Category Archives: marin county

Life in Marin County, CA

goodnight, 2016

and so a notorious year ends. It hasn’t been all bad for me personally, and if anything, I’m grateful to have turned around what could have been a bad year, more or less starting with an injury, into something more adventurous and ultimately optimistic.

It’s been particularly nice to end the year back here in “The California Homeland” of Marin County for the third consecutive year. It’s a good example of how time changes – five years ago I wouldn’t have said this winter visit would become a tradition – and maybe it sets a goal for 2017 of the past becoming the present again.

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Flashback Friday to Cross Country 3

Meant to post this yesterday, but instead it can be a “flashback friday” … Five years ago today I was nearing the end of my Cross Country 3 journey. I took time to chronicle the experience in detail using the Facebook Notes app (remember that?) and didn’t post it here, though I could have. So it’s worth another look today.

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I want to be sure to post this before the calendar turns to September. I wrote most of this essay in a one day period on August 13, and have finished it off over the past few weeks…

My first cross country journey spanned from late September to late October, 2006, traveling for half of the time with my college friend Russ and half the time on my own seeing friends and the sights. This trip was a 7000 mile loop from Waltham, MA to Waltham, MA, via California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The journey, for me, was at its essence about recognizing the vast expanse of America, and seeing my own potential for growth and change in my then-new post college life.

A little over a year later, I journeyed across the country again, this time going from Beverly, MA, to Santa Maria, CA, and traveling with my mom and my cat, KC. This route took us through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. We kept a steady pace on this trip, where I had to be in Santa Maria by a certain date in January to start a new theatre position. Perhaps for that reason, this journey feels more blurry in memory than my first trip. With the possible exception of New Orleans, where we celebrated New Year’s Eve 2007 into 2008, most of the stops made me feel like “this is really great, and I wish I had more time to see the place or the surrounding area!” Nonetheless, the feeling of empowerment and potential swung in to action on this journey, where I wasn’t just seeing the possibility of change and new direction… I was actually living it, by speeding away from my lifelong Northeastern home base into a new self-directed reality in California.

At some point in early 2011, it became apparent that I might have an opportunity to embark on another Cross Country journey over the summer. The “Northern Route” had been in the back of my mind as an ideal way to return to the Northeast ever since I moved to the West Coast. I enthusiastically hand wrote a potential route to travel: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. I was hesitant to commit to the idea as it would mean closing up my comfortable and rewarding Bay Area life for the foreseeable future. I decided that I would give the Bay Area a deadline – which became June 15 – for a new job to appear. If that did not happen, I would move back to the Northeast for new opportunities, reconnecting with friends and family, and a fresh start.

I wanted to make the possibility of staying in California work out, at least for a little while longer until the end of 2011. But the poor job market and lack of specific performing arts related opportunities soon made it clear that I would be leaving at the end of July. I grew to accept the reality of this choice, while not being shy of making the most of Bay Area Life in the remaining months. Looking back over those last few months makes me feel quite accomplished and proud, from the Mojave Desert vision quest to my Self Revelatory Performance to many memorable theatre performances to meaningful and memorable moments with local friends. Those last few weeks brought a surprising and admirable unity to my Bay Area life. Until July (or maybe June), I’d often felt perturbed by my floating amongst so many different worlds in the region. It felt like it reached a Zen level of balance between various social groups (Theatre, CIIS, Marin, Buddhism, etc) and my involvement and intermingling with all those strands.

Nonetheless, I knew that it would all be coming to an end on July 25. There was poignancy in that knowledge, and surprisingly not too much sadness – at least for me. Meanwhile, my mom made arrangements to again travel with KC and I for 2/3 of the driving journey, and a college friend, Nate, became available to travel for a partially overlapping 1/3 of the trip. I didn’t realize until later on that we would be traveling in separate vehicles, in an arrangement that worked far better than I envisioned. The specificity of our travel plans and needing to be in certain places at certain times (Hiking and exploration in Montana, a theatrical premiere in Michigan, etc) allowed me to plan the journey with several layover days. In this way, we would not be constantly on the road. In a three week period, only four nights would be at hotels, thanks to the kindness of friends in nearly all of our/my destination points. The stage was set for a memorable adventure.

This time, the travel journey brought the most rewards and memorable experiences yet of my three cross country adventures. I am sure this was due to the highly social nature of the trip. I was greeted by friends in almost every location, only three segments of the drive were ones I had driven before (not counting the Northeast Corridor), and I made a strong effort to document the journey on camera and in writing. I noticed the poignancy, intensity and presence of dropping in on friends for a few days and then moving on, while knowing that their lives will continue in their respective locations.

It feels like this retrospective may be best captured through a day by day narrative, so I will continue in that mode.

DAY 1, JULY 25: GOODBYE, CALIFORNIA

We left Marin County three hours behind schedule, and it was as if some part of me did not want to leave. I took a long time to gather all my Little Things in San Rafael, everything seemed to take longer than I expected, and my mom was Very Specific about how she wanted the car to be packed to ensure maximum visibility. I nearly drove away with my apartment keys in my pocket, and had to circle back to downtown San Rafael from Terra Linda to return them. My mood veered sharply from a wistful sadness at the start of the day to a more optimistic spirit of adventure as we proceeded north along US 101.

The traffic was light as we moved out of Marin and into Sonoma County. I found it hard to believe that I had driven the 50 miles north to Healdsburg just one week before for a Birthday driving adventure. Mendocino County brought even less traffic, except in Willits, and an increased sense of space and place. I had forgotten that route 101 extends for over 100 miles through Mendocino, a much larger distance than several US states. We stopped briefly at the Gomde Meditation Center in Leggett, summer home of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche.

Humboldt County brought mammoth trees and a record number of hitchhikers. It was only my second visit there. My mom seemed to latch on to the generalization of the area being a Pot Haven and thought that many people we saw might be pot smokers. This was particularly apparent in Arcata, which became our dinner stop. She felt like she’d time warped back into the 1960’s as we sat at a SoCal-eque yogurt shop watching the just returned Humboldt State students enjoy being back in town. Many dreadlocked peace loving individuals happily co-existed alongside them as the sun set over the bay. I should add that this stop also began the custom of bringing KC in with us to cafes or stops as much as possible. I was not comfortable leaving her in the car, for health and security reasons. Therefore, we created a long running social experiment bringing her with us (staying in her carrier) into cafes, at least one restaurant, and a few gas stations. Some people noticed, and some people did not!

I took the wheel of the Outback for the first time on the trip heading out of Arcata. I did not anticipate the dense, murky and amorphous fog that we would encounter between there and Crescent City. Route 101 winds along the scenic coast for the remaining 100 miles or so of California, but at night, this can lead to a treacherous mix of fog and curves. I stayed calm and slow speed as we continued north, and willingly pressed ahead at Crescent City after a brief pause. Oregon welcomed us with its name painted on to the road like a speed limit. Not too long later, we arrived in the coastal hamlet of Gold Beach. It was at least 11:00pm, four hours behind schedule, but we were there, and that was what mattered. I was impressed with this inn’s attention to detail in their clean rooms and willingness to be pet friendly. As they were right by the water, a persistent Pacific breeze was a welcome aroma while settling in for the night.

DAY 2, JULY 26: Blended Oregon

The late arrival from Monday night meant that we were not able to see a sangha friend in Eugene, so I had to call him to explain early in the morning. He understood, and the slight disappointment did not put a damper on the day’s itinerary. As we wandered down to the Pacific Ocean, I realized that visit would be the last time I’d see the Pacific for a while. It was characteristically exuberant. A large pile of driftwood was propped up on the beach. My mom encouraged me to grab a piece of the wood and pose for a photo designed to emulate a similar shot of me with driftwood on Martha’s Vineyard around 1991.

We had to excavate KC from her most extreme hiding place of the trip: under a bureau in the hotel room that also had the television and mini-bar attached to it. I managed to grab her without incident and she wore a slightly guilty expression for the first half of the day. I’d arranged for that day’s drive to be a mix of coastal and interior Oregon scenes. I felt like we didn’t have much momentum as we made several stops and starts on the coast in places like Bandon, Coos Bay and Florence. The scenery made up for any ill will, with many views reminiscent of Maine back in New England, although with a distinct Pacific flair. I was grateful to see more of the Oregon coast, having made a visit to the Northwestern corner of it in 2006. However, there is still 150 miles or so between Florence and Seaside that will have to wait for another time.

