Travels postsThursday June 09, 2011
Searching for Birds in Bodega, Calif.
If it's been a quiet week on ErikLundegaard.com it's because Patricia and I drove from Seattle to Bodega, Calif., for our friend Ward's 50th birthday. Ward actually lives in Seattle but his friends, with Patricia at the forefront, told him he had to do something special for his 50th; he couldn't just have a party. Initial discussions, I found out this past weekend, actually centered on Lebanon, but others reined in that thought and offered the Oregon coast. Bodega Bay was the compromise between the Oregon coast and Lebanon. As it always is.
My reaction upon hearing the party's location was the film nerd's reaction: You mean the place where Hitchcock filmed “The Birds”? I suggested all blondes attending wear their hair in a chignon.
Tippi Hedren demonstrating the playful insouciance, and the Hitchockian chignon, that made her so memorable in “The Birds.”
We actually stayed a few miles south of Bodega Bay, at Dillon Beach, renting several houses with spectacular views of the ocean. Saturday morning, after the initial, intense warm-up dinner, with too many courses and too much wine, Ward convinced the entire crew to attend a charity pancake breakfast, then a mid-afternoon wine-tasting, but I begged off, not hungry, a bit hungover, and a whole lot curious about Bodega. I drove into town searching for ... I don't know what. That diner. That schoolhouse. Tippi Hedren.
This and that looked familar but not familiar enough, so I pulled over to the side of the road and read the Bodega Bay (pop 1423) section of Lonely Planet's Coastal California book. Apparently the place is “the first pearl in a string of sleepy fishing towns” and “the setting of Alfred Hitchcock's terrying 1963 avian horror fllck, The Birds” (I like the helpful addition of “avian” there, not to mention “terrifying”), but as to what is where, the book wasn't much help. So I stopped in at the Terrapin Creek Cafe for a quick lunch and peppered the waitress with my “Birds” questions. She suggested the Visitor Center back on California 1, which runs through town, and which I'd passed on the way in. There, as soon as I mentioned “The Birds,” the woman behind the counter took out a single-sheet black-and-white map and a yellow highlighter, and in a tone somewhere between Selma Diamond and comatose, laid out the particulars:
- The Tides Wharf restaurant where everyone gathered during the attack
- The gas station that goes up in flames
- The house across the bay on Gaffney Point that never existed
- The Potter schoolhouse five miles south on California 1 in the town of Bodega; and
- The country store across the street that has the most extensive “Birds” collection anywhere in the world.
“I get the feeling you've done this before,” I said. This brought a smile. “Only about eight thousand times a year,” she replied.
So I filled up my car at the gas station that blew up in “The Birds,” then drove across California 1 to the Tides Wharf Restaurant, where Tippi Hedren had watched in horror as the gas station blew up in “The Birds.” But the perspective still seemed off. The gas station was across California 1? On a hill? The Tides Wharf included a gift shop that barely mentioned “The Birds,” just—after a search—a few postcards, some lame T-shirts, a big picture book, and a smaller, almost mimeographed pamphlet called “The Birds by Hitchcock: Sonoma Coast Guide: Expanded Second Edition.” This last, I figured, you could only get there, so I got it there, then peppered the girls behind the counter with questions. The second was a fount of information. The Tides Wharf where we were? Not the original. The original burned down in 1965, along with the gas station, which, yes, had been on this side of California 1. But the schoolhouse, the Potter Schoolhouse, still existed. Five miles south on “The 1.”
And that's where I went. Here's the famous scene:
The Potter Schoolhouse attack in Alfred Hitchcock's “The Birds.”
In the town of Bodega, I initially mistook St. Theresa's Church, made famous by Ansel Adams, for the Potter Schoolhouse, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock. But then I turned into a small road and there it was. It's privately owned now, and there's no bench in the backyard, let alone a playground or jungle gym; but I still got out and took a picture:
The Potter Schoolhouse today.
