Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A Favorite Christmas Memory   Leave a comment

December 1, 2018

I got the travel bug early in life. It may have been my parents, taking the family vacation each summer to visit some part of the extended family. One year we’d drive from Milwaukee to New York to see my father’s side of the family, the next year to Texas to see my mother’s family. Occasionally there was a trip to Florida to see Uncle Bob, a family member without any clear explanation as to which branch of the family he could be found.

I remember our last family vacation, the one before my parents separated, and before my older brother graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Navy. For a variety of reasons I recall some aspects of the trip very clearly. There was the 1958 Chevy wagon. I now think back to that steel and aluminum dash board and wonder why none of us were killed as a result of a sudden stop while riding in this pre-seatbelt car. I can’t forget my first stay at a Holiday Inn. This was in Pryor, Oklahoma, on our way to Dallas. It had a swimming pool. And I recall that Chevy wagon pulling into the Parkmoor Drive-in Restaurant in St. Louis for lunch. The Parkmoor could have been the inspiration for Al’s drive-in on television’s Happy Days.

I might add that 1958 was also the year my brother closed my grandfather’s garage door with a complete lack of concern about the force, weight, and speed of the hand-lift door. He managed to break his own foot that day when the door landed on it. In any case, traveling—for a 10-year old boy—was an adventure. Years later I began traveling for business and found myself on a plane at least once or twice each week. For the next thirty years. I could list the airlines I flew and the cities I visited but [a] that would boring and [b] there’d be little space left.

amtrakThere was the Thanksgiving my wife and I decided to take the train from L.A. to Chicago. Inspired, predictably, by seeing Gene Wilder and Jill Clayburgh in the film Silver Streak. Spoiler alert: Amtrak wasn’t at all like Hollywood. When it came time for dinner we walked to the dining car. After a glass of wine we were handed menus and told we had a choice of soup or salad. We asked the server what was today’s soup. He didn’t know so he casually walked back to the staging area in the middle of the dining car and yeIled down the dumbwaiter to the kitchen: “What’s the soup tonight?”. A voice came thundering back: “Macaroni and cheese soup.” We both had the salad. It took us three days to get to Chicago, and I don’t think either of us slept. But a cross-country train trip in America was scratched off our list of great ideas never to be repeated.

kenya passp img_0008 (1)We saved money for a few years to afford a dream trip: we went to Kenya for Christmas. Unlike Amtrak this was one of those dream trips as almost everything went right. After the train trip to Chicago I guess we had earned some good luck.

It was 1986 and legendary airline Pan Am was still an option. We flew to New York, changed planes and got a direct 747 flight to Kenya. Direct doesn’t mean non-stop. We made “visits” to Dakar (Senegal), Monrovia (Liberia), Lagos (Nigeria) and then eastbound across Africa to Nairobi. An almost 25 hour journey. After a couple

kenya ball dolly img

Dolly watching the balloon get inflated.

of nights at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi (supposedly a Hemingway hangout) we began our safari/bush trip around Kenya traveling South, north, west, and south again. One night we camped at the base of Kilimanjaro, a week (and a couple of camps later) we were near Mt. Kenya. Our last 4-5 days there included Christmas, staying on the Masai Mara, near the Rift Valley, not too far from the border with Tanzania. We asked our guide if there was a local church that would be having Christmas services, to which he replied “yes, about 3-4 miles from here.” Christmas Eve morning we drove to a spot where we watched a crew get three hot air balloons ready for flight, and before we knew it we were drifting toward the Tanzanian border.

high viewWe followed the wind and saw virtually every animal you go to Africa to see. Hippos. Plenty of hippos. Lions. Plenty of them too. Giraffe, elephants, buffalo. After a couple of ho

urs in the air—an amazing experience—we finished our trip about mile from the Tanzanian border, and had brunch at a make-shift camp. A crew drove us to do a little cross bor

der shopping and that afternoon we were back at our camp. Big rains that night and when we awoke the next morning we were told that Christmas service at the church was out of the question. The roads were washed out.

Our last day in the bush we packed and got ready for our flight back to Nairobi. That balloon stoppedplane was a 40-50 year-old twin engine DC-3, which was a whole other experience. One night in Nairobi and we were back on a Pan Am 747 and a slightly longer trip home. Of all the Christmases before and since, I always remember Christmas 1986.

People talk about life as a journey, and so it is. In 40 years of traveling we’ve been to many cities, and many countries on four continents. We have, as another film title suggested, taken planes , trains, and automobiles. Family reunions, visiting friends. But in all of our holiday journeys, one stays with me to this day. We never got to church but it was still Christmas in Africa. Maybe we’ll go back.

David Steffen


© 2018 David Steffen


Posted December 1, 2018 by Jazzdavid in Travel, Uncategorized

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Exploring Renewal   Leave a comment

September 1, 2018

   I remember my first trip to California. The year was 1972, I flew in from Chicago, as I was about to begin a new career. The fabled terminal at LAX was a fraction of the size it is today. The horseshoe design of the access road was already in place, but the terminals were one level in those days (vs. today’s two and three-story buildings swallowing up departing passengers and spitting out the arrivals.) Over the dozen years I lived in Los Angeles, I occasionally drove south from Los Angeles to San Diego or north to Santa  Barbara. But any other in-state travel was of the “fly-over” variety.