The trek inland from Florence to Eugene brought heavy forest and the trees that Oregon is known for. Eugene’s ARCO station offered one of the lowest gas prices of the trip ($3.59) and a sudden, awkward reminder that Oregon has mandatory full service. I made the same mistake again at a Shell station the next day in Portland.

We continued up Interstate 5 and reached Portland before dark. This was one of only two destination points on the trip where I had previously visited – the other was Ann Arbor, Michigan. In Portland’s case, the circumstance felt particularly unique. In showing my mom a place that I had already gotten to know on a personal level, I felt like I was turning up the curtain on a personal experience, and modifying it into a shared family experience. She seemed impressed with my familiarity with the city as we proceeded to the Belmont district.

Our sangha friend Bettina offered warm hospitality and spontaneity over the next 36 hours. She has a comfortable house right in the heart of Belmont, and I particularly enjoyed sampling several restaurants along Belmont and Hawthorne Boulevards. I had previously come to know local favorites such as The Black Cow, Stumptown and Utopia Café. This time, the destinations included two Thai restaurants, the Cricket Café and a new French eatery.

DAY 3, JULY 27: Parked in Portland

It was so refreshing to not get on the road that morning! I had no idea how nice it would feel to take some extra time in various locations, and am sure this contributed to Portland, Whitefish and Ann Arbor (which had all the “layovers” of the journey) becoming highlights of the trip.

This day mixed social and personal activities to a T. We made our way to a shopping area near Portland Airport for some tax-free shopping. I remembered that the PDX airport had some personal significance. In 2006, I flew from there to Massachusetts, arriving on what became my final evening in the house I grew up in on Singing Beach in Manchester.

My mom and I returned back to the Belmont district along Stark Street, a local shortcut that she was impressed I had remembered. Lunch brought a reunion with childhood friend Miranda, evoking much nostalgia and gratitude for the “thens and nows” of life. I felt that there was much to talk about after a 10 year gap, and appreciated how my early childhood memories from Salem seemed to come right back. I’ll probably always remember Miranda’s greeting comment to my mom that “your voice is so familiar!”

I’d scheduled back to back social adventures for that afternoon, and was happy to move right on to a reunion with college friend and native Portlander Colin. We channeled the classy style of many previous adventures in finding a place to enjoy Happy Hour, and continued the saga joining up with my mom and her friend Ann for a leisurely Thai dinner.

DAY 4, JULY 28: 600 miles northeast all the way to Montana

KC, my mom and I all bounded back into the car for an early start to what would be our longest distance travel day. Much later in the trip, I surpassed the distance traveling from Dayton, Ohio to Wilmington, Delaware – but I was not thinking about that on this date.

I knew that the initial segment towards Montana would bring a repeat journey along the western Interstate 84, which parallels the Columbia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington. I’d taken care to document this scenery in 2006 while traveling with Russ; however, my camera was sadly stolen at the end of that trip. This time, I wanted to be extra sure to capture the gorge on camera and enjoy the experience. We had time and the sun on our side setting out so early in the morning. I decided to take the wheel for this stretch, where I was familiar with it and wanted to give my mom the pleasure of seeing the sights and choosing what to get pictures of.

The Gorge is both fabulous and fascinating. We paralleled it for 175 miles. I had forgotten about the abrupt changes in the landscape, especially following The Dalles, Oregon. Lush forest gave way to stark desert and later returned to a more arid mountain setting. We turned off I-84 in the midst of this second mountain setting. I found this second mountain range to be the dullest scenery of the entire trip. Nothing was around us, just an endless flatness, much like Nebraska had been in my first cross country journey. It seems that this banality created a happy, entertaining side project for Mom and KC and I. We began to read Joanna Macy’s autobiography, “Widening Circles”, aloud in the car while driving along. Both of us had taken strong inspiration from a recent one-day workshop with Joanna. Auspiciously, this event was scheduled for July 24, the day before departing Marin, and Joanna herself seemed particularly pleased to know we were there before traveling when we spoke briefly with her directly.

Washington State also brought the first dose of Interstate 90, the longest interstate highway in the USA. I reminded my mom with amusement that we could just continue on 90 and eventually reach Logan Airport – and then go right on home to the North Shore. 90 became a recurring character in the roads of the trip, though not the primary star. On another numeric note, this first sighting took place in the 509 area code; of course Massachusetts knows the 508 area code very well. 90 cut right through Spokane, Washington, a city that is clearly an important regional outpost. I had difficulty discerning a personality to it, and wanted to see Christopher Walken appear somewhere straight out of the Martin McDonaugh “Behanding in Spokane” play.

Soon, 90 crossed over the Idaho state line. My mom had forgotten that we were even passing through this state and viewed it as an extra treat. I found this northern “panhandle” area to be an almost complete opposite from the southern, flat Boise region that I’d seen only once in 2006. Especially following the main town of Coeur d’Alane, lush trees dotted the landscape and the road became increasingly mountainous and curvaceous. I felt bemused that I seemed to be on a roll for getting the more treacherous driving segments as I was again at the wheel of the Outback. Eventually 90 wound its way up to Lookout Pass, marking the border between Idaho & Montana AND Pacific & Mountain time. I switched the car clock – I don’t wear a watch – with a feeling of bittersweetness and fullness from a Huckleberry milkshake.

The scenery grew grander and grander as we proceeded in to Montana. I quickly came up with a metaphor of the surroundings seeming to be on a bigger scale than elsewhere in the USA. Or it could have been that we’d driven outside of the country to another region entirely. Or to the roof of the country. The allegories could go on and on!

I was surprised that the speed limit for local, two lane roads in Montana seemed to be a consistent 70 miles per hour. This helped to make good time as we proceeded north towards Whitefish, passing the impossibly blue Flathead Lake and a series of attractive small towns. We stayed with an old friend of my mom’s living on the outskirts of Whitefish. The historic and compact downtown did not reveal itself until the next day. The kindness of our host, Carolyn, and her son, Arthur, was immediately clear as we enjoyed a late night garden feast. Befitting the northern latitude, the sky did not fully darken for the night until 10:30pm.

DAY 5, JULY 29: Glamour and Glaciers

The PAUSE button was used to its maximum benefit on this day. After catching up on some rest, my mom and I decided to explore the downtown area of Whitefish. I’d originally learned of the town through a local theatre company, the Alpine Theatre Project, and was able to plant a seed for potential future employment while there. Whitefish itself seemed to be more self-consciously trendy than I expected. Well-dressed tourists rubbed shoulders with each other while out of state licensed vehicles, including at least two from Massachusetts, cruised down the main street.

For a while I was not sure if we’d be able to visit nearby Glacier National Park, which (in my mind) had been the primary purpose of having an extended stay in the Whitefish area. We proceeded in the direction of the park close to sunset and were rewarded with a truly out of this world experience.

It feels disingenuous to describe the highly visual and visceral park experience in words. I will try singling out a few sensations and experiences:

  • Seeing snow in July.
  • Driving 30 miles, about ½ involving snaking around a mountain, up to the Continental Divide.
  • At least two varieties of goats wandering around near the mountain.
  • The sun beginning to set and casting shadows on the wide Glacier valley
  • The Alpine-inspired décor and feeling of a lodge on the park property where we enjoyed a late dinner en route out of the park
  • The consistent feeling of inspiration and intrigue going through the park

DAY 6, JULY 30: Mountains to Desert

Departure from Whitefish brought a strong feeling of fulfillment after the majesty of Glacier in the preceding evening. The initial segment of our journey retraced a path along Flathead Lake, and then continued through a mountain range towards Missoula. Out of the entire travels with my mom segment, this was the day when we were most focused on “getting there” (to Powell, Wyoming) – and not so much on the surrounding scenery or attractions. We had also planned to visit a friend of my mom’s in Bozeman, Montana on the way south into Wyoming. Unfortunately, this directive meant that we’d be unable to visit nearby Yellowstone National Park and have to gaze wistfully at the many signs for the Park along our route. I was disappointed, but accepting, and hope to have a future opportunity to see Yellowstone.

