Arriving in Santa Cruz, the weather is dreary and cold – but I figure it’s just typical California morning fog. Surely, by the afternoon it will be clear skies – as the final stretch of Highway One hugs the ocean on a two-lane trail. So I grab lunch in town and walk a little down the pier, with my Western cowboy gear in full – as I walk in denial that my trip is about to end. A few kids on the Boardwalk say “nice hat” as I walk by, as I really stick out like a sore thumb here.But an hour in Santa Cruz doesn’t clear up the skies. In fact, the weather has gotten worse now – and it’s starting to rain. I feel bummed that the final stretch of my trip is going to be in miserable wet weather, and I wonder if it’s a sign that I’m headed back towards reality. Then, I think about it more – and realize that it’s the first real rain I’ve had on my trip for three weeks. So I consider myself lucky, as I head up north towards San Francisco.
As the car zooms through the two-lane road with the windshield wipers swiping, I realize that I need to play something psychedelic and meditative. So I pop in Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Of course, the only reason I own that CD is because of the famous urban legend that playing it while watching The Wizard of Oz will reveal some eerie synchronized moments. And yes, I’m as much of a Wizard of Oz dork that I’ve tried it. And while it generally was a huge waste of time, I can’t help thinking of the movie as I listen to the album – because that’s how I first heard all the songs. Meanwhile, the rain splattering along Highway One with Pink Floyd makes it a real trippy existence.
As I get closer to Pescadero, the clouds start to drift away – and by the time I get to Half Moon Bay, it is a beautiful clear afternoon with blue skies. With San Francisco less than an hour away, now is time to take out Pink Floyd – and put in something more upbeat. How about a little Harry Belafonte to get into the groove, as “Shake Shake Shake Senora” gets me through the rocky and windy cliffs near Pacifica.Now, I am almost in San Francisco – and at the end of my journey, where I must go back to work the next day. Ever since Los Angeles, I’ve been dreading this part of the trip. But you don’t really dread going home if you are happy, and if your life is good coming back home is something to look forward to.
I don’t fully appreciate that, however, until I turn off Highway One just south of San Francisco and switch to Skyline Boulevard – so I can come into town on the Great Highway. The road goes up a hill, and I see the Sunset, Richmond, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio straight ahead – with the Golden Gate Bridge just peaking on top in the distance.
At that point, the emotions get the better of me – and I turn off the CD player. It’s time for me to open my mouth, and belt out a song for the occasion. Join me and Jeannette McDonald, as we sing along (with lyrics below):
It only takes a tiny corner of,
this great big world to make the place you love,
My home upon a hill, I find I love you still,
I’ve been away but now I’m back … to … tell … you
San Francisco! Open your Golden Gate!
You let no stranger wait, outside your door!
San Francisco! Here is your wandering one,
Saying I’ll wander no more.
Other places only make me love you best!
Tell me you’re the heart of all the Golden West!
San Francisco! Welcome me home again!
I’m coming home, to go roaming no more!
I just can’t help it. I sing the song three times over, as the car climbs up the Great Highway towards Golden Gate Park. I suddenly choke up, and realize why I love living here like I do, and why it has been my home for so many years now. I may have had a good childhood in Chicago, but I really came into myself here in San Francisco. I put down roots in the Bay Area, and I’ve learned to thrive and be a happy and developed person out here.
I think about the Birthday Party I had with friends before I left town, and that I already have a friend tonight who’s making me dinner. I think about all the opportunities I have awaiting me here, in this fair City by the Bay. I’m not sad my vacation is over. Because as Dorothy told Auntie Em: “there is no place like home.”
I’ll have some final thoughts on my 3-week road trip in a few days …