Thursday June 09, 2011

Searching for Birds in Bodega, Calif.

If it's been a quiet week on it's because Patricia and I drove from Seattle to Bodega, Calif., for our friend Ward's 50th birthday. Ward lives in Seattle but his friends told him he had to do something special for his 50th; he couldn't just have a party. Initial discussions 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 in a scene from "The Birds"

Tippi Hedren demonstrating the chignon, which, oddly, is a masculine word in French.

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.

The surroundings 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), 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:

  1. The Tides Wharf restaurant where everyone gathered during the attack
  2. The gas station that goes up in flames
  3. The house across the bay on Gaffney Point that never existed
  4. The Potter schoolhouse five miles south on California 1 in the town of Bodega; and
  5. 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. One 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 under attack in Hitchcock's "The Birds"

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. 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 in the town of Bodega; where Alfred Hitchcock filmed "The Birds"

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.

The Bodega Country Store in Bodega, California, which includes "The Hitchcock Collection"

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:

Patricia running from the Potter Schoolhouse in the town of Bodega, California, where "The Birds" was filmed.

We'll photoshop the birds in later.

Posted at 08:06 AM on Thursday June 09, 2011 in category Travels  
« California 1   |   Home   |   Quote of the Day »