San Francisco, etc.: Day 1, Saturday, December 28, 2013

Global warming paid a brief visit to Edmonton for Christmas – we had temps around and slightly above zero for almost the entire week. It was heavenly, until it ended abruptly Friday morning. It was only minus-six but with the wind chill it felt more like minus-13, and the temperature dropped throughout the day. About two hours before we had to leave for the airport for our week-long trip to San Francisco, the big snow dump began.

I wasn’t surprised that we were delayed leaving Edmonton – the plane was late arriving, so we were late loading, and then we spent about a half hour waiting to be de-iced. But I was surprised that we arrived in Vancouver in time to make our connection to SF.
We had just under an hour to go through Customs and security (again – what a bother) which would have been plenty of time, had Customs not been on the absolute other side of the airport – basically in North Vancouver. Air Canada had a shuttle to drive us, but there was room for only three of us. We decided we might as well all walk. What we hadn’t taken into account was the distance between gates. We were sweating like pigs by the time we made it to the right one. But, hey, that’s what happens when you have to change planes after going through Customs.

Oddly enough, we had exact same seats on the Vancouver-SF flight as we had on the Edmonton-Vancouver flight; the kids were in 30A and 30B and Dave and I were in 30D and 30C. I settled into my seat and turned on the TV, only to discover that the screen had the exact same problem as the screen on my first flight; wiggly, wavy, irritating horizontal lines.

“What are the odds of this happening on the same screen in the same seat on two different planes?” I said to Dave, laughing at the coincidence. “Maybe it’s the same plane.”

I was sure it wasn’t – our Vancouver-bound plane had landed way on the other side of the airport. In my experience, when an airline uses the same plane for a new flight, they use it at the same gate.

But as the trip went on, and the screen deteriorated just as it had on the Edmonton-Vancouver flight, I became more convinced. Then I went into the bathroom and discovered that the sink was busted, just like the sink on that first flight: a piece of paper covered the spigot, and dozens of packaged wet-wipes filled the sink.

I went back to my seat and said to Dave, “I really think this is the same plane.”

He said, “It is; when I pulled down the tray table, the same crumbs that I’d left on the way to Vancouver were still sitting there.”

So there you go, we hiked about a km and a half through the airport, went through Customs, took off our shoes in Security, and then got on the exact same plane. I know that Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing and expecting different results – doesn’t quite fit here, but I’m sure some version of it must.

So, that was our entertaining opening to our week-long stay in the SF area. We spent the first night at the Doubletree at the airport. Our friend Miles, who drove down from Edmonton, met us there. Then we rented a car (his camper van has only two seatbelts – not bad for short hops, but not so good for long distances) and headed south.

First stop: Palo Alto, where we wandered around the Stanford campus and admired the juxtaposition of the Hewlett and Packard Buildings, which are next to each other, and across the road from the William Gates Building (which is a lot smaller than what you’d expect from a guy with that kind of influence). We didn’t see the Li Ka-shing building, but were impressed that Stanford and the U of A both have buildings erected by the richest man in Asia (fortune: $28 billion and dropping, I imagine, as he continues to build science facilities on university campuses throughout North America and, presumably, the rest of the world).

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Elizabeth does her “Why did I change the answers on my test pose” in a Stanford sculpture garden

From Palo Alto we drove south and west on Page Mill Road, which winds, climbs, and twists through a series of mountain ranges as it snakes its way to Highway 1. We had a picnic (thank you, Trader Joe’s) in a county park.

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Then we drove for another 45 minutes, till we reached another county park, where we hiked among the redwoods.

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We reached the coast just before sunset. We stopped at the Pigeon Point lighthouse to take pictures, along with a whole lot of other people who had the same idea. The area is such a popular spot for photos that someone actually planted a picture frame in a strategic location above the cliffs facing the lighthouse. I took advantage of the frame for a few snapshots.

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I’ll leave the cropping to you.

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You’ve heard of the headless horseman? This is the headless photographer, who wishes to remain anonymous.

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Noah takes a peek through Miles’s lens.

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We are staying in Monterey for the next two nights, at a nice little place called the Hotel Abrego, recommended by my Cornell buddy Rebecca Egger, who stayed here a couple of years ago with her family. It’s an easy walk to Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row, where we went last night for the obligatory tourist-trap-restaurant dinner. I admit, I was lured by the promise of a free appetizer, but when I tried to order an appetizer I was told I had one choice: fried calamari. We probably should have left at that point, but Dave had already ordered a beer. When the “calamari” arrived, it was impossible to discern whether it was seafood or a sliced inner tube, as it was about the same size, shape and consistency. The restaurant was called Crab Louie’s Bistro, and it deserves at least one of the 2.5 stars it has received on Yelp, because the water was very tasty and the waiter was good at replenishing our supply.

Oh well. We can now check that off our to-do list.

Today’s itinerary: the 17-mile drive, Pebble Beach, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I guess we’d better get going!

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