Bay Area Road Trip: A Glimpse of Future Travel
Last week I wrote about the future of travel and asked you, dear fellow wanderlusters, what will post-pandemic travel look like? Many dozens of you wrote thoughtful responses that showed both how passionately you are wanting to travel again and how seriously you are considering when you will feel safe to venture into the wide world once more.
Your sentiments covered a wide spectrum, from some who are ready to get on a plane as soon as flights are operating and countries are open, to others who are waiting for specific developments or milestones to be attained before they will feel comfortable adventuring again. Tellingly, the most commonly mentioned factor was a reliable vaccine; more than one-third of you wrote that you will wait to travel until an effective vaccine is available.
For all of you who responded already, thank you very much for sharing your reflections! And for those of you who haven’t yet responded, if you’d like to share what you’re thinking about the future of travel, I’d love to hear from you! Please email me at [email protected] or write a response at the end of last week’s blog post here.
After I had posed this question last week, the universe serendipitously gave me my own small glimpse into what at least one aspect of future travel may look like.
This began when I unexpectedly had to drive to Redwood City to pick up a package. Redwood City is about 40 miles south of my home. There are two routes to get there, one that parallels primarily characterless urbanscapes on the east side of San Francisco Bay and the other that passes through San Francisco and into surprisingly unspoiled countryside on the west side of the bay.
I make this journey about a dozen times a year, and normally, the San Francisco route is so congested that Google Maps will send me via the eastern route, which is usually a half-hour quicker. But this time, when I got in the car and fired up Google Maps, it told me that I should drive via the San Francisco route and that the entire drive would take about 40 minutes.
After two months of sheltering in place, with my driving basically restricted to the local grocery store, I was already feeling a little giddy at the prospect of venturing so far from home.
When Google told me to drive via San Francisco, I felt almost intoxicated. Suddenly it hit me: road trip! I was going on my first road trip in what felt like an eternity.
This exhilaration was enhanced by perfect road trip weather: a sun-drenched day with a deep blue sky festooned here and there with fleecy white clouds, with the temperature in the high 70s.
I ran back inside and gathered some appropriate road trip provisions: a dozen carrot sticks, a chocolate chip granola bar, and a bottle of coffee Frappuccino. Then, sitting in my driveway, I lowered all the windows and—on a wild impulse—opened the sunroof. Now, this is living! I thought. As I started the engine, “Born to Be Wild” played in my mind.
I backed out of the driveway. My adventure had begun.
Driving toward the highway, with the wind blowing through the car and ruffling my hair, I felt liberated and full of energy. Anything was possible. The world stretched ahead, vast and limitless as the Pacific.
I closed the car windows when I got on the highway, but I kept the sunroof open, and the sun poured through like a soul-soothing balm.
Long ago, in pre-pandemic times, I would drive this road three or four times a week. I had done this for decades. But this time, as I was approaching the Bay Bridge, my jaw dropped. I was stunned. I had never noticed the bridge’s balletic beauty. It looked like a ballerina in a white tutu performing an elegant grand jeté across the glinting blue-gray waters of the bay. This bridge is spectacular! I exclaimed to myself.
As I entered the Bay Bridge, on my right, a half-dozen sailboats scudded on brilliant white wings through the glinting waters. Beyond them—Oh, wow!—the International Orange icon of the Golden Gate Bridge gleamed dreamily like some towered talisman, entryway to the shimmering infinity beyond.
Then the silver and blue-green towers of San Francisco appeared like a high-tech Camelot. There was endearing Coit Tower, surrounded by green trees, atop the pastel cubist cupcake of Russian Hill. There was the Transamerica Pyramid poking quixotically into the sky. And there was the architectural enfant terrible, Salesforce Tower, ready to blast into the clouds. Spectacular!
As I neared the end of the bridge, I saw another wonder: a vast rectangular signboard seemingly floating in the air. It showed a photograph of a woman in the foreground wearing sunglasses and standing in front of tram tracks. There was an eye-catching reflection of something in her glasses, and behind her, next to the tracks, a row of stately homes. Beneath her was a line of text that read “Shot on iPhone.”
Billboards! I said to myself. What a brilliant idea! Whoever came up with this? So beautiful, so breathtaking. Signs in the sky? Fabulous!