The stop in Bozeman brought gracious hospitality and “possible sight of future Zefram Cochranes” as I joked in my Twitter text post from there. I’ll probably always remember the random compliment that my mom received from her friend’s sister as we walked in to their house:Mom enters in a colorful outfit. Jan (friend and sister) says “this is Alison, my friend from Delaware.”Jan’s sister takes one look at Mom, and says “Stop. Let me just look at you!”

The sisters kindly prepared two varieties of salads for us to feast on in our break. Of course, the intended one hour visit became two hours, but that did not deter us from getting to Wyoming by nightfall. I was intrigued by the similarities of the northern Wyoming landscape to my previous visit to the state in 2006. Once again, I was driving along a high plateau with a gorgeous sunset in the rear view mirror, an endless basin visible ahead, and an awkward mixture of past (farms) and present (oil companies) industry visible along the road. We’d come into Wyoming to link up with my college friend Nate, who would be joining the trip from this point on through Ann Arbor. I was happy to have him come aboard and to know that he saw us as “rescuing” him from Wyoming, being Northeastern friends and his first and last in-state visitors.

This travel day was KC’s least enjoyable one of the trip. She was at her most vocal through the first half of the drive, from Whitefish to Missoula, and did not care for that evening’s accommodation, meowing with displeasure for a large portion of the overnight.

DAY 7, JULY 31: Continuing East!

I had forgotten that it was Sunday morning until seeing downtown Powell so obviously empty made me remember church services. Nate confirmed that the town is largely traditional and pious. I was intrigued that it shares the same total population – 5,000 – as my hometown of Manchester by-the-Sea, but Powell is spread out over twice the geographic area and none of the coastal breeze.

We all enjoyed a take-out breakfast from the local diner/breakfast place/greasy spoon. My mom seemed particularly pleased by their kindly service, as the waitress had taken much interest in our cross country journey and donated forks. I wondered why someone who had parked next to me (I waited in the car) smiled broadly at me until I saw her Oregon license plate. She must have felt a similar fish out of water feeling to be in Wyoming. I did not feel completely uncomfortable there; just noticeably out of place and unsure of what I would say if I interacted with a local resident.

Nate took the driving lead as we began our caravan-ing and proceeded out of the Bighorn Basin. This time, Mom was at the helm for a stretch of challenging mountain driving. The road of the day, Route 14A, snaked around the intense Bighorn Mountains up to at least 8,000 feet, and then back down again towards Interstate 90. Near the summit, we decided to stop at the Medicine Wheel, a local Native American monument. Mom was a little too energetic parking the car and knocked my front license plate off the car. If I had not seen it when we returned from the Medicine Wheel, it might still be sitting there. I decided to bring KC along for the longer than expected hike to the wheel site, which continued the social experiment of having her in public settings. To my surprise, the park ranger did not bat an eye when she saw that I had a cat with me and asked that I leave her at the entryway. Perhaps the ranger was more concerned with a rude visitor who had just preceded our arrival and was apparently unwilling to cooperate with movement restrictions and staying on a marked path.

This day began a series of GPS-found and memorable lunch stops. We passed through Sheridan, Wyoming, also noticeably quiet on Sunday, but still welcoming in at least one coffee shop! My turkey sandwich – I think it was turkey?! – was among the freshest I’d had in the last several months. This created some satisfaction as we continued on I-90 through several more Wyoming towns, including Gillette, with a final destination of Rapid City, South Dakota.

I almost forgot to mention the walkie talkie system that Nate introduced today. Although this was regrettably short lived, it provided for easy non-cellular communication between the two vehicles with some novelty on top.

This evening brought the first sizeable dose of Summer Rain on to the trip. We could see a series of ominous looking thunderstorms on the horizon heading into Rapid City. Shortly before we reached the destination, they erupted! This created some of the lowest visibility I have ever experienced, and I was again at the wheel. Thankfully, the hotel was under 5 miles away, and a welcome terminus when we did reach it. Nate and I celebrated with a trip over to Perkins, and I may have downed a milkshake in a record amount of time.

DAY 8, AUGUST 1: A new month, slices of Americana and best laid plans…

This Monday morning brought a clear national/patriotic highlight of our trip in visiting Mount Rushmore. I appreciated the monument much more than I had anticipated, and I think my mom felt the same way. The ride down from Rapid City brought scenery and Las Vegas style flaming decadence in Keystone, but then the curvaceous road returned to spaciousness. Nate had told us that the mountain would suddenly appear from the road – and there it was! I was stunned by the precision of the heads, where they have been there for 80 years and look like they were carved yesterday. I hadn’t intended to pull in to the $11 parking area, but once I did, there was no need to back out; it seemed worth it.

Mount Rushmore is also the type of tourist attraction that is better early in the morning before the crowds. We made it there by 9:30am. I wondered if all 50 states might be represented in the parking lot on any given day. I appreciated how the visiting area sought to balance crowd control (a wide, central viewing area with the flags of all 50 states hanging above) with the scale and scope of the surroundings. A long nature trail extended in a loop around the base of the mountain. We took it and were rewarded with multiple non-traditional views of the mountain leading up to a wooded exit back to the parking area.

Nate and I had recalculated the driving route for this day into a Capital Tour of the Dakotas, passing through Pierre, SD, and ending up in Bismarck, ND. I might have looked at the driving distances more closely, as the journey became far more epic than we intended. It did still have highlights with the surroundings. Pierre in particular demonstrated precision on the banks of the Missouri River. The city marks the Western border of the Central Time Zone, and the communities across the river are in the Mountain Time Zone. My mom joked that it must be hard to plan social engagements. Pierre must be one of the smallest state capitals in the USA, housing just 14,000 people. It’s also one of five state capitals not directly served by an Interstate highway. The others are in Delaware, Alaska, Nevada and Missouri.

I was surprised to notice that Pierre also offered the most extreme heat of our trip. The digital barometer read a whopping 109 degrees, but the lack of humidity made it not feel extremely severe. When we stopped at a local gas station, it marked the start of a brief and confusing trend where mid-grade gasoline was priced cheaper than the regular gasoline. It seemed that ethanol ingredients were the culprit here, though no further explanation was given in a public view.

The GPS led us to another winning choice for lunch – though on this day the meal was extra late at 4pm. The “Main Street Grill” offered fresh food and home cooked deserts by the owner, who also doubled as our waitress. She was accommodating of us bringing KC along even though she had an allergy to cats. Thankfully, the restaurant offered seating just outside their main area for patrons in the foyer of the building, which seemed to be a very old downtown hotel. KC was not the first pet visitor of the day. A local man came in near the end of our meal with his forceful-looking pug, who looked like he usually gets what he wants. The four of us must have seemed very out of place in Pierre: Mom with a wraparound sunhat, Nate looking around at the sights, and me carrying KC in her carrier. To prove this point, one family pointed at us and took pictures through the window as we left the restaurant.

The next segment of our travels became the most strenuous of the trip. We left Pierre at around 5pm, but did not reach Bismarck, North Dakota until close to midnight. The culprit for this lengthy journey? The setting sun and a closed section of US 83 that we were not aware of until getting close to the affected area. It seemed that the June floods in South Dakota left an extensive mark, requiring at least one stretch of road to be extensively repaired. The detoured route took us west through Mowbridge, an area which the restaurant owner had pooh-poohed earlier in the day. It was easy to see that the region did not have much going for it. To my surprise, crossing the Missouri River again (briefly back into Mountain Time) led us to a landscape more reminiscent of Scotland than middle USA. Rolling green hills sailed down to the banks of the river, and several towns seemed to have appropriate corresponding Scottish influences. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep pace with the setting sun, and proceeded up to Bismarck on a back road in total darkness, with only a casino en route serving as a sign of civilization. I appreciated the novelty of simply being in North Dakota. I rode that enthusiasm once we eventually reached the hotel, logging online for the first time in what seemed like weeks, but was really only 2 ½ days, and discussing further travel plans with Nate. KC took a liking to this hotel room, and to hotel bedding in general. Throughout the hotel stays, she particularly enjoyed finding a crease in the blankets that she could fit right into to relax and observe our actions.

DAY 9, August 2: Dakota Minnesota

We did not give ourselves much time to see Bismarck, needing to press on to Minneapolis in order for my mom to connect with her friend she would be staying with that night. We did get to quickly drive by the North Dakota state capital building on the way out of town. My Lonely Planet guide book described it as “Stallinesque” and they were not far off the mark.

