Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Davidson Reunion Trip to California, 2017

I've been chronicling our trip to the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio, but I should also mention the vacation trip we took just a couple of weeks before that, a family reunion for the two branches of my wife's family.

This trip took us to Northern California, most especially to my wife's half-sister's house. The sister in question is Myrna Courtney, who is a number of years older than my wife. Perhaps this needs some explanation, a bit soft-pedalled. My wife's father, who bore the unexpectedly significant name Harley Davidson, was born in Missouri in about 1914, to a family of 10. A couple of his brothers moved to California in the '30s, looking for work (lots of people were looking for work in those days), and Harley followed. He married Myrna's mother, and had four children: Carl, Myrna, Linda, and a girl who died very young. Harley was by all accounts brilliant with his hands, but he had a drinking problem, and that was severely exacerbated when his youngest child died. That tore apart his marriage, and he left Myrna's mother and returned to Missouri, in the early '50s I think. He married Mary Ann's mother (whom, apparently, he had known slightly before moving to California) in 1954 or so, and they had five children. The youngest of these, a twin to my brother-in-law Mark, also died as an infant. The endgame is clear, I suppose -- Harley's drinking problems, and concomitant employment issues, led to some pretty awful living conditions for Mary Ann and her brothers, and her mother, who died quite young in about 1970. The four kids went to live with their maternal aunts, as Harley wasn't really able to care for children. He died in 1980 (having married one more time). (I met Mary Ann in 1984.)

Myrna (who spent years with her husband Gerry traveling the country in an RV, doing articles for magazines) made it to St. Louis a couple of times to visit her half-siblings. But only recently have we become closer, on social media and with a couple more visits. This was Mary Ann and my first visit to Myrna's home, in Grass Valley (an hour or so from Sacramento. in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas). We flew into Oakland on Thursday the 12th, along with Mary Ann's brothers Mark, Dwight, and Scott, Mark's wife Becky, and Dwight's wife Terri. (Scott's wife Brenda wasn't able to make the trip.) We rented a minivan, and the first night we drove to Lake Tahoe. I ought to mention the obvious -- the fires north of San Francisco were still active when we arrived, and the air was noticeably smoky that first night -- we could smell it and see it. We ate at an In'n'Out, California's iconic fast food joint. This was my second time eating there, and I was as unimpressed as the first time -- it's just another burger joint, darnit.

We got to Lake Tahoe late, of course. Our hotel was right on the water. We went out to the lakeshore first thing in the morning -- it was 21 degrees Fahrenheit. Between the altitude and (I suppose) the humidity the temperature gradients are remarkable. That said, the lake is quite beautiful. We ate at a local breakfast place called Bert's, which I can recommend. In particular, the omelettes, and the biscuit/egg dish called the Cowboy, are immense. We drove around the west side of the lake, stopping at a few places, notably Emerald Bay and Tahoe City. The former is as pretty, I think, as anywhere on the lake. The latter has a dam, where the Truckee river issues from the lake.

We then headed in the direction of Sacramento. Our one planned stop was at Donner Memorial State Park, near the town of Truckee. The park includes the area where the Donner Party camped when snowed in. There is a museum with presentations about the Donner expedition, as well as about the Transcontinental Railroad, which passed through the area, and the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 40 in this area, though it's U.S. 30 near my hometown of Naperville, IL). Donner Lake is a really pretty lake. The main remnant of the Railroad is some tunnels, and a stone wall called the China Wall (as it was built by Chinese immigrants). The men climbed up to the railroad tunnels, close enough for a good look at the wall, and we walked through a couple of tunnels to meet the women, who picked us up by a restaurant called after the Donner Party. They had pie, so we decided to buy one. (We didn't get the Fried Green Tomatoes though.)

We finally made it to Grass Valley, after a detour caused by our GPS not knowing the way very well. Myrna has a really lovely place, a large property with the main house and two smaller houses. Myrna's sister Linda and her husband Steve live in one house, and Myrna's daughter Robyn and her husband Keith live in the other.

Dwight, Terri, and Scott were staying with Myrna. Mark and Becky and Mary Ann and I rented an Airbnb perhaps a couple of miles away. This house was really nice as well, in a small neighborhood in the woods. There is a lot of wildlife around, and apparently fencing is important to keep the bears out. There was a wraparound porch/balcony, which proved to be a good place to look at the stars from as well -- there weren't too many city lights.

That night Myrna treated us to dinner at a pretty good local restaurant called, unpromisingly, the Dine n Dash Cafe. It turned out to have a pretty impressive menu. We ate in the bar, because that's where they had room. (This much to the amusement of Myrna's brother-in-law Steve (Linda's husband), who likes the bar -- Myrna thinks it's too loud.) I had the prime rib, a popular selection, and it was good.

