My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. DelGrande, required her class to write the annual summer vacation essay. Old habits die hard, so 57 years later, this column is for you, Mrs. DelGrande.
Every other summer, our extended family goes on vacation together for a week. We pick out some interesting place to go — just long enough to renew old ties, but not long enough to generate familial blood shed.
This year, we went to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a week. Having never been there, I expected cold rain and moose in the streets. Wrong on both counts. Vancouver is a busy city with a great harbor and dandy weather. Interestingly, as a result of a number of forest fires, the sky in Vancouver remained the color of old concrete. I was reminded of the Platters’ great song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
After Vancouver, we wandered down the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to San Francisco. In Gresham, Oregon, someone left my wife’s wallet in the motel room. Thanks to a very honest housekeeper, we got a call from the motel. Her wallet was returned intact to its rightful owner. This is known as falling off the roof and landing on your feet.
We spent a night in the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, which served as the exterior of the Overlook Hotel in the classic horror film “The Shining.” The Timberline proudly displays a poster of Jack Nicholson. Unfortunately, there is no Room 237 at the Timberline, so Jack Torrance could not have gotten in trouble there. In Oregon, you can’t pump your own gas. A guy stands out by the pump and does it for you. Odd.
In Klamath, California, we got to see the beach. Northern California beaches do not look like Myrtle Beach. They have big cliffs, big rocks the size of buildings standing out in the water and chilly August winds. Klamath is at the edge of the Red Wood National Forest, which is home to some of the oldest and tallest living things on the planet. Some scenes with the Ewoks from “Star Wars” were filmed there. The place looks like a movie set on a distant planet.
In Requa, we stayed at a 100-year-old bed and breakfast that my traveling companion thought gave off a spooky vibe — as if some of the ghosts had not left the joint. We survived the night unpossessed and lived to tell about it.
On the way to Mendocino, I learned a valuable lesson. If you are driving down California Highway 1 over the mountains, fill up your gas tank. I did not. There are long distances there devoid of gas stations. We drove up and down a twisting mountain road that was barely wide enough for one car. The idiot light came on to advise us that we were low on gas. This was a bit unsettling, but it was too late to turn back. I had seen that light before; we still had gas. On we drove until a new and more ominous red light came on that said LOW FUEL.
I had never seen that light before. We were on double secret probation with our gas tank. Still no civilization in sight: only a twisting mountain road. If we ran out of gas, we would have blocked the highway, as there were no shoulders. Oops.
These are the times that try men’s souls and the strength of marriages. To my wife’s everlasting credit during our mountain ride from hell, she did not mention my lack of forethought in not filling up when I had the chance. Finally, we rolled into Fort Bragg, California, riding on fumes. I put 11.7 gallons of gas into a 12-gallon tank. On a trip that revealed many wonders, the gas station at the foot of the mountains was the most beautiful thing we saw.
Once we got to San Francisco, we had dinner in a pricey French restaurant where I paid $30 for a plate of French beanie-weenies. We arrived too late to turn in the rental car, so I parked it in a public lot in the Tenderloin section of San Francisco. Do not do that. A local criminal broke out the window of the car overnight in a search for something. He didn’t take anything, but he did leave me with a bill for a broken window.
The guys at the rental car office assured me that no car had ever been broken into in the city before mine. And then they laughed, and laughed and laughed.