#CaliforniaDARing: Snapshots

Reasons not to go to California in March:

  • John and Marcia are really, really busy at work. They'll most certainly pay for this.
  • It's the rainy season there.
  • It costs a lot.
  • It's the week before treatment. Abi often doesn't feel great the week before treatment.
  • There were fires in Sonoma last year.
  • Charlottesville is so much closer than Napa.
  • What do we do with Bindi?
  • Highway One is closed south of Big Sur.
  • ...

Reasons to go to California in March:

  • It was a chance to drink in every moment like it’s the only one that matters.*

Slam dunk. We went. These are our snapshots.

Day One: Carmel by the Sea

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  • Carry-on vodka bottles and jambon-beurre on homemade baguettes. 
  • Discovering that introverts look for people they know when the deplane, even in cities where there's almost no chance they'll find a familiar face, while extroverts rationally just start walking toward the baggage claim. Okay - it's still just a hypothesis at this point, but it's 100% true with our sample size of four. (What do you do when you get off a plane in a new city?)
  • The guy at the airport who kept asking Marcia where he should get off the shuttle. Apparently, Marcia looks like a local.  The Enterprise guy walking us to our car.
  • Artichokes and strawberries for miles as we drove around Monterey Bay
  • Arriving at the Monterey Farmers market in a deluge. Fun fact: when we lived in Monterey in the early 90s, we would go to the market most Fridays to buy flowers for our little unit in LaMesa village. 
  • The terrifyingly steep driveway at Toujours Maison. (As the trip went on, our fear of the driveway became utterly laughable.) The thoughtful little touches throughout Michele's beautiful cottage. Heated mattress pad? Heated towel bar? Home made pecan cookies? Yes. Yes. Yes.
  • Gallery owners taking the time to explain the art, even when it was obvious we weren't buyers.
  • Blowing our food budget for the entire trip the very first night with omakase sushi at Akaoni, the Red Demon, and it being totally worth it. The yellowtail. The blue fin. The uni. The chef's story of how he makes his own tofu for his daughter using sea water that comes from the Japanese coast at a depth of 100 fathoms. Because it's his daughter. Of course.

Day Two: Monterey, Pebble Beach, and Carmel

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  • The contrast of cold air on our heads and the hot water everywhere else. The steam rising. Marcia making gentle ripples on the water's surface. The sounds of the crows and at least seven other birds I couldn't name and the occasional tire roar on Highway One in the distance. The black leaves on the cypress trees against the lavender sky while we sat in the hot tub just before the sun rose.
  • Abi's back bothering her, but her rallying. 
  • The morning walk down the mountain with Marcia to the bakery, chocolate-almond croissants, and the walk back up the mountain.
  • Abi's fascination with the jellies, and the sardine fireworks at feeding time at the aquarium.
  • Watching the fat seal eventually make it up on the tiny rock in the harbor just off of fisherman's wharf, and holding on (whatever that means) when a larger-than-normal swell tried to wash him off.
  • Searching for Todd and Michelle's old place. Taking pictures at the wrong house. Finding the right house and Marcia making a new friend (of course), while the owner tried to wash the stain from his rug...in the rain (of course). 
  • 17-Mile-Drive with a sense of purpose, and the kind cleaning lady at Spanish Bay.  Stealing napkins. Daring Abi climbing further out. John "There might be spiders" taking photos. Discovering that Toujours Maison overlooks Pebble Beach, and that maybe the tire roar was from 17-Mile-Drive instead of Highway One.
  • The older dishwasher leading every single person - owner, staff, customer - in the very crowded Dametra Cafe - in the loudest, out-of-tunest, and best version of Besame Mucho  you could ever imagine. The pretty lady and her husband dancing closely while their five-year-old daughter looked on, laughing and smiling.

