Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
A couple of diaries ago, I told the story of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on our path to more travel. Then Marianne's heart complications arose and it seemed like someone had ordered up more tunnel. Once the path was clear, we made our plans to see new parts of North America in 2020 and then return to Europe in 2021.
Then some folks got sick and died in China, and the world of travel, including our travel, has been turned on its head. Way more tunnel for us. The health establishment is calling for elderly and vulnerable Americans to stay home. Unfortunately, we qualify as elderly and, from time to time, as health-vulnerable.
Despite it all, we won't stay home, and this week we are taking a small step. Before the novel virus hit the world, we had planned to visit to our investment advisors up in Marin County and see a few friends along the way. That's what this diary will be about.
Art is part of what we want to see on travel, so we started with a Monday evening pass through Vernissage in our neighborhood. Gallery owner Ma Ly was there, teaching painting classes, and it's always nice to chat with him. I also took some time to look around, and take pictures of work by local artists: Myrna Axt's assemblages; Ren Lee's ceramic faces; Jose Aguirre's paintings. There's more and you should go - and buy!
On Tuesday, the 10th of March, we drove up the Central Valley, taking in all the normal scenes. I was practicing shooting from the passenger seat, not the way quality shots should be done, but something is better than nothing. After two hours of flatland, we headed over the hills, past wind machines, down to the East Bay.
As we passed Oakland, I snapped shots of the Grand Princess, the cruise ship just recently arrived with a contingent of corona-virus passengers and crew. Bad pictures, but enough to remind us of the difficulty others are suffering in a quest for relaxing travel. Talk about having more tunnel before they get to the light!
Our goal was a visit with Nelcy, a nonagenarian family friend in San Rafael. She is a charming lady, who immigrated to America from war-ravaged Europe at about the same time as Marianne and her family. One of the best Hungarian lilts that I have heard and we got to listen to plenty as we ate a slow lunch at Il Davide, her favorite local Italian restaurant. (A recommendation.)
After lunch, we returned to Nelcy's home, a home filled with a gallery's worth of art, mostly her own. Upstairs in her office, we provided some quick computer and iPhone help. At 91, Nelcy is connected as the rest of us, but needs IT help from time to time. (That is a Frank Gehry chair Marianne is sitting in, purchased a decade ago for a fraction of its current worth.)
A nice visit; we need to come back.
On Wednesday, we headed out early for a short drive north to Novato. In our direction, the six miles took, maybe, ten minutes. Southbound Highway 101 looked like a parking lot and Google Maps said Novato to San Rafael would have been 42 minutes. I can not imagine facing such traffic for hours each day.
Novato was where our retirement financial advisors, Equius Partners, have their offices. Their space is in an old airplane hanger, part of an effort to reclaim land from an old Coast Guard Air Station. Frankly, we get jealous every time we visit, because the old base has been turned into a charming mix of housing, offices, schools, and parks. We should have moved here when Equius did!
The meeting with Alex and Phil was interesting. Most of the discussion covered our own plans for the next years, travel and all. We almost ignored the reality that the stock market had dropped 20% over the last month. It is nice to have ridden out drops earlier in our save-for-retirement process. The best part of dealing with Phil over the last 30 years or so, has been that he views saved money as a tool to enjoy life and reduce worry. I guess it works, because we walked out of there with a plan that made sense to us, corona-virus, stock market crunch, cancer, and all.
Retirement financed, we did some shopping, grabbed lunch, and headed east, around the top of San Francisco Bay, past Sacramento, and into the Sierras. Interstate 80 starts out as a giant, many-laned race track, but traffic drops off along the way. Again, I thought of commuters who need to do 30 or 40 or more miles of this every work day. Yuck. Maybe the virus-induced movement to send everyone home to work will help out. A small silver lining.
Up through the mountains, traffic was light and the scenery spectacular, like usual. We hear from Gabby on her Friday afternoon drives up this way and know it isn't always this easy. For us, the only slowdown was a quick stop to take pictures at Donner Lake.
After a not-so-quick stop at the Safeway in Truckee for essentials, we headed over to Martis Camp and our special AirB&B. Mamal and Gabby have just finished their "guest house" in Martis, and it is just wonderful. We would prefer to have the little family here to greet us, but settling in on our own was comfy and luxurious. Thanks guys!
