24. Parched

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

IMG_2118Back at Yosemite’s Curry Village, we found the adjacent cabin had no fewer than ten occupants. Their cabin was identical to ours which had a double bed for two, with the theoretical possibility of a roll-away creating a capacity of three. There were four children in their group who I must presume would be stashed in a closet overnight. Even so, it must have been tight quarters for the rest of them — three men, three women, one couple with apparent grandparent status. A close family.

For the rest of the evening, we sat on our veranda drinking wine, watching them drink various forms of pre-mixed hard liquor concoctions while watching us drink wine. Groups of them would come and go.  The wives went to the general store, and upon their return, the husbands headed to the bar. The children, having scavenged a couple cans of pre-mixed hard liquor concoctions, dashed into the woods — which may explain why the husbands headed to the bar.

As they came and went we exchanged nods and waves like longtime suburban neighbours on Primrose Lane. The kids were particularly responsive, perhaps fearing we would turn them in for their foray into the forbidden cooler. There was no chance of that!

At first I found it worrisome that all the males, including the eight-year-old boy, were bald and missing some teeth. Then I remembered that I, too, was bald and missing some teeth. I tried not to jump to conclusions.

IMG_2133I did anyway. I concluded that loud music would pound on late into the night through which the children would howl like coyotes, causing an increasingly hostile tone of discourse between the husbands to result in fisticuffs.

None of that happened. As darkness fell, the lot of them disappeared into their cabin, never to be heard from again. A Yosemite miracle!

Tuesday morning we had two must-do’s before leaving the park: IMG_2139Yosemite Falls and El Capitan. The weather cooperated with wall-to-wall blue skies. The crowds cooperated – where’d everybody go? Even the must-do’s cooperated, proving actually worth doing. By ten we had resumed our place in the pleasantly proceeding line of traffic wending its way out of the valley and out of the park, towards San Francisco.

Yosemite is a truly wondrous place. That much needs to be said. Every time I visit a park in the American national parks system, I leave delighted. But crowds, time and money are always issues. The national parks offer so much, my visits have invariably been fraught by the desire to get the most out of the experience.

IMG_2143So I left feeling I hadn’t given Yosemite its due.  That would have taken another week or more, another thousand dollars or more, and another person – not me — willing to hike and camp in the back woods. I told myself that what we had done was not the way I would do Yosemite again – and it wasn’t. But for a first visit of two days, I can’t say I would have done a thing differently. Oh, except breakfast. I would skip the cafeteria breakfast.

IMG_2150The drive to San Francisco required traversing the San Joaquin Valley, which produces more than half of California’s agricultural output. It has been hard hit by the drought, although California’s struggle with dwindling groundwater has been constant for decades. Seemingly endless spaces of dry brown land would come to a sudden end, interrupted by massive swaths of irrigated farmland, lush and green.IMG_2153

There was plenty of drought talk on the radio making it clear that the situation was approaching crisis. Some basic water restrictions had been put in place, and from the heated tone of the conversation, attempts to establish more were meeting with high resistance. City callers complained about farmers wasting water. “Why should I have to take a four minute shower when just almond farming uses ten times more water than all the houses and businesses in San Francisco?” The answer seemed pretty obvious to me – “because the water comes from different places” – yet nobody offered that explanation.

The radio discussion went down the road of point-scoring and bickering, as political discourse tends to these days. Californian drought attitudes were interesting in contrast to Australia’s response to its recent decade-long drought.

Australia suffers long droughts with predictable regularity, once a generation or so. Every Australian knows their grandfather’s drought story, and makes sure their grandchildren know theirs. With almost 90% of Australia’s population living in cities, Australia is one of the most urbanised countries on the planet. Despite this, Australians retain a strong emotional tie to farmers and farming, a connection characterised by a romantic whimsy such as America once had about its heartland.

When increasingly stringent water restrictions went into place in Australia, a miracle of community commitment occurred: residential water use plunged 40%. I cannot recall a single person complaining – unless it was about a neighbour who was ignoring the restrictions. Certainly nobody pointed the finger at Australian farmers, who, truth be told, waste water at a rate that would stun a Californian farmer, with hundreds of miles of broad open canals allowing the precious resource to evaporate. Yet the urban majority did their bit, and got through it with minimal fuss.

It seems that California has a lot to learn about drought response, and they had better learn fast. This drought will break, but there will be another.

My twenty-second campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak administration will take four minute showers. (President Taft’s administration never really recovered from him getting stuck in the bathtub.)

The drive to San Francisco went from mundane to harrowing. I can report that Wendy’s burgers are every bit as good as they were the last time I ate there, twenty years ago. IMG_2176Stretches of the interstate highway were in appallingly bad shape, with innumerable potholes, and lane markings so bad it was sometimes difficult to tell where the lanes were. Traffic grew increasingly frenzied as we approached the big smoke, everybody driving significantly faster than the speed limit. We entered the city over the Bay Bridge, whereupon I exited the highway on the wrong ramp, promptly getting us quite lost.

With no map and no GPS, we had to find our way to San Francisco’s Castro neighbourhood using only our wits. We wouldn’t be the first. Happily I found myself refreshed with a familiarity of the city from prior visits.  If you aren’t on a highway or in a hurry, San Francisco is actually a delightful place to drive. Broad streets are laid out in a grid, many helpfully numbered, almost all have a four-way stop at each intersection where drivers actually stop for crossing pedestrians. It is as if the city was laid out in anticipation of drivers being drunken gold-diggers – which of course they were, and they remain.

IMG_2207We found our AirBnB apartment on Collingwood Street in the Castro without difficulty. Dropping the bags, we set out again to return the rental car. In the time since I had prepaid for the car, Hertz had seen fit to shutter a nearby office, leaving us to drive all the way across town to Fishermen’s Wharf, their next closest office. As always, I was relieved to get rid of the car, and once we were there, it was nice to revisit Fishermen’s Wharf.IMG_2192IMG_2201IMG_2200 IMG_2194
We took a trolley (of the sort I was raised riding) all the way back, down the Embarcadero and up Market Street. My San Francisco bearings were most indubitably re-established.

Eric, a longtime friend and self-styled wine connoisseur, met us at a wine shop near our flat. After toasting our arrival with some pleasant bubbly, we had an early dinner at a seafood restaurant named Anchor Oyster Bar. Wonderful; highly recommended. A little local knowledge goes a long way in most situations, but when it comes to San Francisco restaurants, there is no substitute.

After dinner Eric invited us back to his apartment, a fourth floor walk-up atop a hill with fantastic views across the city all the way to the bay. He pulled an unassuming red wine from a pile of dusty bottles casually stacked under the legs of his dining room buffet table. As he poured us each a glass, he said “I think I paid about fifty bucks for this in 2005. I wonder what it goes for today?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe sat out on the stairs watching the sunset, a beautiful evening. The wine was amazing. Eric tinkered with his phone for a moment, gasped, then showed us a web site with a picture of the bottle we were drinking. It was priced $600.