Friday, September 24, 2010

San Francisco Bay Area

(News-Herald, Sept 22) Last weekend I cashed in a couple of personal days and grabbed some cheap tickets to Northern California.
The purpose of the trip was to finally visit my daughter and her longtime boyfriend. I’ve made a few trips out to see my son in the wild and wooly environs of LA, but this was my first visit to the more sedate San Francisco Bay Area.
My son’s Hollywood neighborhood is more familiar through pop culture; his school is next to the Capitol Records building, so every time that landmark is trashed in a disaster movie, my son’s school is also collapsing in ruins. Other parents may have their fearful imaginings about what’s happening at their child’s school, but my nightmares have been produced in Technicolor and THX dolby stereo.
But most of my prior knowledge of San Francisco comes from Rice-a-Roni commercials and an old Ray Harryhausen movie in which a giant octopus with six legs (it was a low budget movie) tears down the Golden Gate Bridge and rips up a pier. You’ll be relieved to learn that the damage has been repaired.
There are lots of great things to see in the Bay area, from big trees to a beautiful waterfront. Walking through redwood forests was a big hit with my travel partner. And while there wasn’t much time to hunt folks down, the representation of FHS grads in the Bay Area is a credit to Venangoland. In addition to Nate Byham out there seeing field time for the 49ers, the region also boasts alumni Mark (Special Projects Editor for Wired Magazine), Jason (Associate Dean at SF Conservatory), Nick (Project Manager at Microsoft) and Barbara (PhD candidate at Stanford). And those are just the ones I know about.
Stanford itself is as big and fancy as you’d imagine. Leland Stanford had risen from shopkeeper to railroad magnate (and as such was one of the buyers who made Miller and Sibley’s fortune). When his teenaged son died of typhoid, Stanford and his wife decided it would be easier to create their own university that try to get stodgy old Harvard to accept their money.
The very first student at Stanford was Herbert Hoover. Today a tower sits in the center of campus housing the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank (Condoleeza Rice works there) looking to solve all the problems of the world. If you were familiar with my daughter’s politics, you would appreciate the irony of her department being housed just a few feet away from the instituion.
San Francisco seems greener and cooler than LA. The famous fog really does hang in the sky much of the time, creating a constant sense of impending rain. If you climb up onto one of the surrounding mountains, the entire bay presents one of those massive sprawling vistas that no camera can do justice. We are so used to seeing our world through the filter of pictures in albums, on tv, in movies—it’s good to come face to face with some of the beauty that can only be experienced live and in person. There is music that will never be as impressive on a recording and some sights that the world’s best camera in the hands of the greatest photographer cannot fully capture. Metro LA sprawled out across the valley is one; San Francisco Bay is another.
The bay area of course is loaded with high tech companies. Some are kind of cute—the Googleplex looks, from the outside, as if it might be the world’s largest day care center. Many Google employees make use of the company’s fleet of free bicycles. Seeing a dedicated Google nerd tooling around on one of these colorfully decked out sets of wheels, one cannot help but conclude that somewhere, a clown is sadly walking home.
We spent part of a day traveling to Monterey. Monterey was once the home of a robust canning and fishing industry. John Steinbeck grew up nearby and featured Monterey and its industry in several novels. Cannery Row, the title street of one Steinbeck novel, was once the home of that industry, but by the early 1970’s the fishing way of life had completely collapsed. Monterey became a haven for a variety of artists and musicians, and now Cannery Row’s buildings house shops, restaurants, and one fairly awesome aquarium.
In other words, Monterey lost all its traditional industry, and, with no real assets except some nice waterfront property, reinvented itself as a thriving center of tourism and the arts. Imagine that.

No comments:

From my Flickr