Archives For roadtrip

mtu gg bridge

San Francisco. The City by the Bay. My old haunt. I was so looking forward to this leg — I had the best decade of my life here (so far, at least). And I’d really talked up the place to Museni. So I was stunned that it turned out to be one of the few low points of the whole trip. (Not the lowest; that accolade goes to Montgomery — aside from being able to celebrate Mtuseni’s birthday there.)

I set aside a longer stretch of days here than usual, because I wanted to show Mtuseni everything. And being so far apart, we’re continually learning about each other. This would give him a chance to witness my life in my 30s… when I was only a few years older than he is now. And of course, I wanted to see old friends. 

We parked downtown and walked to Powell and Market streets, where the cable cars turn around. Right away I felt something was off. The streets were oddly quiet for a Saturday. And they were filthy. And smelled like piss and shit. And there were so many homeless people camped out. Now, there were homeless when I lived there in the 90s; I was regularly panhandled every other block. But this was another level entirely. And everything felt flat. Even the tourists lined up for the cable car seemed oddly subdued. 

As we walked down Market to grab a car at California Street, I kept saying, “Where is everybody? What’s wrong?” Mtuseni could see how perplexed and unnerved I was — and he’s not known for being emotionally perceptive.

.

cal st hill

My commute to work, which I usually walked. No wonder I was in such good shape back then — I had to climb Nob Hill whenever I went home!

.

We hopped on a cable car and the familiar rock and grind and clanging bell made me feel a little better. Nothing can spoil that view as the car climbs up Nob Hill and you can see the Bay Bridge. This was my commute to work — by cable or foot — and not once was I unmoved by it. I took that ride one last time the night before I moved away, and cried.

.

Mtu cable car bench

On the cable car. It took some convincing, but I finally got Mtuseni to stand on the running board. That’s the best part! Once he did, he got it.

.

cal st cable view

This view down my street on the way to work never got old.

.

But at the top of the hill, my local park across from Grace Cathedral seemed small. My old apartment building was covered in grime. The sweet Chinese couple who owned it back in my day never let that happen. (And I paid $600 for a one bedroom with parquet floors and stained glass!) My local grocery store with the freaky, upside down parabolic roof was gone, split into a Trader Joe’s and CVS. 

.

me apt

How many times I walked through this door! It was a great apartment. It was a great life.

.

LDDTrip-CalSt w-Kell_20190515_0001

My friend Kelly, our crazy host in Los Alamos, moved away from San Francisco a few days after this was taken outside 1271. I left a week later. Note how grime-free my building was!

.

And it hit me — my life there was long, long ago. And by the time I had left, I was ready to go. I’d gotten everything I wanted out of the place. That didn’t completely surprise me. The last time I visited 15 years ago, I had the same “been here, done this” feeling. But the city still had that quirky, nowhere-else-but-San Francisco energy back then. Now it was gone. 

.

crowbar

I loved the Crowbar in North Beach! It had great beers and a killer juke box of punk and alt-rock! Seeing this sign crushed me. You can’t go home again.

.

I described the feeling to my friend Patricia in Silly Valley, who was my upstairs neighbor on Nob Hill. “What happened to the city?” I asked. “Something feels off. I can’t put my finger on it.”

Her reply: “San Francisco lost its soul.”

She captured it perfectly. And this fact combined with it no longer feeling like home, not even nostalgically, made me sad. I was in a funk and just went through the motions the rest of the visit. I barely took any photos. If we didn’t have social events planned with friends I would have left after a day. These get-togethers were the highlight of the visit. And I realize that what made my 30s so wonderful wasn’t the place, but the people. If I could carry them around in my pocket wherever I go in life, I would. 

.

gang edit_2

It’s so great to be able to pick up like no time has passed — and to have a new face in the gang! Sometimes, it’s the people that make a place.

.

Mtuseni and I did have a couple of nice times on our own. At dinner in a North Beach trattoria, I noticed the imported goods on the walls and remembered that I’d been there with my parents in the early 90s. As I’d just lost my father a few months earlier, it was a nice memory and felt like dad was with us on the trip for a moment. 

