Remember when family holidays were the coolest thing ever? Most likely this was before you turned thirteen, and still liked your parents at least a little bit. One of our most epic family vacations occurred when I was nine. My father flew us out to Los Angeles from New Jersey where he had several days of work while my mother took my brother and me to see some of the sites. What I recall most clearly of the LA portion of the trip was the Holiday Inn in which we stayed. It was a circular building with a pool in the center and had palm trees, a little like an embassy in a banana republic. My brother and I rode the elevators and pushed the buttons for every floor, that sort of thing. I also remember there was some intense television news watching when Richard Nixon resigned. Even I knew that something major was going down. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife. What’s Watergate, we kept asking. Never got a good answer.
We went to Disneyland and I found the lines to be too long. This is something in my character which has not changed as I still do not care for Disneyland. I did enjoy something there, I think the African River boat ride. As far as the rest of LA: I thought the wide, white sand beaches and the color of the Pacific were the greatest thing I had ever seen. The weather was glorious.
My dad worked for Volkswagen and this allowed us to lease a puke green VW camper with a pop top from LA all the way to Vancouver via the interior of California. We saw Kings Canyon and Sequoyah National Parks, as well as Yosemite and the Owens Valley as we drove up 395 to Lake Tahoe. Our destination was rural British Columbia where my aunt and uncle had a dairy farm. My sister was visiting them in BC for the whole summer, and we were fetching her, driving south to San Francisco and flying back to New Jersey.
The parks were mesmerizing. None of us could believe the size and height of the Sequoyah and Redwood trees. We camped high up in the hills of Yosemite park in a secluded campground. I saw an enormous mama bear in a dumpster throwing out food to her cubs, gold dust in the streams, terrifyingly dirty outhouses, giant pinecones, teeny chipmunks. While driving through Nevada, we saw slot machines on the outsides and insides of restaurants and at the gas stations, an abandoned silver mine, and saloon style bars with the raised wooden sidewalks just like in a Western film.
The next greatest attraction was Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. It is a stunning park and sunken lake bed which originated from a blown volcano. It’s also at some altitude, so although it is summer, and we were really warm a half hour ago, we needed jackets up there. There were bits of snow around. It was around this time that we started picking up hitchhikers who were young hippies going up to Washington to pick apples. The man and the woman had very long hair and tie-dye clothing, headbands, a guitar on the shoulder, the whole bit. They were a cliché of themselves. When they reached their destination and got out of the camper, my mother would say, ”Those kids are on pot, I tell you!”
Eventually we reached BC and the farm and joined my father’s sister and husband, our three cousins, and my sister. My aunt and grandmother from Germany were also visiting, so it was a large group. One of the things I recall about this visit was lunch. We would go blackberry picking all morning and come back stained from head to toe. I once put my blackberry container down and a cow put her head straight into it and ate most of them. After picking, one of my cousins would go into the dairy and fetch fresh milk from the large milk tank. That raw milk was so delicious, I’ll never forget the taste. We could eat as many bowls of cereal with berries, milk and sugar as we liked.
There were resident ponies on the farm and my Tante Minnie took it upon herself to give us all lessons and in between swimming and blackberry picking we rode a lot. I also got my first real electric shock by walking into a cow fence. I was stunned by the result of electric current running through my body. Farm life was appealing! I thought it was great fun.
When it was almost time to go back to school in New Jersey, we drove south along the coast toward San Francisco. I remember to this day quite possibly the smelliest place I have ever been in my life: The Sea Lion Caves in Oregon. There is a colony of sea lions where some enterprising humans have created an attraction and charge money for it, only to take the breath away from the unassuming tourists. It smells like feces, fish and sulfur. THE VERY BEST part of this place was the gift shop where I purchased Mexican jumping beans with my own money! These entertained me for months until they died. I think I brought them to school for show and tell, though I might have aged out of show and tell by 4th grade.
Next there were all of the interesting attractions on Highway 101 in Northern California: more Redwood trees, this time taller than ever. Redwood National Park, the giant Paul Bunyan which has a live person inside and waves at people, Humboldt Redwood State Park, the Avenue of the Giants, Drive-thru tree. Somewhere in my dad’s slides there is a picture of us in the camper in the cut out of the drive-thru tree. Humboldt County offers so much. We were approaching San Francisco on Highway 1 and we drove through a cloud. Just like that! The car passed through the moisture and then we were out on the other side in the sunshine! Clouds, fog, whatever, I was smitten.
We stayed at a hotel in San Francisco probably by the wharf and did all the touristy things. We rode the cable cars, we walked up impossibly steep hills, we visited Chinatown. My mother endeavored to give away our groceries and found hapless street artists to donate them to. The winner was a man in a gorilla suit playing a broken ukulele. Sad. Mom had a soft spot for the down and out. Somewhere in those last days of the epic summer vacation road trip, I sat in Aquatic Park, looked out into the bay and the Golden Gate bridge and thought, this is a pretty nice place, I ought to live here someday.