The Land of the Running White Clouds, or Aotearoa New Zealand #5

We slept soundly in the big bed in our room at the Howard Johnson’s on Camino Real in San Bruno, CA.  The previous day had been a long one, from 5:00am on the East Coast until Midnight on the West Coast, nearly 24 hours.  But Mariellen and I both woke up well rested early, and after dressing walked a few blocks to attend Mass at St. Robert’s Church.  Passing along the quiet residential streets I was reminded of similar walks I’d taken in new and strange places, our quiet conversation about the only other sound but birds and occasional passing cars.

It was Ascension Thursday, but the Mass was a daily Mass.  San Francisco, like many places, takes things easily, and has moved the feast to Sunday.  Our celebrant was an Irish priest, lending another level of newness and strangeness to the morning; and the congregation couldn’t have been more diverse, sprinkled as it was with Asians, Hispanics and what-alls, perhaps even another Irishman or two.  I remember the church as a large, open and attractive place, a concrete structure built perhaps fifty or so years ago, but not one of those spare and desolate emptinesses; a white building in the Spanish Mission style, I guess you might call it.

After Mass was over we walked back to the hotel, retracing our path through the quiet neighborhood, admiring all of the flowers and pretty houses.  On our way we met Max, a friendly and exuberant 1 year old Lab puppy who would have I am sure invited us to live with him.  I have rarely seen tails wag as eagerly as his did that morning.  The rest of the walk, after we declined Max’s enthusiastic kindnesses, was like a walk through a botanical garden; flowers, bird song and a few smiling faces once more being our only company.  I kept thinking of Eden and the world restored as we walked along.

Back at the hotel, we called Jay in his room and joined him for a light complimentary breakfast in a little nook just outside our quarters.  Then we packed and got ready for Joe, Mariellen’s brother, to arrive.  True to his word, and a bit early in fact, he showed up soon after breakfast to take us around the city for a quick your before we hopped on the plane for our connecting flight to Los Angeles, and he and Jay went waaay up north to Weed, yes Weed, CA.  We had stored our bags at the hotel (whose manager went out of his way, thank God, to help us) and took off with Joe into San Francisco with little delay.

He had done his homework on the drive down from Weed, way up near Mt. Shasta, and the front seat of his car we’d find filled with maps and brochures and printed out directions from point to point of all the places he had picked for us to see.  Good fellow that he is, though, he was open to detours from his chosen route, and Mariellen, with her Supple gene for “another good idea” in fine working order made the suggestion that we visit the Golden Gate Park.

Joe took us right there, and I applauded her suggestion after we entered the place.

Somewhere in the middle of Golden Gate Park

It is, I think, larger than Central Park, and certainly makes the Boston Common look like someone’s back yard.  And, it is filled with treats for the eye, including a small herd of Bison…tame enough to be ridden..not.  But they were having a bit of a lie down when we finally arrived after zig-zagging all over the park in search of them for most of a precious hour of sight seeing time.  Time in which I felt, not for the last time during this trip, like an Israelite in Sinai.  What we finally did see were several hairy large brown lumps at the back of a wire fenced enclosure.  Standing outside looking in I wondered why Buffalo Bill had wasted so much time on them.  My last thought as we drove away was of big brown Schmoos.  We did visit one or two more attractions, mini-parks within the larger one, both of them quite pretty: a Japanese Garden and a Chinese one.

At the Chinese Garden, the Bridge Over Untroubled Waters

Though I did look, I could find neither bamboo or ginger root in either place.  There were a few geese and other waterfowl who seemed quite content to stay exactly where they were.  After a look and a few pictures we left to find our venue for lunch, a place Joe had chosen called The Cliff House.

Sitting now in the Patriot House in Devonport, Auckland, on Queen Victoria Street, and writing this while having a pint of Kilkenny Irish Beer that lunch seems a million miles away, but I remember it for this reason.  It was the first sign I had, clear and bold, that despite some rough spots along the way this trip was going to be a good one.  Jow had told us a bit about the place he was taking us; that the Cliff House was long a popular spot, the food good, the location spectacular, and that it was always crowded.  I worried about that, and our time constraints has he turned onto the road toward the place, and worried even more when I saw the curb lined with cars all the way up the hill.  It was right in the middle of the lunch time rush.  I figured that our wait was going to be at least a half hour.

Joe dropped us off at the door and then went to find a parking place, either in San Diego or Honolulu I figured.  I walked in, told the nice lady we were a party of four, and just as I was about to ask for a couple of cots and blankies she said, “This way, please.”  Just inside we were seated right at a window opening on the wide ocean and beneath a hpoto of a young Jimmy Stewart looking great in a suit with shoulders as wide as he was tall, with lapels the size of the Nile Delta.

You need a reservation for a table on the rocks.

Joe soon joined us. He found a spot just down the hill from the restaurant, and we had a delightful lunch during which I took a mere 60 or 70 photos.

After lunch we drove next to the Golden gate bridge for a look at it half covered in fog, a very dramatic sight.

The Little Mermaid from Copenhagen sometimes visits that rock.

It was, really, our last stop in San Francisco.  We’d spent a lot of time wandering through Golden gate Park and needed to get back to the hotel, collect our gear, kiss goodbye and leave Dodge before sunset.  Not before, though, Brother Joseph took us up Nob Hill in his car, and back down again.  Then we had a particularly interesting meander through the downtown streets.  It seems that one cannot make a left turn in SF, a place J>E> Hoover of happy memory would love for that alone.  Dogged perseverance, remarkably even tempered throughout, and the laws of probability operating in our favor we did find what I think was the one remaining legal left hand turn in the city.  Soon we were back at the hotel.

We collected our baggage.  We hugged.  We slapped each other on the back, growled, grunted and swore we loved each other forever.  Nah!  Brother Joseph sprawled on the couch in the lobby and we called the limo to come get us.

"Nah. Joe sprawled on the couch while we collected our bags."

Then we said, “See you soon.”  They left.  We left and were taken away by our friendly Asian limo driver to the airpoer for our flight to Los Angeles.  We were on the brink of death, well, not death so much as serious annoyance, but didn’t know it.

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