This day became our most focused On The Road day due to the evening commitments. We enjoyed periodic radio communication between the two cars, and ruminations about the surrounding landscape. One stretch of the North Dakota I-94 was very obviously affected by floods yet to fully evaporate. I was surprised to see a train line running right in the middle of a flooded area, and wondered if it is the same line that the Amtrak “Empire Builder” from Chicago to Portland and/or Seattle traverses on a daily basis. Later in western Minnesota, 94 seemed to be loaded with permanent frost heaves nearly all the way to Minneapolis.

We did budget time for a lunch stop in Fargo. Nate and I both felt that the initial rural residential feel of the town was highly similar to Amherst, MA. However, that development quickly gave way to a more traditional Middle America shopping mall orientation. We’d hoped that the GPS had led us to another memorable lunch spot, but the intended spot turned out to be a Chinese food buffet. We proceeded inside anyway, even though KC was unable to join us and I was probably more nervous about leaving her in the car than I needed to be. The $7 price was right, with an interesting cross section of patrons and odd preference for Michael Jackson songs on their stereo.

A few hours later, we reached the western outskirts of the Twin Cities, made obvious by the increase in traffic and brake lights. The Twin Cities provided the most intense traffic of the trip. I did not mind it, but I was reminded of why I drove out of traffic times as much as possible in the Bay Area. I will remember the provocative moves of public transportation drivers in that area, later confirmed by Nora, our host for the night. One bus driver cut off two lanes of traffic on I-94 in an effort to make his exit.

Later, Nate and I experienced Minneapolis cross town traffic. It was a thing where it seems easy and basic once you know the specific route, as I found out the next morning. However, initial unfamiliarity magnifies the confusing nature of being in a new area. We did reach our hosts for the evening and were rewarded with a sushi meal in “Uptown”, one of the trendiest spots in the city. A stop at a nearby gas station revealed another side. A hipster biker was involved in some scuffle, and stood near a police car awkwardly waiting to be released while another man was inside the car angrily addressing the assembled officers.

DAY 10, AUGUST 3: Continuing On North by Northeast

 

This day marked my mom’s planned exit from the trip, flying ahead home to Delaware to resume her teaching commitments. I saw her off to the airport and felt excited to be continuing on the driving journey. Nate and I also faced the shortest drive of the trip for that day (120 miles due north) and allowed some leisure to permeate the schedule. He found his way to Al’s Restaurant, a famously small diner in Minneapolis, while I spent too much time on the computer catching up on the digital life. Nora, our host, rejoined us for lunch at an upscale local eatery. I chose the “California Wrap” out of dual nostalgia and curiosity. It was heavier on the flavor – turkey and avocado – than most “real” California sandwiches would be. Nora had to partake in some errands, so we traveled with her to a nearby Best Buy. This suburban glimpse did not lead to the Mall of America, just 8 miles east of where we were… but it did lead to Xerxes Avenue, so named as part of Minneapolis’ alpha-numeric street system.

 

The extreme Minnesota heat of the previous day had mostly evaporated by the time we set out for Duluth and Superior around 3:30pm. The traffic for the day had already begun and I quickly found myself in the lead for our caravan but separate from Nate and unable to pull over to wait. It seemed unbelievable that through traffic for north I-35 only received two lanes. But that was the reality and clearly the source of the initial backup. We passed over the bridge site that had collapsed in 2007 (now occupied by a graceful replacement) and continued north through several tight curves as the Twin Cities metropolitan region began to fade. A GasBuddy.com spotted cheap gas station served as reunion point. I could have driven away without paying for gas here, where my card was not initially read at the pump and yet it filled anyway. I only happened to catch the notice of “not read” out of the corner of my eye.

 

Nate took the lead again as we proceeded north towards Duluth and back into heavily forested country. The frost heaves returned as the surroundings became more rural. To combat this development, we switched to a two lane road advertised as “parallel scenic alternative” to get to Duluth. Unfortunately this transition also marked the end of the walkie talkies, when one was inadvertedly left behind at our post highway rest stop, and we did not discover its absence until arriving in Superior.

 

The two lane road became a hypnotic Tunnel of Trees continuing north through many small towns. Several names evoked New England, most clearly in a brief passage through Holyoke. We skirted the edges of Duluth, which seemed to be an appealing city that I would have liked to spend more time in or at least look around. Perhaps another time. I later discovered the city houses two highly progressive theatre companies, one that had recently run a regional premiere of a Neil LaBute piece.

 

Our entry into Wisconsin easily won the award for Most Dramatic State Entrance as we crossed the Blatnik Bridge, a high crossing at least 200 feet above Lake Superior. It was initially confusing to figure out where downtown Superior existed due to various construction projects. Thankfully, Nate’s cheerful friend Dustin came to the rescue and provided us with hospitable and friendly accommodation for the evening. The neighborhood and community oriented life was immediately apparent in Superior. The town itself seemed to be an awkward mashup of time warp, depressed town and shire town for a larger region. We did find an oasis of urbanity in a coffee shop on the way out of town the next morning.

 

DAY 11, AUGUST 4: UP, UP, UP!

 

Today’s route heralded the stretch of scenery I was the most excited about seeing: the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This region is so far off the typical tourist map that some people half jokingly refer to it as the 51st state of the USA. To reach the “UP”, we first had to traverse the northern frontier of Wisconsin. This became an easy trip along US 2, a route I have come to know in its New England incarnation. Perhaps the most intriguing sight here was an enormous seawall in Ashland, Wisconsin, like something out of Lord of The Rings.

 

I had thought that the crossing into Michigan would bring an immediate switch to Eastern Standard Time, but the border communities are actually in Central Time, to avoid a discontinuity with Wisconsin. We sampled the famous “pasties” (very similar to empanadas or other meat pies) in Ironwood. I enjoyed mine, but I enjoyed the accompanying slice of pumpkin cake even more. There was extensive two lane blacktop driving to be done over the course of this day. The Eastern time zone soon appeared during a rural stretch of road, marked by a very small sign. Looking back on it, I’m surprised I was not more affected by it. I suppose the novelty of being on the UP and the dramatic scenery kept my spirits up. Lake Superior was a near constant presence to the left (north) as we continued east, through the major city of Marquette and many smaller towns. The town of Munising doubles as the southern gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Seashore. At least two friends had recommended we see this park, best known for its white cliffs. It turned out that the cliffs were too far off the beaten path. I did lead the three of us to a scenic and welcoming beach area, Sandy Point, creating KC’s first visit to a beach. Nate joked that she may have thought of it as a giant litter box. I found the water to be warm and the sand to be calming. It would have been easy to stay there for a few hours. But there was still a long distance to go to Sault St. Marie, and by this time I had also discovered one of my headlights had burned out. I did not want to get a traffic ticket while on the road – and luck stayed with me throughout the rest of the journey.

 

It was almost confusing to reach interstate highway (75) for the last eight miles of the journey. After all, the day had covered almost four hundred miles of two lane roads. Sault St. Marie quickly appeared on the road signs, served by only two exits before the interstate crosses into Canada. I was amused by the directness of the Canada-bound signs; one in particular only said “STRAIGHT THRU” rather than “NEXT LEFT” or “KEEP RIGHT”.

 

I had hoped that “Sault” might be the site of a random late movie on the trip. Instead it was a random and late dinner, as Nate and I were directed to the local Applebee’s, the only thing open at 9:30/10pm, and served as some of the last customers of the day.

 

DAY 12, AUGUST 5 – ACROSS THE MACKINAC, DOWN THE PENINSULA, JUST IN TIME FOR A SHOW!

 

The Days Inn in Sault St Marie provided the least satisfying breakfast of the trip, with poorly cooked eggs being the only thing I ate in a very awkwardly designed seating area. Nate got stuck with a crumbly bagel and very small cup of coffee. We set off to see the downtown and hope that there might be more breakfast options. The downtown seemed very hospitable to me, with the emphasis on community very evident as shopkeepers got ready for a street fair that day. The Canadian influence felt clear, too, although not in an immediately physical way. Nate pointed out that it would be a shorter trip to New England to drive from Sault through Ontario and Quebec than down through Detroit, which I had not realized until he mentioned it.

