The road went on forever as we crossed the basin, eyes peeled for even the slightest glimpse of anything out of the ordinary. 105F heat as we headed for "Warm Springs". A big mistake dawned on me as I checked the hotel booking reference when we stopped for lunch at a diner. The Warm Springs we were headed to was a ghost town. The Warmn Springs where I had booked the hotel was, erm, actually in Georgia!
DL is used to my ways and didn't even bat an eyelid when I told her that if we wanted to go to the hotel I had booked in Warm Springs, it was over 1,900 miles away so it would be a rather a long day. So we carried on until we hit Tonopah way up in the mountains which boasted "America's best sky-watching". Think they meant stars rather than anything alien. Although, judging by the looks we were getting from the locals in this half-horse town, struggling to survive now that the mining had long since ceased, we may as well have just parked our capsule outside the town's only bar. We headed for the Mexican restaurant which was the only other thing open. Swore we heared banjos playing as we tottered back to the motel full of beer and refried beans awhile later. Not too much of a while as everything shut at 9pm!
Hot footed it out of Tonopah and headed for familiar territory, Lee Vining (which was one of the first stops on my very first American Adventure back in 2007), the Gateway to the Yosemite National Park and situated on the shores of Mono Lake. Last time I had stayed in a guest house which smelled of coffee and cinammon. Nice, but I shared a bathroom. Not something that I wanted the DL to endure. She would have been fine with it but I wanted something special. So via the internet I had booked us into the Tioga Lodge. Overlooking the lake, each room was an individual cabin. The website boasted a "Saloon" as well as a fine restaurant. When we arrived we were informed that the Saloon and the restaurant were not open for the season yet and they had not bothered to mention this on the website; as it would opening in a few days it didn't seem worth it. We checked out with dire mutterings from the manager about cancellation charges. We pointed out that they were selling something that wasn't actually available to us so frankly this was mis-representation. Popped in to the tourist information centre which also doubled as the Chamber of Commerce where a very nice lady directed us to a motel across the street which was opposite a fine bar, diner and restaurant. She also sympathised when we explained about Toiga Lodge and revealed that ours had not been the first complaint they had had about the place.
Bright and early next morning we headed for Yosemite National Park. DL had wanted to see this so much. Rather than hire a Sat Nav we bought one in San Francisco before we hired the car. This actually worked out cheaper than hiring one with the car. Plus, we can use it again on future visits.
We swung right out of the car park headed down the hill past the Tioga Lodge. Thumbed our noses at it, skirted Mono Lake and starting climbing. Fairly soon we were seeing snow capped mountains and the 105F of the previous day was a more managable 66F.
"I'm sure we are going the wrong way" said the Dark Lady.
"Nah, GPS definitely said turn right"
"It just seems that where the sun is we are heading South rather than West."
"Nah, just the road takes the easiest route through the mountains"
"Perhaps we should ask someone"
"Well, if you insist," said I wearily stopping at a Ranger station.
A couple of minutes later I exited having spoken to a very nice and clued-up young man.
"Well?" asked the D.L
"Er, seems we should have turned left, not right, out of the motel parking lot. Erm, the GPS was obviously finding its bearings," I muttered sheepishly.
"So how far off-track are we?"
"Well, the entrance to Yosemite was 150 yds from, er, the motel, apparently"
"How far are we from our starting point now then"?
"Er, 25 miles"
"So we will have added 50 miles to the total journey as a result of you turning right instead of left out of the car park?!""Looks that way"
"Well the scenery has been spectacular so it will be amazing to see Yosemite when we get there"
Now you know why I love this woman so much.
We retraced out steps and carried on climbing, reaching around 10,000 feet above sea level. 55F the Sun was shining and the views took your admittedly-rather-thin-breath away. We were above the snow line at the end of June and the ice was still two-feet thick in the lakes.
Sonora was our next stop, and a wonderful creaky old hotel with verandas overlooking the street along the front of both storeys of the hotel. Each room had his and hers rocking chairs and a table outside. The skies had darkened as we left Yosemite and, as we wandered hand-in-hand down the street of this historic old town, the heavens opened. When it rains in the US, it really rains. We hid in a doorway until it abated for a couple of seconds and rushed into a rather elegant French-themed restaurant. DL had suggested we splash out a little and insisted she was paying. We squelched into the place which was pretty popular so had to wait a couple of minutes before a table became vacant. Like many small towns they roll up the streets at 9pm so we only had about 40 minutes to eat. The food was good and I plumped for the meat loaf ("plumped" is a word favoured by restaurant critics). It may not seem very French, but there were other more Gallic dishes on offer. I fancied some vegetables so meat loaf it was. Only slight hiccup in the plan was there was no potato left as it was near closing time, so I had to have the nearest thing: spaghetti. Let's face it, starch is starch! Oh, and the other downside...er, I set light to the menu. It was an honest accident! I had it open and didn't notice that one corner was dipping in and out of the flame. We doused it before we were flambee'd. (Told you it was French themed)!
