SF to Eureka

It had been five years since my last trip to the Pacific Northwest, the land where I’d move in an instant if no external considerations were present. Last time I’d driven up on my own, stayed with friends in Portland, and met a friend from Minneapolis for the drive to Seattle and back home. Everything was great until I met up with said pouty friend and was frustrated by not getting to spend any significant time in Seattle.

This time around I was riding with Mark, who promised to be a much more entertaining travelling companion. I was looking forward to one of the best road trips ever, and I pretty much got it.


Mark showed up at my house about noon, having already driven three hours from Fresno. We packed up and got in the car, and after spending more than half an hour in traffic trying to leave this hellhole of a city, we were on the Golden Gate Bridge, headed for Eureka.


We took the scenic route, up US 101 through Santa Rosa, Ukiah, Willits, and any number of other small towns, most of which had numerous roadside stands specializing in carved bears and miscellaneous yard ornaments. There were motels and diners and all the things which make US highways more interesting than interstates.


We stopped in Ukiah for provisions and ice cream. It was really hot. Our ice cream melted. And at Myers Flat, we hit our first big milestone: Mark was, at that time, farther from home than he’d ever been. We took pictures to commemorate the event.

We also pissed in the woods, but that was more of a “back to nature” sort of thing…

We arrived in Eureka about 7:00 and checked into our reserved room at the Motel 6. Well, not exactly, as they’d lost my reservation. But we got a room anyway, and used it to stretch our muscles a bit. We felt much better afterward.


Eureka is a pleasant enough place, and the cool weather was a significant improvement over the heat in Ukiah. But it’s not quite as interesting as I’d somehow thought it might be. We toured the city by night, ate at a Mexican restuarant which was passable, if not authentic, and came home to bed, where I had a little trouble sleeping due to a bit of stiffness in the leg. We decided to make more stops to walk around on Sunday’s drive.

Eureka to Portland


We had breakfast in the restaurant by the Motel 6 and were pretty much on our way without significant delay. We explored Eureka a bit, and we motored through Arcata and most of the rest of Northern California pretty quickly. Neither of us was particularly in the mood for hippie oceanographers on this Easter Sunday.


It was all very scenic. And I’m not saying that in a sarcastic way, even though I’m not really a nature freak. It was a good day for a drive.


And for a stop at the Trees of Mystery, where we visited the gift shop (if not the actual trees) and wondered at Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, noting that the latter evidently has the largest set of testicles on the west coast.

So Crescent City was just plain ugly, and I usually have a pretty high tolerance for that sort of thing. Highlights included a very old, very unmodified Denny’s and a Kmart which was among the unlucky ranks of those soon to be closed. My Funyuns were extra cheap.


Just north of Crescent City, we left US 101 for US 199, headed northeast to Grant’s Pass. We made it to Oregon pretty quickly, and we’d arranged our gas consumption in such a way that we only had to fill up once in that strange state with no self-service gas.


I like Grant’s Pass. It’s small and sleepy (and way too Mormon), but it’s an interesting little town in a redneck sort of way. There’s a cute (but not really cutesy) downtown and one of every fast food restaurant imagineable. And tons of cheap motels, although we weren’t in the market this go-round. You have to love anyplace which offers a last call for decadence.

We did fairly serious driving after Grant’s Pass (OK, Mark did fairly serious driving) and didn’t make a big stop until that Taco Bell in Eugene, where we also got gas. By the time we arrived in Portland (OK, Tigard), we were a little punchy. We searched the streets near the Motel 6 for an open restaurant, found none, and bought a late supper at the Safeway across the street. Then we slept.



Portland. Everyone’s idea of the perfectly-planned city. And by and large, it is. A dense, thriving downtown surrounded by a compact, thoroughly pleasant city. Good transit, water and bridges, hills, and more. And there are an infinite number of not terribly expensive short-term parking spaces downtown. It works well, and it hasn’t been overplanned to the point of looking like a theme park.


We hit downtown relatively early so as to allow plenty of time for exploring the central city and Powell’s City of Books, which is an absolute essential and may be the single most compelling reason to visit Portland. It provided several hours of entertainment and caused Mark to paart with quite a bit of money. I spent less, but was still quite entertained.


We roamed around downtown for quite a while, ate lunch, and made the rush hour drive back to Tigard via old US99W. This was about the point we started noticing that Portland’s suburbs have an unusually high number of adult bookstore chains. And that 99W (aka Barbur Boulevard) was going to be an interesting drive at night, what with all the neon to be seen.


And we were right. We spent a good chunk of the evening driving around Portland at night, looking for views in the hills, looking for beer at the QFC, and taking pictures of neon signs. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves on the next page.


