Few experiences test a new relationship more than taking a road trip together or camping. Okay -- maybe unexpected pregnancy -- but that's a whole 'nother thing.
Road trips create a unique environment. The likelihood of something going awry is high, and a person's true personality is largely revealed by how he or she reacts to the given situation. Secondly, when in a car or pop-up tent -- you are isolated with that person. You can't flee from those uncomfortable moments, and that only serves to amplify them.
Despite not having reached our two month anniversary (affectionately and pathetically referred to as a month-aversary), in October of 2006, Juliana and I decided to chance it. We would drive north from San Diego to San Francisco, where we would stay for four days.
As the drive would be long -- eight to ten hours -- we knew that a solid soundtrack was imperative. But instead of leaving it to chance with the radio -- especially with the vast barren stretches on Interstate 5 -- accompanied by fifth rate DJs in Bakersfield -- we opted to make our own mixed-tape CDs. But not just any type. We wanted to make it interesting. We needed themes. But what-oh-what type of themes?
Of course, a standard road trip CD was required -- one filled with floating and lulling bass-line songs that made you roll down the windows and smile. "We also need fast paced songs that make you accelerate," Jules added. We dubbed this the drive CD.
Jules recommended two other themes: sing and dance.
They seemed simple enough -- CDs loaded with songs that infectiously encouraged you to either sing or boogie down -- but I struggled on those.
I knew that Juliana had a beautiful voice, and despite many requests from me, I had never heard her sing. I looked forward to her sing CD as I wanted to hear her accompany the songs with her voice.
I must say, the drive theme was where I excelled -- so much in fact that I had to break it up into two CDs -- fast and slow.
The dance CD was difficult. I emptied my sparse hip-hop vault. For the sing CD, I threw in a few covers -- both familiar and obscure -- and opted for fun and whimsical songs.
After much sorting and pondering and theorizing and extrapolating, I finished my four CDs: drive-fast, drive-slow, sing, and dance.
We headed north on Interstate 5. We rolled the windows down. Jules reached over and grabbed her drive CD. "We have to listen to this CD first," she said.
Soon, the speakers filled the car with Scott McKenzie's song....
If you're going... to San Francisco
Be sure to wear... some flowers in your hair
If you're going... to San Francisco
You're going to meet some gentle people there
It was perfect. We smiled at each other. I found myself enveloped by peace, and enraptured with freedom. Anything was possible. Anything could happen.
The drive was serene and smooth -- the way you want it -- although driving through Los Angeles sucked as it always does. Saw some hawks flying above the farmlands and perched stoically on fence posts. They provided the only visual sustenance as we cruised through the Central Valley.
We took 5 to 152 to 101 to 280 to Van Ness. I hadn't been to the Bay Area since I had moved away in February 2001. Seeing familiar sights brought excitement, and there's always an internal resonance that occurs when I see the San Francisco skyline.
I had booked a hotel online which sometimes leads to its own random surprises. For me, it's always about location. This one was poised at the intersection of Van Ness and Lombard. While not an exciting locale of its own, it was positioned within walking distance of many cool places and provided quick access to strategic thoroughfares. The hotel had incredibly dim lighting in the bathroom which made you feel like you were taking a shower by candlelight. The room was weathered but not worn. It would work just fine.
As we arrived late in the evening -- the sun having already set -- we decided to casually stroll towards revitalized Fillmore Street to grab some dinner.
Finding a restaurant was difficult as we were both in quirky moods. We ended at a place that served lots of fried things. I'm a sucker for mozzarella sticks. This was not a wise choice. Thankfully we had to do some walking to get back to the hotel.
As our time was short and there were so many things we wanted to do, we had a tentative itinerary that still allowed for randomness and spontaneity. It's helpful to have an initial budge in the morning to get you started in a general direction.
Our general direction Saturday morning set us towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
Our first stop was the Palace of Fine Arts. It's an amazing piece of architecture, and you never realize its immense scale until you're standing next to it.
We sat next to its massive pillars, enjoying our coffee, absorbing the crisp ocean air, and talked about all sorts of wondrous things. We were happy.
I've seen the Golden Gate Bridge dozens of times, and yet every time I still find myself mesmerized. Its presence never fails to astound me.
We parked at its base and walked across. I absorbed everything. The bridge. The views. The sunshine. The atmosphere. I felt inspired.