By mid-afternoon the following day, we were back in San Francisco. We wanted to have a full day to relax and do some more sight-seeing, as well as having a bit of a walk. The road trip had been great fun but you tend to forget your legs work after a few days despite us having a swim most evenings when we checked into a motel with a pool, which most had. Checked back into the original hotel from whence we had started ten days before and I went to return the car. Because we had upgraded from the Eclipse to the muscle car that was the Camaro, there was some more to pay.
"Er, Sir, your card appears to have been stopped"
Itchy fingers clutched at my heart. I knew I had enough money on the card as I had secretly booked some concert tickets earlier that morning online whilst the DL was abluting.
The lady behind the counter patiently went through a lengthy telephone conversation with my bank.
"Yes, he is here with me now. Yes, it is him, his passport and credit card signatures do match, yes. Yes, as you say his date of birth and other information is accurate."
She replaced the reciever looked at me and said: "I am sorry, Sir, your bank say they won't unblock your card!"
So, purpled faced with embarassment I called the Dark Lady and she came rushing down with alternative cards and cash and beads and gifts of furs, fire, water and anything else we thought was needed. Another card went through without problem.
I was furious. Needless to say the helpline for my bank never answered and their website was not functioning. I tried the card in the ATM in the hotel; it was refused. A few minutes later I tried it again. It worked!
Since my return I have had a rather testy exchange with my bank who claim there was never a stop on the card and they had no communication from the car rental company whatsoever. So who to believe?
The following day we set out on a nice long walk round the city. It is a great place for walking (despite the hills). The heat is bearable and the views are magnificent. We went to the Castro district, which is a famous gay hangout. We had recently watched the film, Milk, with Sean Penn who plays Harvey Milk who became the first openly-gay Mayor and was promptly assassinated. We photographed the sight of his camera shop and had a late breakfast at "Harvey's", a streetcorner diner and by-night comedy club. As we were eating the waiter wafted up to us and aksed if we would like a drink as a man at the bar wanted to buy us one. We were puzzled but politely declined. I wondered if it was going to be a scene from Indecent Proposal and the guy wanted to sleep with the Dl for $1m. Either that or, as we were in the Castro district, some desperate bloke seeing me wanted to do something similar!
When the bill came the waiter told us that the fresh orange juice had been paid for by the "gentleman at the bar".
We went over and there was a bloke about my age. His name was Mohammed. His sister worked as a nurse in London and he had the softest hands I had ever touched. We thanked him and asked what had prompted his generosity?
"You look such a sweet couple"
We floated out of the place on gossamer wings. What a superb gesture. We had noticed how kind folks were in San Francisco. Further down the street I turned to the DL and asked, "Do you think he meant 'You looked such as sweet OLD couple'"?
The final night and the final surprise. I am a hog for surprises and I love watching the Dark Lady's face when I spring one on her. In Sonora, I had been having a sneaky peek at what was moving in the City on our final night. DL had met a guy in the laundry room of the hotel who had just moved from New York and was saying how, even compared to the Big Apple (see, I am practically a native!), San Francisco had more culture.
We had meant to go down to have a look at City Hall and UN Plaza before we set off on the road-trip part of the holiday, but didn't have time. I suggested we walked down there and, as we strolled gently past legions of bums (San Francisco does seem to have a terrible homeless problem, never seen it as bad anywhere else), I gently pointed out that we were on our way to a "cultural event".
I guided her gently up the steps of the opera house to the doors where the posters announced "The Ring by Richard Wagner".
You know only too well I can't abide Opera and DL is not a fan either.
"Here we are I said...culture"!
"Well if you have tickets for it I am sure it will be wonderful," she said, bottom lip trembling slightly.
"Actually I thought it would be better if we crossed the road to the Symphony Hall to see the San Francisco Symphony."
DL has as broader range of musical taste than myself; although not a Classical music fan I do like a good orchestra. This one was even better as they were backing Pink Martini who I have played many times on the show as part of "Lesters Library".
They were fantastic and had a whole host of music guests including Ari Shapiro, who is the Washington Correspondent for National public Radio, who came up with a wonderful gag which I shall steal next time I make an appearance anywhere and Joey Arias. To call him a drag act would be a disservice. He was dressed as a bloke and his forte is singing in the style of Billie Holiday. He did "You've Changed" and brought the house down. Mid-way through the song he stopped and said to the audience:
"I know what you're thinking....yes I AM!"
It was the perfect end to a perfect holiday. Although there was one more surprise to come....
We had most of the day to kill on the Friday as the flight didn't leave until 7pm. So we wandered around. Had breakfast at Mel's Drive-In on Van Ness. Good old fashioned diner although it wasn't a drive in. Food was excellent. Service was incredibly slow, mind. By the time we had finished there was time for a gentle stroll back to the hotel to collect our bags and wait for ther cab to arrive.
When it did we had lucked out! (Or is it lucked IN. Never sure about that) they had no ordinary taxis left so they had to send a stretched limo for us.
I told them I suddenly felt very famous.
It was an all too-short drive to airport and, as we handed over the fare (including a generous tip!), we thanked the driver and her companion for their hospitality and the Chauffeur said to us: "It is a pleasure driving such sweet people"
There we go again. "Sweet old couple"!!!