A few years ago (2014) I actually drove to Los Angeles from Mendocino County (mostly on I-5) to attend a memorial service for a dear friend. That Friday night I stayed with friends in the Hollywood hills. Saturday morning we all went to the memorial—in typical L.A. fashion—in numerous separate cars. As quickly as I arrived, Saturday afternoon I found myself back in my car and headed north on I-5. Neither the drive south on Friday or the return on Saturday motivated me to consider the beauty of this state’s “agricultural engine”, that enormous food-producing region covering the central part of the Golden State.

For some reason, as summer 2018 began I felt the urge to make contact. I reached out to one of my friends from that October 2014 visit. Harold Childs has been more than a friend. Hell, we worked together for a couple of decades. The call felt good and after a couple of months of trying to find the perfect moment we finally found a weekend that would work for us both.

Leaving Mendocino County on a Friday morning (again) I headed south, this time down the coast through Jenner, across the Russian River, over to Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed), past Point Reyes Station, which I once described to someone (as a good thing) as a “coastal town that time sorta forgot”. I continued south through Olema and on to the Golden Gate Bridge. From there I drove past Golden Gate Park to Highway 92 and headed toward Half Moon Bay. Finally I was going to once again be enjoying the ocean views.

    Part of my motivation for this route was the wonderful news that a beautiful stretch of Highway One near Big Sur had been repaired, reopened, and ready for traffic. I should have expected that with the highway reopened, a few thousand of my closest friends would also be headed to Half Moon Bay, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, and other points south.

     Somewhere just north of Monterey my iPhone’s GPS suggested—I guess most of these devices have learned to make suggestions to we puny humans—that I move over to Highway 101. It would be faster, and as it was now past noon, and I had hundreds of miles to go, I should get a move on.

In short order I found myself speeding down a wide-open 101, glancing left and right to take notice of the vast agricultural land I heretofore had only sped past at night or high above in a Boeing jet. It was sunny and beautiful (albeit  90+ degrees outside) and as I passed Watsonville I thought about the green vegetables and fruit often labeled as having come from this particular part of the state. When I read the highway sign that said “Soledad, 10 miles” I decided I’d had enough of the hot and dry ag-land and would head back to the coast. Once you’re past Soledad, Gonzales, Greenfield or dozens of other towns you realize there is no quick and easy route back to the coast from 101. Never mind. I still had my iPhone and even if this was miles from the coast, the drive might be worth it.

As I turned west from Greenfield, I navigated my way along a series of two-lane blacktop highways with names like Elm Road (no elms to be seen), Arroyo Seco (a dry creek it was), and Carmel Valley Road, which gave me some confidence that my general direction was west. Observing so many hard-working men in the fields, orchards, and vineyards, I was reminded (once again) how lucky I’ve been.

Some twists and turns (and perhaps 2 hours  after leaving 101) I suddenly found myself in the charming town of Carmel Valley. It’s about 15 miles from the coast and the parts of it I saw were just plain lovely. I quickly began reorienting myself from the dry roads, valleys, and hills and focused on this oasis. Clearly the real estate was well out of my league, but I had no interest in moving here anyway; and a stop after so many hours of driving seemed like a very good idea.

I turned right into the parking lot of the Corskscrew Cafe, with a sign telling me that lunch was served until 4:00pm. Glancing at my watch and seeing it was 3:30pm, the decision was easy. A glass of wine, a salad, and at 4:30pm I was back on Pacific Coast Highway. Sightseeing was becoming less and less of a motivation, as I knew I had many miles to go to get to Oxnard before midnight.

PCH became Cabrillo Highway, and I observed names and places that, had I not been so tardy driving this far, I would be stopping to take them all in. I looked up to see (in the distance) the great American cabin in the woods known colloquially as Hearst Castle at San Simeon. I waved to the ghosts and continued south traveling through towns like Harmony, Cayucos, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, and Pismo Beach. By the time I reached the outskirts of Santa Barbara I was tired but feeling like I was actually going to make it to Oxnard.

Arriving at my Air B&B I can only say that it was better than the Alkistis Hotel in Athens but not by much. (The Alkistis was $10 bucks a night in 1976 and way overpriced then). Never mind. I won’t bore you with my whiny accommodations story; perhaps another day.

    Saturday morning my friend Harold picked me up and we started our day at a local coffee spot. We then spent the next ten hours catching up. Some wine, some food, a personally guided private tour of Oxnard—did you know it was founded by Henry Oxnard, or that the Navy not only maintains a base in Oxnard (Port Hueneme, actually) but there is a museum dedicated to the amazing work of the Sea Bees. If you don’t know, it’s the name given to the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions). ox photo (1)We had dinner at a local favorite (in Ventura, as I recall), and then another Lyft car to get us back safely. Oxnard is a nice place to live and I can see why Harold likes it. Close enough to greater Los Angeles to stay in touch with friends and family but better air, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

     Sunday Morning we had more coffee, said our good-byes and I was on the road again. I drove straight back to Mendocino County, taking 101 most of the way. When I got home I didn’t need anyone to remind me how much I like living up here. But I will say, reaching out was a great idea. Most importantly I renewed a friendship that I’ve treasured for 40 years. And I was reminded, along the way, what a great state California truly is. There is so much here to explore and discover, and none of us will live long enough to see it all or even half. But while you’re busy making plans, take a turn. Stop in a small town. explore a museum. Gaze at the ocean. And visit with an old friend. It’ll make you feel young again. Really.

Posted September 15, 2018 by Jazzdavid in Food, Media, Technology, Travel, Uncategorized

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