beach to soak up some sun on their way up to Canada. After that it wasn't too far to route 101 and the final leg of our trip. By now I was pretty much a zombie having racked up about 24 hours of driving out of the past 4 days with nothing but the L.A. freeways to look forward to. We rolled into town about 8 p.m. and plopped down in front of the TV to zone out for a while before drifting off to dreamland.

The next day I drove John to USC where he began a month-long summer program. He had enrolled in a film class and would spend the next month watching movies and writing papers about them. Once we had him registered, photographed and moved in to his dorm room it was time for me to go. I was really excited for him -- hell I wish I could spend a month studying film at USC. I took his picture in front of the dorm just to prove to his parents that I had really gotten him there and then we said goodbye. It had been quite an adventure we'd just shared but he was about to embark on an even bigger one and he was eager to get started. I drove home and promptly fell asleep for about four hours.

How great to be young and experiencing all of these things for the first time. Moving away from home and meeting new friends and starting out on the path that will take you through the rest of your life. It's got to be one of the most exciting times of your life. I still remember how it felt at that age, like I was running toward the edge of a cliff and when I got there I would jump off and fly away. I don't really get that feeling so much any more. But spending these past few days with John reminded me of all of those hopes and dreams from such a long time ago. I had wanted to impress John by showing him what I could of this part of the world. As it turns out, John is the one who showed me a world I have been overlooking for too long. Because everything is new if you look at it with open eyes and an open mind. And I am still running to the edge of that cliff. I'm just not running quite as fast as I used to.


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