As the bridge spans the entrance to the Bay, the winds passing through it can be strong. The wind dried out Juliana's contacts and in turn irritated her eyes. She was vocal about her annoyance, while shielding her eyes from the wind. Her issues adversely affected my ability to enjoy the moment, and I silently resented her for it. I became quiet.
This scene proved to be a landmark moment in our relationship.
A few months later, we had gone clothes shopping. I bought two pairs of Chuck Taylor Converse shoes and therefore had two empty shoe boxes that sat on the floor.
"So what are you going to do with the empty shoe boxes?" Jules inquired.
I injected some humor to deflect attention from the future of the orphaned boxes.
"I'm going to make a diorama," I replied.
"What's a diorama?" she asked.
"You take a shoe box and using construction paper and various supplies, you create a scene inside with a background, animals, and people."
"Why would you want to do that?"
For some reason, I jokingly exclaimed, "Hey, don't poo-poo my diorama!"
And now this phrase has entered our personal lexicon. It has proven to be very powerful.
It may have been weeks or months after our San Francisco trip, but in casual conversation I mentioned how her reaction to the wind tainted my experience on the bridge. We talked about how a subtle negative behavior can adversely affect the other persons' experience. I become hyper-sensitive to those around me.
Jules wasn't even aware that she was complaining. "Why didn't you just say something?" she asked. "I didn't even know. I would have stopped had I been aware of it."
I discovered there's this thing called talking.
And now if one of us is being less than enthusiastic -- i.e. a drag -- then the other simply says "don't poo-poo my diorama." It's a shorthand that we both understand and takes the sting out of confrontation.
After walking on the bridge, we returned to its base, and found a nestled vantage point from which I could draw. Juliana sat next to me, looking beautiful, and enjoyed the view.
I don't do it nearly enough, but I enjoy drawing landscapes and vistas on site (i.e. plein air).
I read an article in an art magazine about how to keep people away from you as you paint outdoors. It talked about creating temporary barriers and other tactics. The article made me sad as that's one of my favorite parts -- the interaction with people -- having them walk by and observe and dialogue. Painting can be a lonely endeavor, so I like the energy generated from having others pass by.
However, with all that being said, you still had to watch out for stray penguins.
After the bridge, we went to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. I know that it's an enormous tourist trap, and that locals avoid it like a crazed, rabid dog, but I love it. I enjoy three things most: the views, the synergy created by all of the people, and the street vendor food.
We each got a clam chowder bread bowl from an outside stand and found a bench along the pier. We faced Alcatraz and ate in wonderful bliss.
We wandered around Fisherman's Wharf and upon passing by the food stands again we picked up a basket of fried calamari. It may have been the best calamari I've ever had (with a close second being a restaurant I used to visit regularly on the Santa Cruz pier). We enjoyed our impromptu meal on a boardwalk location that overlooked fishing boats.
As we walked along the waterfront sidewalk, we were confronted by many palm readers.
I realized that this is the best job ever.
First of all, there is no overhead. You don't need a table. You don't need cards. Nothing. You simply stand there. The only financial investment is in a sixty-nine cent piece of poster-board and a sharpie to write "Palm Reader." Any money you make is pure profit.
Secondly, the job has to be easy. You hold a person's outstretched hand and say, "I see you like to laugh and you're searching for true love."
Piece of cake. It's time for a career change.
We reached The Cannery, and took refuge at an outside bar in the central courtyard. We each ordered a draft microbrew that was strangely served in clear plastic cups.
We caught the last song by a talented female singer playing the acoustic guitar on a stage setup in the middle of the courtyard. She was replaced by an eccentric couple. They hung up a tapestry and lit incense. She played a flute and he played a guitar. Their music was hard to describe but I would classify it as being incredibly soothing. We dubbed it "good pooping music."
A couple sidled up next to us at the bar and we started chatting. They were from Florida, but very deliberately and intently described how they were from the west side of the state and not from the east. Unprovoked, they added that Interstate 75 is on the west side of the state and spawns from the Midwest, while Interstate 95 went down the east side of the state and came from the conceited east coast. This supposedly made an enormous difference in how we should perceive them.
After talking to them I deduced that the west side of Florida must be nice, but very dull and boring.
Upon finishing our beer, we continued back to our hotel room, stopping in many impressive art galleries along the way.
We started Sunday morning by taking the Powell/Hyde cable car line along its entire path -- from its Aquatic Park beginning to its Market Street demise. Our destination: the Museum of Modern Art.