Then to the country store. As quiet as the rest of the town is about “The Birds,” the country store is just that noisy. It's like a museum but with all of the pieces for sale.
Apparently Tippi Hedren also sells wine now. Apparently she was in Bodega Bay the weekend before, at the Tides Wharf, signing autographs. I bought my share of swag—including a “What Would Hitchcock Do?” T-shirt—and acted the tourist. I just needed the Bermuda shorts and the camera hanging around my neck to complete the picture.
The next day, on the way out of town, Patricia and I returned to the schoolhouse to complete the picture:
We'll photoshop the birds in later.
Take a long drive with me
On California 1, California 1...
--The Decemberists, “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade”
This past week, driving along California 1, the state route begun in 1934 that winds down the California coast, as Patricia and I traveled from Seattle to Bodega Bay for a friend's 50th birthday celebration, I kept thinking of baseball and pitching.
I know. Apologies, and bear with me.
Most roads, certainly most highways, are like fastballs down the pike. They may have some bend in them but nothing you can't handle. California 1, in contrast, is like the craziest pitch thrown by the greatest pitcher ever. It twists and swoops and dips and soars and bends and keeps bending and keeps bending further until you're almost heading in the opposite direction—north when you want south, south when you want north—until, at last, it finally breaks the other way, your way, and the whole damn thing begins again.
And the speeds! A good freeway may vary its speeds a bit, like a good pitcher will vary his speeds between the 95-mph fastball, the 85-mph splitter and the 75-mph change-up. These differences are nothing on California 1. There, you'll be spotted 55 mph. Then with hardly a warning it'll cut back to 15 mph. Back up to 45. Down to 25. Then 15 again. Then back up to 55. All on these swooping, dipping, winding roads, with incredible views of sky and ocean, cliffs and haystack rocks, and you're so distracted by it all, by the beauty and the winding roads, you find yourself going 55 in the 15 zone, 15 in the 55 zone.
But worth it. We can't wait to go back.
Bumper Stickers Seen Driving From Seattle, Wa. to Bodega, Ca.
WHY IS THERE ALWAYS MONEY FOR WAR BUT NOT FOR EDUCATION?
FOLLOW ME TO DRIVE-THRU FEED
GOD DANCED THE DAY YOU WERE BORN
MY OTHER CAR IS A DRAGON BOAT
LAND OF THE FREE/ BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE
ARNOLD DON'T SURF
Patricia, Dairy Queen, and Hwy 101 during a rare sunny moment on our trip.
Travels: Rehoboth Beach: Lessons in Capitalism
I fear I didn’t capture Rehoboth right here. I fear I didn’t capture our week in Rehoboth right. I missed so much. For example:
- Rehoboth’s summertime workers used to be populated by Mid-Atlantic kids like my sister, from Timonium, Md., but now they’re more often from the former Soviet Union: Russia and Belarus and Ukraine. I brought this up with the owner of the house my sister was renting, who lived next door and popped in on us one evening, big-voiced and garrulous and fun, with the thickest of Delaware accents, as we were all drinking and talking on the screened-in front porch. He assumed I was referencing a prostitution ring that made headlines in the mid-1990s but I said I didn’t know from prostitution rings. It’s the geography of it. Why Russia? Why not, you know, Timonium? I forget his response. Were Russians cheaper? Were American kids no longer interested? He might have repeated the line I’d heard from others: that summer vacation in Eastern Europe tends to go on longer than ours, and so the Russian kids can stay past Labor Day and not leave businesses short-staffed for the final weeks of the season. That made sense to me. Until I spoke with a girl from Russia I met at the Internet Cafe on 1st Avenue, who, while answering a slew of questions from me (“Had she been to other cities?” Yes. “Favorite?” Miami. “How did she hear about the Rehoboth job?” There was a company in Russia, who worked with a company in America, who...), added, unbidden, that the tough part of the deal was getting back to Russia two weeks after school started. Summer vacations aren’t different. The difference between then and now is who bears the burden of the overlap. It used to be Americans businesses, who remained short-staffed while American kids returned to school. Now it’s the Russian kids, who remain in America while their Russian peers get a leg-up. Welcome to capitalism.