More sky-signs followed, each one clever and engaging. I was touched by the effort these signs were making to reach out to me, to connect with me. In pre-pandemic life, I had never once stopped to think of billboards as anything but a nuisance, but somehow, now, they represented the presence and promise of a world much larger than the neighborhood I had been inhabiting since forever. These are like messages from another planet, I thought. Amazing!
I kept driving south, beyond San Francisco. After about 15 minutes, I saw, painted on the side of a building to my right, “Welcome to the Portola: San Francisco’s Garden District.” San Francisco’s Garden District! Imagine! The lush greenery and fecund flowers those words conjured were obscured from view, but I was sure they were there, just out of sight.
Shortly after that, my heart began to beat more quickly, and I could feel anticipation building in my stomach. For a minute I was confused, then I understood: I was approaching San Francisco International Airport! Dearly beloved SFO!
In another lifetime, I reflected, I would come here a dozen times a year. Suddenly a succession of images flashed through my mind: getting out of a Lyft and wheeling my suitcase into the International Terminal, walking to the United Airlines desk, going through TSA, scanning the departures board like a global dream-screen of possibilities, striding past the shiny shops towards my gate, stopping for a latte at Joe & The Juice. I began to get just a little teary remembering all these cherished rites that seemed so exotic and nostalgic at the same time. When I spotted a control tower and planes lined up on the tarmac, the image seemed as poignant as a vintage travel poster.
Then I turned onto Highway 280 and suddenly I was in another world. There were no office high-rises, warehouses, or even homes here; unencumbered hills stretched greenly away on both sides of the road. After 10 minutes, off to my right, an alluring stretch of water shimmered in the distance. Behind the water rose a dark green, densely pine-cloaked hillside. This looks like the brochure cover for a summer vacation getaway! Though I had driven this route perhaps half a dozen times for the past five years, I had never seen the landscape in quite this way.
A few minutes farther on, I passed a sign saying, “Portola Expedition Camp, Next Exit.” Portola. Of course! That’s the historical figure who gave his name to the town where the lush greenery and fecund flowers hide, waiting!
I still have so much to learn about this area where I’ve lived for four decades, I thought. History is all around us; we just don’t have the knowledge to see it.
When I exited the highway to pick up my package, I began to notice the brilliant flowers that lined the country lane—bright orange California poppies, deep purple lupine, red geraniums, golden roses. Again, it was like a world I’d never seen before.
This phenomenon continued on my return trip home. Shortly after getting back on the highway heading north, I looked to my right and was astonished to see a house I’d never noticed: a rounded red and orange single-story home with a purple dome and a red dome, and rust-colored dinosaur statues arrayed in its back yard. There was a stegosaurus, a tyrannosaurus, a brontosaurus, a woolly mammoth, and a, well, giraffe. Situated around these statues were a multitude of small, plump, mushroom-like sculptures in a rainbow of colors. How have I never noticed this?
After a few minutes, another stop-worthy roadside attraction appeared: This was a gigantic statue, perhaps 30 feet tall, of a priest or a missionary in a hooded cloak, kneeling on one knee, with an out-thrust right arm and hand pointing dramatically toward the west. How many times have I blindly passed this fervent sight?
As I drove home, reflecting on all this, I realized that my impromptu road trip had bestowed all manner of unexpected gifts. Although I was driving a route I had traveled dozens of times before, it was as if I were seeing everything for the first time: the ballet of the Bay Bridge and the alchemy of the Golden Gate; San Francisco’s soaring skyline and spectacular sky-signs; the romance of SFO and the wilderness just below; California’s early history and idiosyncratic artistry. Sheltering in place had given me new eyes—and a renewed sense of the wonders in everyday life.
And that was my glimpse into travel to come. When that blessed day arrives when we return to Kyoto, and Cusco, and Kathmandu, I believe I will bring this perspective with me—and so, I hope, will you. I believe that, for a while at least, the world will look more full of magic than ever before—and we will be more appreciative, attentive, open, and grateful, whenever we walk out the door.
Yours in abiding wanderlust,
* * * * *
I truly appreciate all of your thoughts, words of encouragement, and dialogue over these past weeks. Please continue to share your reflections below; it’s gratifying and inspiring to read your comments!