The Burlingame Fred Meyer is a wonderful thing. Fred Meyer is an interesting Portland institution to begin with: as one of the first large suburban retailers in the area, they demonstrated an uncanny knack for knowing where development would occur and being there to meet it. They were innovative stores as well, combining general merchandise and groceries, and introducing such things as rooftop parking, etc.


Hollywood, where I bedded down last time I visited, is always worth a look.


As is Sandy Boulevard (US 30) in general. The area around Lloyd Center, Portland’s first shopping center outside downtown, and the convention center would be more interesting if anything looked much like it did when first constructed.


After the tour of Portland by night, we took the long way home via old US 99E (aka McLaughlin Boulevard), through scenic Milwaukie, and found the place where we’d be having our morning meal.

Portland to Seattle


We bypassed the drive-in in favor of the Bomber Restaurant. A little history: the bomber in the parking lot used to act as the canopy for a fairly famous (among roadside history buffs) gas station. Now the restaurant remains, serving cheap and damned good food in a friendly sort of way, all to the accompaniment of 1940s pop standards.


After breakfast, we drov through downtown again and made our way upto the Pittock Mansion, where you’ll find a mildly entertaining house overlooking some of the best views in Portland.


Cities with active volcanoes overlooking them are always picturesque, if a little nerve-wracking. And I also like cities with actual vegetation, although my allergies don’t always agree. That allergy thing would come back to haunt me.


It was time to leave Portland now, since a one-week trip only allows so much time in any one place. We crossed our final bridges, stopped at Waddle’s and Safeway just before the Columbia River, and were on our way still farther north. Oregon thanked us on the way out.


Crossing the Columbia River, we escaped personal income tax and those weird speed limit signs which read “Speed 50”. We gained a really high sales tax, really expensive cigarettes, and self-serve gas.


Portland to Seattle is a pretty quick drive, actually, but along the way we were treated to a couple of active volcanoes, one very pastoral nuclear power plant, and the Tacoma Dome. Well, there was that gaggle of skate rats at the ARCO station in Kelso too, but I didn’t even steal a glance. Really.


Upon seeing Mt. Ranier, we knew we were pretty much there. A few more miles and we found our Motel 6 in scenic Sea-Tac. It really was; we had a view of Seattle’s favorite volcano right from the window of our room. We christened said room by taking care of one minor emergency and then set off into the night in search of food.


As might be expected, we found it on old Highway 99, which is known as Aurora Avenue north of Seattle. Cheap pizza, spaghetti, and beer in a smoke-filled environment. Who could ask for more? After dinner, we sampled the neon of Aurora Avenue and one chain drugstore…



Aurora Avenue. Home to enough neon motels, old diners, and supermarkets to give me a permanent stiffy. We went up and down this stretch of what used to be US 99 many times. Pictures were taken with reckless abandon.


We never quite made it to the Elephant Car Wash for the purpose it was intended to serve.


We found neon in Green Lake, neon in Wallingford, neon downtown, and neon in the university District.


And we headed home by way of downtown. Where we took pictures of each other under some of the most famous neon around.




Exploring Seattle was something I’d been itching to do again since I was ten years old and saw my first wino ever on a street corner in Pioneer Square. This trip, I actually got the chance. Today was reserved largely for downtown and the Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle which was celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. Yes, we ate up there, and yes, I sampled the special 1962 menu for $19.62.

I also noticed that the Pacific Science Center (a former pavillion from the 1962 Worlds Fair) bore a disturbing resemblance to the former World Trade Center.


The food was good (despite what we’d been told) and the view was, of course, amazing, and neither of us seemed particularly embarrassed to be a tourist.


After doing the needle, we got on the monorail and headed downtown. Interestingly, after forty years, Seattle may be on the verge of actually expanding the monorail to something more than a mile-long run between two places only tourists ever want to go. We’ll see.


Once downtown, we walked through Pike Place Market (where I had good luck at finding four dollar books) and saw the original Starbuck’s (no comments please). I realized that my allergies were kicking in bigtime and began talking like Brenda Vaccaro to stay in character.



We met up with Cho in Capital Hill about 8:00 and proceded to dinner at a good Thai place which probably had a name, but I don’t remember it. We also toured the neighborhood, visited some really cool bar (with a name I also can’t remember, but it had something to do with “bad juju”) and posed with the Jimmy Hendrix statue. I also blew my nose a lot, which was no doubt becoming increasingly annoying to all who came in contact with me.