- My nephew Ryan couldn’t get enough of Funland. Not the rides but the games. And not the games but the prizes from the games. He loves stuffed animals. As soon as he won one he wanted another, and as soon as he won a small one he wanted a bigger one. Funland allows you to trade up this way: three smalls equal a medium; three mediums equal a bigger medium. The big prize was a giant stuffed alligator. He was all id—want, want, want—and no army of stuffed animals sated his desire. We talked of having an intervention but we acted as enablers. Yes, Ryan, one more game. Sure, Ryan, I’ll play with you since it’s 11 in the morning and no one else is at Wac-a-Mole. At the end of the week, his mother, my sister Karen, showed up at lunch with the giant stuffed alligator under her arm. But she hadn’t won it. She’d run into the owner of Funland, for whom she worked back in the 1980s, and he gave it to her. Another lesson in capitalism: It’s who you know.
- Ryan’s older brother, Jordy, didn’t want stuffed animals; he wanted stuff: electronics, mostly. He’s a gamer, with earlier versions of PlayStation and current versions of Wii at home, and one night, at the Surfside Arcade, he played the arcade version of “Guitar Hero,” which he has on the Wii, and did so well with Foghat’s “Slow Ride” (on “hard”) that he drew an audience, to whom, like a real rock star, he was oblivious. He wound up with the fifth-best score, just ahead of someone calling himself “Slash.”
- Two of my favorite swims at Rehoboth were early-morning, solo swims after jogs along the boardwalk. There’s nothing like diving into the ocean still sweating and steaming from a run. There’s nothing like a swim before breakfast with only beachcombers and sand zambonis around. That’s living. That’s fun.
- Mostly we ate in, lovely meals over at the Muschlers’ rental home, sitting in the backyard, drinking and talking, as the light died and the bugs came out. We went out for dinner twice: once to Obie’s By the Sea, just off Olive on the north end of the boardwalk, and once to Ed’s Chicken & Crab in Dewey, where my mother and sister, who ignore the chicken part of the equation, closed the joint.
- But my favorite meal may have been the one we had before we arrived. My mother had picked up Patricia and I at 9:30 a.m. at Reagan National, and we sped over the Bay Bridge before 11:00, which for Patricia and I was 8:00, so we weren’t interested in the sea food restaurant just on the other side that my sister had recommended. But once it was after noon, where to eat? We drove along 404 toward Rehoboth, seeing a few spots, but momentum kept carrying us on until finally, at a county junction, Patricia yelled, “That place!” and I stopped the car and turned into the gravel parking lot. It was a Kiwanis Club barbecue chicken joint, open-aired but covered, where you ate at picnic tables and used a water pump to wash your hands afterward. A line of women were serving up the following: half a chicken, sweet pickles, a roll and bag of potato chips. That chicken turned out to be the best barbecue I’ve had in years: tangy and juicy. I also had a great encounter at the end of the line, where you paid, and where a tip jar stood for donations to the Bridgeville Center. I looked at the cashier, a man in his 70s, and pointed. “What’s the Bridgeville Center?” I asked. He seemed surprised, first, that a question had been asked, then leaned forward conspiratorially. “It’s just a buncha old farts,” he said. I gave him a dollar for the laugh.
And on and on. I could add more, but I don’t think I’ll be able to capture what I really want to capture about Rehoboth Beach. It may be as simple as the heat on the wood of the boardwalk; it may be as complex as the sense of fulfillment you have in the ocean, or the sense of longing you have out of it. Besides, I know I’m lingering. I know it’s Saturday morning. Time for one last walk to the boardwalk. Time for one last look at the ocean. Bye.