Day Three: Point Lobos, Big Sur, Carmel Valley, Carmel Highlands

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  • Being at the front of the line for Point Lobos. Hundreds of seals swimming in the little inlets 100 (or more) feet below us. Or maybe they were just kelp forests getting pushed by the water. The weird bees on the irises. Abi climbing further out. Wondering if the bubbles the water were from a  giant...something. (Nope. Just divers.) The one spot that looked across the water at Carmel, and knowing the photos could never capture the beauty. Pastrami sandwiches in the parking lot.
  •  The grandeur of the Bixby Bridge being dwarfed by the grandeur of literally everything else. Abi climbing further out, and my first heart attack. How blue and cold and clean the water looks from a cliff 300 feet above it.  The hawks or eagles or vultures (I'll have to check with Marci) soaring hundreds of feet over the water, but still below me. Reminding myself to watch the lines in the road. No matter what beautiful thing Marcia and John and Abi saw. 
  • Blowing past the entrance to Pfeiffer Beach, just like we did every other time in 1993, but finding it on the way back up.
  • Marcia's moments and thinking of all the things that had happened since we last saw the cave across the narrow strip of water with three children all under six years old...almost 25 years ago. Abi and John carelessly snapping photos all the while. And being grateful there was no "further out" to go.
  • Waiting forever for those people to give up their table near the outdoor heater at Folktale Winery, but being glad we did. Our server being from the outer banks, and sharing fishing stories over glasses of Viognier with her.
  • Seeing (what were probably, but might not have been) whale spouts while waiting for drinks to arrive at Pacific's Edge.  John's first Pacific sunset.

Day Four: Carmel to Sonoma

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  • John and Abi watching the recording of the the Oscars, and being so happy that Remember Me won. Abi singing along, and her occasional moments of musical genius. Seriously.
  • Wondering out loud about how wise a two-thousand year-old tree must be, and getting deep into our feelings when learning that redwood families literally hang out together. Finding the father of the forest at Big Basin so we could replicate the famous photo of young Todd and Michelle of 1994. 
  • The switchbacks and washouts on the drive on the road out of Big Basin that I literally can't find on Google Maps right now, and deciding that we'll take the (relatively) straight roads from then on. (This was our day four dare, and it was enough to last me for days.)
  • Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge a crystal clear afternoon.
  • Seeing our place in Glen Ellen for the first time. Do you know that feeling you get when you arrive at an actual cabin in the woods and you're not 100% certain that you told anyone exactly where you're staying, and there's nobody there to greet you and there are five doors inside that are locked tight?  And nobody says anything until John mentions that they could kill us and nobody would even notice for days? That feeling.
  • Staying anyway, because the cabin is absolutely perfect, and the owners called you when you were on your way and they seemed pretty nice. (Guess I was wrong when I thought the unnamed road was our dare for the day.)
  • The mole sauce at El Molino Central. The Taco Bell less than two blocks away.

Day Five: Sonoma Wineries

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  • Riding shotgun up a (barely) one-lane drive perched on the side of mountain, and the dread of seeing a large dump truck coming in the other direction. Believe me when I tell you that the road wasn't wide enough for us, by ourselves. It certainly wasn't wide enough for the dump truck. And for us and the dump truck? Somebody is literally going to fall off a cliff. Almost certainly us. Holy crap! Whose idea was this? Mine? Buckle up, Buttercup! Never doubting we'd make it to the top.
  • Being greeted by Gracey, the Harlequin Great Dane, and her man, Patrick at Petroni.
  • An intimate tour in a 25-thousand square foot cave (seriously).  Truffle salt and olive oil.
  • "You're a light." "Keep fighting." "Let's linger."
  • Lingering. 
  • How incredibly and openly grateful every single person we met in Sonoma was for their fire fighters, even Patrick, who lost his home in the blaze.
  • Meeting Ronald McDonald at Two Amigos. Cork Dorks and Pull my Finger and Abi loves wine.
  • Steak, Dungeness Crabs and chocolates at the cabin.
  • Passing out Falling asleep before 9:00.