 

We had to stay on schedule in this day, needing to reach Ann Arbor, 325 miles south, by 6pm. As such, we were back on I-75 by 10:30am. For some reason, this day’s drive felt the most hypnotic to me at the time and now in retrospect. I was initially surprised and weary of the long distance, with many signs pointing to Saginaw as over 200 miles south. And yet the time seemed to pass quickly, or I lost track of time, as we proceeded south. My IPOD had run out of battery and I relied on periodic radio station entertainment for this drive, which might have contributed to the disorientation and speed.

 

There was a clear highlight in the journey south over the Mackinac Bridge, linking the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. I’d read that the bridge had some structural similarity to the Golden Gate, and indeed I could see the resemblance. It seemed to be a sleeker and greener cousin to the GG, with just four lanes instead of six. I got stuck behind a truck going south, but used some creative sneaky driving techniques to catch up to Nate’s lead by the end of the bridge. The bridge itself is five miles long with a mix of causeway and suspension flair. I was surprised to see that it is referenced as a northern destination point for northbound I-75 until at least 200 miles south of it. The popular perception of Michigan as two separate states was also reinforced when we passed a “state welcome center” just south of the bridge, as if travelers had entered from another state or forgotten where they were.

 

Eventually, we arrived in the hardscrabble town of Flint for a short visit to Nate’s friend and former colleague. For me this was the most jarring stop of the entire trip, as destitute areas co-existed with awkwardly obviously redeveloped downtown stretches. We got a glimpse of the less desirable neighborhoods before stumbling on the downtown. I have never seen a place so clearly re-developed, even featuring cobblestone streets (?) and newly installed arches along the way. I did enjoy the lunch spot choice, a loud and raucous underground-seeming pub clearly inhabited by only locals. One group in particular seemed to be having a grand old time, laughing at the current sports game and talking loudly to each other over their own din. Meanwhile, I stepped into Social Coordinator mode, planning activities for that evening in Ann Arbor, which ultimately developed into a joint opening night cast party and college reunion adding our friend Anna. I was briefly unsure if we’d be able to make it down there – another 50 miles – in time for the show. However, the solution was to “floor it” along US 23 and stay cool. This made all the connections work, dropping off KC at Russ’ house and then continuing over to the nearby West Park Band Shell just in time for opening night of the Penny Seats!

 

DAYS 13-14, AUGUST 6 & 7: Ann Arbor with a Kalamazoo Interlude

 

As before, staying off the road was considerably more rewarding than I might have anticipated. The exciting premiere weekend of the Penny Seats made the whole weekend sustain a creative and high spirited energy, whether it was walking around and hanging out around downtown A2 with Russ and friends, hanging out as a Penny Seats groupie, seeing the show a second time under initially heavy rain that gave way to mist, experiencing the sign of the times walking around Borders’ soon to close flagship store, and soaking up the youthful and progressive A2 spirit again.

 

I also arranged a side trip to Kalamazoo to visit theatre friend Kristin. While I felt the effort leaving A2 at 8:30am Sunday after a late Saturday night with Penny Seaters, it was worth the effort to catch up with Kristin and see another part of Michigan. This side trip also brought my first view of a Delaware license plate in the entire trip.

 

I closed the zestful weekend in a relaxed way on Monday the 8th, and allowed myself the leisure of waiting until 2pm to head out southbound towards Dayton, Ohio.

 

DAY 15, AUGUST 8: Middle America

 

I was relieved to not be covering a (relatively) huge travel distance when KC and I got back on the road on Monday afternoon. Routes 23 and 75 proved to be an easy way to scoot down into Ohio. I remember being surprised at the smaller distance from Ann Arbor to Ohio (35 miles) than I expected. Then I remembered that each time I had left Ann Arbor in my previous visits, I had done so via Detroit, which adds an extra 50-60 miles. Michigan scenery quickly reverted to a countryside motif before giving way to Toledo suburbs. The city of Toledo itself was invisible on my route, but I got a good look at it last December and January.

 

Dayton proclaimed itself to be “The Crossroads of America” with its junction of interstates 70 and 75. I understood the crossroads motif, but also noticed that many exits were missing signs. My host and local native Chris later explained that 75 is in a semi-regular state of reorganization. I made my way out to the southeastern suburbs and his hometown of Bellbrook. This time, the relief and gratitude came from relaxation. I needed the pause of staying in a house and not being busy more than I expected. A certain amount of spontaneity still made its way into my activities that evening, especially when we decided to visit a local discount cinema. I had thought that $3 movies were a thing of the past… But not in Dayton. In a neat twist, the film we chose (SUPER 8) was set in the Dayton area. I debated whether I wanted to go to a late film, knowing that I would have to head out early the next morning, but am glad to have done so. I recall that I’d wanted to go to a film throughout the cross country trip, so in a way it was good to save the treat to close to the end of the journey.

 

DAY 16, August 9: Eastward Exertion

 

I stayed on a self imposed schedule this morning, leaving the house almost exactly at 9am. I had noticed the day before that Dayton offered the lowest gas prices of the trip ($3.40 per gallon) – but the one closest to the highway was more like $3.60. The higbway extended infinitely, especially as I got onto Interstate 70, which would provide the majority of that day’s two lane blacktops. It was interesting to be on another part of 70, as I have traveresed it in Colorado several times, but never elsewhere. On this trip, a large array of newer highway signs greeted me. This was a trend I had first noticed in Michigan, and upon Googling it, became aware that several states have adapted a new highway sign font: “Clearview”, with intentions to take it national in the future.

 

I wish I had written more about this drive immediately following the experience. It seems like a long blur as I look back at it just shy of two weeks later. However, there were some spontaneous highlights that included:

 

  • Discovering the unique geography of West Virginia, when I entered the state at Wheeling, exited it, and then entered it again about an hour later.
  • Visitng my father’s college town of Washington, PA, where he has not visited since 1978.
  • The novelty of seeing West Virginia for the first time from a car. I got a brief glimpse of it from a train last December.
  • Continuing along Interstate 68 through the West Virginia and Maryland panhandles. I had specifcally chosen this route to avoid the $25 toll from taking the PA Turnpike. It seemed to have the most hills of any interstate I have ever been on. For a while, it seemed like that was all there was to the road, as it moved from one 1000-2000 feet high ridge to the next.
  • The surprise of falling back into traffic on Interstate 695, the Baltimore Beltway – I referred to it by the British term of “ring road” later that day.
  • Attempting to avoid the double-toll of exiting Maryland and entering Delaware, and then realizing that would not be possible and getting back onto Interstate 95.
  • The friendly familiarity, and knowledge of being close to home, of getting on 95 again.
  • Bemusement about how quickly the $4 toll booth appears after the Delaware state line.
  • A warm reception by my mom and Richard when I did reach Wilmington, Delaware.

 DAY 17, August 10: Pampering and Relaxation in Wilmington

 

Initially I felt over indulged to know that my mom had scheduled an ionic foot bath, massage, facial and pedicure for me to indulge in while laying over in Wilmington. But it worked out well, and I’m sure my internal systems were grateful. The ionic foot bath was particularly unusual, putting my feet into what seemed like a normal foot bath, until the water began to change colors over a thirty minute span.

 

I also got a refresher on Delaware’s status as a sales tax free bonanza as we visited several chain stores. I’m glad to have chosen to buy several theatrical scripts that day at a soon to be closed branch of Borders. The cost for five books was around $40, and would have been $75 if they were up at their listed price. We balanced it out with some family reunion time, eagerly planning our upcoming adventure to the homelands of Martha’s Vineyard.

 

DAY 18, August 11: Northbound into New England

 

My mom and KC and I re-teamed for this home stretch, but switched base cars into her Subaru Forester. We set off in what felt like a very haphazard manner, almost saying “oh, right, we have to travel today!”. I was relieved that the New Jersey Turnpike had little traffic, and felt impressed that the Garden State Parkway was similarly expedient. We sampled Ravenna Michalsen’s album of dharma songs, followed by music from the Secret Garden taking us in to New York state.