Liked Cho. Liked the view from her fire escape. Opted against visiting the nearby bathhouse…

Afterward, we went on another long and semi-aimless drive through the streets of Seattle in search of neon signs, motels, diners, and maybe beer…



Breakfast was at a place called The Aurora (on Aurora Avenue, oddly enough). It was a great place: a former Sambo’s, with pretty much all its original decor as intact as it was about 1963. I was excited.


We had pancakes, cigarettes, and videotape for breakfast. All was well.



We drove around Seattle a bit, seeing the famous Hat and Boots, the University District (including its Safeway, of course), and more. I think we were both pretty obsessed with Seattle by this point, although I’d pretty much seen it coming and wasn’t surprised. Aside from a slightly lower sales tax rate (offset by the lack of state income tax) and a few restaurants I’d miss, I’m still not convinced that there’s anything much I like more about san Francisco.

In other words, yes, I’d move in a heartbeat if I had a job…


In the afternoon, we met up with Mark’s friend Andrea in Kent, and took a tour of the more southern parts od Highway 99, toward Tacoma. It was a good drive, and it was great to meet Andrea. I only worry that I came across a bit like a heroin addict between the growing sniffles and the antihistamine I took against doctor’s orders. And if either of you can offer better pictures of yourselves than the crappy ones I got, please send them along…

We went through Tacoma and across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (a newer version, not this one) and then circled back for dinner. Mmmm. Burger is good…


I think it was on the way back to the Motel 6 that we decided to stay another night. This decided, we went back out into the night to see more…


We hit Pioneer Square to see if the Underground Tour would be an option on Friday (it would) and made the rounds again. Have I mentioned yet how much more fun this trip was than my last attempt at Seattle?



Woke up. Fell out of bed. Had visions of Beth’s Cafe in the head. Mark had been alerted to this place and its six- and twelve-egg omelettes before we left. Visiting was a necessity. Breakfast was quite good and cheap. And the “spatulas of the world” series on the wall was a special treat. As was the loud-mouthed cook who shouted at us when we came in. we decided that he was going to be our houseboy when we move to Seattle.

Today was to be somewhat agenda-less, which allowed us to roam the city freely. Actually, there were a couple of agenda items, the first of which was a search for the Fremont Bridge Troll, which allegedly lives under a bridge. It was a valiant effort, but we never found the damned thing. Probably because we were under the wrong bridge.


After Fremont, we drove around in the increasing rain (it was nice to get a feel for what the northwest is REALLY like after a week of sunshine) and finally landed downtown for agenda item #2: the Seattle Underground Tour. I took this tour at age 10 and really loved it. I loved it at 37 too. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will mention that it’s all about the stories and that it doesn’t photograph terribly well.


We also hit Metsker’s Maps and wandered around Pioneer Square a little. I like Pioneer Square; gentrified as it may be, it still seems like Skid Row too, which is very appropriate since the very term “skid row” had its genesis here. I saw my first wino in Pioneer Square et the tender age of 10.


We looked at the spot where the Pergola was (and will be again, evidently) and had pizza.



Last night in Seattle, and there was much ground to cover. We covered Bellevue (a very odd place) and both the floating bridges (very odd structures) and then dorve through the University District and Ballard pondering dinner.


We settled on a Dick’s Drive-In north of Ballard for dinner. Interesting place; in just five minutes it went from seeming relatively uncrowded to being swarmed by flocks of Mormon-looking teenagers. The whole thing was so very wholesome. I sort of hada desire to start making out with Mark in the parking lot.


After dinner, we looked around Ballard some more and visited two Safeways in a desperate search for Funyuns and other road supplies for Saturday’s very long drive. Then we headed down for one last look at downtown Seattle by night.


Seattle to SF


This was going to be a long, long day. Due to our extra day in Seattle, we were pondering the idea of driving all the way home without an overnight stop. 820 miles of freeways, mountains, Portland, Redding, and more.


Back through Washington and back through Oregon (where I finally managed to photograph the Failing Pedestrian Bridge) and back into Eugene (which may be the single whitest place on earth). When we passed from Oregon into California, Oregon thanked us once again. I love a polite state.


Long drives home after long trips are always a little depressing. You have all the work of driving with none of the fun to look forward to. Hate ’em. But I love that Mark apparently has a masochistic streak which kept me from having to do any of the actual driving. I netertained him as best I could.


By the time we hit Buz’ Crab in Redding, we were pretty much worn out. And we still had a good 3 1/2 hours left to go. But lots of fried fish offered that extra bit of strength necessary to complete the trip.


We made it home. Alive and somewhat worse for the wear. We slept. There may have been dreams of Portland and Seattle, but we were probably too tired to notice…