Saturday we planned to explore Grass Valley. We headed into the town, which has a nice downtown area, full, as expected these days, of boutiques and restaurants and antique shops. We ate lunch at Tofanelli's, again good. They are an Italian place, also known for offering 101 different omelettes. Before we went downtown we found the house in which Myrna grew up, and we also saw the building that housed the bar Harley used to frequent.

For me, however, the highlight was the used bookstore, Booktown. I don't suppose that surprises anyone. But it really is a very good used bookstore, built on the model of antique malls, with a number of different sections owned by different booksellers. A couple of these featured good selections of SF books, and one of those also included a number of old SF magazines. I bought an Ace Double or two and several issues of Amazing from Cele Goldsmith's time as editor. I'd say that this is definitely worth a side trip if you are anywhere in the area.

In the afternoon we visited the Empire Mine, a played out gold mine near Grass Valley that is now a state park. We toured the park, which featured an impressive house where the owners once lived,
a selection of the machinery used in the mining, a brief descent in one of the tram carts the miners used, and a demonstration by a blacksmith. There was also a small museum, with some details about the history of the mine, including a three dimensional model showing the various mineshafts, which extended down as deep as 11,000 feet. The shafts, now flooded, riddle the depths beneath Grass Valley itself. The mine itself was discovered in 1850, opened as a mine in 1854, and closed in 1956. The museum claimed that the area was all but unaffected by the depression because of the jobs provided by the mine. Many of the miners were Cornish immigrants, which reminded me of the copper mines on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Northern Michigan, where my maternal grandparents came from. Many of those miners were Cornish as well, and my mother used to make Cornish Pasties, a recipe she got from her mother, who doubtless got it from her mother and her Cornish neighbors. It turns out there is a Pastie restaurant in Grass Valley, though we didn't go there.

Afternoon and evening were family reunion time. We mingled with the two branches of the Davidson family -- the St. Louis branch, represented by Mary Ann, Dwight, Scott and Mark and we spouses; and the California branch, represented by Myrna, her sister Linda and her husband Steve, and Myrna's daughter Robyn and her husband Keith, as well as Robyn's middle daughter Christy and her nephews (whose mother was away on an anniversary cruise). Carl, who lives in Montana, had also intended to be there, but his wife Sandy fell just a week or so before and wasn't able to travel. This was a shame, because Mary Ann has never met Carl.
(Back: Becky, Mary Ann, Linda, Myrna, Terri
Front: Mark, Rich, Scott, Dwight)

Keith cooked dinner (and Christy brought dessert), which was really good -- tri tip, a cut of beef I had only seen in California until recently, done slowly wrapped in foil on the grill.  Very very good.

I spent much of my time on two pursuits. The first won't surprise anyone. Myrna likes books about as much as I do, and she had inherited several boxes of old books, just the sort of books I read and review here often. I looked through all the boxes, looking for particularly interesting books. One of the coolest things I found was a little tourist pamphlet of St. Louis, of all places, from early in the century, featuring pictures of many of the still famous buildings made for the 1904 World's Fair. Of the old books I only took a couple (on Myrna's urging) -- a Bulwer Lytton novel, Zanoni; a G. A. Henty novel, The Lion of St. Mark; and a very obscure magazine, The Quiver, May 1891, a Christian-themed publication which featured some fiction.

The second pursuit involved Myrna's interest in genealogical research. She has spent considerable time ferreting out her ancestry, all the way back to a Davidson from Holland in the 17th  Century. She had done all this with a program from Ancestry.com, but Ancestry.com was recently bought by someone else, and their program had been superseded, and all Myrna's files were unreadable. I was able to find a way, involving two or three different versions of the original program Myrna used and the different, newer software that has replaced it, to convert Myrna's old data to the new format. One result was a printout of the Davidson family tree from around 1650 to about now.

Dinner featured, of course, a lot of conversation, and a lot of stories about the history of both sides of Harley's family. Particularly fun was Steve's long description of his courtship of Linda, which involved him taking advantage of the absence of a fellow Navy man who was also sweet on Linda. Steve's reminiscences at one point prompted Myrna to tell Linda to "Muzzle your man!". Steve is an interesting guy -- a football player in High School who had a chance to play at Oregon State, until he realized that lots of schoolwork might be involved. Currently he's fascinated with You Tube videos about military technology, which led to him asking me some questions about some of my projects for Boeing -- questions that I couldn't answer if I didn't want to go to jail.