.

north beach

It wasn’t until I looked up from my wine and saw the products on the wall that I remembered being here with my parents in the early 90s.

.

And my favorite little pub on Polk Street was still there — and hadn’t changed a bit. Thank god! I had so many laughs and heart-to-heart talks over burgers and pints at The Bell. A quick walk from my apartment, it felt like my Cheers — though nobody ever knew my name. (I don’t need that. Boundaries!) I ordered a cheeseburger, which I rarely eat these days, and it was exactly the same — right down to the pickle spear! I ate every bite.

.

the bell out

How many times did I walk to The Bell — and sometimes stumble home from The Bell! I love this place… so happy it’s still here.

.

I told Mtuseni about all the times I’d been there — often with Annie and Kelly and other friends he met along the trip. I was able to show him a slice of my life as a young guy. He saw me in another dimension — and could possibly see a life of fun and freedom for himself in his next decade. And in the end, that made the San Francisco visit worthwhile.

.

bell bar

I downed many pints, had many laughs, and talked through — and listened to — many dramas and traumas at this bar.

.

When we finally left for Yosemite, I watched the skyline fade in the rearview mirror and said goodbye. I knew that chapter of my life was forever closed. But I’ll always be grateful. I learned how to be me in San Francisco. I learned how to live. Everyone should have a chance to do that.

.

bay bridge

A few years ago an old friend created the light show on the Bay Bridge, which I could see from my office right on the water. I think those lights would have bugged me after a while.

.

big sur silhouette

After getting on the wrong highway in Pasadena (Did I mention how much I hate LA?) we finally headed north up the Pacific Coast Highway — our westward days were behind us.

Mtuseni was excited to drive past Malibu, though I’ve always wondered why celebrities like the place: you’re jammed between a narrow beach and a highway. And then canyons that occasionally burst into flame. 

The drive up the coast was gorgeous as always, though I’d forgotten how twisty and narrow the road is south of Monterey. It’s hard to take in the scenery while keeping an eye on the road. We pulled over many times — along with many others — to marvel at the sunset colors.

.

mtu rte 1 coast

.

route 1 bridge tall

.

It was long past dark when we pulled into our Monterey hotel, and true to form Mtuseni went right to sleep. I went into town to grab some dinner.

Walking among the shops and cafes, I had a familiar feeling of autumn in Northern California, and for a moment felt a twinge of nostalgia. Then I remembered how underwhelming it is: gray, shriveled leaves scattered on the sidewalk, a slight but not brisk chill in the air. Nothing like New England’s big fall show of eye-popping colors, earthy-smoky scents, and bustling winds: You know change is happening! Growing up in Boston and having the peak of foliage hit on my birthday week, I was always disappointed by fall in San Francisco. 

But downtown Monterey certainly is pretty. I had fish and chips and local brews at a dark bar, then the next morning Mtuseni and I had breakfast on the same street at a old-time cafe. After doing laundry in nearby Pacific Grove, with a sweet view of the ocean, we walked along the water in Monterey for a while.

.

monterey coast

Mtuseni and I pretended we were shopping for a house on our walk. I might be able to afford one of the mailboxes!

.

Check out our Instagram from the Monterey coast!

One problem I had when living in Northern California is that the ocean has a look-but-don’t-touch quality. It’s undeniably beautiful, but it’s cold and rough compared to the Atlantic. Ten years in San Francisco and I only got up to my waist at the beach a few times on strangely hot days in October. I like to commune with the ocean, not gaze at  it from a distance.

.

monterey coast 2

The water in Monterey is always such a striking blue. And the windswept cypress trees remind me of the umbrella pines in Rome.

.

Feelings of disconnection and memories of visits with an old boyfriend made Monterey feel melancholy for me. I didn’t realize this was a harbinger of the days ahead as we drove to stay with a friend in Silicon Valley. (Have I said how much I hate Silly Valley? Not as much as LA, but it’s right up there.)

big sur sunset clean

Sunset at Big Sur… stunning.

.