Day Six: Napa Wineries

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  • Sleeping in late, but not really late enough.
  • Sitting on the deck that overlooks the creek and the hill, and thinking we might have seen a deer at the crest. Then confirming it was a deer. Then two. Then six, and they walk right up to the driveway and nibble on the leaves, and we try to stay quiet and still so we don't spook them. But we have to get moving to make our appointment in Napa, so we walk to the van, right past the deer, and they just don't care. At all. They let us walk by and barely stop to look.
  • Discovering that you can always hear the birds, even when you don't. (I don't know. It sounded pretty cool when I wrote it down.)
  • Meeting Dr. McGaughey's friend Donny at Trespass. Deciding that I will absolutely do a wine dinner at Zoe's the next time Donny comes to Virginia Beach. Trying (unsuccessfully) to get some dirt on our doctor from his old friend. The man cave. Tasting his Pinot Noir before it even made it onto his website. Going back for more wine.
  • The story of Schramsberg sparkling wines.  Loving the wines, but not being able to finish the tastings. (See day five.) And the owner of the vineyard who looks exactly like my college roommate.
  • Taking the long way home to see the entire Napa Valley.  Good choice.
  • Wondering how to get a Napa/Sonoma wine tasting experience (which is an absolute must if you enjoy wines) at Charlottesville prices. (If you figure that one out, you can start printing money. You're welcome.)

Day Seven: Sonoma to San Francisco

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  • Calling an audible. Scratching Point Reyes Light. Adding Hog Island Oysters
  • Shuck your own oyster day. The French businessman on a beautiful sunny afternoon in a rain coat successfully trying to maintain his dignity while opening oysters for his friend. Drinking wine out of a tumbler. Getting an oyster blister on my pointer finger for the first time since Abi and John's wedding. Aretha Franklin on the speaker, and deciding that next time we're bringing charcoal and reserving a picnic table.  
  • Trying to decide how they decided that small=extra small and large=small. I'm a math geek, but doesn't that mean that extra small=large (by the transitive property.) I'm still confused.
  • Abi's Out-N-In Burger (sic) review. 
  • Crossing the Golden Gate again, but this time with a think fog blanket between the roadway and the bay. 
  • Arriving at our third home away from home. Being unable to get in. Here's a brief description of our checkin process at the building that shared a block with a meth clinic while John and Abi waited in the van.  Spoiler - it all worked out just fine. Anyway:

Owner on the telephone to Marcia, after she's tried unsuccessfully for five minutes to access the building: "You're not doing it right. Just push the call button."

Marcia (calmly): "There is no call button"

Owner: "There's a blue call button. I've done this a thousand times."

Marcia, handing me the phone (less calmly): "Talk to this a*****e."

Me: "There's no call button. I'm looking right at the box."

Owner: "I guarantee you there's a call button. Like I told you wife, I've done this a thousand times. Send me a photo."

I send the photo.

Owner: "Oh. They must have changed the box. Let me call my friend. He'll be there in five minutes."

Me: Sigh.

  • Captain's Grog at Smuggler's Cove. John going for the very aptly named Dead Reckoning. Wrapping up with ramen at Waraku in Japan Town. So good.

Day Eight: San Francisco

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  • Quiche and hazelnut croissants from Viva la Tarte.
  • Abi not feeling well. Abi rallying.
  • Renting bikes on the eastern tip of Golden Gate Park and heading out. Bike lanes, or the absence of them, and everybody has different view of how to ride in the park properly.  Dear Abi - If the bike path is on the side of the road, then you ride your bike on the side of the road. 
  • The predator flowers at the Conservatory. The orchids with flowers smaller than the nail of your pinky finger. The orchids with flowers larger than your head. The orchids that looked like tiny lion heads with orange and yellow manes. So many orchids. 
  • The long downhill ride through the park to the ocean.
  • The Hawaiian delicatessen in the Russian section of Ocean Beach, and midday Gyros. 
  • Finding out that there is no place to return bikes on the western side of the park.
  • Abi rallying, again, and powering through the long uphill ride through the park from the ocean back to Haight-Ashbury.
  • The SoMa Steat Food Park nestled under highway 101 in an abandoned parking lot. Try the Kokio Republic Fried Chicken and fried kimchee balls. You're welcome. Again. 
  • Midnight walks through the halls with Abi, and finishing The Year of Magical Thinking. Wow.