Ahh George, you made my morning! I live in Sydney, Australia and I have also being confined to my neighbourhood since the 23rd of March. Two weeks ago, I took a Friday off, invited my girlfriend to do the same and we drove about an hour north of Sydney to reach Palm Beach, the last beach on the row on beaches on Sydney Cove. All the Easter Suburbs’s beaches around my home we’re still guarded with Menacing signs of “Surf in, Surf out”, and the reminder of the pandemic threat along the fenced area along the beach. When we reached… Read more »
Wonderful visual description on the beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area, my home for 26 years. I hope to travel there again. For now, you brought back a memory of a route I am grateful for driving and experiencing for years.
Don, reading this makes me excited just to have a reason to drive down Highway 280 again! A great lesson to explore familiar surroundings, reacquaint oneself, and give thanks for the little things in life.
Dear Don, after reading your story here I can hardly wait to… read it again! Because it is a vivid and fresh and meaningful advocacy of what travel is about. I am a Romanian journalist and I had some opportunities to travel to Thailand several times, falling in love with this part of Paradise on Earth: I wrote a book about the kingdome and built a collection of Thai traditional textiles. The lockdown offered me the time and patience to scroll all my pictures gathered in 9 years of discovering Siam – after months and years of procrastination – but… Read more »
Born to be Wild. Love it! Amazing the new significance a road trip can take on. As a former teacher i refer to these outings as “field trips.” Social distancing visits to grandchildren in their back yard are more precious than ever. I am so thankful for Zoom for doing Zumba, book club presentations for my new book and Rotary international meetings and for Messenger to keep up with friends in Kathmandu and Gorkha. It’s a major event to visit a local BC Okanagan winery for curb side pickup and experience the joy of an in-car picnic overlooking Kalamalka Lake.… Read more »
A lesson, here, and beautifully expressed; thank you!
My ex once said to me, “Why do you always have to be going somewhere or doing something? I prefer to be home.” It’s probably easy to surmise why that relationship didn’t last. He’s probably happy as a clam sheltering-in-place, while I’m getting increasingly stir-crazy, eager for the chance to get back on the road. To help balance some of my travel angst, I’ve been trying to find the positives to this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in; My garden is thriving for the first time ever, I have had time to learn and hone new skills, like sewing and… Read more »
Dear Heather, Thank you so much for this wonderful and buoying note! I really appreciate how you’re finding positives in this unprecedented situation –that’s the way to not just survive but thrive! And thank you for adding me to your list of pandemic blessings. That’s a great honor! Thank you for your wonderful note and your indomitable spirit, and thanks for riding with me each week! All best wishes! — Don
Great Road trip!!!
I’ve often wondered, when or if we return to life as we used to know it, will we still take the time to appreciate the little things?
I hops so.
Dear Lynn, Thank you so much for your kind note! I also have been wondering the same thing: When life returns to the way it was before, will we be able to keep the new perspective and wisdom we’ve gained from this period of pandemic suspension? Just as you ask, will we still take time to appreciate the little riches around us? Just like you, I really, really hope so. Ultimately, it’s up to every one of us: I am going to try to keep this new appreciative mindset alive! as long as I can All best wishes to you!… Read more »
Don, I have been to San Francisco many times-first on our honeymoon. Love the city and your article makes me want to buy plane ticket NOW.
Thanks for uplifting time spent reading
Dear Mary, Thanks so much for this great note! I’m so happy that you love San Francisco as much as I do! What a great place for a honeymoon! I really wish you could get on a plane now — I very much understand that feeling. When you finally do come to San Francisco again, please come and visit us in the GeoEx office! Thanks again for reading — and writing! All best wishes! — Don
Don. That was just what I needed to read! If we can all eventually come back when times are safer with eyes of wonder perhaps the confinement will have been worth it! To come back with new appreciation and love is what I hope for. Thank you for this beautiful article.😘
Dear Christy, Thank you so much for your wonderful note! I really appreciate your kind words! I completely agree with what you say about coming back with eyes of wonder and with new appreciation and love. I think/hope those will be the unexpected gifts of this challenging time. Thank you for your beautiful and buoying words! All very best to you! – Don
Thanks Don, what an inspiring article. I live in the mountains west of Denver and had a similar experience driving over the divide to my cabin in the mountains. I found myself spellbound from all the beautiful sites I had seen a hundred times but now it was as though I was seeing them for the very first time! Thanks again for sharing your experience.