Thursday had no plan. Breakfast was oatmeal and fruit at our B&B, Excellent service. After that, Marianne had to do the exercises her physical therapist requires for post-surgery recovery. Rather than just loaf and watch her sweat (really), I took off for a camera walk in the neighborhood.
My goal was Lookout Lodge, an easy 25-minute hike up the hill. The lodge is also the base for the Martis lift that connects to the extensive Northstar system of lifts and ski runs. On this Thursday, things were pretty quiet, although a handful of skiers were good enough to zoom over the icy surfaces, locally referred to as "Sierra cement".
On my way up to and back from Lookout Lodge, I passed mostly-empty vacation homes and I was struck with the ability of folks to have these places for such limited use. In my hour-long walk, I saw less than a handful of cars, other than workmen's pickup trucks and vans.
Gabby and Mamal's place is classified as a "guest house", and seems to be a perfect size for winter and summer vacations. The neighboring houses are all two to ten times larger. Kind of amazing. Here are SOME of those places. Keep in mind, this is just one corner of Martis Camp.
After our exercise, it was time to tour Truckee. The listed population of the village is under 17,000, but I'm sure there are times when vacationers and tourists outnumber locals by a big margin. On our early-March Thursday, things were pretty quiet.
We started with shopping, not for anything specific, "just looking". I was interested in a nice hand-made table, but would need a new house. Not today. We also went in the Carmel Gallery, where Elizabeth and Olof Carmel offer a wide assortment of landscape photos from throughout the world. Their work is so good, it shames my own efforts, but we all do what we can. I finished my part of the tour with a couple books from Word After Word Books. (They recommended "Station Eleven", a science-fiction piece about life after a massive virus pandemic kills most of humanity. A real picker-upper.)
By now, we had earned lunch so we went upstairs to The Truckee Tavern & Grill, a Gabby recommendation. It was largely empty, perhaps a sign of current virus-avoidance. We have noticed that restaurants are not at all crowded, and we attribute some of that to people traveling and eating out less nowadays. Kind of discouraging. Our Tavern beer, water, and sandwiches were all worth recommending, if you are traveling this way.
The rest of the day we spent loafing, as one should do up here. We read some. Marianne worked on her "Zentangle" drawings. I fiddled with photos. We worked on one or two short walks, still seeing virtually no one else. All in all, a good day.
We woke up early on Friday and changed our plans yet again. There was a big snowstorm on the way, so we had already determined to leave Truckee before it hit. We ate breakfast at Marty's, another recommendation and discussed our plan. Basically, we just wanted to drive home to Fresno, rather than to extend our trip with a Saturday visit to friend Ted in Sonora. I think all this corona-virus development had finally gotten to us.
We just want to get home, but felt we could take a full day wandering in the towns and villages of the Sierra foothills and make it seem like we were still travelers. The drive on Interstate 80 out of the mountains was pleasant and we congratulated ourselves on the decision to avoid the same drive in a snowstorm. Down almost to Sacramento, we turned south toward Folsom and wove through some very pleasant areas, semi-rural, but with many homes, farms, and wineries that indicated this was not a poor hill area.
Folsom itself was a pleasant surprise. We parked in Historic Folsom, a few-blocks district with a couple handfuls of old buildings, most of which were used for restaurants, antique stores, and gift shops. I could not tell if the quietness was virus-induced or a seasonal thing. Maybe an early March Friday would always be this desolate.
In about an hour, we walked the entire downtown, looking in at least half the small shops. Our favorite was the Fire and Rain Gallery. The docent/sales-person explained that almost 100 artists, mostly local, are represented. I'm not sure about "local", since we recognized one Fresno artist and a furniture piece from a Mid-West group, but most displayed art was colorful and creative. Given a larger house, we'd have spent some serious money. However, we left with just nice memories. Good enough.
We left Folsom after noon, originally headed toward more California Gold Country destinations, but soon changed plans again. We redirected the GPS to find the shortest route to Fresno. The machine said it would still be three-plus hours. much of it on Highway 99, perhaps our least-favorite California road, but we were toured-out. We did break up the drive with a stop at Chase's Chop Shop, our favorite almost-local butcher shop. Scott, the owner (and brother to our own sister-in-law), said the day had been crazy as scores of virus-fearing folks had apparently shifted from stockpiling toilet paper to loading up on meat.
We were home before 6pm, and planning how we would stay home for the next weeks. The light at the end of our travel tunnel seems smaller and smaller.
Stop ordering more tunnel!
John and Marianne