Check out my new Beck’s Next Act blog on life transitions… and other stuff!

beach pair2

“Out in California, we touched the other ocean. And I still have that jar of sand.” I love these lyrics from the Antje Duvekot song Long Way — which was sort of my official theme song for the Long-Distance Dad road trip. It poetically describes different experiences of a driving across America. Touching the other ocean marks the milestone of reaching the opposite coast. You gotta do it!

Seeing the Pacific wasn’t a huge deal for me; I lived in San Francisco. But for Mtuseni he’s now seen three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian. I was lucky enough to witness him see an ocean for the first time, on our trip to Cape Town. It was pretty cool — he was fascinated but a bit wary. The ocean can be overwhelming.

I would have skipped southern California; I’m not a fan of LA, to put it mildly. With a degree in TV production and some time spent writing screenplays, I’ve made three brief attempts to live there. Let’s just say it doesn’t suit my Northeast sensibilities, and leave it at that. 

But Mtuseni wanted to see LA … which in his mind is essentially Hollywood. And my old roommate Connie from Boston — who sent me off on my first cross-country drive 30 years earlier — lives in Santa Monica, so I could sort of complete the circle by seeing her.

bb

LDDTrip-Jp Volvo shot 89_20190515_0001

Just before heading out to California in July 1989. We always laugh that Connie was so upset her head shrunk; she looked like an apple head doll that day!

bb

connie car

Standing with Connie in the same position by the “other ocean” in Santa Monica — 30 years later. Wow!

bb

After driving through the desolate western Arizona moonscape and then over the San Gabriel mountains, we landed in Pasadena — then headed to Santa Monica for some Thai food with Connie. Afterwards, her partner Dan, a SoCal native who worked “in the industry,” drove us around Venice and gave us dirt on local characters and bit players. It was a warm-up for our day in Hollywood — which I was dreading.

LA stresses me out like no place else — the cars and traffic and parking. It’s just not a walkable city like Boston or New York. And the highways are 27 lanes wide with 4 seconds warning before your exit appears. I needed to get to Hollywood Boulevard and also find a place where Mtuseni could see the Hollywood sign. That’s all the LA he was gonna get out of me. (It was really all he knew and cared about anyway.)

After crawling in traffic, I abruptly turned into an underground garage, which I thought would be quick and simple. But cars were backed up inside because it was valet parking. What is with LA and valets? Can’t people walk a couple blocks?

I didn’t have time for that rigmarole. So I negotiated a tight U-turn at the valet station and headed back to the escape ramp. A tiny 3-foot tall Asian girl in a shiny black SUV the size of Nebraska was straddling the lanes waiting to get in. I thought I could edge past her. Then I heard the bumper contact the wall. I hoped for the best, but got out on the street to see a big white scrape on the corner of the black bumper. Surprisingly, I didn’t go ballistic — even though I’d owned the car for all of 60 days. God, I hate LA!

manns chinese

bb

But… we ended up having a fun time. I grabbed a spot in an outdoor lot and we headed to the Chinese Theater. Mtuseni didn’t get the concept at first and was unimpressed: the names and footprints of Hollywood’s Golden Age were unknown to him. But once he saw familiar names, he got excited… and we both became lost in the celebrity treasure hunt among slabs of concrete. 

bb

mtu capitan therater

bb

arnold s

bb

Mtuseni will sometimes surprise me with things he knows or likes. His quest for action heroes was obvious, but I was shocked when he suddenly said, “Oh wow, Meryl Streep!” and grabbed a photo of her signature and tiny shoe prints. Hmmm… maybe she played Ironman’s mother or something.

Though I’d been to the theater before and was underwhelmed, this time I fell under the spell of all those Hollywood spirits…

bb

jack lemmon

Jack Lemmon is one of my favorite actors of all time — brilliant at playing the everyman. It felt like Magic Time being in that spot. “I love you, Miss Kubelik. I absolutely adore you.”

bb

west side story

I don’t fit the gay-male stereotype of loving musical theater. I can’t stand it. But West Side Story is … brilliant!

bb

judy

I’m also no fanatic for Judy Garland. But for whatever role her death played in the 1969 Stonewall gay liberation riots, I have to pay homage to her. #SomewhereOverTheRainbow

bb

After the theater we followed the Walk of Fame. Mtuseni was totally into it; I think he took 50 photos! He was so proud when he discovered a name he thought would be there.