Don, I loved this so much!! So much of this resonated with me. I recently made the drive between Santa Rosa and San Francisco (also to pick up a package) and the entire time I just couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was! I did a double-take when I popped through the Rainbow (Robin Williams) Tunnel to see the view of the SF skyline, and when driving through rolling bright green hills, I asked myself, wait, am I in Scotland or Ireland right now? Or along the dramatic coast or cute seaside Sausalito (I thought, is this the Mediterranean? Am I… Read more »
Dear Sam! Thank you so much for this fantastic note!! I especially love that you felt the same as I did about the sky-signs! When I wrote that, I felt like people would think I was crazy — but just as you said, I felt like they were speaking to me specifically… I also love what you say about Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Greece — it’s so true! And it’s so wonderful to be reminded of what an amazingly beautiful region we live in — people travel around the world to see the places we see every day. I hope we’ll… Read more »
One of the reasons that you were able to see so much is that there were so fewer vehicles on the road and you didn’t stop . Thank you for sharing this journey! we can go on short road trips now and enjoy views that we have missed when we drove those ways.
Dear Jean, Thank you very much for this note. I agree very much with what you say: We are lucky that the lack of cars allows us to go more slowly and drive more appreciatively. This makes those short road trips so much more enjoyable! I hope we can keep this mindset even after the roads fill with cars again. All best wishes! — Don
Thank you Don for putting words to this “journey!”! I’ve been traveling from Marin to SF twice a week for about 6 weeks to volunteer for the SF food bank, and I have the same awe and wonder and appreciation for a drive that used to frustrate me with with traffic and I endured as a means to get somewhere. That was BC-before covid. Now I look forward to the Sri and adhere to speed limits in an effort to draw out the drive. I just wonder how long it will take once things return)to a new normal) for me… Read more »
Dear Allison, Thank you very much for your note! I love the words you used — awe, wonder, appreciation. So perfect! And i also love that you’re volunteering at the SF food bank. Thank you! I have the same questions you have about how we’ll all be post-pandemic. I think it’s really up to us to keep that sense of awe, wonder, and appreciation. We can do it! All best wishes! — Don
Lovely reflections. In the Bay for not quite four decades but getting close — yes, to see again, freshly, freshly, freshly. Appreciating your thoughtful good cheer. Thank you.
Namaste Don! Always a pleasure to read your blogs but this one really hit “home” for me. Made me realize that sometimes we need to focus on the beauty in our own backyards. When I resume driving across the bridges spanning the San Francisco Bay again, I imagine I will do as you did and see familiar landmarks with renewed amazement. There’s so much we miss when we are preoccupied with “busyness” and heavy traffic. Now is a good time to take a new look and appreciate our surroundings. I’m looking forward to venturing across the Golden Gate Bridge again… Read more »
Namaste Nicole!! How wonderful to hear from you! Thank you so much for your great note! I’m really looking forward to the day when we can see your smiling face in San Francisco again! Until then, stay safe and healthy and enjoy the little riches all around you! 🙂 All best wishes! — Don
I love your journey! I’m sitting here depressed and wish I could do the same thing. No where to go and finances to get there.
Dear Debbra, Thank you so much for your note. I’m sorry to hear that you’re depressed and I’m happy that my journey put a little sunshine in your day. One thing I have tried doing on down days is just taking a 15-minute walk and looking for three things to focus on: a flower, a door in a nearby building I hadn’t noticed, or a window design that’s interesting that I hadn’t seen before. I’m just trying to slow down and focus on little things, which helps my sense of everyday gratitude. These current times are very challenging. Please take… Read more »
I love this post so much, Don. Thank you for taking us along with you on your road trip– when I finally venture out and see my first “sky signs”, I will undoubtedly think of you and smile! Take good care, and hope to see you soon!
Dear Elizabeth! Thank you so much for your great note! The image of you seeing your first “sky sign” and thinking of me brought a huge smile to my face! Thank you! Here’s hoping we can both get out and enjoy more sky signs and other wonders soon! Take care and all best wishes! — Don