Travels: Rehoboth Beach, Del.: Going Back from Whence We Came
In the end it’s all about the beach.
My father used to say there was nothing like that first dip in the ocean after the long, hot, sweaty haul to get there, but this never made sense to me. It was just another odd thing grown-ups said. Now I’m that grown-up.
Our long, sweaty haul started on a Friday at 9 p.m. in Seattle and lasted through a red-eye to Chicago, a 6 a.m. flight to D.C., a morning car trip over the Bay Bridge and through eastern Maryland and into Delaware, with a few wrong turns along the way, until we crawled, in the mid-afternoon heat, along Highway 1, with all of the other Saturday arrivals, before making that final, impatient, left-hand turn onto Rehoboth Avenue and into the offices of Jack Lingo Real Estate to collect the keys, and into the Lingo’s grocery store to collect the weekend necessities, and over to Mom’s place to drop off her stuff, and over to our place to drop off our stuff, and then the two-block trip back to Mom’s place to drop off her car—but not before being confronted by a cop who asked why I’d parked a quarter into someone’s driveway (there’d been a neighborly complaint), and I explained that it was temporary, that we were staying in that small cottage at the back of the driveway there, and this was my first time in Rehoboth in 25 years, and, hey, how old are you anyway?, which got him to smile and admit, “Twenty-one” and merely issue me, 26 years his senior, a warning—and after all that it was 5:00 and the sun was lowering in the sky, but I didn’t care and changed into swimsuit and flip-flops and grabbed a towel and walked the half block to the boardwalk and over the hot sand and through the departing crowds and dropped everything by the driest part of the high-tide mark and stepped into the cool, salty water, feeling the spray and hearing sizzle of the waves, and in past my calves and thighs and, oof, groin, until I dove into a wave and rose on the other side, and thought, as the ocean washed away the day of travel, the month of troubles, the year of work, “Dad was right.”
Why does it feel so good? Because it’s the water we emerged from? Because we ourselves are salt and water? It feels heavier than most water, cooler than most water, and the waves provide their own challenge. The ocean doesn’t automatically accept us, like other, more placid bodies of water. It’s trying to expel us even as it tries to pull us in further. It has mixed feelings. I floated on my back, watched my toes emerge, and felt lucky.
My sister, Karen, set up the vacation. Her husband, Eric, is a Muschler, and every year three of the Muschler boys and their families vacation somewhere for a week, which allows parents to get together and all of the various cousins to create havoc together, and this year Rehoboth was chosen because it’s where our family vacationed in the 1970s, and where Karen worked during high school and college summers in the 1980s. The Muschlers rented a big house on Stockley Avenue (pronounced Delawarean: “Stow-klee”), two and a half blocks from the beach; then she asked if Patricia and I wanted to come along. Normally we vacation in fairly exotic spots—Little Corn Island, Nicaragua; Hanoi, Vietnam—but I was in the mood for a less exotic spot. I wanted a place with cotton candy.
We rented our own cottage, also on Stockley Avenue, but a half block from the beach. The online photos were vague, which had me worried, but we found it charming enough: living room, small kitchen, separate bedroom, bath. There was even a back deck where we locked up the bikes that we rented for the week. The back deck was also where the Muschlers stored most of our beach gear—chairs and umbrellas—so they wouldn’t have to keep carting them the extra two blocks every morning. Or afternoon.
The Muschlers tend to be late risers—or, with so many kids, late goers—so we were rarely at the beach early. Sometimes we arrived around 11:00, which didn’t make much sense in the “danger danger danger” UV-ray world of 2010; other times we avoided the morning altogether and showed up around 2:00 and made an afternoon of it.
My nephew, Jordy, 9, took to the waves like a champ. Whenever he was at the beach, he was in the water: diving into the waves, riding the waves, wondering why the waves weren’t bigger. His brother, Ryan, 7, took to the sand like a champ. He wanted to bury and be buried. Who doesn’t want to be at the beach? One day, my mother, 80, put on a swimsuit and dipped her toes, too.
