Once again, it’s been awhile since I wrote but with good reason. We’d scarcely gotten off the boat in
Bellingham when my father came down with weird stomach pains that kept on getting worse and worse. A week later, I was set to leave on a 10-day trip to and from California (will explain why in a bit) when I learned he’d have to have an operation to figure out the problem. Doctors thought it all pretty pro forma until about a week later when his intestinal problems got serious enough to move up the surgery two days. My brother Stephen quickly drove up to Seattle to be with my mother. My sister-in-law Susan, who lives in the area, also was there. Already on my way back from California, I cut my trip short by a day to get north faster. My dad is now recovering in the surgical unit of the retirement place where they live and seems to have come through it all fairly well for his 90 years. But the last few weeks have been quite the reminder of how fragile our lives are.
I’ve arrived here to find a Seattle that’s totally changed from what I remember when I lived here while in high school. I’ve jetted in and out over the years, not spending more than 2 weeks here at one time. But now we’re here for good and I’ve been stunned at the traffic here after the tranquility of a year in Fairbanks. It takes forever to get anywhere, the freeways are often jammed and one rarely if ever goes into Seattle if you can help it. Instead, much of the population, as does my family, lives in what’s called the Eastside, the suburban side of Seattle. Cities like Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Woodinville and others have developed their own cores and malls with every outlet imaginable. I think of my years in Prince George’s County, the majority black and Hispanic county east of DC, and how impossible it was to get a Trader Joes into the county or decent mall or more than one lone Starbucks in Hyattsville. Whereas here, there are more Trader Joes and Starbucks than I can count.
One of my last tasks for UAF was attending a conference of journalism professors in San Francisco. I was moderating one panel and speaking on another, so I was given a budget plus I planned to spend a few extra days vacationing here and there. I hadn’t driven to and from California since 1980. We spent the first night in the Portland area with friends, then headed south on I-5 toward Redding. I had
forgotten how pretty the Siskiyou mountains are on the Oregon/California border and how lovely a drive it is during that first 100 miles into California. Mt. Shasta was out in all its glory but it was quite difficult to find any tourism offices open on the Saturday we drove down. There was nothing at the various rest stops we came to, the result of state budget cuts, I guess, so it wasn’t until I drove into the town of Shasta itself that I found a grumpy person just closing up the tourism office there. At least she gave us a map up the 14-mile Everitt Memorial Highway that takes you to a rocky volcanic bowl at 7,900 feet from where you get a pretty good view of Shasta’s peaks. There were a bunch of young hippies with backpacks lounging about the town which was just north of the city where we stayed the night.
The next morning in Redding, smoke from nearby fires in the Mendocino National Forest had blocked out the sun. Those fires were burning constantly during our time in California, sadly. We attended Bethel Church, a famous congregation in evangelical/charismatic circles, which was the first place where I’ve encountered a line of people waiting for church. We managed to get a seat near the front, but then during the worship time, tons of people jammed the area in front of us, using it as a mosh pit for dancing and singing. Veeka was most taken by a liturgical dancer who whirled about the stage. I was intrigued by how the band and pastor all wore neutral colors. The sermon was one of the better
ones I’d heard recently as it was aimed toward mature Christians. And the congregation had dozens of ministries happening. We then headed south toward Sacramento. The terrain changed to olive groves and walnut tree farms but looked awfully dry otherwise. We finally turned off at Winters and headed west along a lovely route that wound past Lake Berryessa and finally, as we entered Napa County, past tons of wineries and vineyards perched on impossibly steep slopes. We finally got on a larger route through St. Helena and then to Calistoga, where we ate an Italian dinner, then drove to Santa Rosa for cheaper lodgings. And to Veeka’s delight, for the second night in a row, we had a pool.
We spent much of the next day wandering about wineries in Sonoma County. I liked one place called Mazzocco Sonoma that had amazing Zinfandels. Also liked a winery called the Matrix; Veeka liked the Francis Ford Coppola winery with a museum and a pool. Then I realized we had about 150 miles to drive before our next stop, so I headed into several hours of numbing rush-hour traffic circling about
San Francisco on I-680 before ending up at place in Seaside, just north of Monterey. These were friends from our Tennessee days; the wife had been a student of mine and the husband was studying at the Defense Language Institute. We spent the next two days catching up plus a wonderful day wandering about Carmel and its art galleries. And of course Veeka loved lounging about the beach and wading into the ocean.