Day Nine: San Francisco

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  • Walking to Dotties. Detours. Meeting Lauren and Todd. Lauren calling to get updates on the wait, and not understanding why the time wasn't going down, even though she was moving in the line.  The man rolling down the block in his chair while we waited to get in. Prohibition Bourbon Blueberry crumb cake. 
  • Scents of San Francisco: Weed and piss. Piss and weed.
  • All the dogs running free at Alamo Square Park. This was a real thing throughout the city. There were makeshift dog parks literally everywhere. And the dogs were perfect. 
  • Seeing the William Westerfield house, and rethinking the possibilities of becoming a full-time baker.
  • The shipping container ceramic ship. The shipping container ice cream shop (chocolate ice cream literally made to order.) Our group in general (and Marcia in particular) escaping the gravitational pull of the shop that combined Rice Pudding and Frozen Yogurt.
  • The shop with the most imaginative How-To books, no dudes (except for John and me), and the t-shirt that read, "Good Grammar is Sexy." Because it is.
  • This little exchange on the walk from Alamo Square Park to Lombard Street. 

Abi: How much further?

John: About 3/4 of a mile.

Abi (15 minutes later): How much further?

John: About 3/4 of a mile.

Abi: Wait. What?

John: What, what?

Abi: That's what you said 15 minutes ago.

John: Oh. I thought you meant how much further until we turn. We just turned. We only have about 3/4 of a mile left until we get there.

           Abi: Are you serious, Clarke? @#!&*$#!@

Abi: Thanks babe! You're the actual best.

  • The beautiful homes on the crooked stretch of Lombard Street, and their parking spaces.
  • Phase Ten, chocolates and truffle salt popcorn in the condo.

Day 10: San Francisco

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  • Leaving our bags in a hotel - not our hotel - and seriously wondering if they'd be there at the end of the day.
  • "I don't buy that for B******t." 
  • The morning fog on the bay, and hoping that we'd get any photos of the bridge.
  • The Ferry Building: Blue Bottle coffee, DIY mushroom farming, tacos, chocolates, and finding Gott's Roadside - which was, sadly, closed for renovations in St. Helena - after we'd already eaten.
  • Getting peeks of the Bay Bridge from the Ferry Terminal as the fog slowly started to evaporate. Thinking that we just might get some good shots of the Golden Gate, after all.
  • All the runners on the Embarcadero. All the dogs on the Embarcadero. All the runners with dogs on the Embarcadero.
  • Seeing homes that were literally built into cliffs. In San Francisco. Where there might be an occasional earthquake. And really, really loving San Francisco for it. 
  • The incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the beach at Crissy Field after the fog had completely lifted. More dogs running free, and the one dog in particular with a 60-inch vertical leap. Seriously.
  • Completely non-committal text messages from United that said, "You might or might not have a problem making your connection in Philly, but we can't really say for sure, so if you want to do something about it, fine, but if you don't that's probably okay too. Just thought you might want to know." Ugh.
  • Picking up our bags on our way to the airport from the hotel that wasn't our hotel, and everything being just as we left it. (I really wish I could remember the name of the man at the counter. He was terrific. Also, BagBNB took a little getting used to, but it turned out to be the greatest thing.)
  • Buying a bottle of Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir at the airport for a fraction of the cost it would have been at the winery, and carrying it onto the plane. Sleeping on the red-eye.  Or not.
  • Home. Bindi. Sleep.

I think of trip photos in the same way that I think of dreams. They're always more interesting to the person who had the dream than the person to whom he's telling his dream.  Good on you if you made it this far. You're either the best, or your spouse or significant other is out of town, and you've already seen every documentary on Netflix.

I'll go with, You're the best. 

As always, thank you for your support to John and Abi.

In love,


P.S. You can find more photos from the trip here.