Bay Area

Days 8-13: San Francisco Bay Area, California
Thursday, June 23, 2016 – Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day 8 in Alameda

After a 10+ hour day of travel, my cousin, Mary, picked us up in Oakland and drove under the Bay to the island of Alameda. We last saw Mary in 2014 at the Benton family reunion, but this was our first time meeting Lily, their 11-month-old daughter. We’re not sure if Tim and Nathan had previously met, but it had at least been a while.

We were super excited for round 2 with my cousins. We were also stoked that Tim bought groceries for us and stocked the fridge. We dropped off our bags and took in the view. Tim had steaks going on the grill for tacos. After a long day, this was just what we needed. We shared a bottle of wine and engaging conversation with the sun setting over the beautiful Bay as our backdrop. Then we crashed.

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Day 9 in Alameda

Mary headed off to work and Tim brought Lily over for a quick visit. She had already been asleep when we arrived the night before and so now it was great getting to meet her. Lily is very different from Claire, though they are only a few weeks apart. Claire has siblings lovingly (and always) in her space. Lily has Riley, a very smart dog. Lily is very shy initially and just needed to warm up to us. She takes it slow with strangers. I tried to hold her and she lasted about 30 seconds before wailing. Nate tried to hold her and it was about 3 seconds before she was really trying to get back to dad. She didn’t seem to like his beard.

Lily and Riley play with each other like sisters and puppies. Lily sometimes puts things in her mouth to carry them around just like Riley. Insanely cute. Tim dropped Lily off and went about 30 steps to their used bookstore: Wilmot’s Books, a really cool shop off of the beaten path.

Nate had to work; I just chilled out. In the afternoon we took a walk along the waterfront, beach, and rocks. Just beautiful and cold for us Floridians, about 60 F.

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Everything in Alameda seems like a little Florida beach town. San Francisco and Oakland and masses of people feel faraway. It was quiet and restful and right on the water. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend this peaceful corner of the Bay Area.

Mary got home and treated Nathan and me to sushi and cheap beer. I loved reconnecting with Mary, who is the 10th out of 11 siblings and Charity’s younger sister. She was another sister/mentor figure to me growing up. I loved our time together, and getting to see her as a mama was amazing. Mary and Tim love being parents. Lily is a light in their life and it is refreshing to be around so much love. They waited a long time for Lily, but you couldn’t find two people more excited or prepared to be loving parents.

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Day 10 in Alameda

Mary was able to work from home, so after finishing up and dropping off Lily, she drove Nate and me to the epic Muir Woods with its great redwoods. It was an incredible drive laden with postcard-perfect views. The National Park was crowded with tourists, but once we got climbing, the people faded away and the quiet of the forest took over.

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These trees are just huge. Don’t think Trump, “Huuuuggge.” Think jaw-dropping, enormous, awe-inspiring pillars of nature. We walked up and up and in and in, deeper and deeper into the forest. I could’ve set up camp, but we had to get back to Lily. After a quick bite at the Pelican Inn, we chilled out in Alameda for the afternoon.

Mary, Tim, & Lily were headed to the Benton family reunion (we were very sad to miss it) just outside of Saint Louis early the next morning. (Actually this is where we re-started our bike trip from in 2009, when we stayed with other cousins of mine in the area). So after consuming a lot of pizza, we said our goodbyes and all headed to bed early.

Day 11 in San Francisco

As we waited outside of Wilmot’s Books for our Uber, we reflected on how cool this little bungalow area of Alameda is. Mary and Tim live in the middle cottage; we stayed in the one right on the water. Wilmot’s Books is the front building. A very compact, rich life. Beach and mountains. Not too hot or cold. You can walk or ride a bike or public transportation. We could totally live here. Of course we said that in Mount Horeb and in Rockford. But I could see us flourishing in the Bay area. (Don’t worry, Orlando, we’re not going anywhere.)

The ferry from Alameda to San Francisco was incredible. A sunny day, but not too warm or cold. We were going to meet up with one of my friends from college, Kristin. She is a world traveler, a dreamer and a doer, a doctor to people in the county jail lock-up, and one of the most interesting people I know.

She asked what our itinerary was earlier in the week and of course, we had none. She said she would plan (or I asked) and we were totally cool with that.