On our way back to San Francisco, I had lunch with my cousin Casey (and her daughter Liz and 2 grandchildren), whose spacious Los Altos home I’d not seen since my college days. We went to a place called Bumble, a restaurant that is designed for people with small kids. Would have loved something like that when Veeka was young. Casey’s mother Ollie is one of the people Veeka/Ollie is named after. Eventually we ended up at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco, where our first order of the day was having a pho dinner with a fellow University of Memphis grad who was in town to receive an award at the same conference. My conference was the annual meeting of the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC); a conference I’ve attended three summers in a row but may not attend again because of the expense. The hotel alone cost me (or UAF) more than $900. I had to stick around until the very end of the conference for both of my events, or I would have taken off long before Sunday morning.
But on Thursday, I had little planned until later in the day, so I took Veeka on a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf, which felt crowded and dirty. The wait to get on the car was two hours. Once on, it took awhile to get anywhere but eventually we got to Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street. I spent part of the next day meeting various academics, attending workshops here and there and jobhunting when possible. Veeka and I took a cable car to Grace Cathedral where we walked the labyrinth, then visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum next to the Marriott. They had a retrospective on the late Amy Winehouse, a British singer whom I’d never heard of but who died Janis Joplin-like at the age of 27. I better liked “Night Begins the Day: Rethinking Space, Time and Beauty,” an exhibit that merged Jewish thought with interstellar light. Definitely worth the entrance fee.
By Saturday, I was finally getting the hang of the city’s transit system, so we took the underground to the Botanical Garden at Golden Gate Park and took a bus to Coit Tower, then walked down the Filbert steps through lovely gardens to the waterfront and a ride home on the N trolley. Buying a three-day bus/cable car and train pass had been a good idea. I moderated a session that day on media portrayals of Muslims and Mormons, which was lightly attended as well as a media law session that was packed. No one during that four-day conference seemed to notice I was from UAF or had any questions about what the universities in Alaska offer in terms of media education. Sadly, the one paper I submitted that related to this topic – and which I had planned to present at this conference – was turned down because it was too conversational! Must work on that, I guess.
Sunday morning, I was a panelist at a session on why journalism students should learn how to cover religion – along with courts, sports and politics. A handful of people attended, thanks to the awful scheduling spot we were given. Then we were off, heading back to Golden Gate Park to see the
Japanese Tea Garden that had been closed the night before when we’d tried to see it. Huge crowds were there, so we didn’t linger. Veeka was thrilled to see the Golden Gate bridge, which she’d heard about. We stopped by Mt. Tamalpais, which I’d wanted to hike up for years. We drove close to the top, then clambered up the last quarter mile in really wilting heat. We spent the night in a village called Occidental in Sonoma County that was filled with cheese farms and many cool places to eat. By the following morning, it was clear things were a bit more serious with my father than I’d thought, so we drove as quickly as possible up the coast, which was much more inhabited then when I saw it 35 years ago just after college. Mendocino was pretty but Ft. Bragg was dreadful. We stopped at the Avenue of the Giants late in the afternoon, as I wanted Ollie to see the majestic redwood trees as God only knows when we will be back there. I had last been there as a high school student in 1972! By then we had learned my father’s operation had gone well. We stayed in Eureka that night, then reached Portland the following night and then Seattle the next day. With bursitis in one arm, I could only drive so far in one day.
And so we are here, looking for a place to live. The prices are worse than Fairbanks and I thought Fairbanks was pretty high! Two-bedroom apartments with 800 to 100 square feet that aren’t absolute dumps run at least $1,500 a month and usually more than $1,700. Thanks to Yelp, nearly every complex has online reviews and most apartment complexes get pretty bad ratings from residents, so I’ve avoided some of the cheaper ones for that reason. Utilities are extra and often they charge you for a parking place. The place where we may land doesn’t have a pool or a rec hall, hence the rate is a bit lower but still, that will be the highest rent I will have paid in my life. There are cheaper habitations well to the south or north of town but those are further from my parents than I’d like to be plus the school districts aren’t as equipped to help kids with special needs.
I’ve already taken Ollie/Veeka on one berry-picking trip to a nearby blackberry patch to show her what I did as a kid for many summers in a row. She was less than thrilled. We both miss Alaska more than I would have thought. It is now fall there and a year ago this week she was beginning school at University Park Elementary. Now I am trying to figure out how to pack the contents of a four-bedroom home (that we had in Tennessee) into a 1,000-square-foot apartment. Tomorrow I’ll see a friend who has a home on Lake Samammish and we’ll laze away some time there but then it’s nose-to-the-grindstone time in terms of finding work. A bunch of things have fallen through job-wise; things I had thought would carry us through the fall, so the next few months will be interesting ones indeed.