The museum held amazing wonders as usual, with one of my particular favorites being Gerhard Richter's painting, Lesende (Reading). Jules wanted to know what I found alluring about the painting and we discussed it. I don't often have the opportunities to discuss art with people, so it's always interesting when I have to articulate why a particular piece engages me. I feel like I haven't developed a sufficient enough vocabulary, phrasing, or understanding to describe it. Jules found herself enamored with many abstract paintings, and we talked about what she found engaging with them. Our artistic circles of interest do not overlap much, so it was an interesting and fun dialogue to have.
We walked from the museum back to our hotel on a route that took us through Union Square, China Town, North Beach, and Fisherman's Wharf.
Back in the hotel room, we rested our weary feet and watched television. When I lived in the Bay Area, one of my favorite shows was a locally produced program called Bay Area Backroads. It featured hidden nooks and adventures around the Bay. It's amazing how many unique places exist within an hours' drive.
We happened to catch an episode. One of the vignettes featured the best burrito locations in the Bay Area. One of the profiled places was in Mountain View (in Silicon Valley near San Jose). The food looked incredible. We filed the info away for later -- although it turns out that the only thing we remembered was the street and the city. Writing down the name would have been too easy.
I remember it as the night of the amazing paella. Jules remembers it as the night that I fixed her shoe.
On the first night we arrived in San Francisco, we passed by a Spanish restaurant that specialized in paella. We made a mental note at the time, and on this evening we decided to cash that note and eat dinner there.
We got dressed up and walked from our hotel room to the restaurant along Lombard Street. Halfway along the route, the strap on Juliana's left shoe snapped, leaving her limping. We were too far to turn around and too far away to continue. We considered taking a taxi back to the hotel but that seemed like a pain. Considering myself resourceful, I opted to fix her shoe. I took inventory of the materials on hand, and finding that we had a clothespin, gum, coins, a money clip, and lipstick, I determined that I could either adequately fix her shoe, or build a metal detector. I opted to fix her shoe.
Juliana was skeptical of my chance for success, but after working my magic, I was able to solidly secure the strap. Of course we would need a crowbar and a band-saw to get the shoe off of her, but it would hold up for dinner. She took some initial steps to determine whether it would hold.
Walking sure-footed, she exclaimed, "You did it. You fixed my shoe."
A few blocks later, she grinned, clutched my arm tightly, laid her head against my shoulder, and with a sentimental whisper said, "You fixed my shoe."
Early in every relationship, there are those small acts that magically endear you to the other. It's that moment that adds confirmation that there's something special about this relationship. For Juliana, it was me fixing her shoe.
We ate dinner at the restaurant. The wine was fantastic and the paella was the best I have ever had. The seafood was abundant and diverse. It was a great meal.
After dinner we stopped by a dive bar near our hotel and Jules bought us drinks.
It was a good night.
Monday was our farewell day. We didn't have any ambitious plans -- only a stop at Coit Tower. Then we would begin our 500 mile voyage home.
We took the elevator up to the top of Coit Tower for amazing panoramic views of the city.
Looking down, I found myself fascinated by the dense urban setting. I saw people walking and cars moving. There were neatly arranged rooftop gardens where I envisioned late night gatherings where people laughed and sipped wine from nearby Napa.
I don't extrapolate much. That's why I'm not good at internalizing the importance of a doorknob from the 18th century sitting on a satin pillow in a history museum -- to me it's just a doorknob. But here I stood and looked down at all of the people and saw a million stories below. I was intrigued and engaged. I found myself fascinated and curious about what each person's story was.
Coming home from work and finding sanctuary at home, it's easy to focus on yourself and your own four walls and dilemmas. But, sometimes it's nice to be reminded that there's a whole world out there.
Scanning across the skyline, we became engaged with a magnificent building in the distance.
Upon descending from our Coit Tower perch, we referenced the San Francisco guidebook and deduced that the building was Grace Cathedral. We decided to check it out. This brought us to the top of Nob Hill and the magnificent church.
We basked in the architecture, the view and the ambience. Reluctantly, we pointed the car south and began our journey home.
However, we still had one more mission. We had to find the taqueria profiled on Bay Area Backroads. All I remembered was that the restaurant was in Mountain View and on Dana Street. Two problems: I didn't remember the name of the restaurant and Dana Street was long.
Our tact was simple: Drive along the entire length of Dana Street if necessary. But we would find the restaurant.
And find it we did.
The restaurant was Taqueria Los Charros, and we had the best carnitas burrito in the universe.
Our stomachs and hearts full, the sun having shined on us brightly, we pulled onto the 101 south entrance and made our way to San Diego.