 

For some reason, it has taken a long time to determine an ideal route to travel to my uncle (my mom’s brother) and aunt’s house from Delaware. After this trip, I think we have it. The primary NY route involved Route 22, which winds its way out of Westchester County and into familiar lower Upstate rolling hills. Spontaneity invited us to make a brief visit to an ice cream parlor in Putnam. Their prices were a far cry from the Fairfax Scoop, my local Marin County ice cream parlor of choice, and so I moderated the purchases for that visit. We continued north and I felt a comfortable anticipatory feeling as the New England border neared. By Millerton, New York, this feeling escalated to one of genuine excitement, and I initiated a high five as we crossed into Connecticut. My mom was amused by the officialness of my remarks, as she may have considered the non metro NYC areas of New York to be suitably evocative of New England. But now we were really back in the homelands. The familiarity and close-knit community was immediately evident passing through Salisbury, CT, and on up the hill to the Salisbury School.

 

Our arrival was well timed – two of my three cousins (of that branch) arrived back home a few minutes after us, and their grandmother, whom I may not have seen since 2002, was also making a short visit to the house. I was pleased with the choice of activities for the evening, taking us all down to a lake on the Salisbury campus to enjoy catching up and the evocative scenery. I recalled with pleasure that visiting this branch of the family had marked the Return to New England on my first cross country trip, the Departure from New England on my second, and was now once again serving as the Return to New England.

 

DAY 19, August 12: Massachusetts!

 

Our travel schedule coincided with the Return of my cousin Leighton, and I was pleased to be able to stay a little longer into Friday morning, just long enough to welcome him back and take a few Family Photo Op reunion pictures.

 

My mom and KC and I continued on our way into Massachusetts. I had forgotten that the border between Canaan, CT, and Sheffield, MA offers no official “Massachusetts Welcomes You” sign, but was grateful enough to see the familiar MA storybook-style town line sign. Many memories of previous Berkshires region visits – and my longer time in nearby Chester in 2007 – washed over me as we continued north along Route 7. Great Barrington did not seem to have changed at all, though some differences were visible in Stockbridge and Lee.

 

Richard called to check in on us as we got to the Mass Pike. He seemed to immediately understand – or see past – my enthusiasm of being back in my Home State. He said something like “does it really feel good to be back there? You’ve just left one of, if not the most, beautiful areas of the USA…” which made me admit that “you’re right, I will feel differently in a few days, but feel positive today.”

 

I arranged a Mass Pike radial rendezvous with long time friend Elizabeth so that Mom could continue on to her Ayurveda conference and we could go on to Worcester. Again, for me, the switch out of family and into friend mode meant that I could exhale a deep breath. I made sure to get KC comfortable with the surroundings of Worcester, where she would be spending the next week in that apartment. At the same time, I rolled with the punches of what Elizabeth and her brother Kevin chose to do, which ultimately revolved around a lot of Indian food for that evening.

 

DAY 20, August 13: Waylaid in Worcester

 

This day won the award for most self-consciously slow day of the trip. I had the choice of going back to my home region of the North Shore with Elizabeth and her brother, but elected to stay in Worcester instead, partially because of wanting a breather from the travel and partially wanting to keep KC company so that she was not alone in an unfamiliar environment.

 

I ended up spending most of the day writing this essay, and though it was long, I’m sure that I will be grateful to have done it in the long run. I also recall the awkwardness of exploring an unfamiliar Worcester neighborhood when I ventured outside to purchase a personal pizza for lunch.

 

DAY 21, AUGUST 14 (FINALE) – ON TO MARTHA’S VINEYARD!

 

A humid rain could not damper my anticipation of traveling from Worcester all the way back to my family homeland of Martha’s Vineyard. In a fortunate coincidence, Elizabeth’s landlord was traveling in to Boston that morning, so I rode with him as far as Newton and cracked many jokes about my home state. I should add that the novelty of being back in MA was starting to wear off by this point, just as Richard had predicted.

 

I enjoyed a long-overdue reunion with childhood friend Matt in Newton. I wished it could have been for a longer period of time, but am sure there will be other opportunities in the future. I chose a local Starbucks as a reunion spot, but was beginning to grow tired of the chain, which I had been patronizing more frequently after receiving a birthday gift card. I’ve finally finished the card as of today, August 30.

 

My mom and Richard arrived late to the rendezvous, causing us to then speed right along down routes 128 and 24 towards Martha’s Vineyard. There was some debate about whether we wanted to rush on to the next available ferry or proceed with the previously scheduled reservation of 7:45pm. Once we reached Woods Hole around 2:45pm, it became clear that the reservation could not be changed. To my veteran eyes, it seemed that the Vineyard had more auto and foot traffic than any time I had been there in the last 10 years. Of course, that’s great for the Island… and a headache for travelers.

 

We upped the ante on our travel-hardiness and visited the nearby Fishmonger Cafe in Woods Hole village. The rain had not gone away by this point, but the sea breeze remained refreshingly fresh. It was mutually decided that I would go ahead as a passenger in order to set up my tent at the campground and then go on to Mr. Ben Taylor’s annual concert at the Whaling Church in Edgartown. I liked this option and felt that it would be a fitting finale to make the ferry crossing as a solo journey.

 

I boarded the ridiculously large ISLAND HOME ferry at 3:45pm. The boat stuck to schedule and cruised right out on to Vineyard Sound while the tourists mingled and read up on the Island. I felt a natural unity and right place, right time standing there on the front exterior deck. As the Vineyard began to come into view, West Chop first as always, I knew I’d come home again.

Marin County (still) relies on Golden Gate Transit

Coming to the end of a visit back to my “California homeland” of Marin County, my Yelp page has turned into a blog for this trip. I looked again at a Yelp review I wrote in 2011 of the local transit provider. It was quite wordy!

I’m coming to the end of 2 1/2 years of relying on GGT for a regular Marin to SF commute and returning home back over the bridge.

If you commute on a typical 9-5, Monday-Friday, schedule, GGT has your number. Very efficient and frequent service, especially on routes 4, 24, and 54, from various North Bay locations. As noted with the 4, they seem to have a soft spot for Mill Valley commuters, and I’m not exactly sure why that is. In the afternoons, I’ve often seen back to back 4s where one is very crowded and the next one not at all. Lack of information as to the next bus at SF stops can be irritating, although I have heard that they are working to update this in the near future. Last fall, they introduced a new fleet of ultra-modern larger buses that seem to be in service mostly on the Sonoma County routes.

They also offer service to the East Bay on routes 40 (express) and 42 (local). I have taken those buses a few times and find them to be mostly efficient. It’s nice to not have to pay the Richmond Bridge toll. A discount when going on to BART would be appreciated.

On the other hand, late night and weekend buses are another story. The 101 semi-express bus (which was surprisingly only introduced in 2009) stops running after 8pm, leaving the only options as the 70 to Novato or 80 to Santa Rosa, which alternate on the half hour up to 10pm and ONLY run once per hour following that time until 1am. Also after 10pm, the buses will make Every. Single. Stop. along Route 101, including an awkwardly long initial jaunt through Sausalito and awkward stop-over in Marin City, as they proceed north. (The buses do seem to have done away recently with the long layovers in Marin City, although the northbound 22 – a local route – still halts for no apparent reason in San Anselmo.) As you might imagine, this long journey home can be excruciating when you either just want to get home or don’t have anything to read or write on the bus. Those same “basic” routes (so named by GGT) are often populated by a considerably more diverse cast of characters than the typically business suited commute bus rider.

It’s no secret that Clipper (formerly TransLink) cards will give you a discounted fare on GGT, but I am surprised how many people seem to still not know that. GGT seems to be aware of where their income comes from, as they claim that Clipper can not be used for the popular AT&T Park ferry, when it most certainly could if you tag in and out at Larkspur.

On the ferry, the service is also reliable and comfortable. The early morning departures and 5:00 hour returns from/to Larkspur are filled with strong representation from the financial district. It’s always amusing to notice how the ferry becomes a tourist line between 10am and 3pm or so, and then thins out drastically for the last few runs back to Marin after 7pm. But why does it not run later than 9:30pm??? (More on that later…) Meanwhile, weekend ferries never run on time and seem to be populated with a large number of passengers who have either never been on the boat(s) before, treat it as a party boat complete with beers or other beverages, or are only there every few months.

As you can tell, GGT is well organized and mostly supportive of its riders and clientele. They even have “advisory committees” for bus and ferry passengers to participate in.