My favorite day was our last full day. On Thursday, Rehoboth was drenched with two big rainstorms: one in the early afternoon that cleared the boardwalk; one in the late evening as we sat, protected, at Ed’s Chicken & Crab joint in Dewey, and watched people run in breathless and soaked from the downpour and the flash-flooding in the streets. As a result, there was a freshness to everything Friday morning as Patricia and I took our coffee and went for an early-morning, barefoot stroll by the ocean. The waves were bigger than usual, but overall it seemed like a normal morning.
We’d decided on a bike ride that morning. Several days earlier, on a misty Monday morning, we’d scoped out the area north of Rehoboth—Henlopen Acres, where the rich folks lived, and Gordon Pond Wildlife Area, where the frogs lived—so Friday morning we headed south, past Silver Lake, but quickly got caught between small neighborhoods and Highway 1, as Delaware, a narrow state already, narrowed to a thin peninsula, and didn’t allow us much space. Eventually we doubled back. The bike rental place, Bike to Go, had given us a brochure that included, along with the oddest of quotes (“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” — President John F. Kennedy), the seven best rides in the area. We’d kind of done #s 1 and 2 already, and #4 was what we’d just avoided, but #5, the Junction & Breakwater Trail, had been recommended not only at the rental place but by our neighbor, a friendly, newbie lawyer from New England. He said the trail paralleled Hwy 1 but went through quiet woods and marshlands and neighborhoods and wound up in Lewes, the town north of Rehoboth.
Patricia before the crash.
Patricia and I have different paces, though—I bike all the time, she seldom—and four miles along on the wide trail, in the middle of sparse woods, I realized I was too far ahead and stopped and waited. And waited. Finally I doubled back to find Patricia standing sheepishly by her bike. She gestured impotently. I assumed a flat but it wasn’t a flat. She’d been biking along, close to a fence, then experienced that odd sensation of being pulled into the very thing she was trying to avoid. Crash. She scraped her arm, bent her back tire, and now the back tire wouldn’t turn. The best I could do was release the back brakes so the tire would at least turn and she and I could hobble back to Rehoboth. Initially I was bummed—all that way without Lewes—but it turned out for the best.
After refueling at a co-op on Delaware Alt 1, and returning our bikes to the bike rental shop (had I spent the $5 on insurance last Sunday...? I had! Ka-ching!), we walked over to Dolles on the boardwalk to buy salt water taffy for the folks back home.
And that’s when I noticed the waves.
They were huge. How huge? In our absence the waves had come up almost to the boardwalk, and there were warm, stagnant pools of water on the beach proper, where adults pulled small kids around on boogie boards. It felt like an event. I immediately called Karen.
Half an hour later, Eric Muschler, Jordy, and I, were all trying to find a way to navigate into the water. Foam slopped everywhere. Few people were in the water but the pull to be in the water was as strong as any undertow. This was where it was happening and I wanted to be in it as it was happening. But how? I’d get out knee deep and a wave that had broken 10 feet in front of me still rumbled with enough force that, even bending beneath it, it would still push me a few feet closer to shore. Then I’d trudge back out again. In this way we danced. One time the wave broke late, right in front of me, and, even diving beneath it didn’t help. I was yanked off my feet and pushed and somersaulted to shore, where an awestruck, soaked Jordy stood watching.
“Poseidon is angry today,” he said.
I needed 10 more feet of courage. Eric had it, and went out beyond the breaking waves and sometimes rode them in, like bucking broncos. But the ocean out there seemed so deep and roiling and chaotic that I didn’t have that extra 10 feet of courage.
Instead, for an hour, I stood in the midway point, in the worst place you could possibly stand, and engaged in a shoving match with the ocean that the ocean always won. It was glorious.
Eric Muschler, Jordy and I and the “No Swimming” warning flag on our last day at the beach.
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