Our family’s 1964 trip westward continued one early morning in July from Reno. If you look up the history of Donner Pass, you’ll find that was when they were widening Interstate 80. Guess who sat waiting for long periods of time during this construction?
Coming over other mountain passes during our trip’s earlier days, I didn’t look down; I just closed my eyes. I’m terrified of heights. Waiting for 10 minutes or longer while equipment worked, all I could see was hundreds of feet of empty space beside the narrowed construction area. This had this mother of five in a panic. Even now, I still don’t like driving over Donner Pass.
However, when we finally slipped down that last long hill into the fertile valleys of California, I knew we’d finally reached the final stages of our destination. The weather changed from place to place, from mid something or other in Reno that morning, to well above 100 in Sacramento by afternoon. What a surprise. But we were determined to get to San Francisco by nightfall and kept on going. There should be a book somewhere to tell tourists just where to stop, where to eat, and where to spend their money.
We didn’t know, but we did get lucky when we stopped at a Del Webb hotel. While it wasn’t cheap, we had very nice accommodations. First we had to buy a few sweaters. While it’d been hot in Sacramento, we were freezing in 60-degree misty fog in San Francisco. We found a department store close by and bought everybody something to keep them warm. Then we were off to see some tourist sights and have a nice dinner.
A friend told me to be certain to go to Pier 39 and have sourdough bread and calamari, a food I’d never heard of before. Instead of trying to navigate on our own car, we decided to get a cab. Our cab driver immediately knew we were tourists, but he was extremely nice. After a very short ride he turned to me and said that he was going to turn off the meter and take us for a ride before going to the pier.
We went first to San Francisco’s famous crooked Lombard Street. Later the cabbie put the meter back on and got us to our Pier 39 destination. I couldn’t believe a cab driver doing something that nice. We had a wonderful time. The boys ate crabmeat, I got my calamari, and we feasted on sourdough bread. We also saw many other bay area attractions, including street artists, and one man who played a piano out of the back of his pick-up truck.
Years later I revisited much more of San Francisco when my husband Van was alive. But for now it was a real treat for these east coast transfers to see the wide, beautiful, blue Pacific Ocean. The next day we continued down the coast toward Santa Barbara, our final destination. I remember, as we went along that long winding cliff-draped highway, being in awe of the majestic beauty of its coastline. It’s extremely different from the flat terrain along side the Atlantic’s coastline.
Finally, we made it to Big Sur. The boys can tell you more about that visit. What I remember most was when somewhere along the way — all the time looking out at the ocean – when we finally stopped at a stretch of open beach. Before we’d left back east, the older boys, Don Jr. and Doug, had been privileged to go out on an aircraft carrier for two days with the Navy for some kind of celebration.
It was a week before we were to leave. Don, Sr. my soon to be ex, was setting up his apartment. That left my younger sons and I alone, so we went down to Point Pleasant, N.J. and stayed while the older ones took their trip. I had the “kids” with me at the beach and the last thing I did was dip my feet in the green Atlantic Ocean.
Here I was now, just a few weeks later, standing with my toes being gently lapped over by the aqua-blue water of the Pacific. I couldn’t help myself. I cried like a baby. As I recall, it was near a place called “Seal Rock.” I had brought my five boys 3,000 miles across this beautiful country of ours from sea to shining sea. This 40 year-old mother of five sons was content.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.