From West to East: A Road Trip Journal (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts on a summer trip. Sorry it’s not quite summer anymore; things have been busy, but hopefully I’ll get the rest of these out before too long!

A little bit of background: I spent this summer studying ancient Greek language at the University of Berkeley. In late May, a few days before I was scheduled to catch my plane at Hartsfield-Jackson airport for Berkeley, I invited a few of my best friends over to bid them a fond farewell for the summer. Suffice to say, we ended up on the roof at three a.m. discussing how incredible it would be to do a cross-country road trip after my class was over. Now, we had thrown around this possibility dozens of times before, but this time, everything was a bit different. For one, none of us was a kid anymore; Tyler, my next door neighbor, had just graduated from University of Georgia; my brother, Carl, is going into his senior year at Emory University; and Nick, a good friend from high school, and I are both going into our junior years (Emory for me, Haverford for him). Moreover, all of us were itching to get out of our quiet suburbs and see some of the world before the relentless march of years and responsibility would make it impossible for us to take the trip together.  Before we knew it, we were taking solemn oaths that we’d be hitting the road in shortly more than two months. Obviously, we did, or I wouldn’t be writing this now.

San Francisco Wharf

We kept an email thread going over the summer, and plans began to coalesce as we charted out routes and discussed expenses and preparations. Unaware of just how massive the United States is, we thought we’d be able to do multiple excursions into the backcountry of parks like Zion, Glacier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. As their departure date drew closer—I was still busily reviewing declensions and translating Plato and Homer in California—Nick sat down with a map and revised the plans, resulting in a more modest, but actually doable, itinerary. Carl, Tyler, and Nick would set out from Atlanta on July 31st and travel through the southern United States en route to an arrival at Berkeley on August 9th, one day before my class finished. Things went off without a hitch, and to make a long story short (and arrive at where I can relate from my own experience), I’ll pass over the detailed adventures and mention just a very few of their stops: New Orleans’s French Quarter; Texas roadhouse barbecue  a sixteen mile hike to the Grand Canyon’s bottom and back up; Arizona’s Painted Desert and Petrified Forest; the crisscrossing, world-wandering trains of Santa Fe; Hollywood; Los Angeles’s “Muscle Beach”; and many more.

Street Art, San Francisco

Lest anyone be disappointed at the absence of “Hangover”-esque escapades, I’ll just note now that the following narration of our trip back to Atlanta from San Francisco is not intended to be a wildly humorous or daring adventure; nor is it a prescriptive for anyone else’s travels. Rather, I hope that our experience provides others with a bit of perspective and an interesting look at other parts of the continental USA.

Carl participating in a beloved Berkeley past-time at the corner of Telegraph and Haste

I guess the trip (back) could be said to have started on August 10th, with our look at San Francisco before departing the area. Of course, I had already visited the city several times during my summer studies, but since I had my final exams on Friday the 10th, I gave Carl, Nick, and Tyler directions to get into town using the BART (Berkeley Area Regional Transportation) train and a few recommendations for what to see. They spent most of the day walking around, and saw, from what I heard, the Mission district, Fishermen’s Wharf, China Town, tons of street art (see the pictures) and a few very steep streets, including Filbert street, one of the steepest navigable streets in the western hemisphere. The Mission district, for those who don’t know, with its heavily Hispanic population is known for, among many other much more important things, its (justly) renowned Mexican food.

After I finished my Greek finals, I hopped on the BART and came to San Francisco to meet them. Our intention was to go to North Beach, a famous haunt of the Beat-generation poets and intellectuals. After meandering through the city for a little while and becoming lost, we arrived at Caffe Trieste, a coffee shop which had been a favorite Beat hangout and, allegedly, where Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of The Godfather. (Ironically, I had seen him a few weeks earlier sitting outside and drinking coffee at Caffe Greco, not far from Zoetrope Studios, his green-tinted studio based in San Francisco.) Finishing a few amazing lattes and cappuccinos, we next visited City Lights Bookstore. In addition to great quantities of Beat memorabilia and literature, the historic bookstore has an impressive selection of classic and contemporary literature. We grabbed a few books and then, a bit tuckered out,  called it for the night and returned to Berkeley.

The next morning, we got up bright and early: first, because I was checking out of my apartment and we planned on leaving in the afternoon; second, because I wanted to show the coffee aficionados among us Caffe Mediterraneum, a coffee shop purporting to have invented the caffe latte. The verdict’s still out on this one, although I couldn’t turn up unbiased corroboration with a quick Google search; take a look at its claim in the photo and judge for yourself! Nevertheless, the place serves great coffee, and was (again, allegedly) the place where Alan Ginsberg wrote much of his controversial “epic” Howl. Undisputedly, a front window table with a view of the famous Moe’s bookstore across the street did serve as one of the opening shots for the movie The Graduate. Telegraph Ave’s liberal and diverse street culture is just a few steps away, to boot. It’s got real “cafe” culture. Not skinny jeans, MacBooks, and berets, but a grungy closeness that’s hard to find in many other coffee shops which, say, require a purchase every hour or it’s the door.

(Next post, we leave San Francisco and hit the Pacific Coast Highway.)

Lombard Street, San Francisco

One thought on “From West to East: A Road Trip Journal (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: From West to East: A Road Trip Journal (Part 2) « Raxa Collective

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