We learned a lot, most of it fairly personal, and all quite interesting. Family histories may only be of interest to the family, but in that scope they really are cool. One detail that surprised Mary Ann and her brothers was that Myrna had offered to adopt them after their mother had died. Harley had demurred, saying (falsely) that things were fine, and so they ended up with their aunts, which in the end worked out very well. But it's interesting to think how different things might have been had they all moved to California in 1970 or so -- of course, all of us spouses would have been wholly out of the picture! (An example of the contingencies of Alternate History that were discussed at the World Fantasy Convention!)

On Sunday we came over to Myrna's again for breakfast, and some more conversation, but soon it was time to head back to San Francisco. We planned this time to take a slightly different route, that would bring us into the city from the north, so we could go over the Golden Gate Bridge. On the way we passed Davis, and I pointed out that that was where Karen Joy Fowler lived -- only to learn, on meeting Karen slightly later at World Fantasy that she has moved to Santa Cruz. Not to worry -- we made our way to Santa Cruz soon enough!

On Highway 37 north of SF we drove through some striking evidence of the recent fires -- hillsides burned completely black, road signs mangled and melted, etc. But overall the fires and smoke had diminished quite a lot. Then we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, then turned aside to park, and we took the time to walk onto the bridge and take some pictures.

Dwight and Terri and Scott had a plane to catch, so we took them to the airport, and then Mark and Becky rented a new car, because they planned to stay the night in Monterey. We were headed to Santa Cruz. We did meet for a very nice dinner at The Crow's Nest, on the oceanfront in Santa Cruz.

Our hotel was a couple of blocks from the Santa Cruz boardwalk, so we went down there. Frankly, it's a bit on the cheesy side. There are some nice views of the ocean, though. Across the street from our hotel there was construction going on -- I asked the desk clerk what they were building His rather rueful answer: "Another hotel." Santa Cruz, by the way, was the setting (under a different name) for the good vampire movie, very early in Kiefer Sutherland's career, Lost Boys.

Monday we were heading back to Oakland. We began by visiting a couple of Santa Cruz antique stores (one of them, alas, closed despite hours that claimed they should be open), and also by visiting the oceanside again, including a walk on the pier, with sea lions.

Then we decided on the scenic route, and we head up the Coast Highway. This has long been one of my favorite roads, from Huntington Beach through Santa Monica, Oxnard, Santa Barbara, Carpenteria, up the coast to Bug Sur and Monterey -- and now for the first time farther North. We stopped in Davenport to eat, at the Whale City Bakery Bar and Deli. We were able to eat outside. A Norwegian couple happened to sit at the table right across from us, and we talked for a bit -- they were headed the other direction, to Carmel. After lunch we made kept going North and stopped for a bit at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, which is now a state park. Some very pretty views here. Finally we headed up to Hwy 92, where we turned inland, then crossed the San Mateo bridge into Oakland.

Our next goal -- the last, really -- was to visit the Locus offices. I had never been there, although I've been writing for the magazine since 2002 (and for the website even longer). Alas, editor Liza Groen Trombi had a school function to attend and left early, but I was able to meet Arley Sorg for the first time, as well as Carolyn Cushman and Josh Pearce and Fransesca Myman, and I think one or two more folks whose names I am forgetting. (I have met Fransesca before, to be sure, and of course Liza, and I saw Liza and Arley again just a couple of weeks later at World Fantasy.) I also got to see the book collection -- and the Hugo collection -- and believe me I could have stayed there for quite a while. (I'd probably still be there!)

Not much more to tell. We went to the hotel, and we were too tired to go out again so we ordered pizza in. It was OK, nothing special. We decided to turn the car in a day early, and take the shuttle to the airport the next day. And that was fun! NOT! Avis was a mess. The Avis Preferred desk was unattended, so we waited in line at the regular desk. I let a guy go ahead of us who had a plane to catch -- I hope he made it, it was getting pretty late. The first thing the guy at the counter asked was "Why didn't you go to the Preferred desk?" "Because there was no one there, you dolt!" is what I wanted to say, but I left off the last two words. (At about this time I saw a couple of folks from Avis returning to the Preferred desk with cups of coffee.) Then he charged me for filling up the car, even though I had filled it up on the way to the rental car return. (I didn't realize that until later.) They also put the charges on the wrong credit card -- my company card instead of my personal card. He did change that successfully. Oh well.

The next day was just the trip home, which was uneventful.

All in all, a delightful trip. I think everyone had a great time. I really enjoy this area of California, though I think on balance I still prefer the Central Coast (Santa Barbara, Carpenteria, etc.). If we could afford it (not likely!) that would be a good place to retire to.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done, Rich! You covered everything so well. I am appalled at one statement, however. In ‘n Out is “just another hamburger joint”? Mon Dieu! That hurts my ears and gives me shivers! It is obvious your Missouri culinary education has left you wanting. Other than that, the Davidson reinion will remain in my memories as one of the finest. Please come back soon. -Myrna