But as a frequent and loyal rider – admittedly with no other public transportation option – I have a few persistent questions:

1) Why continue with the constant raising of your fares? I moved to Marin in early 2009; San Rafael – San Francisco was $7.28 roundtrip on TransLink cards. Now it is $8.40. Not everyone can afford the constant rising in costs, and I don’t believe the haughty statement that it “keeps pace with inflation” – having some stability or consistency with these costs would be welcomed.

2) Don’t assume that everyone who is on GGT goes to SF for business. It’s clear that the schedulers may think that, based on the ratio of commute to general bus service.

3) Give us more options to get home to Marin at night. As stated above, the 70 or 80 can be excruciatingly long or an unappealing prospect. What about one or two buses around 11pm that go direct to San Rafael? Or Santa Rosa? Marin residents deserve more options. Not everyone here has a car or the luxury of being able to drive across the bridge as they please. I read somewhere that there was once a late night Friday and Saturday ferry to Larkspur. Why not bring that back?

4) You’ve bought two brand new ferries to add to the fleet within the past two years. Why not use them on the weekends and permanently retire the older Spaulding vessels?

5) Be more transparent about yourself, GGT.

6) WHY DO YOU NOT OFFER A MONTHLY PASS??? YOU SHOULD.

I’ve enjoyed my time with you, GGT. I know you can be better. I look forward to seeing you mature.

And if you read this far, here is a throwback video to one of my many Golden Gate Bus rides across the bridge…

Revisiting Into the Wild

In anticipation of my upcoming return to the West Coast, I decided to take a look, for the first time in several years, at a seminal “West Coast” film for me – Into the Wild, originally released in the fall of 2007. Hard to believe that is almost a decade ago at this point in time!

ABQ Movies

Revisiting the same cinema in Albuquerque, February, 2014

The circumstances of when and where I first saw the film likely contributed to its lasting impact. I was spending a few days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, accompanying my mom to a conference, but with an open-ended personal schedule, just like the main character in the film, to some extent. The New Mexico crisp quality of light, color and air was in full abundance in the late October time of year, and it was my first time ever seeing the state. I’d just had a phone interview, while on that trip, that led to my first job in California, and the prospect of that transition and opportunity was even more eye-opening, again in a more structured way to what the main character of the film anticipates with his journey to Alaska.

I saw the film again 4 or 5 months later at The Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California, still one of the friendliest movie theatres I’ve ever spent time in. By that time I had settled in to the California lifestyle and the film took on more of a “reinforcing” of the open road feeling, as opposed to the potential of the earlier screening in New Mexico. Still, there was a yearning there, and many possibilities existed for where my path could go at that time, in a way that I see now is characteristic of one’s early 20’s, and I was right in the same age bracket that the main character of the film was during the narrative.

For some reason I was less familiar with the original story and circumstances of Chris McCandless’ life at the time, probably because the main events took place when I was much younger. However, I was aware the author Jon Krakauer was a highly-regarded fellow Hampshire College alum – yet another personal connection to the story. And the director Sean Penn would later briefly be a down the street neighbor in Marin County.

So, in 2007 and 2008 the film made a lasting impact on me, with its wide vistas of Alaskan scenery and intense story of abandoning one’s personal possessions and family members for a back to the land life. Eddie Vedder’s original songs continue to be on my personal playlist from time to time, including one particular track (that I’d forgotten is not actually featured in the film) which feels emblematic of just driving around on the West Coast, and the sense of sky and open space that is so unique to the region.

In 2015 the film feels like a time capsule to me. First on the level of its featured actors professional trajectory, such as lead Emile Hirsch perhaps finding it difficult to top the performance he gives in this film, and running into some personal troubles with law enforcement earlier this year. Of the supporting actors in that age bracket, Kristen Stewart appears in a small role and looks noticeably younger, while Jena Malone has since branched out further into a mix of popular and independent fare. The older actors in the group soldier on  in the industry, but their fortunes have also varied, with Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan and Marcia Gay Harden among the group. And IMDB tells me director Penn is preparing his first directed film since this one for release in 2016.

I guess I wasn’t expecting to feel the distance from the narrative that I felt on this re-viewing. I’ll still continue to regard it as a key film in my West Coast life, but … I also feel how time has passed.

Throwback Thursday: Reflecting on the Scream Series

Four years ago I was very excited that there was a new “Scream” film. I didn’t note at the time that it had coincidentally been filmed right here in Michigan. I wasn’t living here at the time but had learned of the filming from local friends.

I’m having some giddy enthusiasm over the prospect of seeing SCREAM 4 today at the movies. I’m sure this is due to the memory of the SCREAM series being a big deal “back in the day” and the curiosity of seeing if this film lives up to its predecessors. I’m deliberately holding off reading any reviews of the film and will do so after seeing it. In a few other recent film-going experiences (BLACK SWAN comes to mind) I regretted taking a close look at the publicity before seeing the film.

I never saw the original SCREAM in the cinemas …. in fact, I don’t think it was originally released to the North Shore. This was before the Danvers 20 screen megaplex opened, and screening options were limited. I do remember the runaway success of the film, and watching with interest as it continued to be shown well into mid 1997. I do miss those days of long running movie hits, as the screen to DVD window is so tight now, it’s almost better to wait for the video. I did find out recently that the original film was shot in my area of California. A friend of a friend had a small supporting role. The climax of the film was shot at a house which I have driven by a few times, without realizing its so-called historical significance.

SCREAM 2 was another story. This time, it was a big deal to see the film as soon as it came out, and I eagerly compared impressions with my classmates. My dad and I were regular visitors to the Solomon Pond Mall cinema in Marlborough, MA. This complex had achieved local acclaim as “New England’s first stadium seating megaplex” and was virtually unique for the first 6 months to 1 year of operations. Hoyts quickly opened similar complexes in nearby Westborough and Bellingham, but there was something special about the first space. Or it could have been “never as good as the first time” for film goers. I think I actually saw the film again a few weeks later in Vermont, either sneaking in to the R-rated movie or going with an accompanying adult. The “live” nature of seeing it on opening weekend, with a full sold out audience also looking at it for the first time, stands out very clearly in my memory. It also helped that it was on an enormous cinema screen with stadium seating and perfect presentation.

SCREAM 3 was also a unique experience. This time, we traveled to the Showcase Cinemas in Randolph for my first (and still only) visit to that South Shore megaplex. I could tell from the start that the enthusiasm wasn’t there for the production team in this installment. Neve Campbell’s virtual absence from the story, and the overly tongue in cheek Hollywood nature of the script, suggested to me that there was not a lot of excitement in the tale.

What will SCREAM 4 bring? I’m looking forward to going over to the Larkspur Landing Cinema this afternoon to find out.

Throwback Thursday: Life in West Marin County

California has been on my mind since yesterday’s announcement of mandatory water rationing in the state. I wrote this post on Blogspot just under four years ago… and can’t believe that much time has passed!

I’m highly enjoying my current (temporary) routine of making a visit toWest Marin County at least once per week. This mini-region of Marin (it does feel like a character of its own) has been my favorite part of the County since I began to get to know it better in early 2009. (Hmm, that is a very long sentence.)

I am going to West Marin regularly to ride at Halleck Creek Ranch in Nicasio, a local stable specializing in offering opportunities for individuals with varying physical abilities. The farm is at the end of a 2.5 mile long dirt/gravel road, so getting there is an adventure in itself. Last week I got a flat tire soon after my visit there. This week I was more cautious about staying under the speed limit. The hills of Halleck Creek were an addictive shade of green that day, as you can see in the image on the right side of the text.

I’ve been extending each visit to West Marin with a stop in Point Reyes Station, an artsy one-horse, yet character filled town that is the center of the region. It’s also home to the Bovine Bakery, the best bakery in all of Marin County, where I am often tempted by a cookie or other treat they will offer.

Yesterday I took the trip one step further and headed south to Bolinas, a remote town that is so far out, it’s on another geologic plate. (No, really – the San Andreas Fault separates Bolinas and the Point Reyes Peninsula from the rest of California.) As Wikipedia says, “The community is perhaps best known for its reclusive residents. Historically, it is only accessible via unmarked roads; any road sign along nearby Highway One that points the way into town has been torn down by residents.” The town is very difficult to access, with just one road in and out, and two curvaceous roads giving connections to that aforementioned one road.

