Day 1 – Rupert to San Fran

The sun sets at around 8 p.m., an hour earlier than northern B.C.

I woke up early for this flight, pressed snooze once but accidentally shut the phone alarm off. Thirty minutes later I woke up in a rush to pack my two small backs and head out the door.

Steve left first in his grumbly truck. I put my two bags — a turquoise Herschel backpack and an O.R. messenger bag — in the front seat. Then I lay down two blankets and let our dog, Skeena, hop in the back seat. She hates being in the car, she will cower, stoop and drool, but I like being around her and I selfishly wanted to be in the same space with her before I left for nine days.

For one week and two days I’m landing in San Francisco and traveling on to who knows where. I’m meeting my friend Amanda, and her friend Ali for a night, before Amanda and I drive on into the west coast dream.

I met Amanda at Seafest last June. Seafest, for those who don’t live in Prince Rupert, is a summer time festival where North Coast residents celebrate life, the sea and all things fun. There are parades, food vendors offering meat on a stick, dunk tanks, boat competitions, live concerts, beer gardens and three days of letting loose.

Amanda was a new ‘visiting’ dentist in town and I needed a dentist. Early in her career, she would travel to Rupert for two weeks and then back to Vancouver for another two weeks of dentist work.

Whenever she came to Rupert she’d give me a message and we’d adventure. Once we met a nice guy at the Wheelhouse Brew Pub and he took us out sailing on his boat the next weekend. Alfie also happened to be a YouTube star and films his sailing trips. Amanda has been in enough videos online that she was once recognized by a pickle salesman on Granville Island, Vancouver.

A few months ago, after Amanda had told me she was moving back to Ottawa to be a full-time dentist there, she told me that she was planning to travel the America in a self-designed, retrofitted SUV camper-van. I loved the idea.

CHECK OUT HER BLOG: HOMELESS AND HAPPY

Before she left, I went to Vancouver for a brief journalism stint and I stayed with Amanda in her smart little apartment near Kits Beach. We had a great time and connected on a level beyond Prince Rupert’s rustic seaside-rainforest ambience.

After one last Seafest, she departed on her journey and convinced me to meet her part way. So here I was, on my way to meet the seasoned road-tripper in San Fran.

Saturday morning, I drove 1.5 hours to Terrace, dropped off my broken Kia ‘Pectra’ to have the clutch replaced at a mechanics, then Steve took me to the airport. En route to Vancouver, I just so happened to spill a cup of tomato juice on my one pair of jeans, but it didn’t matter, I was on holiday. I was handed a mini-bottle of wine and I had a classic Nicolas Sparks romance, and I was good to go. Five hour layover in the Vancouver airport and then another flight to San Fran.

Before I hopped on the flight, I felt slightly disconcerted by her texts that we shouldn’t meet at the hostel because it’s ‘sketchy’ with lots of homeless people around. I decided to catch an Uber X when I landed, to meet Amanda at the sketchy $100-a-night hostel near the Tenderloin, and would have no expectations other than I have this time to be free from thoughts, deadlines and ongoing pressures of work.

Let the adventure begin.

Day 2 – San Fran to Walmart

As the plane landed, there were millions of teeny tiny jewels lit up below me. San Francisco. When I arrived I called an Uber X driver to avoid paying the full $55 for a taxi at the airport.

Jamaludeen was my driver. He picked me up in a Hyundai Elantra. Friendly, with broken English and the faint smell of cigarette smoke that reminded me of travels in another place, at another time, but in a much nicer vehicle. His advice to me, as we flew along the highway into a less glossy neighbourhood, was to eat. Explore the city’s cuisine. No sightseeing, just eat.

I arrived at the hole-in-the-wall Europa hostel on 6th Street and with blurry eyes I spotted beautiful smiling Amanda outside the front door. My eyesight was poor from the night and too many days of reading and typing in front of a computer screen.

The hostel room had one bed, a TV and a sink. It made me think of poverty, but yet it still cost $100 a night so I’m not sure I want to know what a decent hotel room would have come too.

Outside, the homeless filled every nook, cranny and corner in the street. But they were all very friendly.

I woke up before the other two girls and planned to grab a towel from the front desk for a shower, but the front desk was closed and I had locked myself out of the room.

Ali, Amanda’s university friend, opened the door for me and I grabbed one of their towels and crammed into one of the showers down the hall. After, I was keen to get moving so I left the girls to explore the streets and venture deeper toward the Tenderloin — the edgier part of town.

Before I waded in too deep, I spotted a bustling breakfast joint — Dotties — that luckily had a couple of seats left for singles only. The line outside the diner’s door continued to grow during my time there, so I knew I’d found a gem.

I sat beside Annie, a local from the neighbourhood. She told me when you look up her address on Google Maps you can see a tent set up on the street across from her apartment. Annie has been a waitress at a diner in the Castro for the past 20-plus years and she likes that she doesn’t have to worry about leering men in the gay district.

I ordered the frittata with spinach and goat cheese. It came with delicious corn bread with bits of jalapeno, and hash browns. The coffee kept flowing, thankfully, as did my conversation with Annie, who seemed to know everyone at Dotties.

Annie recommended a few sites to check out and offered some political insights to the city. Rent is skyrocketing from speculation — $1,200 USD a month for a one bedroom apartment — and it’s unaffordable for most people.

I packed up half of my breakfast and met up with Amanda and Alit back at our overpriced hostel. We walked everywhere. To a farmers market where we bought juice and white flesh peaches and then to Alamo Square to view the city from the grassy hilltop and the Painted Ladies, a row of pretty pastel-coloured Victorian homes.

After our photo ops we hurried back to grab the car from underground parking, and toured the city some more. First to Golden Gate Park where we stumbled into a Hare Krishna festival. Then down to Haight-Ashbury where the Summer of Love was celebrating 50 years: 1967-2017.

We had Thai for lunch and hopped around. Put sparkles on our faces and I grabbed a pair of stars and stripes sunglasses. We hopped back into the car to Golden Gate Bridge — the iconic red structure linking two sides of the earth over the Pacific Ocean. A cargo container ship passed underneath as we climbed an old cement fortress to snatch a better view of the suspension bridge.

We jumped back in the SUV and parked near Fisherman’s Wharf next. With the sun low in the distance, sea lions barked from their rookery and packs of tourists gazed on.

Dinner at the Sourdough Bistro Boudin at the wharf. We sat at the bar, drank local beer, ate crab chowder, sourdough bread and seared tuna. Day one in California and I already felt that I was living the dream.

We dropped Ali off at the airport and continued on our way down Highway 101. Both of us tired, Amanda taught me the secret to free accommodation — sleeping in the Wal-Mart parking lot, the American dream.

Parked near the back-end of the lot, the sun had already set and there were other camper vans around. We set up her bed in the back of the car, put Reflectix on the windows and brushed our teeth and then, with ear plugs in, passed out.

For more on the California road trip stay tuned! Day 3-4, Monterey to Big Sur coming up next week.

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