We met at the Farmer’s Market in the Ferry building and it was another huge market. Similar in size to Madison, but a totally different vibe and set up. Fruit vendors everywhere. We wandered a bit until Kristin could meet up. Once we did, we went to so many of the fruit stalls and tasted sample upon sample.

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I wanted to do some interviews for the Searching for We the People podcast, but was too chicken. Back in college, I would go around interviewing people for random reasons as well and Kristin would be my accomplice. It was the same here too. Kristin gave me a mission to go interview 5 people and then she would buy me coffee. Somehow that worked and the interviewing began. Some people from middle America, a Brit and his Polish girlfriend (who did not want to talk about Brexit), and a few people on a smoke break. Once you get going with interviewing, it gets easier. It’s the starting that I’ve found most difficult.

I’m glad we had on our walking shoes, because boy did we walk. Kristin was telling stories about walking like 10 miles in a day when she treks. I wasn’t sure I could even do half of that. But I did. We walked down Fisherman’s Wharf and saw three seals and a million tourists like us all clamoring at each other (yes, both groups). We walked to Chinatown, we walked up and down small hills. Snacked on lychee, went in a few shops and then headed to the top floor of a hotel that has an awesome view. Grabbed a beverage and another snack and enjoyed the din of the room. It was about here that I started to feel a little wonky. But we were going to Land’s End to do an incredible hike, so I grabbed some water and soldiered on. It was so worth it. If you’ve never been to Land’s End, or anywhere on the Pacific Coast that looks like it, you need to go. I was just blown away. It was similar to the craggy beaches I love in Oregon, but there was something very California about it too. Perhaps it was the Golden Gate Bridge, I’m not sure, but it was great. Climbing around the ruins of the Sutro Baths, the roar of the waves crashing against the rocks, sunset creeping in with the tide. Glorious.

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Kristin asked if we liked Burmese. Sure. Not sure, but probably. We’d never had Burmese. She wanted to try out a new restaurant and so we headed up and down the swanky streets of San Francisco. I’m not sure if it was being out in the sun all day, or lots of walking, or dehydration, or hunger, or maybe all of the above, but I wasn’t feeling great. Once we got sat down at the restaurant, I started feeling even worse. Not sure if you can tell where this is going, but if you’re squeamish you may want to skip to the next two paragraphs.

It was tapas style and so the first few dishes came out and I tried them, but they didn’t taste right. Though to Nathan and Kristin, they tasted delicious. My sparkling water just wasn’t cutting in. I thought that rice might help even things out. Sadly, to no avail. You know that moment right before you hurl. You can feel it coming, but it still doesn’t really seem real. Yeah. That was me. I was that girl. I got up and ran to the bathroom. Budged in line and closed the door, only to vom all over the floor. Twelve inches from the bowl. Lots of wonderful Burmese food all over. And with that I wiped my hands, rinsed my mouth, exited and told the manager what I had done. He was really sweet and asked if I was okay. I said I was but your bathroom is not. This wasn’t like a men’s bathroom and women’s. It’s all in the side area, so now the packed restaurant was down to one toilet. My bad.

Nathan and Kristin felt bad for me, but they were still packing it in. I still want to try Burmese food when I’m not sick. We’re not sure what happened, but for the next 6 hours I couldn’t keep anything down. Yup, even in the car, I had to open the window and well, you know. Great day, rough end.

Day 12 & 13 in San Francisco

Rest and recovery for me. Church and chill for Nathan and Kristin. We went on a recovery walk later in the afternoon in a beautiful park in Mountain View just outside of the Google campus. California’s vegetation is so diverse that it almost seemed like a snapshot of Florida. There were people from all over the world speaking different languages and enjoying being outside. We’ve heard that often people from other countries who get jobs at places like Google end up bringing their parents and/or other relatives over to live with them in the Bay Area. Even in Kristin’s apartment complex we could always hear another language being spoken.

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On Monday, Kristin headed to work and we went to SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). I really do love a lot of modern art and Calder and Sol LeWitt were on full display. It also has an awesome section on graphic design and typography. I am always challenged by the color field artists. I still don’t understand how painting a canvas white is art. And the kicker for me is that multiple people have done this. You can be the first guy to do that… one time. But everything else after that is redundant at best.

We chilled out at home for the rest of the day, prepping to leave the country for the next month and a half. It was a good first two weeks to our trip. Time with friends and family. Time in middle and coastal America. Rural and urban and in between. Korea and world, here we come!