bb

hwood blvd

bb

tyler perry

It took a while, but Tyler Perry’s star finally appeared. Mtuseni “just knew it would be here, oh yeah!”

bb

charlize

Meeting a fellow South African on Hollywood Boulevard! During his internship, Mtuseni stayed with his pastor in Benoni, the Johannesburg suburb where Charlize grew up. #JoziPride

bb

Again I was surprised by names that captured Mtuseni’s attention. I certainly didn’t expect a fan of The Rock and Ironman to take pictures of stars for Mickey Mouse and Goofy! Then again, Hollywood’s magic is global. For a boy who was raised in shacks half a world away, being in the spot where these childhood icons were born… it has to be pretty cool.

Thankfully, at a mall near the theater something caught my eye: the Hollywood sign! I wouldn’t have to drive to find a picture-perfect view. This one was good enough for Mtuseni! 

bb

mtu hwood sign2

hollywood sign

bb

My work in LA done, we headed back to the beach in Santa Monica. It was a beautiful early fall afternoon. We took a long walk along the beach — and though Mtuseni stated that he didn’t see the purpose of walking to nowhere, he ended up talking about some pretty deep stuff. One day he’ll realize the effect the ocean has on him. Whether we’re on a beach or a boat, he becomes tranquil and relaxed. Like father, like son — just without the genetics.

bb

mtu sm beach

I can see the zen beach vibe face that Mtuseni gets whenever he’s near the ocean. He should work on a cruise ship or something.

bb

mtu truck

Just like when we were in New York, Mtuseni has to get photos of emergency vehicles. I think it’s more having the locale in the photo, to prove… “I was here!”

bb

We met Connie and Dan on the pier and watched the sunset. Dan reminded us to look for the elusive green flash that appears for an instant when the sun rises and sets. For the first time, I actually did see it! Everyone on the pier applauded. Mtuseni said he didn’t get why people were clapping because the sun went down… but inside, I know he did. 

bb

mtu pier

bb

We walked from the beach and had dinner in Santa Monica: my best meal of the trip, pappardelle with short rib sauce. Its one of my top ten meals ever. And just like when we lived together way back in the 1980s, it was a nonstop gab and laugh fest for Connie and me. 

bb

restaurant

All in all, not a bad time in Southern California. But I wouldn’t want to live there!

sm sunset

.

Check out my new Beck’s Next Act blog on life transitions… and other stuff!

What a Trip!

August 30, 2020 — Leave a comment

#sunflower

Just before takeoff from our hotel in Concord. I love sunflowers! Mtuseni’s not a flower guy.

bb

So much has happened since my last post here — not only for Mtuseni and me but for all of us! It feels like a different world.

A year ago today Mtuseni and I took off on a two-month, 10,000+ mile drive around the US — filled with anticipation and excitement about what we’d discover on the road. It was an incredible adventure that allowed us to celebrate ten years together. (Where did the time go?) It also offered a trove of experiences that added new chapters to our story — and to the Long-Distance Dad book. (Exciting new developments ahead on that front!)

It’s been a strange year since we stood under the happy glow of a sunflower to launch our trip. The idea of traveling around the country, meeting people from all over, passing cameras back and forth for photos, weaving through crowded markets and jostling on packed ferries — it’s all an impossibility right now.

That makes me sad. Because I’d jump in my car and do the trip all over again this afternoon if I could. And someday I will —  because it fits the mantra for my life going forward:

Explore. Discover. Share. Enlighten. Empower. Inspire.

It’s the driver for my Next Act — which was on the launch pad when this damn virus hit. It sucks to have the universe hit the pause button. But it’s just a pause. The launch will happen. I’ll  be writing about it in a new blog, which I’ll also share here.

But while we’re all in various states of suspended animation — I’m going to share my cross-country adventure with Mtuseni here. An armchair road trip, so to speak. Flashbacks to an easier, more open, more social time — a time that will return, I know. The journey — for me, for Mtuseni, for all of us — continues…

Check out our Instagram greeting from our first day!

#Middletown #Connecticut #sign

Where it all began… Where I began! #Connecticut