I’ve found the place to be highly intriguing ever since my first visit there in March of 2009. In fact, I have toyed with the idea of spending some time as a resident there, even going so far (last fall) as to apply for a live-in childcare position. But nothing came of that job, and I ultimately decided that the town is a little too far out for it to work for me. Not to mention that with the current high gas prices, I would be spending a lot of time and money at the pump.

It’s clear when I am in Bolinas that the people who are there WANT to be there, and value their local privacy. The town is so distinct that it stands out from anywhere else, with the ocean surrounding it on three sides and a high area (“The Mesa”) just a short distance away. It would be interesting to stay out there… just for a night … sometime, so I hope to get that opportunity.

Closing Day at Grover’s Corners

Meanwhile back in Berkeley, California, today is the closing performance for the Shotgun Players production of Our Town. I was very pleased to be in the audience for this show on New Year’s Eve, and had meant to write about it here sooner… but it feels appropriate to give it a tip of the hat at the end of its run. Bay Area audiences were receptive to this particular version, as it extended two weeks from its original engagement and reportedly packed the houses throughout the run.

I knew going in to the show that director Susannah Martin (a past colleague) would probably bring her characteristically spare yet precise staging quality to the text. Surprisingly, as a native New Englander, this was my first time seeing the play live onstage. And the “once something comes into your life it reappears very soon” rule seems to be in full effect, as I will see it again in about a month in a high school production that a family member is directing, and am looking forward to comparing the similarities and differences.

with cast member and close friend Molly

with cast member and close friend Molly

This was a perfect play to close out the old year and bring in the new, with its themes of life and death and life events and the simple things that may or may not give way to big impact. It was the centerpiece of my short yet memorable visit back to the Bay Area itself, and I found myself appreciating the chance to take a moment and intellectually engage, in the midst of racing from place to place and attempting to cram as much as possible into a two day span.

The cast offered impressive ensemble work, led by Madeline H.D. Brown as the stage manager. I was initially drawn to seeing the piece after learning that theatre friends Molly, Don and Tim had central roles in the play, and they were supported by a skilled group of fellow performers, with El Beh a particular standout as Emily Webb. Again, like life itself, the play offered little snippets of events coming together (and in some cases falling apart), changes in families, questioning choices, regrets, delights, marriages, births, deaths, new beginnings and a sense of resiliency. Martin’s staging heightened the sense of everyday life, with the actors performing on a mostly bare set and occasionally sitting in or amongst the audience if they were not part of an onstage scene.

I deliberately chose a first row seat when I booked my ticket for the show, but I did not expect the side effect of intense and visceral engagement with the piece, and the art of telling a theatrical story, to come as a result of being right there with the action and the actors. As it was I found the play and the whole theatregoing experience that night to be a potent, inspiring and motivating reminder of what it is that we do as theatre/arts makers and why we do it. I’ll be continuing to remember that as 2015 unfolds.

A “cruel joke” on a noted Bay Area acting veteran

For my 200th post it feels appropriate to reach back to the Bay Area, where this blog began.

Last night, the American Conservatory Theater hosted a benefit for local actress Joan Mankin, who recently received a “cruel joke” dual diagnosis of frontal temporal dementia and ALS. An unusually personal and detailed San Francisco Chronicle article describes her situation, and it’s referenced in a similar San Francisco Examiner article.

I saw Mankin perform onstage at least twice, but feel like I saw her more times than that, as she has maintained an active and committed profile in the local theatre community. She also gained notice over many years for her clowning work, which included teaching at the SF Clown Conservatory and other area schools.

Needless to say, it is unfortunate that someone of Mankin’s stature and versatility has been slapped with these debilitating challenges. I’m sure that the community has rallied to support her.

Recent and older titles revisited

This week I’ve actually been making use of my DVD collection, which happens a lot less often than you might think, and so have chosen to pull out some titles from the library that I continue to build at a selective rate.

First up was last summer’s Blue Jasmine, which has stayed in the public consciousness pretty continuously since then thanks to the strength of Cate Blanchett’s performance and some other more recent events. I should have written about it here last summer, but guess that when I saw it in August was shortly before I made the “official” decision to include film commentary here on a more regular basis.

The actors emote in my former homeland (Marin County)

      The actors emote in my California homeland (Marin County)

Frankly, the film did not hold up as well as I recalled from my cinematic impression. By no means a terrible film, it just felt… flimsier … without the dramatic heft that some individuals/critics might be attaching to it in light of Blanchett’s skill and high probability of capturing the Best Actress prize on Sunday night. There are a few plot points that reek of contrivance, especially in the situation that leads to the end of the story. However, my opinion may be colored by being a Bay Area local, and knowing that it does not take two minutes to get from the Marina District to Oakland, nor is it likely that someone who lives on Great Highway or 48th Avenue would randomly be at the corner of Grant and Bush… but you get the picture. And on the other hand, Allen offers a refreshingly relatively local view of my California homeland Marin County, with no tourist-themed driving over the Golden Gate Bridge shot, and cutting right into a realistic-looking social gathering in Tiburon. Similarly, Sally Hawkins’ character lives in an apartment on the edge of the SOMA and Mission districts, with a quirky mix of modern and classic decor bumping right up against the noisy main street below the residence – and I’m fairly sure that they shot at a real apartment. So maybe it’s a toss up…

But Cate Blanchett’s performance is definitely not a toss-up. Appearing in almost every scene of the film, she expertly carries the pathos and tragicomedy of her character, aided by a slowly unweaving narrative – with a surprise ending that hasn’t really generated that much response, to my surprise – and skilled support from all the actors, most notably Hawkins as her adopted sister. It seems that it may be rare in modern cinema to see an actor who draws you in so completely to their part, making you forget about their outside associations (a point I’ll raise in my second commentary below) and go right along with them in the story they are telling.

On a note of local trivia, Blue Jasmine enjoyed the longest run I have seen at the Michigan and State Theaters, playing continuously at one or the other of the downtown cinemas for three months.

My second choice for a film flashback was 1998’s Out of Sight, a film that captivated me as a 13/14 year old – and for several years after that – with its effortless cool and web of stylish intrigue. As with Jackie Brown last week, it’s very weird to realize how old the film is now in 2014. And it’s probable that seeing Jackie Brown reminded me of this film, as they are set in the same Elmore Leonard universe and share one character.

The film stars George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez before they became the entertainment personalities we know them as today (I’m bolding that because it was a key realization for me while watching the film) with Clooney now effortlessly comfortable and charming as the actor/statesman and Lopez arguably known more for music and her high-profile relationships than her acting capability and credits. I felt that Lopez showed more potential here than in any of her pre-music film roles and would be interested to see a parallel universe representation of a world where she only focused on film acting. out of sight

Undoubtedly related to their lack of actor-baggage at the time of the film’s release, and helped by director Steven Soderbergh (also lesser known then vs. now) and his stylistic choices, the two leads draw the viewer right in to the film’s complex storyline, and the success of the narrative arguably hinges on their chemistry, which is very present (sizzling!) through an initial meet-cute scene and later interactions, which are kept to a minimum by the mechanics of the plot – and thus made more appealing.

I would say this is a film that is definitely more interesting in hindsight/many years later, a clear instance of knowledge of actors and filmmakers careers after the film was made (supporting actors Don Cheadle and Catherine Kenner were also not as well known at the time of release, and Viola Davis appears briefly in only her second film credit)  playing in to the perception of how the film unspools – and enhancing the experience.

On a local trivia note for this film, it was certainly interesting seeing many images of Detroit circa 1997 – 98, most notably the (then) State and (now) Fillmore Theatre in downtown. I never would have anticipated watching the film in 1998 that I would one day get to know Michigan on a very personal level.

Two Ann(e)s stay onstage

I keep tabs on news and events in my former homeland of Marin County, California (never far from my heart though that’s for another post) and was pleased to see two theatre friends with the same name (sort of) spotlighted in the local news during August.

On August 7th, Anne Darragh was interviewed about her theatre work, which most notably includes originating a role in Angels in America, in the Marin Independent Journal as advance publicity for Marin Theatre Company’s current production of Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Later on August 17th, Ann Brebner’s 90th birthday celebration received coverage also in the Marin Independent Journal. The party sounded like a had to be there event held in the storied surroundings of Skywalker Ranch – I certainly would have liked to be there. But no transporter beams yet.