A few New Englanders here have told me that I give off East Coast energy. Maybe I have just adapted to Yale. Or maybe I just love seafood that much.
I am from California. I would not guess that we are underrepresented in the student body. Yet I do not hear much reminiscence of Californian idiosyncrasies. Maybe we are too occupied with our S.F.-versus-L.A. civil war.
Tony Bennett’s ballad “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” does not really apply to me. My relationship with the state is ambivalent, and I hail from a town about an hour south of the City. Yet I feel the need to rep my home in some measure.
I begin this article like any shallow conversation: weather. Yes, it does snow in California. Regularly. Yet, though California is the third largest and most populous state in the Union, most of us live in either the Bay Area or Greater Los Angeles. In neither home region does it snow. So we rarely discuss it.
Still, you will find fanciful flakes east in Bear Valley and Lake Tahoe. Apparently we have a term (that I have never heard) — the “California Double” — for when you ski and surf on the same day.
But L.A. and the Bay are themselves climatically perfect, right? I cannot speak for my southern counterparts. But my hometown of Mountain View is not the meteorological paradise from Baywatch. Not that I can complain. It scarcely rains or dips below 50 midday. But those dry spells cause droughts. Those warm temperatures grow to heat waves. Not much you can do.
Personally I prefer Connecticut weather. It gets cold, but they offer such cozy coats here. Powdery snow incites grand snowball wars. Thunder and lightning are romantic. Spring cultivates lush flora of every species. In Mountain View, you rise to the same grass, the same sky every day. Plus Tahoe snow is really icy.
From altitude to attitude, this one is a matter of taste. L.A. is chill when I make the trip. I invite the respite because, to me, the Bay is not. Not after high school and college applications.
I hear similar reports from New York, but academics are cutthroat in the Bay. This observation is less anecdotal, more statistical. I personally went to a small, easygoing high school. It still came up. Friends in the area commonly shared horror stories about debate teammates and classmates who sabotaged and slandered one another to steal a spot at some prestigious college.
So the escapes to L.A. were restorative. But it is not a short trip. To get there from Northern California is about eight hours on the ground. Roughly equal to the train from New Haven to Washington, D.C. — over five states away. Note too that the major cities of “Northern” California — San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Fresno, Oakland, Stockton, Fremont, Modesto, and so on — are concentrated in the state’s middle third. It is a day’s journey from Redding.
The opportunity for the California Double is wonderful. But it is difficult to connect to the whole state with so much made inaccessible. People often fly. California could benefit from eastern-style public transportation. But unfortunately those eight hours are by car. The train adds a couple, and — though we have BART and Caltrain — the transit lines are limited and few.
Back to Yale. This next issue is not exclusive to California, but the flights to Connecticut are long. A good book cures any boredom. The distance itself is the concern.
For me, the most economical routes between here and home lay over in either the Twin Cities or Atlanta. I had to fly north for Thanksgiving to evade the snowstorm. Something to be thankful for. Plans veered off course on my layover back. I needed a new flight to BDL. No problem, it happens. But the sun had set. Problem — no flights until the next morning. I had arranged to arrive the night before classes resumed.
What proceeded is probably the most embarrassing email I have written. I informed my professor that, instead of in section, I would be in an airport hotel the next morning. Then I had a thought.
That 3:00 a.m. train back from New York on Monday morning was an awfully nice convenience in October.
I reread this draft and realize that it depicts California as dreary and dry. A few friends from back home stay this course and despise where they grew up. I hesitate to. California is not perfect in climate or otherwise. But I want to appreciate the wonderful places.
The closest is Skyline Boulevard, shrouded beneath the thickets in the Santa Cruz eponyms of “Mountain View.” Skyline is the most picturesque mountain drive. Literally. It is my lockscreen. The altitude gives rise to views above clouds that swell into a sealike abyss. They too sink endlessly into the horizon. Time it right and the orange sunset cracks over the stratus white like an egg.
Substance lines the memory. Nothing too grand. Rather quaint. A few dates. A couple nights spent supine under the specks. Once a party in an abandoned barn. The lovely little Alice’s Restaurant that rests beside the boulevard entrance is where a friend and I catch up over breaks.
Way out west sits Pescadero, an unincorporated town with a population under 500. I happened on it one day. I cannot remember what I had set out to do.
My trips to Pescadero consist of three stops. First is Duarte’s Tavern. The best homemade olallieberry pie, and a surprisingly sleek and modern website. May I also recommend the cream of artichoke soup or the snapper and chips? Do not order the “fries with eyes.” A trip to Duarte’s is often what entices friends and me to Pescadero. We come for the pie, stay for the open air.
Pescadero neighbors Butano State Park and its Mill Ox Trail, a favorite hike. There are few words to write here. I do not have the authorial ability to distill the verdance of the park or the trail into a few black letters. One note: if you like small structures to punctuate your wanders — bridges, steps — I especially suggest you visit.
The short trail affords us just enough time to visit Pescadero State Beach. I actually prefer San Gregorio just up the road. The water turns absolutely frigid. The beach, bluff, and tiny islands are their own adventure. Then we go home.
Neither Skyline nor Pescadero is my favorite place in California. Marin is. Marin County lies just above San Francisco. Favorite cities and towns include Sausalito, San Anselmo, Ross, and San Rafael.
Starting Sausalito appears the most maritime. It harbors an ungated marina with a few nearby luncheonettes perfect for a brunch. The jaunt to San Anselmo introduces the county’s hippieish feel. My grandmother used to live there. Ponytailed rock stars sojourned in her basement “between gigs,” their dreams sustained in the strains of Santana down the street.
The quiet town also neighbors M & G Burgers, which — though technically in Larkspur — is a San Anselmo trip staple. It has that real ‘50s Archie kind of feel. Comics, not Riverdale. I first passed M & G with a friend ages ago. I did not try it. I did not catch its name. Took years to track it down. Worth it.
Roam to Ross, where my mom grew up. It nearly rivals Pescadero in the nonexistence of its population. As with Butano State Park and the Mill Ox Trail, there are few words to write here. The smaller scale empowers the Marin to shine through uninterrupted. Arcadian. Friendly. Still.
A suitable end, San Rafael heads the rest as county chair. A cocktail of crests and country. The hippies live on — look up “The Waldos.” The Grateful Dead would also frequent. My aunt and uncle host Thanksgiving here with the best twice-baked potatoes in the Bay. It is all something to be thankful for.
These are the wonderful places of California. My California. Complete without snow to slick up Skyline, close Duarte’s, or freeze San Gregorio State Beach. Without the trips to L.A. to uproot me from my home.
California is not perfect in climate or otherwise. Where is? Why fixate on the negative? Part of me doubts that the Earth will read this and resolve to swallow the land that separates north from south.
Tony Bennett’s San Francisco is not a perfect reflection of my home. It is close enough. I listen to the ballad. I echo the sentiment.
“When I come home to you, San Francisco
Your golden sun will shine for me”