San Francisco and Healdsburg

Trip Start Aug 26, 1994
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Trip End Sep 18, 1994


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Flag of United States  , California
Saturday, March 1, 2003

DAY 3 SUN The flight to San Francisco was uneventful. The fear of flying I experienced in Thailand had vanished entirely. I was rather disappointed that my Sydney 2000 t-shirt didn't raise any eyebrows, or that my smoking an Indonesian cigarette outside the terminal hadn't drawn a crowd of fascinated natives.

My brother Jono and his wife Maryann picked me up almost on time and, after many tears of joy had been shed, we drove through San Francisco, around the outskirts and then through central San Francisco again and yet again (Jono was navigating). After driving through the Presidio we stumbled upon the Golden Gate Bridge. Without any urging on my part, Maryann stopped for a photo opportunity on the far side. Unfortunately the fog was so heavy that we could scarcely see the bridge at all. This didn't stop me from taking too many pictures of white blankness.

Eventually we reached Healdsburg, a part of which appeared to be devoted to antique stores and fragrant-smelling soaps. We strolled around the central area, visiting a bookshop staffed by a large furry cat named Dorothy. A concert was in progress in the town park. Hundreds of picnicking Healdsburgians, or as they are known around the Napa Valley, Healdsburgers, clogged the park to listen to taped Paul Simon croon his greatest easy-listening hits.

Two miles later we ended our ninety minute trip at Jono and Maryann's home, a stilt-legged house surrounded by trees. Pausing only to don bathers we strolled down to the Russian River for a swim in the cool waters. The conclusion of this chapter in my diary coincided with the emptying of the day's last beer (Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve).

DAY 4 MON I lay in bed this morning until 8.30 for fear of waking Jono and Maryann. When I arose I found that Jono had already driven Maryann to school to prepare for the first day of the new school year. I don't think that I've mentioned that Maryann was an exchange teacher spending a year in the US while Jono performed the duties of house husband.

After a bowl of cereal we set off for San Francisco, pausing briefly to visit the local Safeways for some enormous fruit. My purchase of a National Enquirer seemed to embarrass the saleslady, who thought that I was buying it so that I could laugh at the silly Americans. I agreed that my motivation was uncharitable, though I later found it to be a good read.

The Golden Gate Bridge was once again obscured by a heavy mist which rolled swiftly over the hills and across the highway on its daily migration to the bay. Halfway between Healdsburg and "the City" I experienced sharp pains in my chest and grew increasingly convinced that I was about to have a heart attack (and me without insurance!). In San Francisco we parked in Clay Street and walked up an extremely steep incline in search of Nob Hill. If ever I was going to have a heart attack it was now! I had to stride manfully alongside Jono so that I wouldn't look too geriatric.

Having failed to find the Nob Hill depicted in travel books (I later discovered that what I had thought was Nob Hill was Alamo Place), we visited Grace Episcopal Cathedral. This enormous Gothic structure was not terribly attractive, apparently being made of cement. The building was in the process of renovation and extension and the broad front steps ended abruptly in front of a huge hole. Inside the holy house of worship we were almost asphyxiated by the most ecclesiastical incense I have ever encountered. While Jono walked meditatively through the Sacred Labyrinth ( a maze stamped on a carpet) and found inner peace, I surveyed the murals on the walls. It was with no small sense of relief that I managed to drag my sibling into the clear air of the great outdoors.

Chinatown was quite interesting, though not a place you would want to revisit. I bought some postcards and a pair of chromed balls from a tourist shop on the main street, wisely ignoring the bargain t-shirts (I could have got three for $9.99). Jono was thrilled to find a Chinese cinema which advertised two features for a dollar. He threatened to bring me back on the following Saturday, however he soon forgot his promise. At my suggestion we ate at a Chinese restaurant; very authentic even though none of the exclusively ethnic clientele used chopsticks. With wisdom born of experience I ordered water chestnuts and snow peas while Jono, overcome with greed and bigger-than-his-belly eyes, requested a chow mein. While my dish was quite manageable, his was enormous and had not diminished noticeably after twenty minutes of gorging.

From Chinatown we walked down past Union Square and investigated a very impressive Victorian bank with marbled walls and lots of gleaming brass. With only minutes to spare before the arrival of the parking police, we rushed back to the car and sped off on our way to our next destination. Golden Gate Park is a very large botanical garden type of place with lots of interesting buildings. The grounds were totally free of litter despite the absence of any garbage bins. Unfortunately my camera gave up the ghost before I could take any pictures. Jono, renowned for possessing the Cullis sense-of-direction instinct, had failed to pay attention when parking the car and we spent the next half hour trying to find it. As a result we were rather late in picking up Maryann from school and we were both punished (in my case unfairly) by having to help her with her administrative duties. Jono was assigned to proof read lots of photocopies while I stapled several thousand sheets and punched holes in them. I also had to transcribe the names of at least seventy five children onto little cardboard cards.

After completing our assignments, Jono and I went for a swim in the Russian River, this time accompanied by Sarah the dog. We finished the active part of the day with a dog walk then settled down to watch an inane British sitcom which Jono and Maryann thought was absolutely fabulous.

DAY 5 TUE Today was Maryann's first day back at work. Yesterday she had been at the school preparing for the new semester. While Jono was driving her to her doom I took Sarah for a walk of at least twenty miles. As Ray Brown sang back in 1965, "twenty miles is a long, long way". I also sang that great old hit as part of an Aussie medley as we walked, as well as two self-composed instrumentals.

This morning we drove to Calistoga, a small and picturesque town in the heart of the wine country. The road to Calistoga winds through many vineyards. Wine is rather expensive even though the picking is done by cheap immigrant labour. While I didn't see any people "of colour" in Healdsburg, I saw lots of cheap immigrant labour waiting in the town park for jobs. Calistoga was very quiet, though it is a hive of activity on the weekends. We walked down the main street looking at the shops, including a number which were housed in old railway cottages. Despite an overwhelming urge, I didn't buy any fridge magnets ($4.95) or shirts.

We returned to Healdsburg for lunch then drove around the mountain to Healdsburg town, where I set out on my own to explore. After buying stamps and posting cards I visited the camera shop to have my camera's battery tested. It was as good as new, which meant that my camera was kaput. My next stop was a music store where I bought some posters, only fifty cents each, for the boys. I spent the remainder of the time allotted to me by Jono leafing through second hand records.

The people I have met so far have been very friendly and polite. Healdsburg is almost eerie in its pleasantness. I can't escape the feeling that its inhabitants have been inhabited by aliens. Los Angeles was more like Sydney, impersonal and rushed.

After Jono returned with Maryann we drove to Santa Rosa to collect my Greyhound ticket for the Las Vegas-Los Angeles leg of my journey and our rental car for tomorrow's trip to Yosemite. Santa Rosa is Healdsburg on a larger scale (though not much larger). We called in at the K-Mart mall to look for basketball clothes. As luck would have it, they had every team except David and Tim's favourites. Priced at $9 each, the tops were a bargain compared to Sydney, as were the hats at $4.99. I bought some beef jerky and two Baby Ruth candy bars to keep us going on our five hour trip. As usual I amused the checkout person by not being able to work out the coins.
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