The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

Not our hearts.

It was the summer of 1977 and we had plans. Plans to hit the road again for a vacation down California way.

Instead of flying this time we took our orange Arrow. With me driving of course.

We made the trip in stages, stopping the first night at the Mallory Hotel in Portland OR. We didn’t see much of the city. It was dark out, and on our quest to find a place to eat, we settled on a familiar name – Benihana’s Japanese restaurant. So that section of Portland and whatever was viewable from the off ramp to the hotel and the streets to get back onto I-5 were all we saw of the city.

We made good time from Portland through the rest of Oregon and into Northern California. We reached Vacaville in time for lunch at a restaurant in an olive orchard. My wife remembered this particular restaurant/tourist spot from a family vacation when she was growing up. She carries with her the memory of her dad grimacing when sampling a rather green olive. This time around she was the one grimacing – over my choice from the menu – gazpacho. I guess the thought of cold tomato soup put her teeth on edge. I thought it wonderful (the soup, not the fact that it made her grimace).

From Vacaville we made our way down to San Pablo Bay, skirted around towards San Rafael, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to our next destination – San Francisco. We checked into a motel somewhere along route 1, unloaded our luggage (except a couple of items) and went in search of dinner.

The Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero Center was only four years old at the time, and a prime night spot. It had a revolving restaurant, the Equinox, on the top of its tower. We parked the Arrow a few blocks away up on Market Street, and were mesmerized by the impressive lobby of the hotel (like being in the interior of a pyramid) which we passed through on the way to the restaurant. [My wife is a great disaster movie fan, and shots of this particular lobby were recognizable, as it had been used in The Towering Inferno, three years before.]

We had a enjoyable meal. I can tell you that much, but don’t ask what it was, for what happened next completely overshadowed all else.

We each had had an adult beveridge with our meal, so we were a little fuzzy as we walked up Market to our parked car. We were puzzled by the sight of a loaf of bread sitting on the sidewalk beside the Arrow. My wife wondered out loud why our groceries were outside the car. We didn’t notice the broken glass under the bread, and were slow to realize that our car had been broken into and robbed.

We found a phone and called the cops. After giving them the rundown on our plight, they informed us that they could not come out to the scene of the crime, but if we wanted to come in to fill out a report we were welcome to.

We followed their directions to a small precinct house further uptown and made our report. Besides our groceries we were missing a couple other items: an 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera and dirty laundry in a paper sack. Sometime in the midst of this ordeal I asked urgently if they had a restroom. This sent me on another surreal sidetrack, as they had no public facility and referred me next door to a seedy bar/nightclub. I felt I was sleep walking through the rest of our time there. It was real “trippy.”

The next day was a Sunday and the memory of what transpired is all a hazy black cloud. Reality was settling in. Was our vacation over before it had begun? We needed a replacement for that backseat side window and where would we find one?

We had to wait until Monday. That’s when we raised a Chrysler dealorship, but they did not have that part in stock. Nor did any of the auto glass companies. Hope was offered, in that they could order it in – but it would take a couple of days. Desperate to save our vacation, I asked if there was something we could substitute, say something plastic. That set a light bulb off in the imagination of the auto glass specialist, and he referred us to a shop that dealt in plexiglass. On parting he suggested that we tell them to use the other window as a template to cut a replacement.

Which is exactly what we were able to do. And we were on the road again before lunch. With only an occasional whistling noise from our replacement “window.”

The SoCal Trip 1975

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Have you ever flown on an airplane with a head cold? With your sinuses full up and all you can do is sit there with your eyes clamped shut and teeth gritted? The take-off had been no problem, so there had been no “theatrical trailer” heralding the excruciating experience waiting in the wings.

The landing was the horse of a different color. It felt like an invisible fiend was exploring the inside of my head with the point of an icepick. I chalk it up to the change of air pressure that occurred as we descended. It was with great relief that we finally touched down, and the experience was soon relegated to a distant memory, (with a note to self – never to fly with a head cold again). Our vacation could finally begin in earnest.

This was our first ever vacation to Southern California, and to some of its choice attractions – Disneyland and “Hollywood” to be precise. I do not remember the exact details as to arrangments but we had passes (open sesames) to each stop. It was through favor of the branch managers that my Dad knew (and I would later know myself when working at Saffle’s).

Our first day in SoCal was spent in the Magic Kingdom – Disneyland, courtesy of the BV branch manager in Seattle, Homer Schmidt. It was my second visit, and I think it was perhaps the second time for my wife. The park was prepping for the big bicentennial for the United States the following year, and had already added pertinent events – like America on Parade –  a bicentennial version of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

From here on out, “Gone with the Wind” seemed to be the theme for the rest of the vacation. For, the next day we had an appointment to take a tour of the MGM studio in Culver City, courtesy of the MGM branch manager Connie Carpou. We were driving up Washington Blvd in that fair city, when my wife’s eye caught a curious sight. It appeared to be the mansion from her all-time favorite film – “Gone with the Wind.” Or to be more precise the mansion on the beginning clip that announced it was a David O. Selznick production. There it was in all its glory. And what did we do? We turned the car around and drove back to get a closer look.

We found a side street and parked the car. Nearby we found the studio gate and its guard. As I remember it now, it was a bit of a tunnel, overhung like a garden arbor. So we questioned him about the lot and the mansion out front, and he confirmed our guess that it was indeed what we had seen in the movies. They did not allow visitors at this studio, and since we had our appointment at MGM to get to, we left.

MGM was only a short distance away. We checked in at the Thalberg building to begin our tour of the lot. We were taken through the east gate and down the main street (I think there was advertising for the upcoming release of The Sunshine Boys). First stop was the MGM Scoring Stage. Here we learned that the music soundtracks for the “Wizard of Oz,” “Ben Hur,” and, of course, “Gone with the Wind” were scored. (And to my amazement, one of my all-time favorites “Lawrence of Arabia”).

Our guide pointed out to us the water tank beside the main street, and informed us that it had been built for and used by the swimming film star, Esther Williams. We next got a peek inside an empty sound stage. It was just that, empty, and big.

The rest of the tour at MGM is hazy in my memory. I thought we went briefly into the back lot, where the exterior sets stand – like the New York set; the Carvel town set (Andy Hardy’s hometown), etc. But since “That’s Entertainment” had come out just the year before, I more than likely conflate my memories of its sequences that were shot on this same backlot with those of our tour. I recall mention of certain restrictions that were in place due to insurance concerns.

The last stop on our vacation was a tour of Universal Studios, courtesy of Russell Brown the Seattle branch manager for Universal. It was not at all like the amusement park venue that it is now. We actually got to get out and walk around in certain areas. I remember walking through covered areas where props and greens were set out in the open. We attended a demonstration of movie make up in which members of the audience were “made up” as the Frankenstein monster. (I did not volunteer). But the most memorable item (especially for my wife) was an exhibit that contained a Techincolor camera – one of the cameras that had been used when shooting “Gone with the Wind.”

Our trip back was via an Amtrak train on an over night schedule to Seattle. It had been planned that way from the beginning, not because of my recent experience on the plane. In the main it was memorable because we were sidetracked some time in the night due to heavy snow. We awoke to find that the tracks had just been cleared.

We enjoyed ourselves very much. So much so, that we have been back a number of times, the next one being the very next year.

A future post or posts on that experience to come.

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