Sunday, January 3, 2016

No Change from a Sand Dollar

Cliffside cows, sleeper waves and a skinned knee, all before lunch.

I got my first real look at the Timber Cove property today with an extended walkabout that took us to bluffs, a hidden pond and multiple places to view the totem-like sculpture created by artist Benny Bufano and dedicated to peace.

Cool as that was, it was seeing southbound whale spouts out in the ocean that took top prize, since I'd never seen whales before. As the pragmatist pointed out, plenty of people pay to go on whale-watching tours, only to be disappointed and here we were stumbling on to sightings with no effort at all.

And speaking of stumbling, I'm that clod who managed to climb down a near-vertical cliff to a scenic cove, only to slide on a sandy boat launch and manage to scrape open my knee without so much as ripping my leggings. Ouch.

Staying at the Timber Cove Lodge is bittersweet because I'm crazy about how old-school rustic it is. Our room is simple and wood-paneled with a skylight giving us a weather preview and a balcony looking out toward the Pacific. Sadly, the Timber Cove is closing after Saturday to renovate and modernize the rooms, meaning it'll never be as backwoods rustic as it is this trip.

Last night, we met people who are staying in one of the few rooms that have already been renovated and because this isn't their first trip, they have a basis of comparison. They aren't happy with the "improvements" to the simple room they've stayed in many times. Sleek and modern have replaced casual and rustic and the result is bland and boring.

For me, there's no motivation to want to come back if the lodge becomes just another modern place to stay. I'm trying to look at it positively. How lucky am I to experience the Timber Cove in all its 1963 glory and simplicity before it no longer exists?

After an impressive whale-spotting start to the day, we meandered up the coast, stopping along the way at Stillwater Cove and hoofing it along a wet trail surrounded by 80-foot redwoods and verdant ferns.

Further north, we climbed out of the car to explore rugged coastline, watching massive waves explode over rocks and splashing like fireworks explosions every time. Craggy rocks afforded photo ops (why not pose with pounding surf in the background?) and dizzying views while the wind made me sorry I'd not brought my scarf.

We lunched at the Sea Ranch, overlooking the ocean, and admired photographs printed on metal plates of now-familiar scenes. "Cliffside Cows" was my favorite, showing a complacent-looking black and white bovine framed against the blue ocean.

Chatting with a couple at a nearby table, we got on the subject of the evocative photos on the walls, all showing nearby scenes. "It's terrible to see things you love when you're downsizing," the wife bemoaned.

Back at the lodge, we took books and a bottle of Mumm Brut Rose down to the massive fireplace to wile away the hours until dinner at Alexander's, the lodge restaurant, before braving the cold and ocean winds at the fire pit outside afterwards with strangers.

If not now, when?

Saturday took us back down the coast toward Bodega Bay (stopping at a surf shop along the way) and Tomales Bay, where Anderson Neck Oyster owner Michael had recommended we make a stop at Hog Island Oyster Company. Although we'd already eaten at their Ferry Building location, this was their true home, much like Merroir to Rappahannock's polished Grace Street digs.

The location was charming, bayside and outdoors, but unlike Merroir, the price of oysters did not drop significantly for being located at the source (although why not, I can't imagine), but nevertheless, we managed to down two dozen bivalves, which I slurped Hog Island Cuvee (made by Iron Horse Winery) and took in the scenery.

Cruising along the coastal highway, we stopped at an overlook to admire sea lions napping in the half-sun and a bald eagle a few feet from their resting place. Although they weren't barking, it was one more thing to cross off my California bucket list.

Back in San Fran, we headed to Ocean Beach for a long walk on the beach (scoring a sand dollar) and a stop at the Beach Shack, an impressive 1930s-era beach pavilion with murals depicting the history of San Francisco.

Upstairs, the restaurant afforded a view of the sunset and Dungeness crab cakes accompanied by Gloria Ferrar Brut served by a lovely young woman who was born in Thailand, grew up in Stockton and had the longest eyelashes I've seen in quite some time.

Saying my last goodbye to the beach, we cruised into town with the radio blasting. It's a rare 24 hours when I hear Dusty Springfield twice ("Son of a Preacher Man" and "What Have I Done?" with the Pet Shop Boys), a true musical pleasure.

It was then that things got tropical.

Because we are in a state that is tiki bar central, I insisted on a stop at Trad'r Sam's, a dim vintage tiki bar with rattan booths (we sat in the Hawaii booth, next to the Samosa booth where the trio was on their second bowl of Mai Tais) and a menu that provided colorful language but little indication of what was in the drinks.

Naturally, I chose the Sadie Thompson, more because of the movie the character came from (fallen woman moves to Pago-Pago where missionary tries to straighten her out or he'll send her back to San Fran) than because I had any idea what was in it (rum and grape juice, as it turns out).

Our server introduced herself as the bartender, but a little conversation revealed that she was also the granddaughter of the couple (a black and white photo of them hung over the bar) who'd originally opened Trad'r Sam's (her Mom now owns it) and that she'd met both her baby daddies there.

You'd be surprised what a woman will share while making a banana cocktail for you. "I'll keep my freedom and my money and he can keep the change," she said to explain the joys of non-cohabitation.

With three one dollar bills in hand, I had a ball at the low-rent jukebox, starting with Janet Jackson's "Miss You Much," moving through Culture Club's "Time (Clock of the Heart)" and right up to Foals' "Cassius," hitting Prince, David Bowie and, yes, Bon Jovi along the way.

The crowd seemed to love it, although that may have had something to do with the hurricanes and volcanoes they were sipping.

Much as I was hoping for an In 'n Out burger for dinner, I settled for the hip Umami Burger joint and a throwback burger with shoestring fries while Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" played overhead. Not everybody.

When I teased our young server that he hadn't even been born when the song came out, he grinned sheepishly and made a case for being a long-time fan anyway. In your mamma's womb maybe, son.

One thing that's been consistent since we got here is when people ask where we're from, their reaction is always amazement. "Wow!" or "That's so far!" seems to be standard when Californians hear the word Virginia. Even New Yorkers don't seem to get the respect we do for our westward trek.

Bonus points scored just for showing up on the other coast, it seems.

I just might miss this being a fish out of water. And California, I will miss you much.

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